The Old Biker

A HEAVY coat of dust, now hides the canvas tarp,

Thrown over his old Walla, that so long has been parked.

A sunbeam breaks the dingy shed, with a burst of morning light, 

Which illuminates the stubbie bottle, left there just last night.

And at ease sits the old biker, with his second coffee brew;

At rest on his verandah, still wet with morning dew.

He thinks about the Walla, in the shed across the yard,

“I’ll get that old girl going yet; it can’t be all that hard.”

This promise he’s made too many times, and through the hourglass,

The sands are falling evermore, another day will pass.

As he drags himself from his old deck chair, to head towards the lounge,

His tread does cease, he stands alert, to an old familiar sound.

The rattle of a snare drum, with a thunderous repore,

He waits with eyes hard searching, he’s heard this sound before.

And it echoes through the valleys, and rebounds from mountain sides,

The heartbeat of a Harley, finds something lost inside.

The old biker then steps forward, to get a better view,

Of a machine that once was familiar, of a life that he once knew.

He hears the throttle twist and close, to negotiate the course;

His toes tap down a phantom gear, as he watches from the porch.

Then a glimpse of chrome through distant trees, he strains his eyes to see,

A young man with his girl on the back, cutting through the breeze.

The Harley roars, his heartbeat soars, as the rumble finally peaks,

And fills his soul with every word, that engine cares to speak.

With his ear towards the fading roar, his bearded grin appears;

He thinks about his ‘days back when’; of bikes and mates and beers.

His wife walks out with a fresh brewed pot, and sees across the way,

The old shed door opened wide, today will be the day!

Biker poem by Adrien Sweetman

Errol the Duck

THE STREET I live in was always a ‘dog’ street, rather than a ‘cat’ street. It’s a cul-de-sac, but most of the families own at least one dog. There are small dogs, large dogs, good and bad dogs; but generally, they all got on and it’s just Happy Bloody Valley Familyville Close, Suburbia, NSW.

However, Laddies and Lassies, there were a time, away back yon, when the dogs all feared a common enemy: Errol the Duck at Number Ten.

Technically, Errol was a drake, but was universally known as a very large duck and a damned cranky one at that. He tolerated humans but hated anything else and would bravely charge down any dog, which would invariably yelp, turn tail and run after the first nip on the schnozz.

Our house boasted two bitches: the girlfriend’ cattle dog/bully cross; and Poik, the wonder dog, a rough collie I had mysteriously inherited once Poik’s Ozbike Magazine office-guarding duties had been terminated. Both our dogs were brave, but would studiously avoid that damned duck for fear of another nipped snout.

After every attack, Errol would victoriously waddle back to his territory, which stretched from about Number Two to Number Twenty.

Lucky for me (not!) one of Errol’s favourite lookout posts was on top of my letterbox. Pulling up most afternoons, the rumble of a Harley, Norton, Triumph or Buell didn’t faze the mongrel duck, and seeing how the gloves I used to wear could double for falconry gauntlets, it was relatively easy to shoo him off the crap-covered letterbox lid to check for bills and real estate flyers.

One morning, the Missus was riding her 1970 Triumph Trophy to work, a pleasant 12 minute jaunt for her. I was long gone on my bike to clock on at the legal sweatshop known as Ozbike Magazine where underpaid, over-exploited workers would churn out the best biker magazine in the world. The Missus had roared out of our street, turned right, left, then right again onto the main drag of the Northern Beaches known as Pittwater Road. About 500 meters along the main drag, and almost a km from home, she saw Errol the Duck angrily cavorting in the gutter of Lane One, which was still well and truly a Clearway.

Now, the missus is an animal lover and couldn’t bear the thought of a squashed duck on a Thursday, so she set to herding it back home to safety.

She had no luck in the duck shooing department on foot, so decided to use her shiny, black, ex-cop Trophy to round Errol up and move him along. This was not completely unsuccessful, but definitely took a lot of U-turning, horn blowing and throttle blipping to get the recalcitrant bastard of a duck to obey. Had she been spotted by the cops, she’d probably have clocked up a Brazillian Demerit Points for the crazy riding which involve multiple median strip jumping and numerous ‘drive contrary to direction of traffic flow’ offences. She reckoned a rodeo rider on a Quarter Horse couldn’t have rounded Errol up better, and the seemingly considerate commuters probably thought it best to steer clear of Crazy Bikie Chick and Cranky Duck.

She soon had her quarry turned left off the main drag, right, then left back into our safe little street and forced the duck all the way back to Number Ten. She was just about to unclick the side gate when Errol came rushing out from the back yard, quacking like a bastard and in full attack mode.

You wouldn’t bloody credit it — it wasn’t Errol playing in the traffic—this was a completely different duck, but a dead ringer for Errol. No wonder it didn’t really want to go up our street.

“Sorry, Fella, whoever you are,” the missus said. “You’re free to go wherever you please,” was added as she rode off late for work.

I was even present at poor old Errol’s demise, just up the road outside Number 20.

I’d just arrived home, was about to park the motorbike, when I noticed a number of people standing around in the middle of our street. I knew something was terribly wrong as I could see the limp body of a large, white duck lying on the bitumen, a sad looking wing was outstretched and seemed to be fluttering around in the light breeze that usually accompanies dramatic scenes. The small crowd of onlookers included dear old Mrs Old Mate from up the end of the cul-de-sac, complete with her Scotty dog in tow, and two very hot Swedish backpackers from the share house across the road.

I felt it was imperative to become part of the group of onlookers, especially as the Swedish girls were wearing their short shorts and halter-neck tops. And no bras, but that’s not important right now.

What was important was that Mrs Old Mate was ropeable, railing loudly against the ‘heartless oaf’ who could skittle an animal and just leave it to die on the road. I’d never seen the dear old thing this fired up before, all our previous encounters involved nought more than a smile and a big wave.

But she went on, describing it as an ‘horrendous hit and run’ and maybe the police should be notified. Then she wondered aloud what should be done with the body, laying there on the road, all succulent-like.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said hesitantly. “I could bury Errol in my backyard, but maybe his owners want to bury him in their backyard…”

“Maybe they might want to have a roast duck dinner instead of a duck funeral?” I mentioned, helpfully.

Well! Talk about the wrong thing to say! Mrs Old Mate deliberately gasped and the two Swedish hotties regarded me like I was the turd in the punchbowl at a rich girl’s party.

Now, I’m nothing if not quick on the uptake with the snappy one-liners to extricate myself from previous wrong’n statements, but I will tell you this: A statement like “Maybe we could sell the carcass to the Chinese Restaurant?” is not a face saver and I was just digging myself deeper.

Chapter Seven in ‘The Book Of My Life’ covers projected improbable but not impossible scenarios for me, and the part which involved me feasting on a Swedish neighbor sandwich had just been edited out completely.

Luckily, Mrs Old Mate threw me a life raft when she went back to being disgusted with the uncaring, low-life duck-murderer.

And then the backpackers spoke. “It was a big man, going bald and wearing a business suit,” offered one of the Swedish stunners.

“Ja, und he voss drivink a big, grey Range Rover, about ten minutes before you walked back into the street with your dog,” added the other one.

That very clear description managed to perfectly pinpoint Mr Old Mate as the duck killer and the cold, humiliating slime of realization began drizzling over Mrs Old Mate’s face.

I looked straight at Mrs Old Mate and let out a huge but quickly stifled guffaw, which I just knew I’d have trouble containing further.

There was nothing more to see there, folks, and my mirth wasn’t helping, so without so much a toodle-oo, I turned and quickly walked away, a wheezing, Muttley the Dog-like hee-hee-hee-hee was making my shoulders hunch up and down as I quick-stepped it back to my house.

I never found out what happened to Errol’s mortal remains, or whether Helga and Britt ever fingered Mr Old Mate as the culprit, but right here, right now, sitting at my computer at 2:17 am on a Sunday morning with the rest of the family asleep, I’m wheezing like Muttley while remembering the look of brutal realization that washed over Mrs Old Mate’s dear-old-lady-type face.

And the way, she gave herself up like a bewdy with the sudden cessation of her rant and the very bad poker face.

Dagman’s Diaries: The Foodie

WHAT IS it with women? Why can’t they be ordinary? They’re always re-inventing themselves. I couldn’t work out the old one but now I’ve got a new one to try to figure out.

Take me mum fer example. After years of me eating “Whatever’s on special,” or “If I cook it you can eat it,” and “There’s kids starving in Africa that’d love to eat that,” she’s suddenly become a ‘foodie’. She’s got addicted to those cooking’ shows. She can’t get enough of Jamie Oliver and she loves Master Chef which I can’t stand on account of grown up men crying cos their egg is too runny, and I go, “Get a life, mate. It’s FOOD, fer crying out loud. You cook it and you shit it and then you do it again!”

Mum hates that Gordon Ramsay though. She goes, “I can’t stand him! Fuckin’ potty-mouth piece of shite!” And she turns him off so hard you’d think she was crushing a beetle. Then she marches into the kitchen and goes and does Beans on Toast with Crispy Bacon and it’s waaaay much better than any of that quizzine they do!

I’ll let ya into a little secret: I’m a bit of a cook meself. I specialise in left-overs. You reckon that’s funny? It’s a skill, mate. I learned it over years of practice. See, me mum never throws anything out — just in case. So I’d be finding bits of cheese and yoghurt and some mash and a little cup of peas and stuff at the back of the fridge and I gets to thinking: What can I do with this?

So I mix up the mash potato, peas and cheese with the egg and fry it. Add salt, pepper and tomato sauce, and mate, if you’ve got a sausage you can add to the mix, it’s Heaven!

Then when you’ve done eating, splash the left-over yoghurt onto the plate and let the dog lick it all off and clean up the plate. How about that! Win! Win!

And me mum thinks I’ve eaten the rest of the yoghurt so she’s pleased I’m eating healthy and I don’t enlighten her. Win! Win! Win!

See me expertise started with a sandwich when I was about seven. I liked red food so I reckoned that if I put all the red stuff I liked on a sandwich, it’d be really good. Raspberry jam and tomato sauce are two that I remember.

Why I’m so good at cooking is explained in two words: Cling Film. Ya gotta love cling film. See, years ago they’d have a bit of food left over and they’d have to eat it or chuck it, but now we have cling film, we can cover up something like a half a avocado and now you don’t need to throw it away until two weeks later! That’s progress!

Actually, I ain’t never gunna eat avocado ever in my whole life (green splodge with wrinkly skin), but cheese, now that’s completely different. Sorta like avocado and cheese. I mean, who’s gunna eat chalk? That’s stupid. Chalk and Cheese? A teacher made that one up, I bet.

Aw fukkk! I lost me thread again! Cling film, cling film and cheese….

Oh! Has any of youse wondered why, when you pull off the cling film off a bit of cheese, cut the cheese in half, go to wrap it up again, there’s not enough cling film left to wrap it up? I’m pulling it really careful like, and the bloody stuff splits and a corner of cheese sticks out, and if I ignore it, it goes hard like soap. That’s when you need a dog to eat the end bits.

Still, I like cooking and I don’t reckon enough blokes do it. Okay, they turn the steaks and snags on a barbie, but ask one to make a cheese sauce from scratch and not a clue! I was talking about this to Crabs once (cos it’s a long way down to Geelong and you can only pick yer nose for so long before you run out of interesting bits) and he goes, “Why? Felicity does the cookin’ and she’s far better at it. And I don’t ask her to come down to Geelong and fix lavatories. Division of labour, mate. Chicks cook; men work.”

“Men are chefs.”

“Aw fer cryin’ out…. Your mum likes that Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef bloke, Yeh? Eh, imagine him frying eggs. If he gets a bit of hot fat on his ol’ pork sausage and he wouldn’t be naked any more. Soon see him in a pinnie! Look, I seen his show once, and he’s all up the farm and chattin’ up the farmer and then he comes back and he cooks up some splodge in a brick oven and he’s got a gas burner and it’s all out the back in the garden. Y’know what I reckon? I reckon he makes so much mess, his missus won’t let him into the house. Men shouldn’t cook! That’s nature. Cookin’ is secret women’s business!”

I think about this fer a while. I’d been thinking of writing me own cookbook fer blokes, but perhaps I’d be the only bloke to read it and that wouldn’t be much use cos I already know what’s in it if I wrote it.

I dunno, maybe I’m wrong and men shouldn’t cook. Maybe I’m just in touch with me inner Goddess. Sheree talks about getting in touch with her inner Goddess and I asked her if I could watch? Yeh, you don’t wanna know how that went! I wore the bruise for a week.

Sheree and me mum have something in common (but don’t tell either of them) cos Sheree never throws anything away, either. Like shoes fer instance. I swear this is true. Sheree goes shopping for some new white boots cos her old ones were worn down, she loved them so much. So she comes in with some new ones and they’re almost identical to the old ones, but new, obviously. So I sling her old ones in the bin for her, and she goes ape-shit!

“Whattya do that for?” And she grabs them back out and shakes a tea bag outta one.

“Well, they’re yer old boots…”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand?”

Where do women go to learn to growl? Eh? I can feel me boys retreating just at the sound of it.

“…aaaand you’ve got new ones.”

“So?”

“I give in. I’m a bloke. Tell me in little words and small sentences and I’m sure I’ll get it.”

“I’m keeping the New Ones For Best!”

And I swear this is true, too. She wraps the new ones up in their box and puts the old ones back on her feet!

I don’t understand it. I mean, I know when I get new work boots, I keeps me old ones for a while to wear the new ones in and get them all soft and wrinkly the way me feet like it. That’s just sensible and it’s completely different… like avocado and cheese!

Later on that night, Sheree goes weird on me. How can I tell, you ask? Well, she’s sorta giggly and she’s sorta bumping into me all the time and she’s saying nice things — and then she disappears! I can hear the shower going and then when I’m nice and comfy in front the telly, she’s back. She’s wearing her dressing gown and her new boots and she marches in front of the telly and goes, “How d’you like my new boots, now?” and she drops the dressing gown and stands there starkers!

What can a bloke say?

“They’re lovely boots, doll. Come and sit here an watch the footy show with me…” apparently wasn’t the right thing. Women! I’ll never understand them!

Stewy 100 Not Out

I’VE NEVER been to a 100th celebration before, and although this was nominally a celebration of Stewy’s 70th birthday, plus his 30th anniversary as a Gypsy Joker, close friends were cheerfully calling it his 100th. Stewy and Brains, old Mandamas mates, had just racked up 30 strenuous years as Gypsy Jokers.

Stewy’s led an unusual sort of life, almost a double life when you come to think about it. As well as being State Manager of a multi-national company, at the same time he was an active member (and for a long time, the President) of the Mandamas then the Gypsy Jokers MC in Adelaide. Stewy’s always maintained that each side of his life — responsibly corporate on the one hand, unabashedly outlaw on the other — helped him better manage the other side.

It’s an interesting proposition that a lot of people struggle with. How do you earn a good living in the mainstream but still stand apart from mainstream values in other ways? In practice, it’s not at all easy but it can be done as long as you’re comfortable within yourself, and consistent in your interactions with others.

Over the years, Stewy, or the club members he’s represented, have been involved in various situations and incidents that may not have fallen entirely within the strictest definitions of legality. There have been difficulties with other motorcycle clubs, there’ve been property disputes, misunderstandings and occasional mayhem.

Throughout these tumultuous times there’s been a central core of dedicated Jokers, men like Brains, Den, Phildo, Roo, Stewy, and the late Willsy. They’re 30-year-members of one of Australia’s dwindling number of traditional motorcycle clubs, and that really is something to be proud of.

Alliances can be fluid within the 1% world, but a handful of motorcycle clubs have still established themselves as major powers, with the Gypsy Jokers undoubtedly being one in Australia. And that didn’t happen by accident: it was the result of a complex set of factors reflecting personalities, politics, battles won and lost, and, perhaps most of all, leadership.

At the time it wasn’t much fun, but Stewy’s no-frills childhood, with responsibility coming at an early age, nurtured a sense of maturity and vision that others in the early bike scene soon came to recognise and value.

“I never knew my father: you can look at this as a bit of a joke, I’ve never had to buy a Father’s Day card. I’ve had two stepfathers, one I don’t remember and the other I hated; he started beating mum up so when I was about 16 I put him in hospital. I’m not a violent person but I’m capable of violence.

“My life as a motorcyclist goes back to when I was 16. I’ve always been involved in motorbikes: racing them, hill climbs, short circuit; I’ve always had that in my blood. It’s not something where I just decided at 28 years of age I wanted to become a member of a motorcycle club; I’d always wanted to. Probably the only regret I’ve got is I didn’t start up earlier in the actual club world but for reasons of work and family commitments, I didn’t.”

Adelaide’s MC scene was very different 30 years ago, with the old, strictly local clubs coming to the realisation that their days were numbered. Clubs overseas and interstate were showing where the future lay, with successful amalgamations taking place as the more committed members encouraged the others to move ahead. You could become part of something bigger, or you could stay with your local buddies until that particular group fell apart as people took on other commitments, values and lifestyles.

The choice was stark, and as Stewy put it, “Clubs nowadays, the same as businesses, the same as unions, have to change with the times for whatever reason. The Mandamas was a very small club and we couldn’t have survived in the motorcycle world if there was any pressure put on us, there just wasn’t enough of us.

“We started hanging around with a Gypsy Joker who came from Mount Gambier. One thing led to another, we became friends with them and we were asked if we were interested in becoming Jokers after going through the natural progression. It created a lot of animosity within the club. I can remember the meeting we had at the Brompton Hotel. It was quite an emotional meeting because naturally some blokes didn’t want to give up their Mandamas patch and become a member of another club, but what we tried to portray was the fact that we couldn’t survive in Adelaide with the size of the other clubs that were coming on.

“It was quite an emotional thing to do. A lot of blokes just left the club, just didn’t want a part of it and, looking back, I don’t think any of them had any vision. I think myself and Rhino and Brogie and Brains and Willsy and some of the blokes from the original Mandamas had the vision that ‘If we’re going to survive in Adelaide as a motorcycle club, being a part of a national club would definitely benefit us’ and that’s probably what swayed it in the end.”

In the same way it’s possible to be alone without feeling lonely, it’s also possible to live on the margin without ever feeling marginalised. Stewy’s energy and commitment at work were rewarded with a steady progress up the corporate ladder, but his simultaneous involvement with first the Mandamas, and then the Gypsy Jokers, made for a very full life. Getting the balance right between club life and work could mean a fair bit of unrecognised effort, and of course, maintaining a relationship and a family life took a lot of effort and understanding from all the individuals concerned.

“It’s really difficult for a woman. The blokes who’ve got women who understand, they’re pretty lucky and they should appreciate that. I came from a broken home and so did my kids, my ex-wife and I got divorced, one of my daughters has been divorced, but I wanted to be around for them and help them in whatever way I could because I remember how hard it was for me.”

After many years spent juggling the sometimes conflicting demands of club, family, and job, Stewy can look at his four adult kids now and see happy, well adjusted and successful individuals. Although they’ve got much more colourful tales about growing up than most people, they’ve all turned out to be clear thinking and independent minded Aussies, despite having a few unexpected and unfair hurdles to overcome — like being denied job opportunities purely because of Stewy’s lifestyle.

Details around MCs are never easy to pin down, and that’s probably for the best, but a few incidents illustrate the sort of situations that cropped up with alarming frequency.

“We had a lot of problems in Adelaide. We had a bar-room brawl with the Iroquois and there was a lot of pressure on us not to change over but we did it. There was a lot of ‘industrial unrest’ for a couple of years between us and other clubs, but as you can see the club’s still here and it’s strong.

“I remember one incident: I had a really good State Manager at the time, his name was Steve and he knew who I was. I had a company car. At the time, there was a bit of an altercation going on between another MC and us and it was in the media and the lot was exaggerated because they don’t actually get the truth and they probably don’t get the truth because people don’t tell them the truth or don’t tell them anything, so they make it up. I remember going to work on the Monday after there was allegedly some shots fired and a few other things happened and the only thing he said to me was, ‘Look, whatever you do outside in your lifestyle is your business; it doesn’t affect your job; you do your job efficiently, that’s all I’m concerned about. But for fuck’s sake don’t bring the car back here with bullet holes in it because they will not accept that in Sydney when I have to report your new Fairmont’s got bullet holes in it,’ and that was all he said. I thought that was quite good.

“I’ve seen, on more occasions than I’d like to remember, issues that happened in pubs or discos or parties; people just showing off in front of their mates. Too much alcohol, too much drugs, I don’t know. But this issue was over a bloke who had an accident: it was an altercation and he came off second best and there was going to be a fair bit of drama over it. You know, there’s always blokes in the club, any club, who think everything should be answered with retribution of some description. But I used to think it was better keeping blokes out of gaol — a club’s difficult to run if everyone’s in gaol and they haven’t got licences. It’s not a sign of weakness. I just think it was trying to be smarter than the average bear, that was all, but the issue was resolved.

“There was a badge stolen off a female police officer — that was quite funny really — but I said I’d get it returned and we did return it.

“It was my life and I chose it and I don’t regret any of it, but it was very difficult to keep a relationship going. I think to my knowledge for the members who are still active in the club there’s only two of them with the same women that they started off with 20 years ago, and considering how many members have been in and out of the club over the years, it’s a very small percentage.”

30 years, or 70, or 100, have given Stewy time for reflection but there’s no sign of doubts, regrets or self-pity. He’s one of the first generation to choose the 1% way of life, and, as he says, he’s never been of the belief that big is best, which has been proven by other clubs in Australia. The Jokers have always remained more ‘quality is better than quantity’: a lot of the clubs are too easy to get into, you just breeze into them and they’ve got no heart.

“My heart and soul was in the Jokers. It still is, and I made a lot of friends. I’ve had a lot of good times, made some good enemies, but in the motorcycle world at least you know who your enemies are. I mean, in the real world, you can’t be too sure.”

report by Chris Randells

The Day A Zillionaire Washed My Harley-Davidson

I DON’T WORK full-time for Ozbike anymore, although if this piece actually gets published in Ozbike, we can assume I’m sorta/kinda still working for them, just on a freelance basis. But the many years I did work full time with the world’s best biker mag, I had a ball. Sure, it did have its bad points, but man, the highlights went beyond fantastic. Getting paid to party, ride bikes and photograph naked girlies must have a downside somewhere; I just never found it.

And being a scumbag bikie journo, you got dropped into many interesting situations, engaged many interesting people and travelled to many interesting places. The nature of the whole bike journo gig was that you usually wrote a story about whatever you saw or did, but there are still a million things I didn’t write about. Of course, some of those incidents could never be published, but here’s one that can: It was The Day A Zillionaire Washed My Harley-Davidson.

The Ozbike office has moved about over the years, and at one time was situated in the salubrious surroundings of Redfern. It was a fine building, with the ICAC just across the road and Johnno’s (Redfern Motor Cycles) in a little laneway up the other end of George Street.

And the best part of the address was a huge, concreted vacant lot right next door. It was great, you could bash out stories on the computer, and keep a keen eye on the Norton, or brand-new Harley, or whatever you had parked out there.

But nothing lasts forever, and the vacant lot was sold. A zillionaire property developer had big plans for small apartments; those plans ensured we weren’t going to like what was about to occur for the next year or so. When a huge vacant lot turns into a skinny, scaffold-clad driveway, it’s always bad, but when the machines take over your own little world, it’s really bad. Gi-normous steam shovels breaking up large slabs of concrete, pile drivers, bulldozers, trucks and every colour of power tool can drive you batshit when you’re trying to produce a couple of magazines a month. Choking dust, deafening noise and Richter-wrecking earth movements do not go hand in hand with publishing.

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, and needless to say, Ozbike was soon at war with the developer.

The developer was a nice enough bloke, and to be fair, he did bend over backwards in his efforts to minimise disruptions to our business, but man, there were some serious disruptions. The developer’s name was Peter, and he was migrant success story if ever there was one. He had a finger in many financial pies, although when he first lobbed in Australia, he was a penniless immigrant with a Nazi concentration camp prisoner number tattooed on his arm. Yeah, the lad from overseas had done good.

As the monstrosity next door neared completion, we’d all become almost mates; so much so that Peter was invited and duly rocked up to Ozbike’s then-editor Boris’ buck’s night up the ’Cross. It was interesting to see a bloke with a death-camp serial number tattooed on his forearm drinking and telling jokes with a number of big, ugly bikers with swastika tattoos and swastika T-shirts.

In a quiet time later in the night, being a bit up-front, I asked him how he felt about people wearing Nazi paraphernalia. His answer surprised me: “I don’t really care,” he shrugged. “See, these boys are living in this wonderful country of Australia, in these fabulous times, and they don’t really understand what is was like back then when Hitler was around. If they had any idea of how bad it was for human beings, and what the swastika represented, they wouldn’t wear it.”

Fair enough, I thought, but the reason for this yarn occurred prior to that wild old buck’s night when the Great War between the George Street neighbours was beginning to thaw. One day, after Peter had sorted out another problem (the builder’s careless attitude was the main problem; had the union ever got involved, that site would’ve been shut down on multiple safety breaches before the delegation got through the front gate), Peter was asking us about the swimsuit, lingerie and evening wear the models almost wore for the Ozbike cover shoots. “I own a swimwear company, and I’d be happy for you to borrow any of the line for photo-shoots,” he casually mentioned. “As long as the brand gets a credit,” he added hopefully.

“Of course it would!” yelled Boris, suddenly very interested in Peter’s other business interest.

Now, I won’t mention the huge name of high-class swim-and evening-wear line we had just tapped into, but, suffice to say, if you’ve ever gristled up and had to ‘adjust’ the wedding tackle while passing any of the stunningly sexy billboards saturating major cities at present, you’ll know which swimwear company I’m talking about.

Peter made a few phone calls and organised us a meeting with his managers straight away. Another good thing about Ozbike was the manic pace at which most things happened, and how instantly new directions were pursued. Within minutes, Boris and I were on the motorbikes and barrelling down Cleveland Street to Surry Hills, to Peter’s swimsuit factory. I was on my bright red FXR and Boris was riding ‘Mr Cruel’, his recently customised Heritage Softail.

Now, to be honest, I was pretty damned proud of my FXR. It was a motorcycle of many ‘firsts’ for me. First-ever brand new bike, first bike with left foot gear-change, first with blinkers, first with electric start, and if you don’t count the lonely disc on the front of the Commando, the first non-drum braked bike. And it was only the second bike I’ve actually ridden home from the place of purchase, rather than having it arrive in boxes in the back of a ute. The first one I rode home was the AJS, but as that was a racer with a straight-through pipe and no lights, it was snuck home the back way so that wouldn’t count either.

Mr Cruel

Boris’s Mr Cruel looked magnificent, with its apeys, raked frame, extended forks and get-fucked straight through pipes. The crowning glory was the radically ‘blobbed’ hot flamed paintwork by Dan Murdoch. It looked like the aftermath of a shotgun massacre in a cartoonist’s studio and the shine was miles deep.

Peter had told us to park the bikes in the car spot reserved for him, so we did. A greeting party came down to meet us and treated us like royalty, rather than the scumbag bikies we were.

It seemed like everyone had been told to treat us nice and give us whatever we wanted. Everyone, of course, except for Old Herb, the car park attendant.

Boris and I were in the boardroom: “Yeah, we’ll have one of this style, one of that… oh, and one of each colour combination of that style there… It was photo-shoot styling Heaven, and they were going to deliver it to our office, so the old trick of transporting thousands of bucks worth of sheilas’ apparel by motorbike wouldn’t be necessary this time.

Boris and me and the managers from the rag trade were talking like old drinkin’ buddies as we wandered down to the bikes. Boris was still discussing important stuff with our new best friends as I walked to the bikes. My jaw dropped. My heart sank. The barely contained rage exploded with a hearty “WHAT THE FUCK?” which duly attracted everyone’s attention, including Boris, who promptly said what I just said, only louder. Old Herb, the car park attendant, had been left off the list of employees told to extend every courtesy to the two ugly bikie visitors, and had dutifully slapped an “Oy! Arsehole — you’re parked illegally, move it!” sticker on the petrol tank of each Harley-Davidson. Yep, the really viral, bright orange ones which aren’t meant to come off window glass without a hell of a tussle. Bang, slap! Right on the beautiful paintwork of the bloody petrol tanks!

Boris and I were stunned for a second, while our new besties were busy forming an ‘uh-oh’ squad. An uh-oh squad is the committee-like group of people who stand around a potentially dangerous or rapidly escalating situation shaking their heads and saying “uh-oh!”

Long time readers and friends of Ozbike will know that two of the staff members at that time looked suspiciously alike and had never been photographed together. One was named Boris, and the other was Bull-Bar. Boris was the genial, thought-provoking writer who ably edited Ozbike and other titles for many years; Bull-Bar, who looked remarkably similar to Boris, but just a little taller and meaner, with madder eyes, flared nostrils, and a lot more flecks of flying foam flailing about. Bull-Bar was very easily fired up and pointed at an enemy.

Bull-Bar had miraculously appeared and began storming about looking for the prick who’d stuck the stickers. Old Herb was in a shitload of trouble and on that day, in that chaotic carpark, I witnessed the largest-ever number of people yelling: ‘SHIT!’ and simultaneously jumping on the shovel. Bull-Bar raged through receptions and loading docks, demanding an audience with Old Herb to show him the error of his sticker-sticking ways. Old Herb had made himself very scarce, and a number of the despatch room workers were immensely brave in standing up to Bull-Bar and declaring that old Herb had a heart condition, and was currently being hidden away for his own health, and no, he would not be produced on a platter.

“Look,” pleaded one of them, “with Herb’s dicky ticker, there’s a big chance the stress will give him a heart attack and he’ll die.”

“Having a heart attack and dying will be the least of his worries if I ever get my hands on him,” Bull-Bar roared most unreasonably. “He’ll know what’s it’s like to have to pay for a respray involving a $4000 custom paint job!”

I’m sure each time Bull-Bar mentioned the cost of the paint job, it increased by increments of $1000, so, by the time the rant was winding down, it was up to a ‘$7000 paint job.’

It’s likely Herb had already slipped out of the country, with forged travel documents and a new identity.

It was about this time that Peter the Zillionaire turned up, having been summoned by the uh-oh squad. “Awww, fer fuck’s sake!” was all he could utter in total exasperation, soon to be joined by a few chants of, “Why me, Lord? Why me?” If the uh-oh squad was in a tizz before, they were really freaking out now the boss was here. With the big boss roaring, Bull-Bar ranting and me silently staring at them in a manner most malevolent, they seemed to running around in ever-decreasing circles.

When some semblance of calm was restored, Peter promised to “make things right” and Bull-Bar and I both climbed aboard our respective Harleys and roared off back down Cleveland Street to Casa Ozbike.

Bull-Bar stalked into the editor’s office to smash some things up or something, while I broke out the hot, soapy water, metho, kero, Mr Sheen, and any other cleaning product that could be dragged out from under a bikie magazine’s kitchen sink.

I gently worked away at the edges of those gnarly stickers, bit-by-bit soaking, peeling, soaking peeling, until both bikes were sticker free.

Before that happened, Peter had arrived, dressed in overalls and pleading to be allowed to wash the bikes. I didn’t answer him at first, but it wasn’t a sulk, more of measured silence. After a bit more pleading from the zillionaire property developer and swimwear king, I relented and allowed him to wash my bike. We had a quiet yakkety-yak about Nortons, Harleys and how good some girls look in bikinis.

Eventually, Boris even reappeared from the editor’s office and wandered down to where the bikes were being washed. It was tense, very tense, but things were going to be okay.

The only other time that red FXR got washed by someone other than me was some time later. We’d done a nice girlie shoot with a lovely girl called Cherrae, using my shed as the studio. All went well, the photographer was happy, Boris was happy, Cherrae was happy, and even I was happy. We’d finished about an hour early, Photo Man reckoned he still had a couple of rolls of film left over and he’d rather shoot on than shoot through.

“I know,” I declared, “we can do one of those great bike-washing-in-bikini themed shoots… here, we can use my bike as a prop!”

“Oh yeah?” both Boris and the snapper quizzed, both very suspiciously. While the photographer was saying lots of photographery-type things like, “Yeah, baby, that’s it, look sexy, arch your back, straighten those fingers, smile… Oh, yeah baby, beautiful”, I was saying things like, “Um, Cherrae, you missed a bit down near the primary case…

Bringing the J Van Home from Mount Panorama Bathurst

NOW, I KNOW this is a bike mag, and any Road Tale should be about bikes, and the riding thereof, but this yarn involves cars; two of them in fact, both owned by me and, yes, the story also involves a shitload of motorbikes.

It was Easter, 1980, and I was preparing my AJS 500 single for the Historic Machine Race around the legendary Mount Panorama, Bathurst. To my way of thinking back then, like most of my mob, cars were something girls drove: Men rode Motorbikes. But I didn’t fancy riding a race-prepared 30-year-old motorbike from Sydney to Bathurst, around the track four times then back to Sydney. I needed a car to go bike racing.

Also, like most of my mob back then, the cars we did own usually came from somewhere in the $0—$200 price range. (three months rego, engine starts—you little beauty!)

A mate of mine, Davo, was carting out a girl called Carole. Davo, 30 years ago, would change his bikes almost as often as he changed his underpants. To this day, he still changes motorbikes regularly, but is still married to the same Carole. A few weeks before Easter three decades ago, Carole had just traded up in the four wheeler department, replacing an old Fairlane Ford of 1959 vintage with a much more modern 1968 Fairmont.

“What are you doing with the old Tank Fairlane?” I gingerly enquired.

“Driving it to the tip and leaving it there,” came the straight-faced reply. “If you want it, it’s yours,” my new favourite girl generously added.

Yahoo! I now had some way of getting my racer to Bathurst without riding it there!

There was a catch; I had to take the chromed 12-slotter wheels off the Fairlane and put them on the new Fairmont, drag out the 15-inch chromies from under her house and refit them to the Tank, unbolt the airhorns and organise the switching of her personalised plates which cost bugger-all or less.

With a grin as wide as Oprah Winfrey’s arse, I drove the flash new motor from Carole’s dead-end street in the back-blocks of Brookvale a full km around to the main drag, where I parked it proudly outside Spooner’s Motor Cycles, to pick up stuff for the Ajay’s upcoming race meeting.

Fate stepped in as a mate, Rocky, stepped out of Spooner’s doorway.

I hadn’t seen Rocky for a while, even though he was a good mate. See, Rocky had worked at Spooner’s up until about a year before, when he’d left the Big Smoke to try his hand at living in a tin shed halfway between Sofala and Hill End in the NSW goldfields. His plan was to weld up rusty cars, build custom bikes, service farm machinery, or do anything a bloke could do to keep himself and his new bride in food and lodgings. Reading between the lines, there simply wasn’t the call for a city slicker to do what most country lads were quite happy to do themselves. The only money he could make was de-knackering sheep, and that was seasonal, and I’ve seen the photo of his wild grin and blood-spattered face and… yeah, I won’t go into details of the process, but let’s just say it would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth and he’d made the decision to move back to Sydney. Rocky probably still won’t admit it, but I think he was sniffing around Spooner’s to see if they’d forgotten about the ‘Get fucked, arseholes’ parting shots and ‘could he have his old job back?’

“G’day, Rocky,” I shouted like a long lost mate.

“G’day, Kel… far out! Check out the Tank Fairlane; I’ve always wanted a Tank Fairlane to cut the roof off, weld up the back doors and lengthen the fronts to make a convertible—I wonder who owns it?”

“Me,” I replied proudly. “Just picked it up two minutes ago; cost me nothing.”

“It’s mine now,” Rocky insisted. “I’ll swap my Morris ‘J’ Van for it—straight swap!”

I felt a bit strange about the value disparity, but what the hey—“Deal!” I shouted.

The Morris ‘J’ Van, for those young whippersnippers out there, was a horrible old Pommy delivery van. It was so goddamned ugly it was beautiful; when first unleashed on an unsuspecting world in 1948, it featured a gutless, 1476 cc, side-valve, four-cylinder donk and a three-speed gearbox. Its final hurrah was in 1961, and while it looked no different from the outside, it had a slightly more powerful overhead-valve, 1500 cc motor with a four—count ’em—FOUR speed gearbox.

As a young fella, I only had bike ‘L’ plates and never really needed a car licence until I saw an old Morris ‘J’ Van and just had to have it. I thought they were ‘cute’ and perfect for carrying two Pommy race bikes in the back, with more than enough room to kip overnight in the back if a mattress was installed.

Rocky had bought his ‘J’ Van off Skraps some time before; Skraps had bought it from a Dutchman with a sexy blonde daughter. Old Hans probably wouldn’t have sold it to Skraps if he knew he was only buying it to have somewhere warm and dry for a bit of horizontal folk dancing with von Blonde Dutch girl. Though Skraps only paid $100 for it, by the time it had served its purpose, it was only worth about $20 that’s all Rocky paid for it. He proceeded to ‘do ’er up’, with a respray and brakes, and got it looking quite flash. It was in that ‘J’ Van that Rocky moved most of his worldly possessions to Sofala and set up home in a tin shed that boiled in summer and froze in winter.

With the Bathurst countdown ticking down rapidly, a plan was hatched to ride my AJS race bike and drive the Tank Fairlane to Bathurst, do the swap and bring the race bike back in my new ‘J’ Van.

We had a plan and it sorta worked.

Lil’ Cathy, a regular pillion on my Norton, was all geared up for another cold ride over the mountains at Easter, and was mightily miffed to learn she’d be a passenger in an old Tank Fairlane but still came along for the ride. In any case, I’d loaned my Commando to Scappo so he could ride to Bathurst. Consequently, I was allowed to borrow my own bike to take Cathy for rides away from the Mountain anyway.

A mate, Howie (short for Howard Hughes the Recluse), came too and you know what? An AJS in race trim with clip-on handlebars, folding rear-set footpegs, no kickstart lever and a tucked-in exhaust system fits into the boot of a 1959 Tank Fairlane if you shuffle the rear seat out of the way. Serious—a short occky strap on the boot lid with only a sliver of front tyre peeking out the crack and that Ajay is in!

Bathurst that year was pretty uneventful, except I got to ride on the race track, was allowed to borrow my own John Player Norton Replica and put it in the Ring Events, did a few more donuts in the Ring on the Ajay racer, and… oh yeah, became involved in a massive, three-bike, all Triumph head-on smash. Other than that—normal Bathurst.

On the Sunday arvo, we all, as a motley convoy, adjourned to the Sofala pub. Rocky had planned it so we could all help him move and nobody had a clue what was going on but, what the hey! As we speared left at Kelso aiming for the quaint little gold rush town of Sofala, I got full ‘sensurround’ as Scappo gunned my Commando straight ahead, Sydney-bound. The remaining convoy consisted of Rocky in his new Tank Fairlane; his then wife Sandy on her Honda Four chopper; me on Rocky’s 1951 AJS with a very cute Cathy clinging on the back and not complaining once about the wonders of AMC ‘Jampot’ rear suspension units; Skraps, with a broken collarbone (from the aforementioned three-bike, all Triumph head-on smash) was riding Rocky’s WLA bobber; Howie was steering my new Morris ‘J’ Van with the race Ajay inside; Pommy Roger and his missus Liz, and Roy the Racing Boy and his Liz were bringing up the rear.

Now, a smart bloke would be thinking: Gee whizz, I’ve just spent three days drinkin’, smokin’, rootin’, ridin’ motorbikes and more drinkin’, what do I need to finish off an Easter weekend? “I know!” that smart bloke would shout. “More drinkin’ at the Sofala pub!”

And so we drank some more, bought some takeaway slabs. The plan was to head up to Rocky’s tin shed on the Hill End Road and drink some more, only this time with barbequed snags, potatoes and onions. It was a grand plan right up until I realised that the entire convoy had left for Rocky’s Bar and Grill. No problem in itself, it’s just that I was riding Rocky’s 1951 AJS single, with Lil’ Cathy as pillion. My 1950 AJS single was in the Van and already gone; it had the entire lighting and charging set, plus all the wiring removed, just a magneto to zap the juice.

Rocky’s Ajay still had all the lights and charging system, but they didn’t work either. Typical bloody AJS or Matchless single.

Joe Lucas gets a bad rap for reliability of electrical components, and I reckon it’s not all deserved. The 12-volt, alternator/bridge rectifier/Zener Diode charging system on most Pommy bikes from the mid 1960s onwards was not really that bad; the 12-volt car generator and regulator served many Aussie cars well right into the mid-’60s worked as well. But the Lucas 6-volt dynamo and regulator charging system was worse than woeful—it rarely worked well when new; make them middle-aged or elderly, and forget having lights at night. On some bikes, the 6-volt Lucas dynamo was almost adequate; pre-unit Triumph and BSA Twins had their pissy little 6-volt Lucas dynamo clamped on the front of the motor, out in the breeze and easy to remove and fix. AJS and Matchless singles had them way down deep in the engine plates, between motor and gearbox and it was a major operation (take off entire primary drive and clutch just to see it) Hate, hate, hate, bastards, kill!

Even BSA singles, with their ‘magdyno’, a specially shaped magneto casing with a 6-volt dynamo clamped to it gave lots of problems, just really easy to remove and repair. The weirdo design with a magdyno was you couldn’t run the bike without the dynamo because it was an integral part of the magneto clamping system. When the BSA Gold Star race boys would remove their dynamos, they would turn up a three-inch diameter wooden dowel to take the place of the removed dynamo. The old joke in those days was that the block of wood could generate the same amount of electricity as the dynamo it replaced; i.e. NOTHING!

All that knowledge wasn’t worth a politician’ promise to Cathy and me. If the situation was turned into a romantic comedy movie, the title would be Lightless in Sofala. The night was totally moonless, as dark as the inside of a Scotsman’s wallet. You dead-set couldn’t see a bloody thing as we thumped the Ajay towards Hill End. Without even the benefit of a slight shimmer of silver to tell me which way the dirt road twisted and turned, I found that by dragging both boots on the ground, I could get a feeling for whereabouts on the road we were; boots slip cleanly over hard packed dirt—she’s all good, mate. Right boot starts kicking up loose sand, veer left back into wheel track, and so on.

But we got there, and partied, and partied and partied.

The next day, after a bracing skinny dip in the Turon River, the convoy meandered out from Sofala Sydney bound. Everyone had their own problems to contend with. Howie was driving an old van he wasn’t real happy about; Skraps was grimacing from ear to collarbone over every rigid-framed bump; Lil’ Cathy, while not complaining, must have been uncomfortable on the pillion pad of Rocky’s Ajay. I was massively hung-over but enjoying the ride on a nicely restored AJS. It was mid-afternoon on Easter Monday, a crushingly beautiful Autumn day when the spectre of English electrics decided to hover over our hangover convoy.

Just as we hit the highway at Kelso, turning left in the direction of Sydney, Howie pulled the ‘J’ Van to the side of the Great Western Highway, declaring, “She no go, Senor, she cactus.”

If you know what a Morris ‘J’ Van looks like, you’ll know that thanks to very clever (for the immediate Post War era) design, the engine is inside the cabin, accessible through either of the frightfully handy sliding doors. Simply lift a shapely tin cover, and there is the motor in all its gutless glory. A rudimentary check showed the SU (not Lucas, ha, ha!) electric fuel pump wasn’t working. Aw shit! Electric problems while hung-over. The satisfying ‘tick, tick’ sound of a happy SU fuel pump was just not happening. Even if you’re not really enjoying this yarn, at least you can learn something new: The ‘SU’ part of SU carburettors stands for ‘Skinner’s Union’, I just thought you’d like to know that.

I was about to grab the Sidchromes when I accidentally brushed my hand past the pump (okay, I might’ve been slapping the insolence out of it) when, lo and behold, the prick started ticking again. It worked for a while and the donk roared into life. Then it stopped again. I ‘nudged’ it once more and she was away and ticking.

Now a smarter, more considerate and less lazy man would’ve gone that inch further, taken the Bakelite cap off the pump and simply tightened the loose terminal inside. No, I had a less considerate, lazier method to get us going again.

With the engine cover left off, my solution was to convince Lil’ Cathy to forgo her bike ride for a lovely, plush ride in a Morris ‘J’ Van to Sydney with no engine cover. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, was to crouch near the opened engine, leaning on the front wheel of the strapped-down Ajay and periodically tap the end of the SU fuel pump with the not-so-vicious end of the large screwdriver I’d handed her.

“Sure,” she chirped, not fully understanding what she’d let herself in for.

And we were underway again. Cathy was tapping the recalcitrant fuel pump every 200 meters or so, and with only about 60 km to Lithgow, there was only about 300 taps, so that couldn’t be too hard, could it?

Swanning along the Great Western Highway to the melodious thump of a big British single was pure Heaven on that fine Easter Monday, and I shut my mind to how horrible it must have been for the poor lass, her pretty face just inches away from an uncovered motor at about 100 km/h, tap, tap, tapping on a putrid pump.

 I shoulda stopped at Lithgow, but all seemed to be going so well, and Howie didn’t stop in town so onwards it was, until the frighteningly steep climb out of Lithgow known as Scenic Hill. Thumping along behind, I was marvelling at the performance of my new car. It was making its way up that hill in fine style. Sorta. Well, it was only going slightly slower than a couple of fully-laden trucks. I know this, because there were a few fully-laden trucks caught up in the snake’s tail of traffic crawl that stretched from the ‘J’ Van’s road position all the way back into the township.

You must understand that in 1980, the road up Scenic Hill was just one narrow lane going up, and one narrow lane going down. And big, fat wooden guide posts with mesh wire fencing just off the bitumen after a very narrow gravel verge. And right on the worst, most dangerous bend, right up near the top, the ‘J’ Van carked it again. 

It seems it really needed some serious juice so Cathy was giving the fuel pump some extra big whacks. She smashed that Bakelite cover into a tradgedillion pieces and the car—she cactus again. Really cactus this time, virtually as far off the bitumen was Howie could steer it and still half blocking the uphill lane. Shit, we were popular with the crawling mass of cars, trucks and motorbikes that were risking life and limb swinging out on the wrong side on a very blind corner.

I parked the bike and went to see.

“So what are you going to now, Einstein?” Howie spat, in a tone that was definitely in the running for the most sarcastic I’d ever heard. “The handbrake’s not holding and I’m not letting up on the footbrake, so you’ll have to get ‘Little Miss Fuel Pump Smasher’ to be your offsider if you need help.”

I may have been hung-over, but I knew Mr Gravity could help us. Grabbing a ¼ Whitworth spanner, I whipped the fuel tank off the race Ajay in seconds flat, replaced the Van’s engine cover and propped the bike tank on top. After connecting one of the rubber hoses to the car’s fuel line, great gobs of Avgas was gleefully gurgling into the ‘J’ Van’s carburettor. And away we went again. I was so very pleased with myself, and a cocky and self-congratulatory wobble of the head was more than just necessary, it was unavoidable.

Rolling down the mountain at Kurrajong and ambling along to the river crossing that officially puts a weary traveller back in his own home town, Joseph Lucas, the Prince of Darkness, had the last say. As darkness descended on Sydney Town, Rocky’s AJS trip finished as we loaded it into the back of the van and I got to drive my new car for the first time. I slapped the steering wheel and proclaimed: “Isn’t she a beaut?”

Cathy and Howie both glared at me and said nothing.

And you know what? That sucker was so good on fuel consumption, whatever was left in the 3-1/4 gallon AJS tank—after four laps practice and four laps of racing around Mount Panorama, plus the ring events—got us all the way back to Sydney.

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

Falling Off Norton Motorcycle At Tanelorn

ROCK CONCERTS are great, aren’t they? The bigger the better, I say, and one of the bigger ones I remember was Tanelorn. That was how it was spelt, but it was pronounced ‘Tannel-lawn.’ Bloody hippies. Tanelorn happened over three days in October 1981 and it was a ripper of a place, set in a deep ravine up near Stroud in the Hunter Valley. Oz’s best bands of the time were playing up a storm: Redgum, The Church, Moving Pictures, Kevin Borich Express, Men at Work, Sunnyboys, Broderick Smith’s Big Combo, Midnight Oil, and Split Enz all gave their best, but the only real highlight for me music-wise came late on Saturday night when Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs ripped the place apart with their rock and roll.

But like the Harley-Davidson adverts say, getting there is sometimes better than being there. And that’s how it was for me; a veritable odyssey before I even heard the first note or banged the first head.

My girl at the time was already at Tanelorn but I had to work the Friday night. She’d left early Friday morning with a load of people: her sister Leelu, her brother Howie, his girl Spindle, a heap of cousins and various assorted mates had all travelled in a convoy to Tanelorn, They’d been warned on the radio adverts that motorcycles and dogs weren’t allowed on the concert site so there was a lot of people crammed into those cars (along with all the beer and Howie’s white Bull Terrier, Boss. 

I had no choice but to travel by bike from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, so when I finished work late Friday night, the John Player Norton was already gassed up, loaded and pointing North. I jumped on and powered into what promised to be a good weekend.

All was going well until the final stretch — along Bucketts Way with about 5 klikks to go before the concert entrance — when I got booked like a bastard. I wasn’t speeding — no way, no how, and I argued the toss with the A-hole of a sergeant to no avail.

Then, just half a mile further on, the traffic jam started. And I mean traffic jam. Being on a bike made it better, but dead set, the cars were just lined up and not moving. People were out of their cars and cooking on barbies, drinking bulk piss, partying and dancing. Well, it was an earth-mother style rock concert so there was a fair smattering of goddamned hippies in the jam.

The line of stopped cars snaked on for quite a few more kilometres, before it bent left into a gate and onto a dirt road. The dirt road into the property snaked on for miles, up hill and down mountain. It could’ve been 5 klikks of dirt road, it could’ve been 15; it’s hard to judge on a pitch-black night with a zillion parked cars and even more dancing hippies to dodge.

I finally got to Checkpoint Charlie where the line of cars stopped (or started, it you want to get technical).

There was a gate, a couple of security guards, and a totally clear dirt road meandering up the side of the last mountain before the fabled valley of Tanelorn with its lush green pastures, crystal-clear streams and no alcohol or motorcycles. And speaking of which, about 60 or 70 motorcycles were corralled at Checkpoint Charlie with lots of bikers moping around doing what bikers do best — looking surly and swearing. I parked the Norton and joined in the surliness and swearing like a long-lost brother.

The reason for the corralled bikers and the 15 km traffic jam allegedly lay just over the ridge on the narrow, winding mountain road. Evidently, a tabletop truck carrying a number of partying people as cargo had left the road and tumbled down the cliff. There were wildly varying rumours as to how many people were injured or who was involved, but the road was blocked by the rescue effort, and the only known fact was that the security detail wasn’t letting anyone through to rock concert Heaven.

There were three other facts of which I was keenly aware: Fact One was that thousands of cars and a large group of impatient bikers were being held in abeyance by two slack-jawed private security guards: Fact Two was that the locked gates preventing access to the dirt road leading to the concert site actually had motorcycle-friendly gaps adjacent. Fact Three was no matter how bad the accident scene, a bike can get through.

Without waiting for instructions, I fired up the Norton, threaded gingerly through one of the gates and fishtailed up the dirt road. As is always the case, the first engine to start was a signal for every other biker to dash to his bike, fire up and follow. I knew I could talk my way through any police cordon a whole lot easier if by myself, so I gassed that sucker hard up the dirt road. Looking back to the gates, there were headlights and mayhem everywhere. With everything from big, ugly Harley riders to kids on trail-bikes doing their best to get through the narrow gates. A few hundred yards behind me, the first couple of headlights were already spattering the eucalypts above with flickers of light. 

The eye-frying twin headlights in the John Player Special fairing were cooking a way through the narrow mountain trail as I pushed ahead. When I got to the accident scene, it was all but clear with just a tow truck and a cop car just off the side of the track. The one cop there was leaning on the back of his car, and if he wanted me to stop, he was going about it the wrong way. It wasn’t one of those manly, shoulders-back/ chin-out/ palm-outstretched “YOU — STOP!” signals, more a friendly, “This must be the pizza” wave and smile. I roared through without waiting for any adjudication, but all the following headlights seemed to get hung up at that point for a while. That breather was just enough to get to the main entrance where I was to show the ticket I didn’t have. 

The Gate Nazi stood boldly in front of me. “Forty dollars, Sir!” he barked. “Place your motorcycle over there in the bike parking compound, Sir!” he added for effect. 

I was mesmerised by the black uniforms of the Gate Nazis, the pants tucked into the paratrooper boots and the sexy, pistol-grip billy-clubs they were all carrying. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought. ‘They’re new. I wonder how much they hurt compared to the old ones?’

Just then, the words spoken at me by the man blocking my way began to sink in… “Forty friggin’ dollars?” I yelped. “You can buy two slabs of beer for that!”

“If you don’t like it, Sir,” he barked, “You can turn around and go home, Sir.”

I don’t know about you, but to my mind, the number of times a person calls you ‘Sir’ is directly proportional to the intensity of the dislike he feels for whoever he is calling ‘Sir’, so I figured Gate Nazi had taken an intense dislike to Little Ol’ Me.

“I think I will,” I muttered quietly as I rolled the bike forward down the hill a few inches.

Gate Nazi stood his ground, puffed up and put a steady hand on the pistol-grip billy-club. “Back up and go home if you don’t want to pay, Sir!” he commanded.

“I haven’t got reverse gear, mate,” I said testily. “I’ll have to do a U-turn and you’re standing in the way.”

“Oh, sorry, mate,” he said in a much more friendly manner as he stepped aside. “There you go!”

“Sayonara, sucker!” I yelled as I gunned the mighty Norton through the gates, through the hordes of wandering hippies and past the ‘No Vehicles Beyond This Point’ sign.

No matter how fit the arrogant bastard was, he couldn’t out-accelerate a swerving Norton so I was home and hosed and inside the acreage of Tanelorn.

And that is where the real problems started. I couldn’t find my girl or my gang… or my beer.

With no familiar bikes or cars to spy, there was nought but a sea of tents — and there were thousands of the bastards. 

The music on the main stage some miles away was not happening; it must’ve been late for the music to be turned off at a rock concert so large. 

Eerily, it was pretty quiet for a campsite containing tens of thousands of people. The official figures were 28,000 paying customers. (Oh, okay, 27,999) and the sheer size of that crowd was keeping me from my beer. 

I concocted a brilliant plan. Seeing as I had the only motorcycle on site, and a Norton has a fairly distinctive note, surely if I rode through the campsites, my girl would come bursting out of one of the tents once she heard the bass drone of the mighty Norton — especially if that Norton was given a cheeky little blip of the throttle while passing anonymous tents. After riding through about 50 campsites, and garnering about 37 ‘Shut ups’ and 44 ‘Fuck offs’, I realised I’d be quarantined from my girl and my beer until at least daylight. 

I parked the Norton next to a fence and got ready to kip down beside it. I was tonguing for a beer, but so bloody dry, a drink of water would’ve done. I searched high and low for any moisture to no avail. I was just about to lay down next to bike when: kerashh-clankle-ting! I knew that sound. It was the sound of the entire contents of a slab of beer falling out the bottom flaps onto the ground. The frightening sound was immediately followed by an official proclamation: “We camp here!” 

I approached the group of blokes who were now ripping the scabs of some of the spilled cans and hooking in. “Can I buy a beer off you?” I asked politely. “A bloke’s dying of thirst.”

“Naw, fuck off. You can’t buy beer from us,” came the stern reply. “You can have one for free — get this into ya!”

Turns out this group of blokes (from Shortland, if memory serves) had abandoned their cars at the back end of the traffic jam and the eight of so of them had walked the whole way carrying a slab of beer each and not much else. It was surprising the cartons lasted that long, and most of them had at least one broken thong stuck in the back pocket of their jeans.

I partied with these top blokes for ages, and the beers were free.

Their main claim to fame was they were all at the Star Hotel riot and they were good mates with the bloke who was the subject of that award-winning press photograph of the Newcastle bloke dancing beside the blazing cop car outside the pub that Cold Chisel sang about. 

I kept wanting to kip out, but they liked my jokes and were paying one can per good joke. Ah well, it’s a living. 

By morning, I was well and truly elephant’s trunk, and I bumped into my mate Chester. Seeing how he had his Triple with him, it turns out you could get your motorcycle in if you went about it the right way. I wonder what Gate Nazi would’ve said to the major Sydney patch club who had all managed to get their bikes in.

Then I found my girl and the rest of the mob, and no, it seems their campsite didn’t get a Norton visit a few hours earlier.

Now, I’d just done a 15-hour shift driving a taxi, then a short blast from Sydney to the Hunter Valley riding the Norton, then a major drinking session with some Newcastle lads who didn’t like pikers who’d refuse an offered beer. I wasn’t half as drink as what some thinkle peep I was, but the sun was up and the new day was just starting. If I wanted my own beer, I’d have to double Howie on the Norton a couple of kays over to where his girlfriend’s car was parked. The ride over was fine; the ride back was not. See, Howie decided to bring his dog Boss, plus the three slabs of beer Boss was minding in Spindle’s car — all in the one trip. The beer from the Boys from Shortland had given me way too much confidence in my own ability. “Fine,” I said.

The John Player Norton is supposed to be a single-seater race replica, but I’d hacked away some of the ducktail and converted it to an almost two-seater. My seven-stone girlfriend was a perfect fit; her brother Howie wasn’t. Add to that three slabs of Tooheys, some camera gear and a Bull Terrier, and, well, you get the picture. Boss Dog wasn’t just a pup either, but one of those Brick Shithouse Bullies. We wobbled off down the rocky track with the human/ canine/ beer load shifting dangerously and Howie had brought everything except his sense of humour. “Be careful,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “The downhill, rocky sections are my favourite!”

We also made our way magnificently up the slippery hill climb, over the giant man-made plateau of red clay. 

Howie was saying: “Watch it, careful of those people, lookout!” and just generally carrying on like an old moll.

“Don’t worry, Howie — swerving around hippies is my favourite part!”

Then Howie got really serious: “Watch out for the wet clay,” he admonished. “It’s really slippery.” 

The red clay patch, recently aided by the heavy rain, was about 200 metres long and 100 metres wide, and looked unavoidable. 

“Don’t worry,” I shouted over my left shoulder. “The red clay is my favourite part. 

We hit the clay at a fair clip and immediately slewed savagely to the left, corrected, overcorrected, undercorrected, and even incorrectly corrected a number of times well before we were at the halfway point. Boss was growling, Howie was howling and I was giggling like a buffoon; that bloody bike just wasn’t doing what I was telling it to do. 

“Don’t you dare crash!” Howie threatened.

There were a number of factors contributed to what occurred next. Two slabs of Tooheys on the tank of the Norton put the centre of gravity way too high. Another slab and a squirming Bull Terrier wedged between me and a whingeing pillion didn’t help matters. Another couple of very graceful swerves, and one final dash to the end of the slippery clay saw the Norton, the rider, the two pillions and the three cases of beer all fall down. The mighty Norton thankfully fell in the soft, squishy mud, so did the beer, so did the Boss dog and so did Howie. In fact, the only component to fall on the dry dirt was me! 

Howie said some words that even I’d never heard before. He called me some nasty names and picked up his muddy self, his muddy dog and the slabs of beer as I gingerly tippy-toed into the quagmire and picked up the bike. 

Wow, I’d never seen Howie that angry, and as he was pretty good at Tai Kwan Do, I did as little as possible to upset him further. And laughing at the red clay mud all over him and his dog wasn’t helping. Neither were the cheers and jeers of hundreds of hippie onlookers. Why can’t there be large crowds present on the odd occasion I do something cool, rather than something dumb?

I managed to get the bike started again, whereupon Howie swore some more and told me he’d be riding and for me to get on the back and carry his muddy dog against my clean clothes. I was trying so hard not to laugh. You know that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the centurions were trying to hold it together while Pontius Pilate lisped on about ‘his vewwy good fwiend Biggus Dickus?’ Well, that’s how hard it was not to laugh. I meekly sat on the back of my own bike while Howie got us back to the campsite.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. Billy Thorpe absolutely creamed it giving one of those performances you know you’ll never forget.

I was only becoming aware of my surroundings when we finally hit the freeway. From about Ourimbah onwards, the traffic was bloody well stopped again. Same deal as before, except it was the entire freeway at a total standstill. The only thing moving was the hordes of marauding motorcycles lane-splitting for the entire length of the freeway. Once again, at the head of the jam, literally hundreds and hundreds of bikes were pulled up and corralled. There was an LPG tanker leaking at the weighbridge at the old Berowra tollgates and the cops (real cops, this time) were not letting anyone through.

And once again, I got to stand around in the dark, swear and look surly with a whole load of bikers. Funnily enough, quite a few were ‘me old mates’ from Checkpoint Charlie on the way into Tanelorn. None of them could remember much about the concert either but they all agreed Billy Thorpe was the best.

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton.

Fear ‘n’ Loathin’ in the Supermarket

Y’KNOW WHAT I like best about diaries? They’re private. You can write anything you like and nobody will ever know. I can write anything about me girlfriend, me job or me mates, and then I hide me diary under me laundry cos that’s the safest place in me room (trust me — no-one’s gunna wanna touch that!) And I hide it cos of me one great fear: Sheree. 

Talking about fears, I’ll tell ya a secret: me other great fear — only don’t go blabbing cos nobody ever admits to fear — is that I’m scared shitless of supermarkets. Yep. And why I’m telling youse this is cos I’m standing here right now in front of the toothpaste aisle! Straight up, there’s a toothpaste aisle! A whole fukking aisle with toothpaste on it. There’s so much toothpaste, I think it would take up three walls of me bedroom and just leave room fer the window! It’s just toothpaste, fer Chrissakes. How many different ways can there be to make toothpaste? 

When I was an ankle-biter, there was hardly any toothpaste. We had Macleans or Colgate, spearmint or peppermint, small or large; some powder stuff fer smokers; and sweet stuff fer us kids that me mum didn’t get cos I used to eat it. Instead she got me the one I didn’t like and so I didn’t use it and I got holes in me teeth instead. 

So I’m looking at the different types of toothpaste and a nagging fear hits me: What if I gets the wrong one? 

You might say it’s only toothpaste, but if they was all the same, why’s there so many different ones? D’you remember that bloke on the telly with the car engine oil? “Oils ain’t Oils,” he said.

I’m standing here and I’m reading the labels:

Sensitive. Yeah, right! Right poofta more like! 

Or with bicarb of soda. Have you tasted bicarb? It’s shit! So that one’s out. 

Pearly Whites. Too late, mate. 

Extra fluoride. Hmmmmm… maybe? 

Stripey! Now that’s more like it! 

On Special. Put the stripey one back and pick up that one. 

Stain Removal. Yeah, I really could do with that. Get that one too. 

Stain removal with bleach. What am I, a toilet? 

Oooooh look! One with Noddy on it. I remember that one. That’s the nice tasting one. I haven’t had that in years. I’ll have that one too! 

I haven’t got a basket so I’m walking down the aisle with three toothpastes in me hands when I remember we’re outta milk. So I go and get 2 litres. 

Back on the way to the checkout, I grab a loaf, which reminds me to get toilet paper. So I go back to the toothpaste aisle for the toilet paper cos they’ll put the bathroom things together, won’t they? Well, two trips up and down and I can’t find the stuff so I ask (yeh, I did!) and the girl sez: aisle 12, opposite the frozen foods. 

Yeah? What lame-brain thought of that? Get your frozen peas and arse wipe at the same time. 

See if I was designing supermarkets, I’d do it alphabetically. So if yer looking for peas, they’d be in the middle, more or less, and if yer looking fer toilet rolls, they’d be towards the end. Generally, each supermarket has about 12 aisles, so that’s about half an aisle for each letter. Easy! And some people think I’m not that smart. That’d show them. Maybe I can patent it and sell them my idea! Yeh! 

So I’m smiling to meself, sorta thinking about having some peas and having a pee on the way to aisle 12, and I start thinking about the Noddy toothpaste. I wonder if it tastes the same? No good — I gotta find out. 

I got the 2 litres under me arm and the bread dangling from me middle finger, and I shove the other toothpastes up me armpit, and I open the Noddy toothpaste. Not as easy as it sounds! Somebody has anticipated that some other body (like me) might want to sample Noddy toothpaste and made it as hard as possible to get into, sealing the whole bloody box in plastic wrap. I’ve just about got me thumb under the lid of the box and it’s stuck down with a clear glue and me thumb’s stuck and when I pull me thumb out, I get a paper cut right across the thumb crease! 

Yow! It hurts like buggery! Ram me thumb in me mouth and the milk under me arm hits the ground, the top flies off, the milk goes everywhere, and I drop the bread in it, and everyone looks at me like I’m some kinda idiot. 

Whaaaaat?! That coulda happened to anyone! 

See, that’s the real reason we have girlfriends. I tell Sheree to get me sumpthin’ and she gets it in three colours and they all fit (except the puppy-print board-shorts she got me once and I don’t know if they fit cos they never got round me bum to find out). 

Sheree loves shopping. Y’know she even goes on shopping trips where she doesn’t buy anything just so she knows where to look if she does wanta buy something one day. 

I said to her, “You’ve just spent five hours shoppin’ an’ all you’ve got is a hairbrush.”

And she sez, “I’ve been lookin’ for a good hairbrush fer ages. This one gets the tangles out. 

And I go, “They ALL get the tangles out, that’s what they do!”

Aaar, we’re right back to the toothpaste again — they all get yer teeth clean. 

I step back while some spotty kid mops up the milk and another one offers to get me a fresh one. I just stand there licking me Noddy toothpaste, and yep! It’s still good. 

The kid looks up at me and I’m foaming at the mouth, and he nods and runs and I don’t care. I got the cleanest teeth in the supermarket! Heh, heh, heh! 

article by Barry Dagman; illustration by Dr Jay Harley

Road Tales: Fun On Two Wheels

AS A YOUNG fella, ridin’ motorbikes, drinkin’ beer and chasin’ the chicky babes was all I wanted to do; sometimes, the three staples in life would form a perfect, seamless blend and a blinder of a night, a weekend or a month which would make a young lad so happy to be alive. Occasionally, the carburettor of life would be tuned too rich and things could get sorta ‘doughy’, crowded and difficult. Other times, the mixture would lean out and the fun would get decidedly thin. You know, those times of drought, when the bike is off the road, or you can’t afford to party, or worse, all those girls who liked you suddenly realise what an arsehole you are in real life.

There were times in my days of youth and stupidity when things just seemed to go so right. I was the only bloke in a share house with females, and it’s not what you’re thinking — that’s no dream gig, especially when two of the girls are sisters. But here’s the good part — you’d be surprised at how your cute housemates would funnel their even cuter friends your way. 

“Oh,” the stray girls would think, “he’s friends with my friend, and he hasn’t tried to jump her bones yet, so he must be nice guy…”

Heh, heh, heh, come in to my web, my little lovely…

Even that wasn’t the main supply source for fun girls who were ‘Good Sports’. No sir! The real happy hunting ground for scorin’ the chicky babes was via my job, which was… (drum roll, please) a bloody taxi driver!

Now, before you all laugh and say, “Yeah, righto, mate,” think about this: It’s a Friday night and you’re in close company with a female who is alone and comfortably seated and there’s no blaring music and drunken buffoons forcing you to shout loudly. You’ve had a tub today so you don’t stink too bad and you don’t look like the Elephant Man. It’s easy to get the conversation started and soon enough, you can bring up the subject of motorcycles, and how great they are to ride.

Before you know it, you’ve just organised to take this attractive taxi passenger for a ride on a bike tomorrow and, gee whizz, that was easy. 

It was in the taxicab that I met Bunny, a tidy little unit with good suspension, nice bumpers and no hail damage. At 21, that’s to be expected, and even though Bunny was so straight, prim and proper compared with some of the other units I was carting out at the time, she still leapt at the chance for a ride on the back of a Norton Commando with a bloke she’d only met the night before. And speaking of units, it was about the same time I hooked up with The Goog. The funny thing was that Bunny and The Goog couldn’t stand each other. Far be it from me to even suggest they were fighting over me, it’s just they already knew and genuinely hated each other’s guts before I appeared on their respective scenes. 

Apparently, The Goog and her cute cousins had crashed Bunny’s 21st at Collaroy Surf Club, then got turfed out by security.

And The Goog. Technically, I met her in a cab on a Friday night, too, just not the one I was driving. The Goog and her cute cousins were out on the town, and their cab pulled up next to mine at the corner of Dee Why Parade and Pittwater Road, Dee Why, and the cute cousins I’d known for years recognised me and began yelling my name and waving madly. Although I’d never met The Goog before, I was well introduced when she chucked a brown-eye out the back passenger window.

“What was all that about?” my drunken, front seat passenger asked.

“…that’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

“I’m not sure,” was my cautious reply. “But I know one thing — that’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

That bold prediction very nearly came true, as the next 13 years of carting out The Goog was an exciting rollercoaster ride from which I was let off with a stern warning.

But back to Bunny. Like I said, she was quiet and demure and I carted her out about five times, but two things happened on that first ride: one was a near-death experience for both of us; the other was the funniest gaffe from a slightly naïve girl that I’ve ever heard.

I’d arrived at Bunny’s place at the appointed time on Saturday morning on the Mighty Norton. That bike has worn a few different styles at various times, but this time it was all sassed up with its twin headlight John Player fairing, seat unit and flashy paintwork. The John Player Norton was originally a single seater, with a huge tail fairing in white, red and Royal Blue, but I’d modified mine to enable the carriage of a pillion passenger, as long as the pillion passenger was one of those ‘compacts’ because it was a definite squeeze to fit your latest squeeze on.

We were soon on our way and motorvatin’, heading west from the Northern Beaches and pointing directly at the Blue Mountains. Over the river, big right turn and the Mighty Norton was soon slicing its way along the Putty Road, with inexperienced Bunny proving to be an excellent pillion passenger, hunkering right down behind me whenever a long straight stretch called for an irresponsible amount of throttle (more on that later).

Now, the Putty Road is one of those legendary rides that motorbike riders will seek out: lots of ups and downs, lots of fast and slow corners and not a bad view of the countryside just a short distance out from Stinky Old Sydney Town.

On a bit of downgrade, we throttled down behind a semi-trailer with a high and canvas-covered load, then followed it for a short while due to double lines and blind corners. There was no need for impetuousness, as I could see the road was getting clearer and straighter ahead as we dived down into the valley floor.

…because… your life is Far-Ken-Worth nothing if ever one hits you

When the time came, the Mighty Norton’s throttle was given a damned good wrenching, and we blew past the semi. For the sake of the yarn, I’ll say it was a Kenworth, because as you all know, your life is Far-Ken-Worth nothing if ever one hits you. Suffice to say, it was a massively tall, flat-fronted bastard of thing, with a specially-reinforced bull-bar to cope with the 400 spotties and foglights it carried. Maybe I even gave the driver a wave as we sliced past.

As we hit the floor of the valley, the road was straight and kinda raised up like it was cutting through a flood-plain, and there were some serious, harvest-ready crops either side of the raised roadway.

With Bunny hunkered right down behind me, my bonce tucked under the fairing screen and no thoughts of slowing down, we came upon a road event that should’ve screamed “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger…” but the younger and dumber me didn’t hear the robot’s metallic voice, or even notice the flailing robot arms.

Fire!

Yep, there was a massive fire; it was burning right up to the edge of the road and some very thick, dense smoke was being buffeted across the bitumen by some strong crosswinds. It certainly looked to me like the bloody thing was well-planned and controlled burn off — right up until it got completely out of control.

Now common sense should have prevailed, and the motorcycle should have been pulled to the side of the roadway where a thorough investigative research project could be initiated. But back in the late 1970s, the obvious course of action was to plough headlong into the smoke and hang the expense.

The wind was strong, the smoke pall was low and the flames were close: the grassy areas beside the bitumen were alight. I could hardly see a thing, was having trouble breathing and then I began to slow down — I had to — I was freakin’ out, man! The bike was passing close to a few ghostly figures. I imagined they were panicked farmers beating crap out of the flames with wet hessian sacks. The bike was going slower and slower, and I really couldn’t tell whether it was a large serving of common sense, or… (gulp) the engine was running out of oxygen as well.

It’s a funny thing to look back at a time of terrible crisis and mortal danger, then think about how your brain was working with the information you had to hand. I can remember thinking, “How bloody long can this smoky Tunnel of Death be?” Although I had no way of measuring, and it was all too hectic, I imagined we’d travelled about 100 smoke filled meters and still in the dark. 

And then another, even freakier thought raced through my head like sniper’s bullet. “Oh my gawd, the bloody KENWORTH!”

Crazy calculations and propositions were making my brain hurt. The smoke pall was just high enough to cover a Norton, its rider and passenger, but I just knew it wouldn’t even come up as high as the bottom part of a Kenworth’s windscreen. And I knew the Kenny’s driver was a throttle jockey who’d just got his 30 tonne battering ram up to a speed he wouldn’t want to relinquish.

With the bike’s throttle cracked open even further, and the motor going even slower, I was just praying the road went straight and the flame-beating farmers with the towels around their head wouldn’t step into the path. And a supplementary prayer we didn’t get bull-barred.

And then there was no smoke, the road ahead was clear and straight and the Mighty Norton coughed a polite apology and got back into the groove.

Once we’d cleared the danger zone, a quick look behind showed the psycho Throttle Jockey in the Kenny obviously had enough common sense not to plough headlong into a torrent of smoke from an out-of-control fire and had stopped before the danger. Wimp.

Bunny tapped my on the shoulder and said, “Wow, that was pretty scary!”

“Naw,” I replied, “had it covered, Baby. Shit like that happens all the time on these highways…”

Jeez, I was an excellent liar back then. In truth, I was about one gasp short of Jobbed Rompers.

The ride transformed back into the beautiful experience it should’ve been: brilliant Spring weather, great roads, a big, booming Norton, and a nice looking girl who really had this pillion riding down to a fine art. She knew when to tuck in down behind me (more on that later), how to lean with the bike and not against it. She was good.

Even got to do one of my favourite things with Bunny (settle down, you Goddamned pree-verts, not that thing). No, one of my favourite things is to break up a ride by partaking in a leisurely sail on a car ferry, and Bunny and I were just soaking up the easy vibes, while leaning on the ferry’s railing and gazing at the water.

Of course, no ride on the Wiseman’s car ferry is complete without a brief visit to the Wiseman’s Ferry pub.

It was the usual eclectic rabble of scumbag bikies at the pub, from seriously grumpy patch club members, Harley riders, Jap sports bike riders, Ducati riders, grospy old bastards on 1954 Triumph Thunderbirds they’ve owned since new, to the rider of a John Player Norton who kept checking his eyebrows for localised singeing. 

The Mighty Norton was squeezed into one of the few remaining spots out the front and a schooner of Toohey’s Old was like liquid gold but Bunny’s small glass of ice water with a twist of lemon made it a cheap shout. We sat and talked and just generally got on, while sharing a table with a few patch members from a large MC club which had decided to quench its collective thirst as well.

One of the members was quite friendly and although he made favourable comments on the Mighty Norton, appeared to be more interested in having a sly perve on Bunny’s tidy body.

It was then that young Bunny asked a quite curious question: “Do you like it when I go down on you?”

Had I been chewing gum at the time, I would’ve swallowed it

Had there been a piano player in the corner, he would’ve stopped playing. As it was, there was an immediate silence for a 10-metre radius, save for the sound of the odd sprayed mouthful of beer and the cricking sound of rapidly spinning necks as so many men turned instantly to gaze upon the cute and appallingly innocent Bunny.

I figured it was time to break the silence and reply. “Sure, Baby, it feels great, and the bike goes faster when you tuck right down behind me because there’s less wind resistance…”

The argle-argle sound of pub conversation started up again, the imaginary piano player resumed playing and I suddenly realised a simple, “Sure, Baby,” without trying to explain away her gaffe would’ve done much more for my street cred. Bloody 20/20 hindsight!

A few schooners later, it was time to saddle up and leave; one of the patch members even sauntered over to have a closer look at the Mighty Norton, but I suspect he may have wanted one last look upon one the best female arses on view that day.

Great! A British bike is about to be kick-started on a dodgy, sloping bit of bitumen and now there’s an audience.

Luckily, the Mighty Norton fired first kick, the motor sounded beautiful as the pipes and other appendages flapped around at the low revs (Commandos do that). First gear was cleanly selected and a perfect launch up the mountain on full song couldn’t have sounded anything other than sensational. Yah, another 2.3 percentage points were added to my depleted street-cred rating, and another almost spiritual ride was ours as we skimmed along the ridges and valleys that make the Old Northern Road from Wisemans Ferry such a neat place to be on a motorbike.

Bunny finally spoke over my shoulder; “‘Going down on you’ means something different to you than it does to me, doesn’t it?”

“Err, yeah, Baby. I’ll explain it to you back at my place,” I shouted back.

We got back to my place, but there was no explanation necessary, and I definitely missed on a practical demonstration. Alas, there were no happy endings; it was still a brilliant day, but…

written by Kelly Ashton; illustration by Dr Jay Harley.

Movie Motorbikes in Oz

THE FILM and television business is glitzy and glamorous for sure, with bullshit being a vital ingredient; for us bikers, the reality shines through when a motorbike appears on screen. One particularly pleasing portion of my life was the decade or so spent supplying motorbikes for movies. The official title for the gig was Vehicle Co-ordinator, but the cooler description was Bike Wrangler and I can tell you it’s a lot of fun—too much fun to be called a job. It was just a brief flirtation behind the scenes in a magic-making industry for me, but closer observation revealed it wasn’t magic but gruelling work by the foot soldiers doing the hard yards to make it look like magic. And more so than any other industry, it is based entirely on bullshit.

Everyone has of heard the common phrase Cast and Crew. Cast comprises people in front of the cameras—the actors, stunt actors and extras—and then there’s the Crew—the mob working behind the cameras. The Crew takes care of the honest, hard work while the Cast takes care of the bullshit. There’s no denying that the true job description for on-camera talent should be Professional Bullshitter because that’s what actors are paid to do—tell lies to make the audience believe the BS they’re creating.

And the perfectly-crafted bullshit they’re famous for even helps them to get acting gigs, no doubt upselling their various skills in the hope of securing a part. I reckon somewhere in Central Casting is a special CV form to be filled out by actors and stuntmen, listing any specialised skills they may possess to help them get more acting jobs; I also reckon the box which lists Motorcycling Experience is always ticked, whether the said actor or stunty can ride a bike or not. I mean, everyone, has, at some stage in his life, either ridden or tried to ride a motorbike, surely?

In the real world, bullshitting on CVs to get a gig is standard fare in any employment situation, although it can lead to the odd, amusing ‘gotcha!’ when the bullshitters get caught out, and unfortunately for bullshitting actors, they always get caught out on camera.

In my forays into film and television production, I witnessed so many situations where actors and even—allegedly—stunt actors, turned up to filming totally unprepared.

The script called for the actor or stunty to ride a motorcycle, and it was quite friggin’ obvious they had no idea of how to ride!

There was one time during the filming of an advert for an overseas outfit when the talent completely disgraced himself with a comprehensive lack of ability. The gig was being filmed in the grounds of a rambling old mansion in Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga, in Sydney’s North Shore. The brief was simple: tall, brooding and handsome man kickstarts his Triumph motorcycle, stares wistfully up at the beautiful girl in the first-floor window, snicks the bike into gear and rides gracefully out the driveway as the girl squirts some foreign perfume on herself. There was just one problem—the buffoon couldn’t ride a motorcycle for shit. He couldn’t even kickstart the bloody thing. Sure, he looked the part with his black leather jeans, black leather jacket with many shiny trinkets and chains attached, but he had no idea.

Now, the 650 Trumpy being maltreated was owned by Jane, my missus, and was a super-reliable, first-kick, daily transport; light of weight and easy to handle.

It should’ve been a breeze for even a novice to start the bike, but no—after about 40 unsuccessful ‘takes’ and 40 unsuccessful tuitions, the script was altered so the bike was already running when Bozo did his soulful stare. After a while, he got the hang of pulling the clutch in, pushing downwards on the gear lever (“No, not the brake—the gear lever… other side… that’s the one… yeah, awwww, no, he’s stalled it again”). After each take, the dill would simply sit still while the bike wrangler (me) would step in and prod the kickstart lever for yet another trouble-free fire-up. Fair dinkum, the bike never left its first position.

Jeez, it was frustrating. The director was frustrated, the cameraman was cranky and every member of the crew was fuming like a bastard. It’s amazing how, in some people’s imagination, riding your mate’s minibike into a fence as a young kid counts for motorcycling experience.

I sidled up to the director, suggested to him that the constant stalling of the motor and clashing of the gears was upsetting both me and the bike, and there’s a Lighting Guy over there, who appeared to be of the same height and build as the talent. I’d been talking motorbikes to Lighting Guy and he could actually ride motorcycles. After a quick change of clothes, a dab of makeup, Lighting Guy stood in as a stunt double, and proved to be a ‘one take wonder’, eliciting a round of applause from the crew as he managed to take it from the top. He started the bike, stared wistfully at the by-now-bored girl, snicked it into first gear and took off in a superbly smooth manner. “Cut! That’s a wrap!”

I think they shit-canned all footage featuring Bozo, then Lighting Guy ending up being the star of the commercial. Maybe his career took a left turn and he started making money from the other side of the camera. If he did, he owes me a beer.

A few years before that debacle, a few miles down the North Shore at Killara, another, equally laughable debacle took place, but this time, it was my Norton which got punished by someone else who ticked ‘motorcycle experience’ on his CV.

This gig was for an expensive series of road safety commercials for the Roads and Traffic Authority. The adverts were meant to be hip and zany, to appeal to the younger drivers in an attempt to stop them killing themselves and others; stop them being unskilled dickheads. The premise was that four teenage space aliens came down to earth and found themselves getting into all sorts of strife on the earth-bound highways and byways, mainly through their own inexperience.

The VW alien spaceship.

It’s a sad thing, but once it was ‘in the can’ (completed), the entire series was shitcanned for some reason or another, and never saw the light of day, and I never even got a copy. There was a shitload of money thrown at the ads, and they may have even worked as a teaching aid for younger drivers, but we’ll never know.

The four starring space aliens landed on Earth in their space ship which was actually an old Volksie Beetle painted matt black, had wheels which were retracted to lay flat as landing pods. It also featured a shiny wok on its roof as a satellite dish.

I worked on a number of the adverts with diverse locations taking in places like the scramble track at the old Amaroo Park raceway.

The shoot in Killara involved the aliens not paying attention, and nearly cleaning up a biker—riding my Norton—in a near head-on!

The stuntman claimed to be an all-round expert at everything, even bragged about the stunt work he did on hand-shifting Military Police WLA Harleys for a Kylie Minogue movie. I found out later that the stunties on that movie were so inept at hand-shifting, a couple of Yamaha Virago V-Twins were shabbily disguised as Harleys and stood in to complete the scenes.

At the location in Killara, the aliens were rehearsing driving a Valiant convertible through an intersection where they would near collect the biker. The stuntman was preparing to move into his position, and as a test, I allowed him to start the Mighty Norton, which he did—first kick. Phew, I thought, and then he asked me a question so dumb I thought he was being funny.

Now, if someone is riding an unfamiliar bike, it’s acceptable to ask which side the gear lever is on (it’s on the left for all post-1975 bikes, early Japs and all Big Twin Harleys; British bikes, early Sportsters and Ducatis had the gear lever on the right where it’s supposed to be).

This boofhead asked me which handlebar lever was the clutch. He then squeezed the front brake lever and said, “It’s that one, isn’t it?”

Thinking he was having a lend of me, I said, “Yeah, that’s right…” and then he pulled the front brake lever as hard as he could and stomped it into first gear! WHAT THE!

I was stunned. The bike lurched forward a few inches and stalled. 

“What are you freakin’ doin’?” I yelled.

“Um, sorry mate…” was the best he could come up with.

I was ropeable. “You can’t be a motorcycle stuntman if you can’t ride a motorcycle,” I said.

“But I can ride,” he said meekly.

The game had changed and I wasn’t so sure about my bike becoming a movie star any more. The alleged stunty then borrowed one of the crew’s Yamaha trail-bike, then proceeded to pull some impressive monos, trying to convince me that he wasn’t a totally unskilled ning-nong.

I relented and the stunt was performed on the Mighty Norton, but no matter how good the swerve looked, my John Player Special Norton Commando never became a famous Hero bike on any stupid road safety film for stupid young drivers because the pricks in charge never released the ads.

In the same road safety series, this time way out at Maraylya, north west of Sydney, a night shoot occurred with much the same theme. The dopey space aliens were cruising along the wrong side of a country road when they once again, nearly clean up a biker minding his own business on the correct side of the road.

And once again, the alleged stuntman who got the gig didn’t have any clue about motorcycles, even though he had signed up for a stunt which involved riding directly at a Valiant convertible and swerving away at the last minute.

This alleged stunty was talking himself up big time, name-dropping many famous road-racers as his riding partners in the impromptu races in the Adelaide Hills, talking up all the magnificent stunts he performed and which famous actors he’d doubled for. All his blowhard big talk didn’t cover the fact that this prick could not ride at all. He even claimed that the RipCurl wetsuit he wore under his clothes worked better against gravel rash than custom-fitted road-race leathers—yeah, righty-oh, mate.

To be a stuntman or woman, you had to be a member of the Stunt Actors’ Union, and even though your specialty might be porpoise trainer, sheep wrangler or high diver, if the job called for motorcycle riding skills, that’s what you said you were proficient at. This bloke had very few bike skills; luckily, the stunt bike was a piece-of-crap Honda twin I’d got for free so I didn’t care what happened to it.

The main scene that night involved the vital, head-on avoiding swerve onto the grassed verge and a simple speedway-style of sliding out and laying the bike down to a harmless crash. No matter how hard he tried, the two-wheeled Einstein was incapable of stomping on the rear brake after the swerve, keeping the back wheel locked up on the grass until he slid the bike to a stop on its side. Frustrating, bloody frustrating—he just couldn’t do it.

I can see why he was spooked into swerving too early, which accounted for about 20 unsuccessful takes, because the aliens’ Valiant had a mobile generator in the boot to power this monstrous searchlight about a metre in diameter strapped to the bonnet. And it was really, really bright. But I couldn’t for the life of me understand why the stuny couldn’t simply slide a bike out and lay it down on a grass verge.

On one particularly poor attempt, the goose did his usual trick of NOT laying the bike down, but also managed to steer it into a resident’ fence, knocking the gate clean off its hinges. Up until that time, the local resident had merely watched on in a bemused fashion but was soon over the glamour of having a television advert shot in his street.

The stunt buffoon was doing little more than bending the bike and making it harder and harder to ride; once again, the director and crew were getting more pissed off with each unsuccessful take.

Luckily, for the sake of humour, one funny thing happened that night. Back then, traffic control wasn’t the well-ordered regimen that it is today; at either end of the film set, a roadblock was manned by a couple of non-essential crew with Eveready Dolphin torches and a few orange traffic cones. I had my stint at one roadblock, and basically, had to flag down and hopefully halt the cars racing along the rural road. It was pretty scary as I reckoned this road must have been a back-road rat-run to get people from the pub to home because it seemed like no-one was noticing the frantically waved torches. I came up with this great idea—the torch was stuck up the guts of a traffic cone and that glowing ensemble was waved about.

It must have looked just like the then-new hand-held, illuminated orange batons the cops had just introduced at their Random Breath Test stations.

What a difference! Instead of roaring full-bore towards us and slamming the brakes on at the last minute, almost every single car would screech to a halt a couple of hundred meters away, then perform a desperate U-turn before disappearing into the darkness in search of a new sneaky short cut. It was hilarious watching drink-driving dickheads freaking out, but I was soon needed back on set when the dufus stuntman needed help to get the wounded Honda underway for each successive unsuccessful take. I pleaded with the director to let me do the stunt, but, “No way, matey; you have to be a member of the Stunt Actors Union.”

Sometimes, it’s not all bad news with talent and stunties. There was this one gig I scored that was a dream job. Many years ago, there was a mildly successful drama series called Big Sky following the trials and tribulations of a small aviation company flying light planes into all exciting adventures. It should’ve gone better than it did; the show was well-written and starred iconic Aussie actors like Gary Sweet and Rhys Muldoon as commercial pilots.

One of the plot lines featured a flight with an elderly passenger who dies in transit. Seems the old fella was once a Wall of Death rider and Sweet and Muldoon’s respective characters’ attempt to return his meagre possessions to the grieving family. Arriving at the family’s farm, the old fella’s Wall of Death stunt bike is discovered and dragged out into the light for the first time in decades. In one of the scenes, Muldoon’s character takes the bike for a thrash around the farm and that’s what had me worried.

I’d prepped Jane’s custom 1949 Triumph Speed Twin for the part; removal of headlight and front mudguard was really all that was needed to make it look like a Wall of Death machine (and the fitting of a fake key lock ignition, something the scriptwriters insisted on, because the script called for the finding of and inserting the keys in the reveal scene—even though in reality, Triumphs that old never had keys).

The sweet little Speed Twin was a lovely bike and I’d hauled it in the ute over to the Big Sky production office in Mullins Street, Rozelle. It was in its stripped down Wall of Death condition and was there for some still photos to be taken to be used in the episode. Naturally, I was a bit concerned that the talent would be another inept non-biker who’d bullshitted about biking skill to get a gig.

Actor Rhys Muldoon on Jane’s 1949 Speed Twin for publicity shot for Big Sky series. c.1996.

The actor slated to ride my missus’ pride and joy in front of cameras was Rhys Muldoon, a leading actor now, although a little while back, he was better known by countless Australian toddlers as Rhys from Play School. When I got to the production office, he was just going into wardrobe, getting dolled-up as the Wall of Death rider for an olde-style black-and-white pic on the Speed Twin stunt machine.

Yeah, in a totally believable plot line, when the pilots deliver the old coot’s belonging to the family farm, they find out it’s an old circus base camp (played beautifully by Bullen’s Circus World at Wallacia, complete with warehouses of old circus show gear) and out comes the old Wall of Death bike.

I asked Muldoon as tactfully as I could if he had any actual motorcycle riding experience, although I’m sure it must’ve sounded something like, “So you’re just another bullshitting actor who claims to be a rider and is going to trash this classic bike?”

The answer surprised me. “Well,” he replied matter-of-factly, “I turned up for work today on that Bee Em over there; it’s my daily ride.”

“Hallelujah, Brother, an actor who does ride,” I muttered, and soon we were talking motorbikes and shit and having a fine old time. He really liked the look of the little Trumpy.

A few days later, we were out at Bullens; all actors in costume and the Trumpy looking fine. In the crucial reveal scene, years of dust are blown off the sleek machine and an ignition key is theatrically produced with a flourish. It was a bit of an ‘in’ joke to me, as the key from a TY Yamaha was inserted and turned in a TY ignition lock which was attached to the Trumpy fork leg via a café racer clip-on headlight mount.

Once the unconnected ignition was officially on, Rhys kicked the pedal and the bugger of a thing fired up immediately—natch!

Before he kicked the bike into gear and took off on a mad thrash around the circus paddock, the actor playing the part of the dead grandpa’s relative—the retired circus strongman—excitedly dug out the old leather jacket and helmet from the Wall of Death days and insisted they were worn while riding grandpa’s old Wall of Death bike.

While Rhys rode around the paddock whoopin’ and a hollerin’, other relloes emerged and gasped, “Oh my God, that pilot is a dead ringer for granddad when he was young!”

Wouldn’t you know it—he was the grandson of the old coot who died in his plane. Yeah, like I said, really believable plot line, but it wasn’t as corny as other Aussie dramas where just another bomb kills most of the guests at just another wedding.

All in all, it was a good time, seeing the Missus’ Trumpy as a hero bike, getting up big on the small screen and looking too cool for school.

Another very interesting event occurred later that day in between takes. Rhys Muldoon’s co-star, Gary Sweet, was so taken by the look of the soon-to-be famous-with-its-own-fan-club Triumph, that he sidled up to me and quietly asked me if he too, could take the Speed Twin for a fang.

“Don’t ask me,” I replied as cool as I could. “Ask the owner—that’s her over there.”

It was a very interesting situation; mild mannered Jane, who didn’t really know many famous people, was asked by a well-known actor if she’d lend him her bike for a ride. “No,” she said, quite flatly.

Sweet got down on one knee, and channelled John Belushi in the sewer scene from The Blues Brothers where Joliet Jake pleaded with Carrie Fisher’s character just before the best car chase in movie history.

“Please, please, oh please, can I ride that little Triumph,” he begged.

Jane looked at me and I shrugged. She looked at the kneeling actor, then shrugged and said, “Orright, I suppose…” and the actor got to go for a fang around the paddock as well.

Since the Missus has owned the bike, very few people other than her have actually ridden the cool little Speed Twin custom. There’s me, of course, plus two well-known Aussie television actors. Then it appeared in some long-forgotten outback-based Oz drama series with Erik Thompson, the fella who starred in Packed To The Rafters.

Then it captivated one particular fella who should know his Triumphs—Steve Chiodo, the big boss at Triumph Australia. Steve was so taken by the looks and stance of the Speed Twin, he politely asked Jane if he could take it for a burl and Jane agreed. Like I said, it’s a cool machine, and this Speed Twin has been on television so it’s a star.

Rhys Muldoon, with the author, Kelly, and Jane’s 1949 Triumph Speed Twin.

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

The Day I Rode A Jap Bike

LOVE POMMIE bikes: Norton and Triumph twins, AJS singles, Manx Nortons, overhead camshaft Matchless and AJS racers, Vincent V-Twins — love ’em all! Love American bikes too. Sideys, Sportsters, Knuckles, Pans, Shovels, Evos and Twin Cammers. Eight-Valvers and V-Rods — all good, mate. Quite partial to Italian bikes as well, and can honestly say I love Czechoslovakian bikes as long as they’re Two-Valve Eso or Jawa Speedway bikes.

But I’ll have to admit, I hate Japanese motorcycles.

Maybe I’ve softened my stance from a few decades ago and can now look at restored Honda Fours and Kwakka 9s and go, “Hmmm, they’re not that bad after all.” And I defy anyone to say the TZ750 Yamaha racer is not an impressive motorcycle even if it is a two-stroke. But, by and large, on the subject of Oriental machines? I’ll pass, thanks all the same. (The publisher of this very magazine, Skol, claims he’s never even sat on the seat of a Jap bike, let alone ridden one. And he reckons he never will. Even if I was a gamblin’ man, the Bugs Bunny would stay deep in the skyrocket, as the odds of Skol ever breaking that rule would be very long).

I did ride one Jap bike, even had a lot of fun, but in the Australia’s Funniest Home Video kind of way. It was a tiny, tiny TA125 Yamaha road racer and I was offered a ride on it at Amaroo Park so dutifully accepted.

The bloke who offered the ride was a mate, Barry Morgan. Bazza was one half of the Brothers Grimm sidecar racing team. The other half was little bro Dave Morgan, a former editor of Ozbike magazine, and together, they punted a 1959 XLCH Sportster outfit in Historic Racing events at tracks all over Australia.

Bazza and a mate of his, Graeme, had decided they wanted to own a genuine road-racer from the Post Classic era, so they pooled their resources and bought the little factory road-racer and restored it to brand-new condition. It wasn’t all plain sailing though — the first attempt involved hiring a car, hiring a trailer, driving from Sydney to Adelaide to pick up a ‘good condition’ TA125 which was a misrepresented and absolute pile of shit. After such a long drive, they bought it anyway, and it sat as a rusty pile of crap in the garage after they bought another, much better TA125. At least the Adelaide bike’s skinny little front-end with the Borrani alloy rim was genuine TA125, and that looks just great bolted onto to my Pre-unit Triumph Drag bike — thanks, Bazza.

When the born-again little factory racer showed up at the Amaroo Park circuit for its debut meeting, it looked better than new, and Bazza and Graeme had worked out a cunning plan whereupon Graeme would ride all the races on Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday morning, then hand over to Bazza for Sunday arvo’s races.

The fact that neither of them had ever raced a solo motorcycle before didn’t matter, and to be honest, Graeme really amazed at how well he was going for a first time out, up with the leaders all the way and riding like a demon.

All was going well until his last race when he decked it big time at Honda Corner. The little thing flipped and cartwheeled and generally self-destructed. Graeme didn’t fare too badly, but looked very sheepish and felt terrible for Baz who had very little bike left to begin his solo career.

The little Yam was a mess, with the fairing trashed, bark off everywhere and many appendages bent, broken or just generally rooted.

But that’s not how things end at the racetrack, and if there are still races to ride, things can be repaired, so everyone pitched in and got the bent little bike ready for the track again. Bits were bashed, things were straightened, parts were soldered, welded and belted again; cable ties, hose clamps and race tape was applied to various parts and the battered but not beaten Yam was presented to the scrutineers once more. It passed and things were looking good for Bazza’s solo debut.

But then it started raining, really raining, and Bazza wimped out. “I’m not going out for my first race on a wet track!” he avowed.

“Come on, Baz,” I implored. “We really put some effort into fixing it — you’ve GOT to ride it.”

“Nope!”

“Go on — you’ll love it. It’s more fun in the wet!”

“Nope!”

“Everyone else will be slow, slippy and ragged,” I offered. “You go out there and go smooth and consistent, and the fast will come naturally.”

“Nope!”

‘Come on!”

“Nope!”

At least he was consistent.

“If you think it’s going to be so much fun,” Bazza said, changing tack, “You ride it.”

“Okay!” I grinned, zipping up the leathers and grabbing the hat and gloves.

Now, you must understand that at the time, I was fighting my battle with anorexia, and my weight was down to a gaunt 120 kg. The bike weighed in at just 81 kg so you only have to imagine what the rider/machine combination looked like (and we’re still not at the Funniest Home Videos part yet).

As I straddled the skinny machine, I had to endure hurtful taunts from people I knew (try: “You’ll have to get that bike surgically removed from your arse when you come back in”) and uproariously laughter from people I didn’t know. The worst comment I heard was that me on the bike looked like a bull terrier getting friendly with a Chihuahua. Why are people so unkind?

Also, I was having real problems just getting my feet up to the footpegs as my knees aren’t of the bendy variety. Someone pushed the gear lever into first cog and after a few hurried instructions from Graeme and Baz, I paddled off and fired up the bike.

I don’t know the first thing about two-strokes but I did catch Bazza yelling something about, “No power under 10,500 rpm, none over 12!”

“Ten friggin’ thousand, five bloody hundred revs per minute?” I thought. “And that’s where it starts? Fifteen hundred measly revs later, it’s all over Red Rover? Sheesh!”

A nicely-tuned Pommie twin will start to give good power at 3500, and pull like a train all the way to 7000. A highly-strung 350 Manx Norton will give good power from five all the way to 7200 or more if you’re keen. And here I was on this little Yamaha trying to keep moving and keep the motor in the rev range.

“Reeeeee-puhh, reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-puhhh reeeeee-puh was the sound the horrible little thing made as the mongrel dropped in and out of the 1500 rpm power-band.

For some reason, I don’t think I got a warm-up lap, and soon found myself sitting on the back row of the grid and looking ahead at an absolutely full grid of bikes which ranged from 125 cc tiddlers like this one, up to 350 cc models. How do I get myself into these situations?

The 10-second board was held out, the rain was still coming down and I had a minor problem. Standing on the other side of the Armco in Pit lane was Craig Morris. ‘He’s a top rider and he knows Jap bikes,’ I thought, ‘I’ll ask him’. “Hey Craig! Which way to the gears go on this one?”

“Up for Up!” he yelled as he shook his head in pity. “And what are you doing on a Jap Bike?” he added, even though I knew he was laughing at me too.

There was no more time for idle chit-chat, as the flag was dropped and field roared away. Except for me.

I’d got a perfect start, dialled in 12 grand and fed the clutch in beautifully. And that’s where the problem started. It’s all to do with physics, tiddler bikes and fat blokes with bad knees.

First, the physics lesson: A motorcycle is a mono-track vehicle which doesn’t stay upright while at rest; it just falls over. It’s true, once on the move, they self balance and that’s because, broken down into its purest form, a bicycle is two wheels and a hinge between them. The two spinning wheels provide centrifugal force, and because they are joined to each other via the hinge, all manner of forces act with a whole mess of other forces and the motorcycle stays upright. As long as both wheels are turning and forward motion is happening, it won’t fall over until you get too cocky for your own good.

The problem I was having was the little Yamaha, after a blitzkrieg of a start, we needed to get out of first gear and into second, For a jockey-sized person with good knees, the spindly little legs will snake up and onto the spindly footpegs, and snick the toothpick-sized gear lever into second, third and so on. I had to first slide one bum cheek right over one way, drag the size 12 right boot up onto the size 7 footpeg, then stand up on that peg to hoist the left side size 12 onto the peg and at the gear lever.

Problems, problems, problems.

In first gear, there was just not enough road speed and the piddly little 2.5-inch wide tyres and wheels didn’t have the centrifugal force needed to keep the bike upright. The little prick of a thing kept falling over.

Reeeeeeeeee—topple, reeeeeeeeee-puhh—topple.

I had about three goes at trying to locate the gear-lever to hook second, but it was hopeless. I could see the entire field streaming away as one single clump of slithering bikes in a haze of whipped-up spray, so direct action was called for. Holding it flat in first gear, I reached down with my left hand and hooked up second gear. Yay! A hand-change Yamaha. Third and fourth gear were hand-hooked flat until I reckoned there was enough speed to stand on the right peg and bring the left leg up onto the pissy little left peg.

With 40-odd bikes and five laps in front of me, there was nothing to do but put the head down, the arse up and go for it.

I love wet weather racing because it’s all about going smooth and finding traction the other riders can’t. And if you’re one of those blokes who expect to be in the thick of things with the leading group at the first corner of a wet race, it was always interesting to crest Bitupave Hill in last place and dive into the Dunlop Loop, right into the centre of slow-moving and tentative pack. It’s funny, but about three-quarters of the racers were wobbling through corners they had nailed in earlier dry races. Not me — I carved through the field as they slipped, wobbled and dabbed their way through the long, downhill, doubled-apexed Dunlop Loop.

“Excuse me, look out, watch it, move over, hey, Bob — nice paint job! Whoops… get outta the way, I’m comin’ through!”

It was so cool. I’d exited the Loop and headed for the high-speed Mazda Curve at the head of the pack and was pulling away. Unfortunately, three riders who obviously liked a damp track as well had already made a break and were miles ahead of me and having a fine old time showing each other who was boss. It was a fairly lonely race, with a good buffer back to the pack, and little chance of making any ground on the three heading for the podium.

With the laps ticking away, race tactics came into play. While fourth place is also known as nowhere-th place, a good tactic while lying fourth — especially in the wet — is to hold your position, not fall off and say a quiet prayer to St Bastardus, the patron saint of riders who fall off while in the lead.

All was going to plan, until the last lap, when I fell off.

It was crazy. Coming into Stop Corner, a huge oil spill from an earlier prang had left a long line of slipperyness which speared straight across the racing line.

It had been there most of the day, and was covered with cement dust, but the rain had changed things. For four laps, I’d been fine, gingerly crossing the mess and hanging off the little bike as best I could to keep it as upright as possible.

For the last lap, things didn’t go all that well. I was leaning right off the bike, lugging it through the tight corner in second gear, when I decided to hang off even further. My huge clodhopper accidentally knocked the gear lever down into first gear. The motor, which was lugging through at a measly 10,100 rpm, suddenly zinged up to redline, making the bike do a sort of half donut, half wheel-stand before dumping me unceremoniously on the track. It was the slowest part of the track, but like the terrible accident when the tortoise ran over a family of snails, it all happened so fast.

I couldn’t have really hurt that Yamaha much more than it already was, because, well, it was still stuck between my legs and I hit the deck, not it.

More race tactics: If ever you fall at a slow corner, keep a good grip on the handlebars, pull the clutch in and give the throttle a couple of blips to keep the motor going no matter what.

We’d actually performed a neat 180 degree turn, so when I climbed back up (still with the bike stuck between legs) three things were very cool and another two were decidedly uncool. Cool Thing 1: engine still running. Cool Thing 2: clutch in. Cool Thing 3: bike already in first gear and ready to rock and roll! Uncool Thing 1: we were facing the wrong way. Uncool Thing 2: the pack had well and truly caught up were streaming through a very slippery Stop Corner with me in their sights. A U-turn through the traffic was out of the question, as I knew I had enough trouble just getting the thing moving in a straight line, let alone any fancy stuff.

The entire field was streaming past me, some blokes were sliding perilously close, some dabbing their feet down and all were grinning like their prayers to St Bastardus had been partially answered.

I just wish someone had’ve taken some video footage of my brutal solution to the problem: with most of the field swerving around us, the motor still running and the clutch still in, I heaved that little mongrel around by the handlebars. This might just work! Two more almighty shoves, pirouetting on the back tyre and the Yam was facing the direction of racing once more — without any crazy, dangerous U-turns. Once more, we were away and once more the Hand-Change Yamaha was hooked up to third gear before I could get both clodhoppers up on the pegs.

When both feet were firmly planted, I stood on the pegs and took the opportunity to look back over my shoulder in the hope there were still some riders behind. Fat chance. Yeah, well, when the flag was waved at the start of this race, I was running in dead last place and you know what? It doesn’t matter half a dog turd what exciting things happened between the start line and the finish line, because when the race was over, I was still in last place.

Back in the pits, I had no time to listen to the constant barrage of razzing and ribbing — it was time to jump on the Manx for the very next race. I’ve always maintained the rider who does back-to-back races is still ‘in the zone’ with an advantage over the rest of the field. And we did well.

A Manx Norton and a TA125 Yamaha are both specialised racing machines, but racing a Manx is so much nicer than racing a Yamaha. In much the same way that tormenting your mother-in-law’s Chihuahua and throwing a stick into the lake for a Labrador are both examples of playing with dogs, one’s a better experience.

I did have a brief ride on another two-stroke Yamaha race bike at Oran Park once, but that was a TZ750 and that’s a whole other story.

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

Noel’s Terrible Tumble

EVERY SINGLE one of my good mates growing up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches rode motorbikes. However, we did socialise with the odd few who weren’t besotted with the raw beauty of two-wheeled freedom machines. But, at least, all those blokes had hotted-up cars. Everyone was a tappet-head in those days, it’s just some needed more than two wheels to get to parties and chase the chickies.

The bikers of the area regularly crossed paths with the non-bikers and, by and large, we all got on. I mean, we were all chasing the same women, drinking at the same pubs, going to the same parties, being arrested by the same coppers, and patched up at the same hospitals when we had our reasonably frequent fuck-ups. Yeah, given the things we got up to, most of the Northern Beaches’ rat-baggery fronted up at casualty more times than they’d really want to remember. The nursing staff would fix us up and send us back for round two. The border between Brookvale and Dee Why was the line of demarcation to decide which hospital you went to. Any injury sustained in Brookie Pub or parts south went to Manly Hospital; Dee Why Pub or points north went on to Mona Vale Hospital. It’s tragic to think that in the current economic climate, some bean-counting cocksucker can decide that both these two wonderful medical institutions should be closed down and the prime waterfront property sold off so more immigrants can come here to live in newly formed ghettoes.

Where was I? Oh yeah, that’s right. Late one Saturday afternoon, we were up at Manly Hospital dropping off a mate into casualty when, as happened so often, we bumped into a few pub mates who were dropping their mate off too. A bloke named Mick, who owned a hotted-up HR Holden Ute, plus a few more mates, had just carried in their mate Noel for some good doctorin’.

Noel was a little fella, but nuggetty and suntanned and we could’ve sworn he’d given up the hottie cars and bought himself a motorbike because the little sucker had the worst case of gravel rash we’d ever seen. And I gotta tell ya, as young blokes who loved beer and speed, we’d seen a few cases of gravel rash. But Noel was a special case; it would be easier to find the skin that was still there than point out the abrasions. “So what happened?” we asked Mick. And he told us, and when we all started to piss ourselves laughing, it didn’t make Noel feel any better. He was groaning up a storm and no amount of witty banter and corny jokes could mask the fact that Noel was hurtin’ real bad.

Now, I only saw the aftermath and wasn’t there to witness the actual incident which rough-sanded Noel’s skin, but basically, here’s what went down:

Mick and a few mates had been at his grandma’s place, knocking down an old dunny and smashing up and removing the concrete slab and broken pathway. It was a stinking hot day and, naturally, after all the hard work, needed a slab or two of cleansing ale to lubricate parched throats and re-invigorate tired muscle. Then it was on to the tip to dump the Barney Rubble before racing back to the Brookie Pub for more cleansing ales.

At some stage of the journey, they crossed paths with a carload of Brookie Wogs. The Brookie Wogs were another mob of young Aussie blokes who drank at the Brookvale Hotel. These days you’d call them people of Italo-Australian heritage, or Non-English Speaking Background, but back then, they were just the Brookie Wogs. There were thousands of them, their parents or grandparents had mostly come from Calabria, creating and working the market gardens which littered the Northern Beaches and fed a lot of Sydney. There were only about four or five different surnames between ’em and were all as mad as cut snakes, but jeez—they had some nice cars, though. Many of them ended up as top-name drag racers, but back then, their racetracks were the roads of our area.

Anyway, according to Mick, the ute full of dunny demolishers was just tootling along, slightly under the speed limit and obeying all the road rules (apart from the drinking and the riding in the back of an overloaded ute). They were motoring north on Pittwater Road, the main drag, which starts in Manly and rips right through the guts of the Manly-Warringah Peninsula before fizzling out at Church Point. All of a sudden, a bright orange Valiant Hemi Pacer Coupe owned by one of the Brookie Wogs came swerving in from a side street, nearly colliding and causing an almighty argument. The Val was chock-full of Brookie Wogs who began hurling abuse at Mick and friends. “Ya fuckin’ Aussies!” they were yelling, which naturally resulted in a—“Ya fuckin’ Wogs!” reply from the occupants of the HR ute.

All of a sudden, a bright orange Valiant Hemi Pacer Coupe owned by one of the Brookie Wogs came swerving in from a side street…

Then, it apparently got a bit more serious (or comical, depending on how you look at it) and the two vehicles began swerving at each other, just like in the movies.

On one particularly close swerve, Mick managed to punctuate the hurled abuse by extending his arm and giving them the finger—right in their faces! He was sure surprised when the front seat passenger of the Val grabbed his arm and began stabbing it with a screwdriver.

“OWWWW!” he was yelling all the while trying to retract his arm and swerve away. The front seat passenger of the Val wasn’t letting go, though and Mick reckons he was almost dragged through the driver’s window a few times. 

The screwdriver must’ve been blunt, or the stabber must’ve missed the ‘Screwdriver Stabbing Techniques’ module at Brookvale Tech, or maybe the stabee had tough forearms, but when we inspected Mick’s arm at the hospital, the injuries weren’t all that impressive; not like Noel’s, anyway.

When Mick’s tormentor finally let go, the Val sped away down Pittwater Road, but Mick gave chase, only faster now, and looking a lot more like a Hollywood car chase movie.

Those Hemi Pacers were quick cars in their day, but the Holden ute was a genuine hottie and managed to keep up at some ridiculous speed.

What happened next could only happen in an Australian car chase movie—Noel and the other fellas who were guarding the rubble in the tray of the ute stood up and began pitching rocks and half-bricks at the Valiant Pacer.

By and large, the yobboes’ attempts to damage the shiny Pacer were as successful as the Wogs’ attempt to damage Mick’s forearm. The missiles just seemed to bounce off without denting anything. If you know anything about early Aussie muscle cars, you’ll know that the Valiant Coupe has one of the largest back windscreens ever, but despite its huge target area and its composition entirely of glass, even the full bricks bounced off it.

It was then that Noel got serious, bending down to pick up a huge slab of concrete from the pile of rubble. The slab must’ve been 40 or 50 kilo, and Noel did a perfect snatch and grab, holding the monstrous mass above his head, lining up the perfect shot and yelling a guttural “Eeeeeyeeearrrrrrghhhh!” from deep down in his soul. Now this was going to do some damage.

The thing with Pittwater Road is that it has quite a few bends, and the sequence of events with the chase had put the cars right on one of those bends. Noel fell out of the ute backwards. He was wearing King Gee stubbies and sandshoes and nothing else. Hitting the roadway near naked wasn’t bad enough for God or whoever was calling the shots that day, and the large slab of concrete clobbered Noel a beauty, right in the chest.

We had to keep apologising to Noel at the hospital, we knew he was in pain, but fair dinkum—it was hard not to laugh, Sometimes we could keep it down to a quiet snigger, but most often, that became a rising crescendo of chuckles that broke out into rollicking guffaws. We still had beers so it was like a party in casualty and the nursing matron came down and chucked us all out.

And that’s the main difference between the arsehole youth of days gone by and the arsehole youth of modern times—when a large group of drunken yobs were told by a frail old lady in a matron’s cap to fuck off out of her hospital, we did the respectable thing and fucked off.

As we were leaving, Noel grimaced and claimed he would’ve been better falling off a motorcycle, because he would’ve been dressed like we did and the damage wouldn’t have been so bad, None of us could work out how a black T-shirt and a helmet exemption can lessen the severity of gravel rash.

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

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