ROARING AROUND on motorbikes, drinking bulk beer, smoking marry-you-warna cigarettes and chasing crazy chicks was I wanted to do in the 1970s; just about every night — especially Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. One Satdee night featured all and more; sadly, the ‘more’ being a huge, high-speed prang on the mighty Norton.
I was cartin’ out the Very Lovely Kathy at the time, and we’d been down to The Flicks nightclub in the festering beachside suburb of Manly. The Flicks was a ripper of a place, the old converted picture theatre really rocked — you’d be guaranteed to see just about every one of Australia’s top bands over any one month period.
And Kathy was really good, too — about five foot one inch of very sexy Hungarian. Small, but perfectly formed and about seven stone wringing wet, she was the ideal pillion passenger for carting around on the John Player Special Norton. See, the JPS Norton was a single-seater race-replica, but I’d modified mine into a one-and-a-half seater. It was a tight squeeze, but for a girl shaped like Kathy (little girl, big tits), it was a very nice squeeze indeed.
At chuck-out time, Kathy suggested we go up to some dude’s place and kick on in a haze of smoke and bullshit, so with a few other bikes in tow, we made our way up to Manly’s Eastern Hill, the big knob of a headland which forms the northern part of Sydney Heads, the gateway to the most beautiful harbour in the world.
The main drag up to the Eastern Hill is Darley Road, a massive climb up from the flats of Manly; it eventually leads to Manly Hospital and on to the North Head Army Barracks. Halfway up Darley Road, right where Addison Road crosses it, is a huge jump which, when taken at the correct speed and throttle opening, can lead an impetuous young man to think he’s pretty darn cool, what, with the massive, third-gear wheel-stands at dangerously high speeds… But that wasn’t going to happen on this trip as we were turning right into Addison Road, going down three streets and turning left into Mullup Madness Avenue.
After all the usual crap, someone, I think it was Crusty, wanted a cup of coffee, and as usually happened, every other bastard wanted one too. A production line of mugs was set up: three with two, one with three, four with one, one with none, but all with milk. ARRRRGHHH! I should’ve twigged that we were going to your average, drug-addled share house and there’d be no friggin’ milk in the fridge.
“No worry, people — me fix,” I declared, leaving a row of incomplete coffees on the kitchen bench, grabbing helmet and leather jacket and dashing out to the Norton. I even told them to put a 45 RPM record on the record player, and like the British Café Racers of the Rocky Roll era, I’d be back before the record finished.
Kicking the mighty Norton in the guts, I flew down Darley Road, along Manly beachfront and up to the Greasy Spoon in Queenscliff. Throwing a carton of moo juice down the front of the jacket, I was soon blasting back along the beachfront again, making great time. The coffees would still be hot and I’d be there before the record finished!
Figuring I had time in hand, the run up Darley Road wasn’t going to be cut short this time. I could turn right at the next street and head in the back way. The thought of hitting the Addison Road jump at full tilt, with the monster third-gear wheel-stand and all that bizzo over the jump, was making me feel pretty good. This is what Nortons were designed for, and this is what I should do for a job — motorcycle daredevil.
For a hundred yards or so, the mighty Norton powered skyward, and only after I selected top gear did the front-end return to earth with a surprised chirp from the front Avon Roadrunner. I was beginning to think about braking for the right turn into Marshall Street, when one of those road events you don’t really — but should — expect occurred right in front of me. Two young kids on skateboards came rolling out of a little street on the left and straight into the middle of Darley Road.
So that’s why they don’t want you to speed!
Remember, this was about half past three in the morning, so hoons on motorbikes should’ve had right-of-way over brats on skateboards, but I swerved anyway, under full brakes on and onto the wrong side of the road. Everything was going so well until, um… until I locked the front wheel and decked it with a huge front-end washout.
Down I went like a bag of shit and man — did I slide some.
It was one of those magic moments when you’re sliding along on your arse, watching the bike doing its wonderful light-show of sparks beside you at the same speed. (Did you know that aluminium, mild steel and cast iron all make different coloured sparks when abraided? I had my suspicions from textbooks I’d read but got a practical demonstration proving the theory right that night).
The left side of the Mighty Norton took a real pasting and it ended up lying on its side in the middle of the intersection I was originally intending to turn into.
I raced over and picked it up, and the bugger was still running. It’s a funny thing, but often Pommie bikes can still run for a time while lying on their sides. Given that a number of the functions of the simple style of carburettor rely on gravity and the correct orientation of the instrument, it’s a bloomin’ miracle, I say.
Picking the bike up and keeping the clutch in and trying to find neutral with the left-hand clip-on handlebar nuzzling the tank was not so easy, and the miracle of a still-running motor after a monstrous, high-speed get-off ceased to be when I stalled that bastard of a motorbike.
The two skateboard brats had raced the 100 yards or so to where I was feverishly trying to unfold the kickstarter and get the hell out of there.
“Shit, mister, are you alright?” they asked.
“No!” I replied politely. “Now fuck off!”
I was a wee bit sore so I gave up on the idea of kickstarting the beast and coasted down the hill a way before clutch starting the mighty Norton and blundering away. It was handling very funny, and to keep it in a straight line, I had to lean ridiculously off to the left. As it turned out, the frame, forks and wheels were still straight, just that bloody clip-on touching the tank making it very hard to keep straight and absolutely impossible to turn left. It was great on rights, though, which was damned lucky, as I made a bad blue and instead of turning right at the third street, I turned at the second. No worries, I’ll just turn left then left again… D’OH! To get back to Reefer Central, I had to turn right, then right again, and keep going around in ever-increasing blocks.
Finally, I walked in and announced I’d just had a monster, high-speed crash and totally trashed the left side of my Norton and quite obviously broken my left collarbone.
“That’s all well and good,” sneered Crusty, “but where’s the milk?”
“I lost it,” I apologised. “But I think I’ve got a broken collarbone…”
“Yeah, we got that,” whined Crusty, “but where did you lose the milk? I’m tonguin’ for a coffee.”
“Aw ferfuckssake, you cretin,” I said as I struggled to remove the old, brown RAAF leather jacket which had done a superb job of keeping most of the gravel rash away. “I’ll go and get your friggin’ milk!”
Once the jacket was off, there was no need for X-rays, as I’d broken a few collarbones playing football and was pretty certain that’s what I had.
After making the standard collarbone sling, I stomped off and wandered up the three blocks to the accident scene. I was hoping maybe there was a trickle or two in the smashed milk carton. By the time I got there, a concerned old couple dressed in dressing gowns were shining torches under bushes and everywhere.
“What are you looking for at this time of night? I asked cheerily.
“We were just up on the top floor of the units, sound asleep, when we heard a terrible motorcycle crash happen out here somewhere. It woke us up,” the old codger replied. “He must be hurt real bad, and he’s got to be somewhere around here; we’ve already called the police and ambulance, but I’d really like to find him.”
I spotted a gigantic white smear of fibreglass that started a long way down the hill, and skewed onto the wrong side of the road, before terminating in the gutter in Marshall Street. Also in the gutter was one half of an alloy rear brake pedal from a certain model Norton and, wonder of wonderment, a carton of milk! It was looking very second-hand. In fact, it looked sadder than a bashed-in shitcan but, even more wondrous, was still full of milk and not leaking at all.
“Hey, look at that!” I told the old bloke. “Your crashed bikie looks like he’s dropped a pint of milk.” I painfully bent down and picked up the battered carton. “Waste not, want not,” I declared, before adding, “I hope you find your missing bikie.” I bounded down the hill.
When I finally got to drink my coffee, it didn’t taste like it was worth all the effort. At least it shut Crusty up for a while. Once he’d had his coffee rush, Crusty became human again and insisted on doubling me up to the nearby Manly Hospital for a check-up. And if I thought Crusty had been a bit blasé about my serious injury, you should’ve heard the nurse.
“Look,” she said sharply, “you know you’ve broken your collarbone, feel free to wait around here for a couple of hours, get an X-Ray to tell you what you already know, then wait a few more hours for a doctor to strap it up exactly as you’ve already done. If that’s not flogging a dead horse, I don’t know what is.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be off then…”
Friggin’ Hell! Maybe she needed a coffee as well.
written by Kelly Ashton