RIP Metho Tom

John Thomas Browne, Metho Tom, Tommy Browne, The King of Blacktown — by whatever name you knew him, you can rest assured the man had a magnificent send-off.

FUNERALS are never nice, but as far as funerals go, Tom’s was very impressive. On a brilliant autumn Saturday morning, a huge group of mourners congregated outside the premises of Blacktown Harley-Davidson and Buell, the bike shop Tom built from nothing and ran in a most hands-on manner.

Tom was National President of the Nomads MC, the club he’d belonged to since 1969, so there was a large number of Nomads MC members present. Equally impressive was the number of members of other major outlaw clubs who’d turned up to paid their final respects; such was the esteem in which Tom was held. Then there were the members of the motorcycle trade, the sidecar racing mob, the historic racing mob, Tom’s many loyal customers, his close friends old and new, and his loving family. Even the police with numerous cars and a helicopter, and television news crews (again, in helicopters) were on hand.

At about 9:30 am, the cortege moved off from Blacktown Harley-Davidson. Tom’s casket had been transferred from a hearse to a gleaming black Harley-Davidson sidecar outfit, and Tom left his beloved shop for the final time. The outfit was driven by Tom’s son Daniel, who had the toughest, yet most honourable of tasks — the son of a lifelong biker taking his father for his final motorbike ride. The sorrow must have been alleviated a little by the massive pride Daniel would have felt as he steered that sad journey.

Once the sidecar and the group of mourning cars containing Tom’s family hit the highway, the massive procession of motorbikes began. And they kept coming, and coming and coming, for what seemed like an eternity, until the line of bikes stretched away into the distance as far as the eye could see.

It’s not often the NSW Police get a nod in this magazine but the co-ordination was pretty damned good — a massive column of bikes along Sunnyholt Road, left onto the M7 Motorway, then back onto the backstreets to the memorial chapel — all in one group with no breaks and stragglers.

With the chapel full, the service was broadcast over loudspeakers to the masses congregated outside. Eulogies delivered in the emotion-tinged voices of family and friends all conveyed the one thing: Tom was a man who didn’t just live his life, he grabbed it with both hands and wrung every last bit of fun from it — whacking the throttle wide open and blasting full speed ahead.

After the service, the cortege fired up again and headed to Pinegrove Cemetery. Once again, full marks to the cops for the blocked-off intersections and unbroken procession.

A catholic priest presided over Tom’s final farewell, and with Nomads MC members as pallbearers, Tom was laid to rest.

See you later, Tom…

The Obituary

I HATE writing obituaries; it’s a bastard of a job, but when you lose a mate, you’ve got to say something. And a lot of people will want to say something about Tom Browne; his passing has left many people sad and the world a poorer place.

Tom is gone but he certainly won’t be forgotten, not by a long shot. Outlaw, Harley-Davidson dealer, family man, rogue, sidecar racer, mate — Metho Tom was all these things and more. The huge roll-up at his funeral was testimony to the number of people who called him ‘mate’. And they all had stories to tell about Metho Tom. Some of those stories were very funny, some unprintable, but all the stories invariably show the measure of the man and the respect in which he was held.

Tom had been an integral part of the biker scene since the late 1960s, and by his own admission, he was ‘a bit wild’ in those days, and even admitted to doing many things he wasn’t proud of. In the late 1970s, he saw a business opportunity which set him on the path to success. Tom, like a handful of other Australian bikers, noted that in dollar terms, Harley-Davidsons were quite cheap and plentiful in America, yet were as dear as poison here in Oz. In those days, the Oz dollar was worth more than the US dollar, and a smart lad could work out that airfares and expenses for a trip to the USA could be fully financed if you purchased and shipped home a couple of old Harley-Davidsons. After a bit of lateral thinking, Tom reckoned buying a ‘lot’ of Harley-Davidsons and shipping them home could turn a tasty profit. He was well and truly in business, with container loads of Shovels, Pans and Knuckleheads making their way to Australian shores and dramatically increasing the number of Harleys and Harley riders on Oz roads. His yarns about the purchases he made Stateside made for good listening, like pristine, low mileage Panheads bought from the original owners for next to nothing, and the haggling with slick traders who thought they were ripping off some dumb Aussies, but the price was still miles off what Tom knew it was worth back home in Australia. Or the time he bought a dresser from a Negro fella; it was a very full dresser, with more tailights, bumpers, bells and whistles than he’d ever seen. Underneath all the chromed and fringed junk, he could see a clean, honest motorcycle and he bought it very cheap. After paying the money, Tom rode it around the corner, unbolted about 2 ton of shiny crap and left the unwanted parts on the side of the road.

Tom named his business Nostalgia Cycles, and after much hard work and the odd move to bigger, better premises, it was transformed into Blacktown Harley-Davidson and Buell.

I first met Tom in the 1980s at Amaroo Park Raceway. I’d known of him for years before that, but got to know him when he started attending historic race meetings to help out his old mate Noel Green. Greenie was always pitted next to our pit bay; he raced an old Iron Sportster and Tom would do whatever he could to help. Tom looked the part in his Nomads MC colours and naturally enough, wore his best poker face and the best you’d get was a stern nod and maybe even a grunt that sounded slightly like “G’day.” Just being a bikie, I suppose.

But then Tom decided he might give this sidecar racing caper a go, and would quietly ask the odd question on riding or machine preparation and eligibility. For months, the buzz around the pits was that a monster Panhead Harley-Davidson sidecar outfit would soon hit the track. The rumours grew: an ex-Australian champion would pilot the Harley, it would be lightning fast, blah, blah, blah.

The reality was different. When it first arrived at Amaroo Park, it weighed a ton and was as slow as a wet week. The pilot was none other than Tom himself, sitting bolt upright with the crook leg stuck out forward to the special forward controls. And he came dead last in his first ever race.

The biggest surprise was the change in Tom’s demeanour. No longer the stand-offish biker, Tom was right amongst it — a yahooin’, back-slappin’, ear-to-ear grinnin’ sidecar racer.

Like everything he did in life, he was soon pushing hard to succeed, and the tail-end race finishes soon became mid-field positions, then challenging for the lead, then winning and winning some more.

I can admit to helping him along the way, and not just with friendly advice. At his second or third race meeting, his passenger, Billy Rose, had been sent on an errand out the circuit to the nearest Repco for something or other. The second practice session for sidecars was being called up and Tom really needed all the practice he could get. I was happy with my outfit and wasn’t going out again, so when Tom pleaded for a spare passenger, I foolishly volunteered. Bad move!

The Panhead had so much grunt it was unbelievable. But what it had in grunt, it lacked in passenger handholds. When the Pan outfit was built, they didn’t have the luxury of having an experience sidecar passenger leap from side to side on the bike in the workshop, saying, “I want a hand-hold there, and a good one here…”

There I was, clinging forlornly to shiny fibreglass bits, trying to save myself from falling to the track while Tom was revelling in the new-found cornering speed afforded by a much heavier passenger, hurling the outfit through the corners like he’d never been able to before. After two laps, I was so totally rooted from trying to hang on, I was bashing Tom on his back, helmet or leg, pointing to the pits and yelling: “IN!” and making cut-throat signs. Tom was having none of that, and stayed out for another four hellish laps. His response to my protestations was a combination of mad eyes, a crazy laugh and a nodding of the head. “I thought you were telling me to go faster,” he said when we made it back to the pits. “Tell Billy where the handholds should go, and maybe he should put on some weight — that was great for traction!”

Both Tom and the outfit improved with every race meeting. Gradual development is what it’s all about with racing, and Tom poured a lot of time, effort and cash into making the Blacktown Harley Panhead the dominant machine in historic sidecar racing. The strict rules meant all components must be of a type manufactured before 1962, so that meant the five-speed gearbox tucked away wasn’t strictly legal, as it was an Evo box, but like anything, it’s what you can get away with. I remember talking to Tom at the end of practice at Phillip Island one year. The outfit was in the back of the F100; Tom, his passenger and mechanic Greenie were in the cabin. It was the first time racing at the Island for both Tom and me, and we were discussing the track and the various corners through the passenger’s side window of the Effie.

“I love roaring round that bend onto the straight — flat out in fifth gear…” Tom was saying before Greenie corrected him.

“You were coming around there in FOURTH gear,” Greenie said sternly.

“No, FIFTH gear,” Tom insisted.

Whack!

“FOURTH GEAR!” Greenie repeated after elbowing Tom in the ribs.

“Oh yeah,” Tom replied sheepishly. “Fourth gear — that’s top gear in a four-speed Panhead gearbox…”

Throughout his sidecar racing career, Tom was a driven man, a hard rider if ever there was one. I remember a time at Eastern Creek when the Panhead’s engine wasn’t running clean. For the first time in many years, I was able to pull out of his slipstream and pass him down the straight, leading him through Turn One and down into the braking area for Turn Two. Normally, the sheer speed of the Panhead, coupled with its bulk meant the corners were the only place I could catch him and quite often there’d be a bit of bashing and paint scraping to decide whose corner it was. Not this time, though — the Panhead chimed in on song again and he gave it a squirt down the outside into Turn Two. Swooping around the outside of me, with the outfit wheel hovering high, Tom’s passenger, Glen Rolfe, managed to get his helmet caught on my right handlebar. Tom powered on around the bend, still with Glen’s hat stuck to my handlebar. My bike was now the one with the outfit wheel pawing the air; my passenger Jane was about four foot off the ground and doing her best to keep us level (her shoulder would normally be scraping the tarmac at Turn Two) and I began to wonder if Glen’s head was going pop off, or Tom was going to back off. Neither of those two things happened, but when Glen’s hat got untangled and Tom roared away we were still up in the air and ready to flip upside down. An almighty wrench on the bars and an unscheduled right-handed 360-degree turn on a left-handed hairpin saw us back in the chase. I suppose it was always going to be Tom’s corner.

There are too many tales to tell of Tom and his take on life. Everyone who knew him will have more than a few yarns they can tell. But the main thing was, he was a bloke who enjoyed his life and had lots of mates. He took every opportunity and rarely looked back. He left many friends and a loving family, and he’s probably got God and all that mob in Heaven pretty well sorted out by now.

See you later Tom, we’ll miss you, mate.

Metro Tom with customer
Metro Tom with a happy customer (George) at Blacktown Harley-Davidson & Buell

Article written by Kelly Ashton

To whomever this reaches,

I HOPE all is well. My name is Saia Tupou, and grandson of John Thomas Browne ‘Metho Tom’. I have recently been doing some research on my Pop and collecting a lot of your magazines with him in it. I was wondering if there was a way I could even get a hold of a lot of the photos taken of him in some of your magazines or even if you have any back issues with him in it I could buy. I would definitely love to add to my collection and even collect photos taken of him during his photo shoots.

There is a magazine I am struggling to find, it is Ozbike #320 (RIP METHO TOM), link for reference: https://www.ozbike.com.au/product/ozbike-320/

Thank you in advance, if it makes it any easier, you could text or call me on ( 0414 070 251 ). I shall eagerly await your response.

Cheers, Saia Tupou

Sorry, Ozbike #320 sold out many years ago. It was our biggest selling issue that year, no doubt helped by the fact that all of Tom’s mates purchased a copy. If anyone would like to help out, give Saia a call — Skol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button