The Bikiest Bikie I’ve Ever Seen

Some memories are etched so deep, so clear, that no matter how long ago it was, you remember it with crystal clarity. I remember seeing my first real bikie, and still that fella remains the bikiest bikie I’ve ever seen.

WHAT THE hell is a real bikie anyway? I’ve never considered myself a ‘real’ bikie; just some bastard who loves motorcycles intensely—always have, always will. Could a real bikie be the bloke who has owned a lot of motorbikes and rides none, or the other bloke who has only one machine—a shitty one at that—but rides it day in, day out—summer, winter, autumn and spring, rain hail or shine? Who knows, who cares—if you love motorbikes and riding them, you’re a real bikie, okay?

Even though I’ve met just about every type of bikie, or biker, or motorcyclist, over the last five decades, only one stands out in my mind as the epitome of bikiedom. And I never actually met him—thank Christ—that could’ve been a life-altering experience for an impressionable lad.

I was a young fella, motorcycle mad and this was still in the days before I owned my first motorbike, a BSA Bantam. Jeez, it was even before I had my home-made minibike (Victa 125 lawnmover motor in a Cyclops pump-up scooter frame), so I’d say I was aged 13 and the closest I came to being a biker was haunting the bike shops, annoying the salesmen and collecting sales brochures.

And the memorable bikie I never met was at the Royal Easter Show—and he rode the Wall of Death.

Yeah, so there you go, of all the bikies I could’ve plonked on the top of the heap of bikie cool, the coolest of them all was a motorcycle stuntman.

I’m fairly certain that whichever Easter it was (either 1969 or 1970), it was a bonus because, that year, my family got to go to the Show twice! We went as a family in the daytime; but Big Brother Mick was in the Boy Scouts and his Troop was in a Scout tent-pegging competition, so we got to go on a weeknight as well! Thank you, God! Aside from seeing a whole lot of Boy Scouts pitching tents in a race, I also got to witness the Bell Jet Pack Rocket Man make a fantastic flight of about 100 yards or so.

Even better, I witnessed one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life. See, in the middle of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Sydney Showground, a military pipe and drum band was performing. Now, this band was either Samoan or Tongan, I can’t be sure, but they were all fuzzy Afro hair and bright white belts and sashes, and were playing up a storm.

Unfortunately for them, the Bell Jet Pack Rocket Man had chosen to test his apparatus just outside the arena, and as you can imagine, it was a whooshing, roaring, hissing sound at a deadly level of decibels. Most of the city slickers watching—including me—had the tripe frightened out of them. So it was natural, these musical Islanders—who’d probably only recently heard of television and radio—absolutely freaked out, dropped their instruments and headed for the hills, their lap-laps flying and their legs pumping.

Near pissed myself but unsure whether it was through mirth or fear. Even when Rocket Man came out for the very impressive demonstration, you still couldn’t prepare yourself for the noise. Seeing that flight that night was mind-blowing and all the high-tech shit we’ve got today just doesn’t scream ‘THE FUTURE!’ like Rocket Man did.

But back to the daytime family trip to the Show.

When I was a kid, everything was free! Well, maybe the parents paid, but as kids, we got the lot for nix! I even liked the scam Dad and Mum would pull, where they would abandon us four kids near the Lost Children’s Tent, disappear long enough for us to become official ‘lost’. Soon enough, we lost kids would get the free and lost-child-soothing Streets ice cream bar you’d unwrap and put into the flat, square cone. And then, ta-dah! Mum and Dad would miraculously find us at the tent. What a lurk!

The other way Dad knew he could save money was pay the 30 odd cents to allow me to go see the Wall of Death. He’d happily pay the admission fee, because he knew I’d simply climb the stairs to the top of the wooden wall and stay there for hours. You could watch the daredevil action, which lasted about 10 minutes, then don’t leave when it finished. About 50 minutes later, the explosive excitement would happen again.

When I got my first glimpse of a motorcycle being ridden on the Wall of Death, I was so blown away; the memory is still as fresh as it was back then.

The long wait between the performances didn’t worry me that much, because the ‘dead air’ would only last about 30 minutes before the stunt riders would re-enter the Wall through a hatch in the starting ramp. Until that happened, I was content to stare at the bikes parked jauntily on the circular floor. Three Triumph Pre-Unit twins would be sitting menacingly; stripped-down hooligan bikes, mostly stock standard, but without mudguards, lights or mufflers. Both front and back wheels were fitted with chunky rear tyres which were shaved bald at a 45-degree angle presumably from fighting gravity for most of their lives.

After each performance, riders would exit the Wall, and after a short lull, the spruiker would stand outside and entice a new audience to join the lonesome kid already waiting on the viewing platform hanging off the edge of the Wall.

Once the spruiker had some customers ringing the top of the Wall, the two riders would re-enter, and one of them—the bikiest bikie in history—would grab a microphone and continue the build-up of tension and anticipation the spruiker had started outside.

He dressed and acted exactly as you’d expect him. The Yanks would call him a Punk, the Poms would call him a Bovver Boy or a Likely Lad. Here in Australia, he’d be a Hoon or a Yobbo. Or a Bikie.

He had black denim jeans with stovepipe legs tucked into black motorcycle boots and a grubby white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes folded up under the tight sleeve. His hair would’ve pleased any modern day Rockabilly, with the ‘Quiff’ Brylcreemed up, over and back into the rest of his shiny, slick hair. Dead set, he out-Elvised Elvis with that greased-back hairdo. The bikie was well-built, lean and muscular, and had the surly, slitty-eyed face of that rotten cousin that comes around every Christmas. And what a bloody attitude he had!

While his co-stunt rider had very little air time, the bikie did the majority of the talking, and it consisted of very little building up and a whole lot of putting down. He looks so cool as he lounged on his Triumph, casually lighting a ciggie and addressing the crowd, but Jeez, he was a nasty piece of work, stepping off the bike, prowling around the floor of the Wall of Death and hanging as much shit on his paying customers as he could.

“Hey look,” he said, homing in on a mini-skirted girl standing next to me in the audience, “there’s Cheryl—Are you still pregnant, Chez… you wouldn’t keep getting preggo if you weren’t so good in bed.”

Now, I was only young, but I had a fair handle on the mummies and daddies caper, and understood why Cheryl looked so damned embarrassed she should’ve shrivelled up and squeaked away—but she didn’t, and stood there in silent horror as the bikie continued being as nasty as I’d seen anyone be to anyone else up until that time in my short life. His partner in crime simply sighed and raised his eyebrows as he lounged back on his own Triumph stunt bike.

Bikie man, whose main reason for holding the microphone was to drum up more customers, was instead using his air time as a vent for his bile, while he paced around the floor like a caged animal.

“Oh, look at that bloke up there,” he sneered. “They say man descended from the apes, but pal, it looks like you didn’t do much descending—you’re still up there in the trees with your ugly mates.”

I’ve never felt so sorry for some poor bastard I’ve never met, as you could hear the audible gasps and shuffling from the very uncomfortable audience.

“And speaking of ugly,” he continued, “look at that bloke there—fair dinkum, mate, if you ever get a root, you’ll have to pay for it. Even Cheryl wouldn’t root you.”

He was on a roll. “How about that fat sheila up there—Jeez, darlin’—don’t expect me to take you for a dink on me bike…”

I was busy working out the sums; with about 30 people crammed around the top of the Wall of Death, and four already insulted, I figured I had about a 26-to-one chance of being slandered and smeared by the nastiest bikie in Australia. Thankfully, his mate, the quiet one, motioned to him that ‘that was enough’ and it was time to start the show.

I wasn’t the one to say “Phew” as the nasty bikie strode to his Trumpy and kicked it in the guts like he hated it.

The show went from a wince-making, down-putting slag session to a vibrant, thrilling stunt show in a matter of seconds, as the two Trumpies began whizzing around the base of the Wall before simultaneously swinging up onto the vertical section; the roar was deafening, and whatever went before didn’t matter—this was brilliant! The riders did every possible combination, from flashing around two abreast with their arms outstretched, to single file with one’s front wheel seemingly kissing the back wheel of the other bike in front.

If you’ve never seen an old style Wall of Death in operation, you have no idea of how thrilling and dangerous it appears. The structure, made from vertically-stood planks of about 2-by-4-inch hardwood is a monster of many parts, and with the centrifugal force exerted on the Wall by weight of two bikes and two riders must have been massive. The whole structure swayed to the beat of the bikes; dust and crap was continuously thrown up from between the planks and those planks clattered loudly each time the bikes came round. It was magnificent!

For me, the best part was when each rider was on opposite sides of the Wall, and both were swerving violently from the very bottom of the vertical section to the very top. There was another section of about a couple of feet which was splayed inwards slightly; the fat front tyre was seemingly cresting the rim by about half a tread width—inches from my slack-jawed gob!

As a scientific experiment, I crouched down to put my eye level with the rim (no, no—not because I was shittin’ bricks; I really wanted to see how close these madman were actually coming to the top of the planks). After sighting across to the far rim of the Wall, you could see at least half of a bike and rider on the upswing actually above the top of the Wall of Death! Holy shit!

And then it finished; the throttles were shut and the bikes just spiralled down to the floor with no drama at all. Those Trumpies were once again silent and the riders clambered out through the hatch in the ramp. Only a few punters moved away instantly, with most holding their positions, not believing what they had just witnessed.

I was dumbstruck; from being completely offended and horrified at the malicious haranguing some audience members endured, to being totally impressed by the riding skills of this hoon and his mate. Man, this thuggee mongrel was my new hero.

I waited around at the top of the Wall for the next performance and unbelievably, Cheryl and the fat sheila stayed too. I reckon if I had’ve had the chance to speak to the bikiest bikie ever, I probably would have said something like, “Jeez, mate, you sure are a smooth talker…”

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

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