Potholes and paddocks to the “Park” – Behind the Books

My Motorcycling Background

As a young man in the 1950’s, like many others, my main mode of transport was on my old “sweat wheel” (Super Elliot bicycle without gears), so when the opportunity arose, I bought a 125cc BSA Bantam from my oldest brother. I used it for work and to get to see my girlfriend Mavis who lived three miles away. Being a “cantankerous two stroke,” it was the object of scorn of my future father-in-law Allan Corner, who had a 10-12 Harley Davidson as the family transport.

In the end he took pity on me and drove me into Allparts in Adelaide. A change-over barrel and piston made a new bike of it, and so began the mechanical interest. Allan taught me a lot about motorcycles and I still use that knowledge and some of his terminology, as used by the motorcyclists of the time.

Whether it was in an attempt to scare me off (get rid of me?) he gave me an Ariel VG 500cc with Dusting sidecar and so the fun began. Whilst a 16-year-old apprentice electrical fitter at the MTT in Adelaide, I had the good fortune to work with a member of the South Australian Veteran and Vintage Motorcycle Club, Ray Pope. Ray was restoring a veteran Phelon and Moore (later becoming Panther) and he introduced me to the delights of older motorcycles. I attended the club with him and became a member, participating on a couple of occasions with a 1926 New Imperial loaned to me by Ray, and I was “hooked”.

I obtained a 1919 Harley Davidson, “restoring” it by painting it with a pump action fly spray but gave it away when I could not get or afford tyres for it. From then I have had many motorcycles, often with a sidecar. In 1964 I began racing sidecars in scrambles at Snake Gully, Port Noarlunga, Lower Hermitage, Clarendon, Blewett Springs, Port Pirie, etc., and short circuit speedways such as Murray Bridge, Point Pass and Renmark, etc., I was never into road racing, but often heard my friends saying that they were off to the “Park” at Mount Gambier to either race or just watch, so paid a passing interest in the venue only.

The beginnings of my interest in the history of “Mac” Park.

When we moved to Mount Gambier in 1972, I became good friends with Ron Hellyer, who was then road racing and also building a new sidecar outfit in his workshop. It was during the many talks with Ron that I became aware of the history of Mac Park and very interested in how it came to be. It is such a great story that I thought it should be recorded and I then learnt of the vast knowledge motorcycling icon Laurie Fox O.A.M. had which he kindly shared, including some photos.

Another local legend John Wilkinson had been gathering information with the aim of preserving it whilst the participants were still around. When John found out I was interested, he handed on all the information, photos, etc., he had gathered with the assistance of many enthusiasts and competitors. I wish to thank John, the Mount Gambier Library, Doug Hill, Ron Hellyer and many others who have loaned photos and shared stories, etc. Knowing that Laurie had all the post war information, I began researching history from the early 1900s up until the opening of McNamara (Mac) Park in 1962. Newspapers, mainly the Border Watch, provided most of the pre-W.W. 2 details.

The Books – Volume 1 and 2

“Potholes and paddocks to the Park”, was initially intended to be an account of the dedicated effort a band of local motor cycle enthusiasts made to get a post war Club going again and leading up to the building of the race circuit at McNamara Park, Instead, my research found that Mount Gambier had a great interest in motorcycling from just about its infancy (or at least 1901) and as in so many other districts, it will be seen that there were adventurous people prepared to “have a go” promoting, making, riding and pushing machines to the limit. They left a great legacy and an interesting history.

Colin Thompson

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Author

  • Colin R Thompson

    Colin is a self confessed motor cycle tragic who bought his first motor cycle in the 1950s. He began racing outfits in Scrambles in the early 1960s with quite a bit of success. Following his move to Mount Gambier in 1972, he soon became involved with the local motor cycling fraternity and so began his interest in the history of motor cycling in the South East, especially at "Mac Park". This ultimately led to the publication of the two volumes of "Potholes and paddocks to the Park". Colin has done several Charity Fundraising events with a Powerpoint on the contents of the books for organisations such as Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal, Queensland Flood Relief, Movember, RFDS and Cancer SA. One is being planned to assist Lifeline. Check out this site for future events.He still has a couple of motor cycles and always a project on the go.