Potholes and paddocks to the “Park” Volume 1: 1902 – 1949

OUR MOTORCYCLING HISTORY: 1902 – 1949 inclusive

Mount Gambier and the south east of South Australia took a very early interest in “motoring” and as early as January 1899 a crowd of 4,000 gathered at the town’s cycling track, Frew Park, to watch a demonstration of an Electric Motor Tricycle as it travelled at a rate of 20 to 25 miles per hour around the cycle track.  In 1901 a “motor” owned by the Massey Ferguson Company paced a cycle race and in 1902 a Massey Harris Quad gave exhibitions of its speed down the town’s main street.

In January 1904 just a short time after Adelaide and Sydney both claimed to have held the first motorcycle track race in the Southern Hemisphere, a big crowd gathered at Frew Park on New Year’s Day to watch our first motorcycle track race.  It seemed the love affair with motorcycles blossomed from there.  A motorcycle agency appeared in 1904 and then several others followed. South Australia’s Lewis Cycle Works took over a local motorcycle shop in 1907 and later began producing Lewis Motorcycles in the town.

Motorcycles were also built in nearby Casterton Victoria (AOB), Port MacDonnell (The Carrison) and possibly Millicent (Denton) and Kingston Sth East (Randall)  –  Mount Gambier agent Mr Fitzgerald had his own build motorcycle  on display at the Mount Gambier Show too, in 1912.

A car had climbed to the Centenary Tower in 1907 and this spurred locals to try and emulate the feat on a motorcycle, regularly gathering at the base of the Tower track to have a go.  Four years later a Lewis made the first successful climb by a motorcycle.

The Mount Gambier Motor Cycle Club was formed in 1913, and their first event was a Speed Trial  in December 1913, but a year later they joined with the car owners for a motorist’s association.  WW1 saw a halt to activities. A second Club formed in 1928 and soon organised events for the Dirt Track racing craze sweeping Australia and the world – an improvised track on Umpherston’s property at Yahl was used, then a Speedway track was created at the Recreation Reserve at Reidy Park.

Probably the Great Depression caused the Club’s failure, but then the Mount Gambier Motor Cycle and Light Car Club formed in 1936.  Just as the Club gained approval for a race on Public roads, WW2 began, halting any activities and with several members enlisting for active service.  Following the cessation of war and with the return of servicemen, several motorcyclists got together and revived the pre- war Club.

Keen to start competitive events, beach racing, trials and hill climbs etc were held and then the very popular scramble series at Mr C Ploenge’s Buck’s Hill property just south west of Mount Gambier began.  The post war public, starved of live and exciting entertainment turned out in large numbers to enjoy the spectacle.

John Wilkinson, a New Zealander who had moved to Mount Gambier to take part in exciting motorcycle scene, was an amazing Daredevil (an Evel Knievel type character) who thrilled crowds at Scrambles etc with his stunts.  His most daring stunt was to leap a motorcycle from a over 30 foot high tower he built, with the help of a couple of young people, into the Valley Lake.  The ramp of 3 foot width, had a burning wooden barrier at the end to crash through before he hurtled into the lake waters.  This stunt followed his motorcycle leap from a Diving Board into the Glenelg River on Foundation Day 1949.

Volume 1 is 164 pages and contains approx.120 images. These books are printed in Australia on good quality paper.

To order a copy of this book, please go to our Order Page.

Volume 1
Wilky into Valley lake


  • 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.