Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The TT Rally: Turning Back Time in Timber Town
by John Jennings:
We were among the last to leave and as we cleared the town limits of Manjimup on that crisp Monday morning our Venom Clubman (fresh from crash repairs courtesy of a red light runner) settled into a relaxed two-up pace of 3500 rpm / 60 mph as we passed through the majestic Tall Timber country along WA’s sparsely populated South West Highway. About 20 miles out from Walpole the distant vision of a large man on a small motorcycle signalled that we had finally caught Uncle Ted.

At 81 years of age Ted Hicks from Canberra was the oldest rider on the Rally riding my wife Diana’s 1948 350 MAC for the week. This bike, an older restoration, had been unloaded from the QLD container and registered only days before the event, so opportunities for test riding were limited. So this was a welcome sight for us, although with Ted’s lifetime of racing, riding and fettling Velos, Nortons and Ducatis, we needn’t have worried.

Rally headquarters for the 110 entrants was the abandoned mill town of Wheatley, complete with the rusting remains of its once snorting steam powered timber mill. The thirty or so workers cottages dating from the late 1940s, the school building and the quaint General Store stand as a reminder of the simple life this town had seen over 50 years ago. On the hill above the town, the Sports Club was transformed into our version of Birmingham’s Hall Green for the week. The dining room was renamed “The Works Canteen”, the Ladies Lounge became “The Din House Bar” (a Harold Willis reference – his nickname for the engine test room at the Veloce works) and the Billiard Room with its full sized slate-bed table became the gentlemen’s retreat that it had once been, but this time complete with women keen to hone their cue skills.

A Wurlitzer juke box loaded with records from the 1950s and a pot belly fire enhanced the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the place as thirsty riders and their pillions made the walk from cottage to Hall Green at the end of each day’s ride. The fact that the local wildlife has become fully integrated with the ever changing community at Wheatley was a particular novelty for our International and Interstate guests alike. Sharing pre-dinner nibbles on the wide verandahs with flocks of colorful parrots, wrens, kangaroos, emus and the Store owner’s free ranging chooks became a feature of cottage life during the week.

Not so welcome were the nocturnal intrusions of the possums that seemed intent on hammering nails into our tin roofs during the early hours. One alcoholic possum showed great resourcefulness by entering a kitchen via the flue of the still warm combustion stove. In his attempt to scoff the remains of a cherished bottle of The Famous Grouse whisky he knocked it off the table, waking the occupants. Fortunately both bottle and lid stayed intact and the pesky possum was ushered outside with a broom.

Monday’s ride gave the opportunity to visit the magnificent Tingle forest east of Walpole where a tree top walk provides a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy. Not so enjoyable for one entrant who lost a lens from his prescription glasses at the highest point of the walk and didn’t feel inclined to return to that point at ground level to sift through deep leaf litter.
Tuesday’s ride through the Ferguson Valley east of Donnybrook saw those who came prepared with a Velo gnome create our own Club headquarters at Gnomesville, a miniature town set in a glade by a large roundabout in the middle of nowhere. The original gnome inhabitants were placed as part of a fund raising drive around WA in 2003 and since then various Clubs and families have visited and left their gnomes to create a rambling gnome community. During our pilgrimage we were fortunate to have a full sized gnome in the form of Trevor Cason, who dressed accordingly and ushered the family of Velo gnomes to their new home. The following lunch stop at the Wild Bull Brewery with its spectacular mountain top views was well received by the riders.

On Wednesday we braved some rainy periods to do a loop around Manjimup and Pemberton, where a lunch time display in the Memorial Park gave locals a rare opportunity to see over 70 Velocettes in the one place.

On Thursday riders were up early and braved an 80 mile ride through patchy weather to get to the Collie race track where regularity Time Trials were planned for the day. A cooked breakfast on arrival soon had the blood circulating again as the helpful volunteers from the Bunbury based Indian-Harley Club manned the stopwatches and the flags as we practiced then did three timed runs that became the basis for deciding the winners of the Collie TT in both Senior and Junior classes. To add interest to the day a group of Period 2 and 3 race bikes took to the track at lunchtime for a race demonstration which had the crowd enthralled with the sound of Velos and Vincents on open pipe and megaphone. A static display of mainly Vincent road and race machinery put on by world renowned collector Ian Boyd provided riders with something to drool over between track outings.

Friday’s ride to Augusta gave the opportunity to visit the place where two of the great oceans meet. This popular, wind-blown spot below the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse marks the boundary between the Indian Ocean to the west and the Great Southern Ocean to the east. Apparently this is one of only four such points on earth, so it was well worth the walk down from the car park. A nearby rock cairn turned out to have a direct and poignant Velocette link. South Australian based entrant Keith Milich’s brother was one of 10 sailors on the night watch washed overboard from HMAS Nizam on a stormy night in February 1945. The Nizam was hit by a freak wave while passing 11 miles off Cape Leeuwin. The sailors’ bodies were never recovered.
Saturday provided the opportunity for another display, this time in the nearby town of Manjimup, regional base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This was our chosen charity for the TT Rally so the local townsfolk gave generously as we roamed the streets rattling our tins for the cause. Many a motorcyclist has been grateful for the Flying Doctor when things go wrong while travelling on two wheels in remote parts. The presentation dinner on Saturday night saw Hall Green turn into our equivalent of an Irish pub, when local folk singer John Wilson (whose father owned 3 Velocettes and was a personal friend of Stanley Woods) was joined on stage by our own Velo-riding, banjo-playing maestro, Dennis Quinlan. It rapidly developed into a sing-along that saw the crowd party on into the early hours, singing badly to old standards and doing the Hall Green boogie in the aisles. Nights like that can’t be planned – they just happen. And when they do it becomes a very special memory for those who were there.
I’d like to think that 25 or 30 years down the track, I’ll be doing an Uncle Ted, still riding a Velo and telling Tall Tales to my mates over a beer or two at some future TT Rally. Roll on October 2010 where we will do it all over again at Lennox Head NSW.


Anonymous said...

Absolutly Bitchin..I have been playing with motorcycles since 62..had shops ..been to the Vegas ..Art of the Motorcycle.raced a little flat track..Ducatis to Harleys have lived in my garage….I LOVE THIS SITE…..BONES

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Since my recent discovery of the vintagent I've found it to be a
great daily read.

Many Thanks,

Don O'Reilly

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul I`m a big fan ot this (your) blog!

Did you know that Ben Bickells Copperknob was reborn in Sweden 2005 ?

Here is my Blog and a short Copperknob memory lane...

My webbside:

Best regards Urban Engström

Anonymous said...

Hi John.

Thanks for writing up the rally and sharing with us. I promise that I'll make it down there one of these years!

Pete Young