90 years of the ‘Ekka’

Oc­to­ber 16, 1926 was the date for the very first speed­way event at the Bris­bane Ex­hi­bi­tion Grounds (aka the Ekka).

Old Bike Australasia - - OUT’N’ABOUT - Gaven Dall’Osto

It was mo­tor cy­cles only back then with 4-wheeled ve­hi­cles join­ing in ten years later. Apart from the odd his­toric event the gran­ite hasn’t been sprayed in anger since the late ‘90s. The Vin­tage Speed­car As­so­ci­a­tion of Qld (VSAQ) has kept the spirit alive and de­cided on a few events to com­mem­o­rate the 90th an­niver­sary. On the ex­act day of the first race, the club threw open the doors of their club­house to the public. A dis­play of his­toric cars and three speed­way mo­tor­cy­cles were po­si­tioned on the lawn out front of the club­house while much of the club’s mem­o­ra­bilia was on dis­play in­side. Many once-fa­mous speed­way steer­ers were min­gling and shar­ing sto­ries of the glory days. I grav­i­tated to­wards the mo­tor­cy­cle side but, like the dis­play, the con­tent was much less than it was for the cars. Of note was a se­ries of hel­mets in a clear case show­ing how they have changed over the years. It in­cluded a “Baker’s Skid Lid” which was made in the Bris­bane sub­urb of Ros­alie. A framed trib­ute pre­sented to Keith Cox on his 70th birth­day in 1993 in­cluded a snap­shot of the man and his achieve­ments, and I was par­tic­u­larly taken by two of these. Keith first rode speed­way at the Ekka in 1946 and ended up win­ning on an old Rudge. He also achieved the lap record for the “Over 70s” age group event in 1993. Other pho­tos of slid­ers were Jack White, Sandy McCrae, Dicky Smythe, Hughie Ged­des, Mor­rie Bond, Andy Men­zies, and Archy Neil. There was a shot of Frank Arthur who was as fa­mous a rider as he was a pro­moter of the sport in the UK, US and Aus­tralia. There was also a framed trib­ute to Keith Gurt­ner who (along with John Tit­man) was a seven time Queens­land In­di­vid­ual Speed­way Cham­pion. No­table speed­way his­to­rian and au­thor Tony Webb was present with many of his books for sale. I just had to have a copy of the story on the his­tory of Pi­o­neer Park speed­way. The cir­cuit was just over the river from where I grew up, but un­for­tu­nately I left for Bris­bane for ter­tiary stud­ies in the year it was opened (1974). Tony got to­gether with the lo­cal Bur­dekin en­thu­si­asts who built, rode and ran the meet­ings for all those years. Many good rid­ers came from the area in­clud­ing some that Tony met while he was liv­ing in the UK and they fur­thered their ca­reers in the mother coun­try. The stand­out vi­sion­ary in this part of the world was Brian Hod­der and his ded­i­cated mates. They built a track and so pro­vided the cat­a­lyst for the lo­cals to give speed­way a go and if they were good at it, climb the lad­der of suc­cess in Aus­tralia and in­ter­na­tion­ally. What took me by sur­prise in the book was that mo­tor­cy­cling was a big thing in Home Hill and Ayr well be­fore the track was built. I guess it was be­cause I was liv­ing out on a farm that I didn’t get to see what was hap­pen­ing in town. We didn’t get news­pa­pers so only the ra­dio told us what was

The com­bi­na­tion of the smell of methanol, the echo of the en­gines at wide open throt­tle, com­peti­tors slip­ping and slid­ing side by side with huge plumes of gran­ite fly­ing off the back wheels was in­fec­tious.

hap­pen­ing and I guess mo­tor­cy­cling was (as it is now) a less pub­li­cised sport. It ap­pears that the Lower Bur­dekin Mo­tor Cy­clist and Sports Club was formed in early 1925. It was also recorded in the news­pa­pers that a mo­tor­cy­cle speed­way event was held at the Home Hill race course as early as the 10th Oc­to­ber 1926. This pre-dates the first Ekka meet­ing by a few days co-in­ci­den­tally. My first ex­pe­ri­ence with Speed­way was in fact at the Ekka grounds. When I first ar­rived in Bris­bane I boarded with a fam­ily in Wind­sor. I didn’t have any wheels but I had a good set of legs. I dis­cov­ered speed­way was reg­u­larly held at the ex­hi­bi­tion grounds so I walked there to check it out. The com­bi­na­tion of the smell of methanol, the echo of the en­gines at wide open throt­tle, com­peti­tors slip­ping and slid­ing side by side with huge plumes gran­ite fly­ing off the back wheels was in­fec­tious. I walked the long road and re­turned many more times be­fore the events ceased at this bril­liant venue. The an­niver­sary event was a great day and well done to the VSAQ for open­ing their doors for a great oc­ca­sion. On the 26th Oc­to­ber they also pro­vided a dis­play in front of Bris­bane City Hall to fur­ther pro­mote this mile­stone. It is a bless­ing that the club has not let us for­get an ex­cit­ing part of Bris­bane’s his­tory. For those who are in­ter­ested in more in­for­ma­tion on Speed­way in gen­eral, Tony Webb has been col­lat­ing and print­ing books on the sport for many years. He is also the cu­ra­tor of the speed­way sec­tion of the Queens­land Motorsport Mu­seum in Ip­swich. Con­tact Tony through bin­books@iinet.net.au

1950 era JAP in a Sydney-made Huck Finn frame.

ABOVE LEFT Framed photo com­pi­la­tion of speed­way great Keith Gurt­ner. ABOVE Open day dis­play in front of the VSAQ club­house.

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