Smarty’s Circus, the Flag Inn and the Bathurst Hilton are among Mount Panorama’s best known temporary establishments. Yet pre-dating any of these perennial October classic campsites was Pygmy’s Palace – equal parts accommodation, hospitality tent and help desk.
Pygmy’s Palace was an unofficial epicentre for GM-H personnel in the paddock through the Seventies. It was the place where Holden folk and others gravitated socially on race weekends and a magnet for those needing help. Sure, glamour sponsors such as Marlboro or Levi’s may have pitched fancier marquees or parked up spectacular double-decker buses that acted as mobile hospitality centres, but Pygmy’s Palace remained a Great Race staple for a decade.
Pygmy is Greg Lynch, a long-retired Holden employee at its now defunct Sydney assembly plant. AMC rst met Greg when we took former Pagewood workers back to their old watering hole last year to reminisce for a story that appeared in issue #98. At this time it was obvious the other retirees considered him a living treasure, one of those unsung behind-the-scenes heroes that every successful company needs. Pygmy was a dependable ‘go-to guy’ for all manner of mechanical jobs and, well, anything really.
Had Greg not been given the nickname ‘Pygmy’ early in his career by Holden colleague and Bathurst trackside announcer John Cummins, then he probably would have become known as ‘Lynchpin’.
“I started with General Motors working in the Service Garage, which was their own service centre, at Pagewood in 1951 and stayed with General Motors for 36 years,” Lynch explains over a cuppa at his home north of Sydney. “I spent about six years in the Service Garage before I graduated to the Service Office and then went into the eld as a Service Representative. Then I took over [running] the Service Garage. And it was during this period I got to know all these people, all these identities inside and outside Holden.”
Lynch’s stretch overseeing Pagewood’s Service Garage coincided largely with another popular Sydney-based Holden identity’s time as PR chief, Marc McInnes.
“Marc really got things going,” Lynch explains. “He used to dream up projects and I used to help put them together for him. Remember the French Hell Drivers? We used the left-hand-drive export Toranas. We converted them over so they would run on two left-hand wheels with only the back wheel driving. We also had to put solid valve-lifters in them, because they used to leak after a while, and put the carburettor on a lean so the fuel was breathing into the carb. We did 11 of those one-wheel-drive Toranas for Jose who ran it all and he took them all over the world for his stunt shows.
“We were also supplying cars for economy runs and that led to us helping out the rallying and racing
people. They were constantly running out of bits and needing help.”
A good example was Des West, who was quick to order a Monaro GTS 327 when the built-for-Bathurst Monaro was announced. West, in the lead-up to the 1968 Hardie-Ferodo 500, brought his Lorack Motors-entered Picardy Redcoloured Monaro to Pagewood so Pigmy could help his fellow vertically-challenged mate see over dashboard!
“We put packing – spacers, if you like – under the seat to raise it. Then he could see where he was going. When you see the photos you can see him peering over the steering wheel.”
It wasn’t the only problem West had to solve ahead of the big race, an event he led for a sizeable chunk of the day (see breakout).
When West returned to Pagewood post-race so the seat could be returned to its original height, Lynch asked for a souvenir from the GTS 327 – its steering wheel. That steering wheel is still proudly displayed at Pygmy’s home. So, too, the original nameplate that hung over the entrance to the palace. It’s now displayed above his garage’s access door.
Greg says what would become Pygmy’s Palace was born the same year as the HDT, 1969, when “four to six” workmates and mates went up and camped in the Bathurst paddock.
“It was the year Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won and Des West nished third with Peter Brock, who had a goatee beard. I remember Westy dropping around and saying, ‘Who the bloody hell is this bloke Harry has given me to drive with?!’
“Colin Bond was and is a terri c person – a great bloke to work with. So was Tony Roberts. They were both basically rally drivers.
“[The Holden manager in charge of motorsport] Joe Felice was always very helpful to us in those early years. One year he organised a nice-sized marquee that was owned by Levi’s, the jeans people, and made out of denim. It was a goodlooking thing for the time, but it rained one night and leaked like a sieve.
“The ARDC’s Ivan Stibbard gave us allocated space in the paddock and I rented some additional tents and stretchers and it gradually grew and grew. I think it was Marc McInnes that came up with the Pigmy Palace name and sign and we became pretty well known over time.”
The palace can be best described as something of a hospitality suite that Holden people and other mates stayed within.
“I bought canned beer at the right price and sold it via a ticket system at the right price – we weren’t making a pro t. We had these two big drums that held the beer cans on ice. Then we’d feed them breakfast, lunch – a cold lunch – and dinner. We made our own barbeques at Pagewood and conveyed them to Bathurst via GM-H trucks. We provided camp-stretchers but people had to bring their own sleeping bags, etc. And we generally tried to keep everyone out of trouble, although not always successfully.”
Then there was helping out Holden competitors who had struck trouble; providing emergency accommodation for middle management-types; and, after the big wet of 1974, towing bogged cars out of the paddock quagmire. The man himself says Pygmy’s Palace ran through the “Harry Firth years” at Bathurst.
“Joe Felice used to, through Harry I think, supply us with tickets and passes so that helped keep our costs down. That was a big help. Some of the big dealer supporters were Charlie McCarran from Canowindra, Camerons at Orange, Springwood Motors’ Malcolm Kerry and Sutton’s. These were people for whom nothing was a drama.
“While Harry was a cranky old bastard, I also found him very good to work with. When we got the Levi’s marquee it started to get pretty big. Eventually it got so big that everyone wanted to come along. After Harry went, I decided that I had had enough. I think we did 10 or 11 years in total.”
In his real job Lynch (pictured far top right in suit) stayed with GM until he retired in 1987.
“When I nished up I was Isuzu trucks’ sales manager for NSW. I was negotiating retirement – an early retirement – and a thing called the World Solar Challenge came along with solar cars racing from Darwin to Adelaide. GM in America had entered and I took over putting together the support team for the challenge.”
That led to the next phase of his life, becoming a major player in the running of the Variety Bashes and other rally-style events, with a special skill for getting competitors back on the road. Today he enjoys the quite life, inclusive of regular Holden retiree reunions where inevitably talks turns to his days as king of the castle known as Pygmy’s Palace.
“Pygmy’s palace was born the year Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won and Des West finished third with Peter Brock, who had a goatee beard. I remember Westy dropping around and saying, ‘Who the bloody hell is this bloke Harry has given me to drive with?!’