TRACKS IN TIME: Caversham, WA

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As World War II raged in the Pa­cific, the Aus­tralian/US al­liance de­manded more and more strate­gic air bases, and Mid­dle Swan Air­field, also known as Caversham, came into be­ing around 1943. Sit­u­ated 25km north east of Perth city, Caversham was the main base for the US Fleet Air Arm of the 7th Fleet and the US Army Air Corps, and in­cor­po­rated four ‘satel­lite’ air­fields; Bev­er­ley, Bin­doon, Gin­gin Nth and Moo­li­abee­nee. After the war, the Depart­ment of De­fence oc­ca­sion­ally al­lowed mo­tor rac­ing to take place at Caversham, and later at Moo­li­abee­nee, where Ge­off Duke made his first ap­pear­ance on Aus­tralian soil in 1955. Caversham, in mil­i­tary guise, was a tri­an­gle al­low­ing air traf­fic in three dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, but on the east­ern side, a loop (which be­came known as the ‘D’ sec­tion), joined the north and south ends of the main run­way. On April 7th 1946, Caversham staged the Vic­tory Grand Prix; what was claimed as the first ma­jor post-war mo­tor rac­ing meet­ing (for cars and mo­tor­cy­cles). This came just two weeks be­fore the Easter Bathurst meet­ing and the Easter Mon­day Vic­to­rian Motorcycle TT at Bal­larat, but months after the Vic­tory TT (for mo­tor­cy­cles) staged at Bal­larat on New Year’s Day, 1946. In the West Aus­tralian news­pa­per, it was re­ported “the cir­cuit of the air strip and dis­per­sal strips will be con­nected by field tele­phones and the Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club will sup­ply tech­ni­cians and of­fi­cials for judg­ing and tim­ing. Each en­gine will be in­spected by me­chan­ics and a doc­tor will put each en­trant through a phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion be­fore he is al­lowed to com­pete. Ad­mis­sion is free, but badges will be sold in aid of the Maimed and Limb­less Ex-ser­vice­men’s Ap­peal.” The Vic­tory Grand Prix pro­gram con­tained three motorcycle events: the Ju­nior TT, Se­nior TT, and Side­car TT, plus two car events. A crowd of 60,000 – one quar­ter of the met­ro­pol­i­tan pop­u­la­tion – surged into the cir­cuit to see the races, which were held in bril­liant weather. The main car race, held over 20 laps of the 2.1 mile cir­cuit, was won by Clem Dwyer in his Ply­mouth Spe­cial. The meet­ing was planned to be a one-off, and the Depart­ment of De­fence cer­tainly be­lieved this to be the case, but such was the pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the mas­sive spec­ta­tor turn-out, the WA Sport­ing Car Club was able to gain use of the fa­cil­ity from time to time. In May 1947, the West Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion con­ducted the first all-bike meet­ing, with pro­ceeds do­nated to the Bri­tish Flood Re­lief Red Cross Ap­peal. The wet track caused nu­mer­ous ac­ci­dents, none se­ri­ous. The Ju­nior TT went to T. Dock­ing on a Ve­lo­cette from George Scott’s Tri­umph, the Side­car race was won by Les Clin­ton’s Har­ley-David­son, and the 20-lap Se­nior TT to A. Meakins’ Ex­cel­sior from Scott and N. Kestrel.

In 1953, the car club was granted a lease over part of the now-dis­used site, and be­gan con­duct­ing work­ing bees to bring the cir­cuit into a state where it could be used for com­pe­ti­tion, which was pri­mar­ily for cars. It was a hard fight, as the area was scrubby and sandy, which caused the tar sur­face to come apart eas­ily.

For mo­tor­cy­cles, the red-let­ter day in Caversham’s his­tory came in De­cem­ber 1955 when the Moto Guzzi works team of Dickie Dale and reign­ing 350 World Cham­pion Bill Lo­mas ar­rived. 15,000 peo­ple turned out on a typ­i­cally scorch­ing day to see the Bri­tish su­per­stars and their all-con­quer­ing Ital­ian rac­ers. In the 350cc race Dale won from Dave Fletcher’s 7R AJS and W. Rowe’s Nor­ton, with Fletcher set­ting the fastest lap of the race at 1 minute 37 seconds, an av­er­age of 78 mph. In the Se­nior, Lo­mas strolled to an easy win, lap­ping in 1 minute 36 seconds and av­er­ag­ing 80.73 mph for the ten laps, to head home Don Lead­bet­ter and Fletcher. The stars also turned out for a 15 lap hand­i­cap race, but Lo­mas re­tired with a bro­ken rear sus­pen­sion unit and Dale could only man­age fourth be­hind win­ner Lead­bet­ter, K.Rus­sell’s Vincent and J.Rowe on a Nor­ton. Sup­port­ing events were the 125cc 6-lap­per won by Len Smith’s BSA from Fletcher’s Fran­cis Bar­nett, and a 5-lap Side­car hand­i­cap. Favourite Eric Nicoll oiled a plug on the first lap, leav­ing the win to Norm Phillips’ Ariel. Both Lo­mas and Dale were en­thu­si­as­tic about the cir­cuit, say­ing “with a lit­tle work on the track sur­face, it would com­pare favourably with the best of Bri­tain’s short cir­cuits.” In 1957, Western Aus­tralia was al­lo­cated the run­ning of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix for cars, and the en­tire track was resur­faced im­me­di­ately prior to the race. The ac­tual Grand Prix, which was run over 70 laps and lasted almost two hours, has gone into the an­nals of his­tory as a dis­puted re­sult that has never been

al­to­gether re­solved. Run in heat wave con­di­tions on March 4, the leader Stan Jones be­came heat-dis­tressed and spun out with 22 laps to run. His Maserati 250F was push started by of­fi­cials and he re­joined the race after a short pit stop, only to be passed by Lex Dav­i­son late in the race. Lap scor­ers and of­fi­cials could not de­cide whether Dav­i­son had un­lapped him­self, or was ac­tu­ally in the lead, and although Jones was ini­tially de­clared the win­ner, the re­sults were later re­versed. Jones, Len Lukey and sev­eral other driv­ers re­quired med­i­cal at­ten­tion after the race. In 1962, the Grand Prix re­turned (the fi­nal time it was held on a state-ro­ta­tional ba­sis) to coin­cide with the stag­ing of the Com­mon­wealth Games in Perth, and again, much money was poured into the prepa­ra­tion of the cir­cuit. It would have been wise to also se­cure the perime­ter fenc­ing, as most spec­ta­tors, of which there were few, sim­ply let them­selves in for free by walk­ing through neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties. The huge loss on the meet­ing almost crip­pled the club. In 1968, the mil­i­tary de­cided it wanted the Caversham site back, and the pro­mot­ing club marched off to the new Wanneroo Cir­cuit, tak­ing some of what lit­tle in­fra­struc­ture ex­isted at Caversham with it. The area once again fell into dis­use un­til 2006 when it was ear­marked to be sold by the Com­mon­wealth Gov­ern­ment to the WA State Gov­ern­ment for hous­ing de­vel­op­ment. This sent waves of con­ster­na­tion through those with a sense of mo­tor rac­ing his­tory in WA, re­sult­ing in a pledge by the new own­ers to pre­serve the ‘D’ cir­cuit sec­tion as a her­itage and nat­u­ral bush­land site. The area on the western side of the cir­cuit, where the orig­i­nal tri­an­gle of run­ways was lo­cated, has re­cently been re­named as a new sub­urb of Brab­ham in the City of Swan, post­code 6055, and will con­tain around 350 hous­ing blocks. What was Caversham’s main straight will be­come Hen­ley Brook Av­enue. In Septem­ber 2007, a cel­e­bra­tion was held to mark 50 years since the 1957 Aus­tralian Grand Prix. Or­gan­ised by the Vin­tage Sports Car Club of WA, the day at­tracted over 300 his­toric rac­ing cars and mo­tor­cy­cles, with pa­rade laps around the ‘D’ Cir­cuit, which is still ba­si­cally all there. A crowd of 4,000 came to see the spec­ta­cle and to once again en­joy the noise. The His­toric Road Rac­ing Club of WA has been able to use one of the build­ings on the site as their club rooms, but the de­vel­op­ment of the area will soon see that lease ter­mi­nated. In May 2011, Sir Jack and Lady Brab­ham flew from Queens­land to

take part in the cer­e­mony to name the new hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in his hon­our. Brab­ham first com­peted at Caversham in the 1957 Aus­tralian Grand Prix, fin­ish­ing third in a Cooper Cli­max. His sec­ond and fi­nal ap­pear­ance came in 1962 when Caversham hosted the Grand Prix for the fi­nal time. While bat­tling for the lead with New Zealan­der Bruce McLaren, Brab­ham col­lided with a lapped car and was taken out of the race. It was also the end of the road for the cir­cuit as far as top line com­pe­ti­tion went. Part of the land con­tain­ing the cir­cuit be­longed to a farmer, and his live­stock had to be rounded up and con­tained each time the cir­cuit was used. There was also a ma­jor prob­lem with lo­cal wildlife, with kan­ga­roos fre­quently hop­ping onto the track dur­ing race meet­ings. In the end, the kan­ga­roos won.

Map info from an orig­i­nal hand-drawn by Eric Deben­ham.

TOP Peter Ni­col with Harry Gib­son and Harry’s much-mod­i­fied HRD in 1953. ABOVE Cec Sump­tion and pas­sen­ger Des Phillips. ABOVE Peter Ni­col (Match­less G45) leads Don Lead­bet­ter (Nor­ton) un­der the fa­mous En­er­gol Bridge at the Speed Clas­sic 28th Oc­to­ber...

Still cam­paign­ing his Ve­lo­cette in the mid ‘six­ties, Don Ches­son leads a Ja­panese bri­gade. ABOVE Don Ches­son on the sec­tion of the cir­cuit be­tween the Mo­bil­gas Esses and Olympic Tyre Cor­ner. BE­LOW A com­bined car and motorcycle meet­ing from the...

TOP LEFT Start of the 1957 Aus­tralian Grand Prix with Len Lukey’s Cooper Bris­tol (9) be­tween Lex David­son’s Fer­rari (2) and Stan Jones’ Maserati (1). ABOVE Spec­ta­tors file into the cir­cuit for the 1957 Aus­tralian Grand Prix. LEFT On the works 500cc...

MAIN WA’s top rider George Scott tak­ing Dun­lop Cor­ner on his 500cc Tri­umph. LEFT The pits in 1959.

Bike dis­play at the 2007 func­tion. A faded sign is all that re­mains to in­di­cate where the pit area was.

FAR LEFT Sir Jack Brab­ham ad­dresses the crowd at the cer­e­mony to mark the new sub­urb named in his hon­our. LEFT Its rac­ing days may be over, but mem­o­ries of Caversham re­main. BE­LOW The be­gin­ning of the fu­ture or the end of the past, de­pend­ing on which...

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