Jumper wars

Leather ver­sus lace

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Mal­colm Earle Photos OBA archives

For many years, riders across Aus­tralia had pointed to the over­seas ex­am­ple whereby com­peti­tors on The Con­ti­nent could race in rug­bystyle jer­seys, of­ten in the colour of their country. In the an­nual Moto Cross des Na­tions con­tests, at least from 1951 on­wards, Great Bri­tain wore white jer­seys, Bel­gium yel­low, France blue and so on. Across in Bri­tain, the favoured garb was ex-army or RAF linen jack­ets, although oth­ers chose rugby tops, gabar­dine or leather jack­ets, or even heavy woollen shirts of the type worn by farm­ers. Motocross, or scram­bling on 300lb mo­tor­cy­cles was hard and sweaty work. Out in the An­tipodes, the sit­u­a­tion was quite dif­fer­ent. Pre and post-war, the reg­u­la­tions stated that scram­bles riders wear leather jack­ets and leather britches, re­gard­less of the weather or sea­son. In a cli­mate such as ours, this was not a uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar rul­ing, and some riders chose to defy the rule in favour of lighter cloth­ing. Grad­u­ally, the rule re­quir­ing leather jack­ets was re­laxed – in ev­ery state ex­cept Vic­to­ria. Here, the rules were en­forced by the ded­i­cated but ex­as­per­at­ingly punc­til­ious Regi­nald Ben­nett, pres­i­dent of the Auto Cy­cle Union of Vic­to­ria.

De­spite the fact that many states, no­tably New South Wales and Queens­land, had turned a blind eye to the reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing cloth­ing used in scram­bles and al­lowed colour­ful rugby jer­seys to be worn, Vic­to­ria stood fast. “If it was good enough for grandad in the ‘thir­ties, it is good enough for the scram­bler of the ‘six­ties”, was the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude. Things came to a head at the Aus­tralian Scram­bles Cham­pi­onship held at Arthur’s Creek, Vic­to­ria in 1960. Be­ing a na­tional ti­tle, the over­all con­trol was in the hands of the Auto Cy­cle Coun­cil of Aus­tralia (ACCA) rather than the ACU of Vic­to­ria, but when the in­ter­state riders turned up in their footie tops they were told by the con­trol­ling of­fi­cials that the out­fits were il­le­gal. Cot­ton, or even worse, man-made fab­rics such as ny­lon, con­sti­tuted a fire haz­ard, the ACU ar­gued. Not sur­pris­ingly, a stand­off de­vel­oped be­tween com­peti­tors and the of­fi­cials in their uni­ver­sal white dust­coats with felt ACU arm bands. In the end, the vis­i­tors raced at Arthur’s Creek in fab­ric rather than leather, and no one was in­jured or burned to death. The chances of any­thing catch­ing fire that day in a thor­oughly wa­ter­logged pad­dock were slim in­deed. Cer­tain Vic­to­ri­ans im­plored their con­trol­ling body to have the leather-top rule thrown out in favour of more sen­si­ble gar­ments, but the top brass was un­moved, and made the state­ment that any­one break­ing the rule would be sub­ject to se­vere dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. Things came to a head when Pre­ston Club tabled a mo­tion at the March, 1963 meet­ing of the ACU of Vic­to­ria, mov­ing that “Vic­to­rian riders be given the op­tion of us­ing jer­seys or leathers as in other states”. In a rowdy dis­cus­sion, all other del­e­gates voted against the mo­tion, de­spite ev­i­dence be­ing tabled that top riders in UK chose to race in jer­seys. An­swer­ing that com­ment, vice pres­i­dent Harry Lowe said, “The Pom­mies can do what they like; out here we de­cide for our­selves!” A St. Johns Am­bu­lance rep­re­sen­ta­tive stated that his or­gan­i­sa­tion treated some 500 rac­ing ac­ci­dent cases per year, but 95 per cent were of a mi­nor na­ture and the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity were hand in­juries, yet gloves were not com­pul­sory. The seeds of un­rest con­tin­ued to fer­ment un­til the be­gin­ning of the 1964 sea­son. At the open­ing of a new cir­cuit at Eltham, 17 miles from Mel­bourne, the or­gan­is­ing Har­ley Club was con­fronted with a del­e­ga­tion of over 50 riders de­mand­ing an end to the leather era. A spokesman for the riders stated that “it was the ac­cepted prac­tice in scram­ble rac­ing over­seas and was per­mit­ted in ev­ery other State of the Com­mon­wealth ex­cept Vic­to­ria.” It was fur­ther pointed out that two weeks prior, at the Grand Na­tional Scram­ble at Christ­mas Hills, in­ter­state riders Graeme Bartholome­w and Paul Spooner (NSW), and South Aus­tralians Jim Dowsett, Gra­ham Bur­ford and Dave Basham were per­mit­ted to race in rugby tops. “No deal”, said the ACU Ste­wart, Mr John Thomp­son. He made the state­ment that he re­garded the meet­ing (of riders) as a ‘strike’ and that riders would did not start in the races for which they were en­tered would be fined. Mr Reg Ben­nett fur­ther stated that un­less the meet­ing started on time it would be can­celled, how­ever he con­ceded that the mat­ter would be de­bated at the ACU meet­ing the fol­low­ing month. When the June 10 meet­ing rolled around, not only did the promised dis­cus­sion not take place, but the re­port tabled by Mr Thomp­son called for five riders to face dis­ci­plinary ac­tion as a re­sult of their ‘protest’ at Eltham. Mean­while, the ed­i­tor of the Aus­tralian

Mo­tor Cy­cle News fort­nightly pa­per, Ge­orge Lynn, had col­lected in ex­cess of 100 sig­na­tures from riders want­ing jer­seys to be per­mit­ted (as well as two against the move). Soon af­ter, a mo­tion from the ACU of NSW was tabled, re­quir­ing the mat­ter to be dis­cussed at the an­nual ACCA con­fer­ence, which for 1964 would take place in Au­gust in Perth. Just to rub salt into the Vic­to­rian wound, the NSW Open Scram­ble at Moore­bank in July fea­tured an ‘In­ter­state Chal­lenge Round” with teams from Vic­to­ria, Western Aus­tralia, South Aus­tralia and New South Wales, where all riders wore coloured jer­seys. Three weeks later, the ACU of Vic­to­ria, un­moved by the Moore­bank snub, voted to sus­pend four riders as a re­sult of the Eltham ‘protest’. John Bur­rows, Keith Stacker, Mark Green and John Stan­ley all copped three months on the side­lines for “con­duct prej­u­di­cial to the sport”. Stan­ley im­me­di­ately launched an ap­peal to the ACCA against the sus­pen­sions.

It was fuel for an­ar­chy, but for­tu­nately, at the ACCA con­fer­ence in Perth, com­mon sense fi­nally pre­vailed. The ma­jor­ity of del­e­gates from the seven states and ter­ri­to­ries voted in favour (only Vic­to­ria voted against) a mo­tion to al­low scram­bles riders through­out Aus­tralia to “wear jumpers if they choose as an al­ter­na­tive to leathers”. The ap­peal by John Stan­ley from Hartwell Club was the sub­ject of a three-hour dis­cus­sion which fi­nally up­held the ap­peal. It was also de­cided that the pro­ce­dure adopted by Vic­to­ria in ar­riv­ing at its de­ci­sion to sus­pend the four riders was in­cor­rect. In­ter­est­ingly, the con­fer­ence also made the wear­ing of gloves in road races com­pul­sory, end­ing a near uni­ver­sal prac­tice (in Aus­tralia) of rac­ing in bare hands. And so ended the Great Jumper War, lead­ing to an ex­plo­sion of colour at Vic­to­rian race meet­ings, with nary an ex­am­ple of spon­ta­neous com­bus­tion in­volv­ing a jer­sey re­ported there­after.


In ex-army top, BSA works rider Phil Nex (who later em­i­grated to Aus­tralia) leads AJS rider Ge­off Ward in the 1956 Sun­beam Pointto-Point Scram­ble in Eng­land.

West Aus­tralian riders in their match­ing tops at Moore­babk in 1956. From left, Peter Ni­col, Charlie West, Don Rus­sell and Ron Gill.

The Bri­tish team in their jer­seys at the 1956 Moto Cross des Na­tions at Na­mur, Bel­gium.

ABOVE World Cham­pion Ge­off Duke (right) sports reg­u­la­tion at­tire at a scram­ble at Spring­vale, Vic­to­ria in 1955.

Vic­to­rian and Aus­tralian Cham­pion Ge­orge Bai­ley with the re­quired leather jacket in 1956.

BE­LOW Reg Ben­nett (in hat) on the look­out for il­le­gal jer­seys at Christ­mas Hills.

Leather tops fi­nally dis­carded, happy Vic­to­ri­ans line up at Christ­mas Hills in 1965. Riders in­clude Bob Mitchell (88), Ken Rum­ble (99), Ge­off Tay­lor (14), John Map­per­son (32) and John Bur­rows (96).

ABOVE Syd­ney-born Kiwi Tim Gibbes wears an ACU-stamped jersey, while fel­low AN­ZAC Charlie West opts for leathers at a Bri­tish scram­ble in 1963. ABOVE CEN­TRE Bob Mitchell mod­els the Vic­to­ria-only leather scram­bles garb at Camp­bell­field in 1962. ABOVE...

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