Wam­banumba, Young NSW

Old Bike Australasia - - FRONT PAGE - Story Jim Scaysbrook with as­sis­tance from Mick Mur­ga­troyd and Gra­ham Roberts. Photos Gary Reid, Mick Mur­ga­troyd, Young Wit­ness news­pa­per.

Wam­banumba was a close as you can get to road racing on dirt. Fast, wide and rea­son­ably smooth, this was a throw­back to the days of Minia­ture TT, com­plete with a friendly, coun­try am­bi­ence that lasted a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

First, the his­tory les­son. It’s funny how time has a way of smooth­ing over quite nasty wounds. River­wood, a south­ern sub­urb of Syd­ney and part of the St. Ge­orge district, was orig­i­nally called Herne Bay, but such was its rep­u­ta­tion for squalor, vi­o­lence and poverty, it as­sumed the far more mar­ketable name of River­wood in 1957.

The worst anti-Chi­nese ri­ots in Aus­tralian his­tory oc­curred in June 1891 at Lamb­ing Flat, in the area now known as the South West Slopes of NSW. In­censed and out­raged by the mas­sive in­flux of Chi­nese to the gold fields in Vic­to­ria and NSW, the pre­dom­i­nantly Euro­pean min­ers set up The Min­ers Pro­tec­tive League in Jan­uary 1861, with its aim be­ing the ex­pul­sion of the Chi­nese min­ers, who, it was claimed, wasted pre­cious wa­ter in their gold ex­trac­tion meth­ods. Af­ter ri­ots at Turon, Meroo, Rocky River, and Tam­ba­roora, the scene shifted to White’s lamb­ing flat, which had be­come known sim­ply as Lamb­ing Flat. When the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil re­jected the Anti-Chi­nese Bill, it trig­gered tur­moil in the area, and a 3,000-strong mob, headed by a brass band and two men car­ry­ing a ban­ner read­ing, “Roll up, Roll up, No Chi­nese”, surged into the Chi­nese camp. The in­hab­i­tants were beaten up, had their pig­tails hacked off, and their tents, pos­ses­sions and min­ing tools de­stroyed. The small po­lice force was over­whelmed, but re­in­forced by hun­dreds of ex­tra sol­diers, sailors and mounted po­lice, rounded up the ring­leaders of the ri­ot­ers af­ter a pitched bat­tle and re­in­stated the Chi­nese. Such was the dis­grace associated with the bloody af­fair, Lamb­ing Flat and neigh­bour­ing Bur­ran­gong were re­named Young. The Bor­ough of Young was incorporat­ed in 1882, and in 1889 in­stalled the first elec­tric­ity sup­ply to homes in the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

To­day, Young calls it­self the Cherry Cap­i­tal, and Lamb­ing Flat is all but for­got­ten, al­though com­mem­o­rated in the town’s Chi­nese Memo­rial Gar­dens (which, iron­i­cally, were con­structed by Ger­man gold min­ers). The district is still home to a ma­jor or­chard in­dus­try, plus of course cat­tle and sheep farm­ing. Back in the 1870s, the 40,000 acre Marengo Sta­tion was sub­di­vided into smaller runs which in­cluded Cal­abash, Willa­wong and Wam­banumba. The

last-named, abo­rig­i­nal for ‘Deaf Wo­man’ had played a part in the ear­lier ri­ots when Chi­nese hunted from their dig­gings took refuge there. In 1925 a Church of Eng­land was con­structed at Wam­banumba, and a cricket pitch built in 1930 to take part in a re­cently formed Mayne Shield com­pe­ti­tion with neigh­bour­ing dis­tricts. The Reilly Cup was an­other district cricket com­pe­ti­tion played in this area. The Tout fam­ily had been in the district, orig­i­nally at Cal­abash, since the gold rush days. Samuel and Sarah Tout had eight chil­dren and one of the de­scen­dants, Robert Tout, es­tab­lished a farm at Wam­banumba for graz­ing and grow­ing stock feed. In the mid ‘fifties, Robert Tout made avail­able a sec­tion of his prop­erty to lo­cal mid­get car and mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts who were hunt­ing for a lo­ca­tion to con­struct an un­sealed race track. The typ­i­cally pub­lic-spir­ited ges­ture was keenly ac­cepted and work soon com­menced on con­struc­tion of a track mea­sur­ing 8/10th mile (1.29 kilo­me­tres). Led by en­thu­si­asts Mick Brown, Tom Pestell, Jack Holmes, Bert Hurst and others, scrub was cleared and the out­line of a cir­cuit carved out. Many, many week­ends were spent cut­ting tim­ber, con­struct­ing fences, dig­ging drainage chan­nels and build­ing fairly rudi­men­tary spec­ta­tor fa­cil­i­ties. Club stal­wart Mick Mur­ga­troyd takes up the story. “We had an old box trailer with high sides and carted hun­dreds of tons of de­com­posed gran­ite to the site. The club mem­bers used to col­lect used sump oil in 44 gal­lon drums and we would roll the drums up a ramp made of tim­ber onto the trailer and dump it on the track sur­face. The fences were made of old rail­way sleep­ers and we got 2 inch Cyprus pine from some­where and used that to make things. To raise funds we in­vented what we called The 200 Club. This was a drum with 200 ping pong balls – every­one had a num­ber and each ping pong ball had their num­ber painted on it. The balls were kept in a cab­i­net and loaded into the drum and then the win­ner drawn out. The idea was that each 200 club mem­ber had a num­ber and the cor­re­spond­ing ball, which was num­bered, was put into the dis­play case so the mem­ber could see their num­ber was there. They then were put into the bar­rel and the raf­fle was drawn. The bar­rel was de­signed so it was only ever pos­si­ble to draw one ball at a time. I think in 1961 and 1962 a Holden EK mo­tor­car was the prize. “I grew up next to ‘Bert’ Hurst who did a lot of the work and drove a TQ car which he built. The car still ex­ists in the district. An­other sur­vivor from the past is the orig­i­nal Coven­try Cli­max gen­er­at­ing set used at Wam­banumba to run things like the pub­lic ad­dress sys­tems. It was sit­u­ated well down the main straight away from the spec­ta­tors be­cause of the noise fac­tor. It needed four men to han­dle the unit with the aid of bars that slid into the unit. It weighed 595 lbs (270kg).” What awaited com­peti­tors was a mag­nif­i­cent sweep­ing lay­out, built on the side of a gen­tle slope, with an ex­cep­tion­ally fast and wide main straight. The start and fin­ish lines were lo­cated at op­po­site ends of the straight, mean­ing that the drag to the fin­ish line would in­vari­ably be a hard-fought af­fair.

The first cor­ner, called Hay Bale, was a very rapid sweeper lead­ing slightly up­hill through a kink to the 180º Sandy Cor­ner. From here it was an up­hill climb through a right-left-right series to reach the tight Pit Cor­ner, with the pit area on the out­side. Then it was a quick down­hill run through the Esses – a right and tight left lead­ing back onto the main straight. The date for the open­ing meet­ing was set for Sun­day May 13th, 1956. Al­though the ma­jor­ity of the en­try came from the lo­cal area, there was also a strong con­tin­gent from Syd­ney, among them star names like Ray Cur­tis, Eric Deben­ham, Les Fisher and Roy East. Ranged against them were top rid­ers Bob Ab­bot and Bob Sluce (Can­berra), John Shields (Grif­fith), Jack Skeers (Wagga) and the Oehm broth­ers from Junee. The hon­our of win­ning the first race held on the track went to L. Baines of Or­ange who took out the Ul­tra Light­weight Scratch. East took out both the Ju­nior and Se­nior fi­nals, Fisher the All Pow­ers, and Shields the Light­weight. Praise for the cir­cuit was univer­sal and the club mem­bers set about mak­ing fur­ther im­prove­ments, such as their mea­gre re­sources would al­low. The sec­ond meet­ing, car­ry­ing £100 prize money, was set for May 12, 1957, and the small team worked fran­ti­cally to com­plete the track, or at least al­low it to stage a meet­ing that would serve as a test run. Then, just days be­fore the much-an­tic­i­pated week­end, the district re­ceived a huge down­pour and it ap­peared the meet­ing would have to be can­celled. But no one would hear of such a thing, and the show went on, al­beit a bit damp un­der foot. Young and District Mo­tor Cy­cle Club was jus­ti­fi­ably pleased with the run­ning of the first two meet­ings and set about plan­ning what would be the first

Na­tional Open Meet­ing at Wam­banumba on Sun­day May 11, 1958. Three thou­sand spec­ta­tors crammed in for what promised to be a mighty clash be­tween the star rid­ers of the sport. From Syd­ney came the globe-trot­ting duo of Roy East and Les Fisher, freshly home af­ter a sea­son mo­tocross­ing in Europe, plus Eric Deben­ham, Harold Campbell, Vic Kennedy, Ron Kivovitch, Gavin Campbell and Bruce Kell.

Rex Ham­mond (who was to lose his life soon af­ter in a race crash at Tam­worth) came from Ka­toomba, Peter Oehm from Junee, and a host of top side­car crews in­clud­ing Tom Carr and reign­ing Aus­tralian cham­pion Joe Ri­ley (with solo star Vic Kennedy as pas­sen­ger). The Scratch Races were typ­i­cally hard fought af­fairs, with East win­ning the 125cc on Bill Mor­ris’ rapid BSA Ban­tam and the 350cc on a JAP-en­gined BSA. Fisher took out the 250cc on the Adams BSA, and man­aged to de­feat Deben­ham in the Se­nior fi­nal af­ter a tena­cious scrap. Ri­ley de­feated Noel Wheatly and Carr in the Side­car Fi­nal. How­ever in­stead of the usual graded races mak­ing up the pro­gram, the or­gan­is­ers ran all-in scratch and hand­i­cap races, lead­ing to dis­ap­point­ment in the ranks as the lower lights were blown away by the stars. Many C Graders opted not to en­ter, leav­ing the en­try a bit thin. Al­though the weather was ideal and the track in tip-top con­di­tion for the start of racing, the sur­face soon chopped up and was quite rough by later in the day. May/June in Young be­came an an­nual fix­ture for what was usu­ally termed the South-West Slopes Cham­pi­onships, and once the pro­gram was re-jigged along con­ven­tional lines to in­clude A, B and C Grade races, be­came ex­tremely pop­u­lar and well sup­ported by rid­ers and spec­ta­tors alike. How­ever Wam­banumba, like ev­ery other track in the state, faced overnight ex­tinc­tion when the Speed­way Con­trol Bill came into force on April 2nd, 1959. It was only through the un­tir­ing ef­forts of club mem­bers and vol­un­teers that the cir­cuit was brought up to the re­quired stan­dard with the erec­tion of tim­ber safety fences, and the cir­cuit duly re­ceived just the fourth li­cence is­sued, af­ter Syd­ney Show­ground Speed­way (which, iron­i­cally, had been the ma­jor fac­tor in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the SCB fol­low­ing sev­eral se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dents), Salty Creek Race­way near New­cas­tle, and the Moore­bank Scram­bles track in Syd­ney. Re­ports of the an­nual meet­ings are sketchy, but in 1961, it is in­ter­est­ing to note that Joe Ri­ley was still the king of the side­car class, and still dic­ing with peren­nial ri­val Noel Wheat­ley from West Wya­long. That same meet­ing saw emerg­ing tal­ents in Jim Airey and Gor­don Gausco, both from Fair­field and due to make their marks later in speed­way. Solo stars of the meet­ing were Ron Kivovitch who won the Light­weight and de­feated Eric Deben­ham and Jim Why­man to take out the Aces A Grade, while Why­man an­nexed the Se­nior A, and Airey who won the Ju­nior A. Twelve months later, the show was on again, with Airey the star, win­ning all of the main solo classes. Kevin Cass took out the 125cc and 250cc fi­nals with Eric Har­ri­son the win­ner in the side­car di­vi­sion. This year was a time of change in Short Cir­cuit racing, and from the day that Ray Owen and Herb Jef­fer­son im­ported the first Hagon frames, the sport be­gan to take on a whole new look. The ‘slid­ers’ were per­fectly suited to speed­way style cir­cuits such as Hed­don Greta and Salty Creek, but in the right hands were also hard to toss on well­sur­faced tracks such as at Young. In 1970, Kevin Fraser, armed with a new Hagon fit­ted with a Jawa speed­way en­gine as well as a pair of Bul­taco-en­gined Hagons owned by Ron McKenzie, ‘rode the card’ to win ev­ery sin­gle class from 125cc to the blue rib­bon Aces Scratch, de­feat­ing the likes of Kevin Pat­ton, Les Lewis Jnr, Peter May and Len Searle along the way. In the mid-six­ties, the NSW Short Cir­cuit Cham­pi­onships went from a sin­gle

meet­ing to a multi-round for­mat, but it took un­til 1972 for Wam­banumba to snare a round of the cham­pi­onship. It was the open­ing clash of the ti­tle race and drew a huge en­try, but the meet­ing was marred by a ma­jor prang in the Se­nior Fi­nal when Bill McDon­ald trig­gered a pile up that left Vic McTag­gart with a bro­ken leg and arm and an El­star JAP in two halves. The re-started race went to Keith Davies, but again it was Kevin Fraser who did most of the win­ning with vic­to­ries in the 125cc, 250cc and Un­lim­ited A. Tra­di­tion was bro­ken in the same year when the cir­cuit staged three open meet­ings: the usual Moth­ers Day meet­ing in May, the “Cherry Blos­som Cham­pi­onships” in Septem­ber, and in De­cem­ber to stage a round of the Eng­land ver­sus Aus­tralia Dirt Track Series. The English team com­prised multi Bri­tish Grass Track and Euro­pean Long Track Cham­pion Don God­den, Ju­lian Wigg, Roland Duke, and ex-Brit Paul Spooner, who was co-opted into the squad to re­place the in­jured Chris Bay­butt. Against them was the Aus­tralian squad of Keith Davies, Kevin Fraser, Char­lie Ed­wards and Bill McDon­ald. In May 1975 Wam­banumba hosted the 500cc and Un­lim­ited NSW Solo Cham­pi­onships and the Side­car Cham­pi­onship (the smaller classes were held at Tam­worth). Some great racing was wit­nessed be­tween speed­way star John Lang­field, on Paul Spooner’s Hagon JAP, Kevin Pat­ton, Trevor Hunter, Kevin Fraser, Peter Laws and Ian Bur­kett. Laws took out the Se­nior Fi­nal, with Lang­field vic­to­ri­ous in the Un­lim­ited, and Glen Mid­dle­ton win­ning the Side­car ti­tle. New names were emerg­ing by the late ‘seven­ties, such as Wagga’s Lloyd Richards, who while still a B Grader starred in the 23rd Moth­ers day meet­ing in May 1978. In that meet­ing Phillip Tom­lin won the 125 class, Kevin Pat­ton de­feated Kevin Fraser to win the 250, Ge­off Met­calf won the Se­nior and Richards took the Un­lim­ited from Trevor Hunter and Terry Poole and made it a dou­ble by win­ning the Aces Fi­nal. Side­car wins went to Ron Hur­dis/W. Hur­dis in the Ju­nior and P. Cheong/N. Cheong in the Se­nior. But time was run­ning out for Wam­banumba. As the old hands in the club drifted away, prepa­ra­tion and pro­mo­tion of the cir­cuit fell on fewer and fewer hands, and the 1981 meet­ing was the 26th and last. To­day noth­ing re­mains on the site as to its for­mer ex­is­tence as one of the fastest and most spec­tac­u­lar oiled-dirt cir­cuits in the coun­try.

Photo Gary Reid. Photo Gary Reid.

May 1972: Kevin Fraser (49), Trevor Hunter (70) and Ron Lea (12). May 1972: Joe Cox (10) leads Alan Rae (54) through the first cor­ner in a typ­i­cally fran­tic side­car en­counter.

The cir­cuit from the air, year un­known. The 270kg Coven­try Cli­max pow­ered gen­er­a­tor used to pro­vide elec­tric­ity for the pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem.

ABOVE Flyer from the open­ing meet­ing in 1956. RIGHT Hand drawn cir­cuit map. BE­LOW The ‘200 Club’ drum and ping pong balls.

Photo Gary Reid.

Lo­cal rider John Owen was quite a star at the track in the early ‘six­ties and later turned to TQ midgets. ‘Bert’ Hurst’s TQ, the Durst 500, now owned by Mick Mur­ga­troyd. BE­LOW Start of the NSW Se­nior Cham­pi­onship fi­nal, May 1972. From left; Keith Davies (297), Carl Askew (2), Kevin Fraser (49), the ed­i­tor (34), Len Searle (925), Greg Prim­mer (325), Terry Mor­ris (838) and Vic McTag­gart (876). ABOVE 1965 poster cel­e­brates ten years of racing at Wam­banumba. ABOVE RIGHT Kevin Fraser fea­tured on the cover of the 1972 In­ter­na­tional pro­gramme.

The 1972 Ju­nior NSW Cham­pi­ons fi­nal. The ed­i­tor (18), Greg Prim­mer (325), Kevin Fraser (49) Brian Martin (76) and War­ren Willis (85). Alan Rae leads through the down­hill Esses. Photos on this page were taken in May 1972 by Gary Reid. Carl Askew gives it his all. Barry Balchin heads A. Gar­vey (454) and Peter Scaysbrook onto the main straight. R. Wil­liams from Or­ange (358) leads Eric Cork (817) and Col Moody (606) in a C Grade en­counter.

Coun­try air does strange things to some peo­ple. Photos on this spread taken May 1975 – fromYoung Wit­ness news­pa­per ar­chives. ABOVE Fu­ture speed­way star Glenn McDon­ald from Bathurst on a 250 Honda Elsi­nore. Peter Laws win­ning the 1975 Se­nior Cham­pi­onship.

BE­LOW Char­lie Ed­wards (789) on the top cor­ner of the cir­cuit.

Trevor Hunter goes hay cut­ting while Greg Har­ri­man cuts un­der­neath. TOP TQs were an in­te­gral part of ev­ery pro­gram. This is lo­cal John Owen. ABOVE Ron Hur­dis and pas­sen­ger A. Brown.

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