Charles Rice: A life well lived
The pages of OBA would look quite different without the magnificent photographs by CHARLES RICE, which have graced this magazine since the very first issue. But Charles was much more than a gifted photographer; a very talented racer himself, innovator and mentor. Charles has died, aged 91, in Brisbane, typically strident to the end. He was one of the very strong bunch of Clubmen racers who plied the Victorian tracks post war – riders such as Ken Rumble, George Campbell and Maurie Quincey, all of whom honed their skills on well prepared Matchless singles. In 1953, Charles and his G80 crossed the border to race at the opening meeting of the very fast Gnoo Blas circuit at Orange, NSW, and thrashed the field to take out the Senior Clubmen’s race. Later, he developed and produced ‘Rimond’ streamlined fairings, including the full ‘dustbin’ style used by many top riders, notably Roger Barker.
The very first issue of this magazine, ten years ago, featured the remarkable tale of Charles’ rescue, and later restoration of a 1939 NSU 351 OSL discovered on a German Catholic mission in Madang where it had languished, forgotten, for nearly 40 years. This came about as a result of Charles’ staunch work with the Rotary International movement, and over a period of some years, Charles revived this dilapidated machine to its former glory. The work involved making numerous new patterns and castings, which he did himself, plus countless hours of machining and fabrication. Originally from Melbourne, Charles and his wife Marie moved in later years to a new home at Clothiers Creek in Northern NSW, where they grew and roasted their own coffee, and where Charles spent much time enjoying the country roads on his 1988 Norton Rotary. Through his son-in-law Peter Walker, a very successful ‘seventies racer in his own right, Charles also stayed connected to motorcycle sport, and to the car side via his cousin Phil Jones, father of touring car champion Brad Jones. When Charles offered me the free use of his photographic library, I began the protracted process of scanning and cataloging each negative. It was a long job but I enjoyed every second of it. Virtually every shot was pin-sharp, with the subject centre of frame, the background carefully chosen. Being an ex-racer himself, Charles knew exactly where to stand (in the days when it was permitted to do so) to capture the maximum ‘attitude’ of the rider and machine. These photographs are priceless records of long-lost tracks such as Darley, Fishermen’s Bend, Victoria Park Ballarat, Longford, and Phillip Island in its original form. The photograph he took in the Australian (car) Grand Prix at Longford in 1959 – while lying in a roadside ditch – of Stan Jones’s Maserati and Len Lukey’s Cooper Climax vaulting the railway line, each car well clear of the road, is one of the classic images of Australian motor sport.
Charles’ famous photo from the 1959 Australian Grand Prix at Longford, showing Stan Jones and Len Lukey locked in battle over the railway lines.
Charles with his magnificently restored 1939 NSU 351 OSL.
Rice the racer; on his very successful self-developed Matchless G80 at Darley.