Charles Rice: A life well lived

Old Bike Australasia - - BUZZ BOX -

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.

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