Tracks in Time

The Po­plars

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Peter Laverty Photos Garry Ap­p­le­yard, Den­nis Quin­lan, In­de­pen­dent Ob­ser­va­tions.

Black­town NSW

Prior to WW2, it was not un­com­mon for the larger Syd­ney clubs to have their own cir­cuits, usu­ally on pri­vate land with per­mis­sion from the owner (of­ten a club mem­ber) or on a lease ar­range­ment from lo­cal gov­ern­ment or in­dus­try. The fa­cil­i­ties hosted ev­ery­thing from gymkhanas to Ob­served Trails, Grass Track rac­ing, Scram­bles and oc­ca­sion­ally, Minia­ture TT rac­ing, the fore­run­ner of what be­came Short Cir­cuit.

Western Sub­urbs Mo­tor Cy­cle Club was one of the big­gest (in terms of mem­ber­ship) and most ac­tive clubs in the state, with many high-pro­file com­peti­tors as mem­bers, and their own Minia­ture TT track, known as “The Po­plars” af­ter the prop­erty owned by club mem­ber Mr Doug Gal­braith. His two sons, Sam and David, were both mem­bers of Western Sub­urbs MCC, and the name came from three poplar trees which stood on a hill in the cen­tre of the course. The prop­erty was sit­u­ated on the main road be­tween Prospect and Black­town, just half a mile from Black­town rail­way sta­tion. For some time the prop­erty was used for low pro­file club events, but the plan was al­ways to es­tab­lish a Minia­ture TT cir­cuit. Club mem­bers worked fever­ishly clear­ing stumps and saplings to have the new track, which mea­sured nine-tenths of a mile, ready for the open­ing meet­ing on the Eight Hour Day Hol­i­day week­end in Oc­to­ber 1937.

Far from be­ing just a squirt around a pad­dock, the new cir­cuit fea­tured a care­fully pre­pared sur­face and a wide main straight. The high­light of the lap was a size­able hill just af­ter the start which sent rid­ers down to­wards Windy Cor­ner, a left han­der, then through a right hand bend fol­lowed by a long sweep­ing left (known as the Quarry Bends) lead­ing onto the long main straight, which had a tight left han­der at the end and was the scene of much first-cor­ner jostling. Lo­cated only a few minute’s walk to the north along Main Road was the Robin Hood Inn, op­po­site Black­town Rail­way Sta­tion. This im­pos­ing ed­i­fice fea­tured sev­eral bars with tiled walls (known as hose-outs) on street level, with up­stairs ac­com­mo­da­tion. This pub re­placed the orig­i­nal Royal Ho­tel and was con­structed in 1936, and be­came a favourite wa­ter­ing hole for pa­trons of The Po­plars cir­cuit on Satur­days, prior to the le­gal­i­sa­tion of Sunday trad­ing. The Robin Hood Inn was de­mol­ished in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances in 1984. It be­came no­to­ri­ous as the hang­out for the dis­trict’s “Lar­rikin el­e­ment”, with “reg­u­lar punch-ups on the foot­path out­side at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of the lo­cal con­stab­u­lary.” To the amaze­ment of customers, the inn’s bot­tle shop staged a clear­ance sale of its wares on the Sat­ur­day, then around 2am the fol­low­ing day, was flat­tened by heavy ma­chin­ery, leav­ing only a pile of de­bris and empty beer kegs. There had been no prior no­tice given by coun­cil of the im­pend­ing de­struc­tion, and soon af­ter, work be­gan on a new build­ing; what is now the multi-story State Gov­ern­ment Of­fice Block. The hero of that first meet­ing in 1937 was the one-eyed won­der, Harry Hin­ton, with his pair of self-tuned BSAs.

Hin­ton com­pleted over 100 miles of rac­ing on the day and was the only com­peti­tor to ride in ev­ery event on the pro­gramme. From seven starts, he scored three firsts, in­clud­ing the Light­weight (250cc) and the Se­nior (500cc), and three thirds. The win­ner of the Ju­nior (350cc) TT was Tommy Jemi­son on a Ve­lo­cette. The meet­ing drew 3,000 spec­ta­tors and the first race was flagged away by the prop­erty’s owner, Doug Gail­braith. How­ever the open­ing meet­ing at The Po­plars hit the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons when a spec­ta­tor was killed. Gor­don Kraft, with his girl­friend on the pil­lion of his mo­tor­cy­cle, rode out onto the cir­cuit just as a rac­ing side­car ap­peared and was taken to Par­ra­matta hospi­tal with mul­ti­ple in­juries, where he later died. Reg­u­lar meet­ings took place pre-war, with Ron Kess­ing, on a new Gold Star BSA, and Bat Byrnes (Nor­ton) star­ring in Au­gust 1938. At the con­clu­sion of the rac­ing, a se­ries of lap record at­tempts were staged and Kess­ing left the mark at 63 sec­onds. The fol­low­ing year be­gan with a big meet­ing on Anniversar­y Day (now Aus­tralia Day) where Hin­ton again took the lion’s share of the prize money by win­ning the 250cc and 500cc fi­nals, with veteran Don Bain (Ve­lo­cette) tak­ing out the 350cc. Even with WW2 in full swing and many for­mer rid­ers now serv­ing in the armed forces, rac­ing con­tin­ued into 1940, but in­evitably the fun ceased and it was Novem­ber 1946 be­fore The Po­plars once again re­ver­ber­ated to the sound of open mega­phones. Af­ter six long years in si­lence, it was no sur­prise that the place was packed – of­fi­cial re­ports said 8,000 spec­ta­tors filed in to wit­ness the NSW Minia­ture TT Cham­pi­onships. Western Sub­urbs club had added five feet to the en­tire track width and the sur­face was lib­er­ally sprayed with old sump oil to al­lay the dust men­ace. Even af­ter the hia­tus, the old names were again to the fore – Hin­ton win­ning the Ju­nior TT, his great mate Eric McPher­son tak­ing out the Light­weight, and Tony McAlpine, no longer the pre-war teenage tear­away but still just as spec­tac­u­lar and in­trepid, de­feat­ing Bat Byrnes and Ron Kess­ing to win the Se­nior. A new name – jockey sized Sid Wil­lis – won both the Ju­nior and Se­nior Non Ex­pert races.

But it was not just the race-starved pub­lic that had taken keen in­ter­est in the Novem­ber ’46 meet­ing. The NSW Po­lice, un­der the con­trol of the fear­some and vi­o­lently anti-mo­tor sport Com­mis­sioner McKay, were there too, and mak­ing their pres­ence felt. A few months later, Mr McKay re­fused to grant per­mits for both the car and mo­tor­cy­cle pro­mot­ers to con­duct rac­ing at Mount Panorama over Easter 1947 – a move that saw all par­ties head to the courts. Ad­mit­tedly, Mount Panorama’s cir­cuit was com­prised of pub­lic roads which

were spe­cially closed for the races, but all mo­tor rac­ing in the state came un­der the hash scru­tiny of the Com­mis­sioner. The open­ing Po­plars meet­ing for 1947 saw a for­mi­da­ble po­lice pres­ence, but or­gan­is­ers and the large crowd were on their best be­hav­iour and no trou­ble was en­coun­tered. Again, a mas­sive spec­ta­tor turnout of over 6,000 lined the fences to see McAlpine once again serve it up to the es­tab­lished stars, win­ning the Se­nior from Jack For­rest and Bat Byrnes and low­er­ing the long-stand­ing lap record in the process. With the shock can­cel­la­tion of the Bathurst races, Western Sub­urbs MCC quickly con­vened a meet­ing over Easter 1947. De­prived of their an­nual out­ing on a tarred cir­cuit, the state’s top road rac­ers turned out in force and de­spite two days of rain prior to the Easter Sat­ur­day, put on a great show for the fans. Tony McAlpine once again showed his in­vin­ci­bil­ity by win­ning the Se­nior TT, but Jack For­rest caused an up­set by de­feat­ing Hin­ton to win the Ju­nior. Ted Carey, on his home-built DOHC Ve­lo­cette beat McPher­son in the Light­weight, while the Se­nior and Ju­nior Non Ex­pert events both went to Terry Moore. The crowd’s favourite event, the All Pow­ers Hand­i­cap, had to be aban­doned when rain be­gan fall­ing and the po­lice de­clared the cir­cuit un­safe. Al­most twelve months passed be­fore the next big open meet­ing, dur­ing which time the pro­mot­ers worked hard to sat­isfy the de­mands of the po­lice in re­gard to spec­ta­tor safety. New fences were in­stalled, re­strict­ing the view­ing pub­lic to the main straight area, with the wooded ‘Esses’ sec­tion now of­flim­its. By way of com­pen­sa­tion, a commentato­r equipped with a two-way ra­dio re­layed hap­pen­ings from the back of the course to the con­trol tower’s com­men­tary team. Sid Wil­lis took out both the Light­weight and Ju­nior TTs, while the Se­nior went to veteran Bat Byrnes af­ter an en­ter­tain­ing tus­sle with Frank Mayes and Dick Ap­p­le­yard.

On their tra­di­tional Oc­to­ber long week­end date in 1948, Wests club staged prob­a­bly the most suc­cess­ful Po­plars meet­ing so far, when the long­stand­ing lap record was shat­tered on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. 30 races with nearly 300 en­tries were com­pleted in just over five hours. The big shock of the day was the win in the Se­nior fi­nal by the­nun­known John Ast­ley, rid­ing his 1000cc Vin­cent. The favourite Harry Hin­ton was left at the start and de­spite charg­ing through to sec­ond place in the eight-lap fi­nal, could not catch the young­ster. Hin­ton did turn the ta­bles on Ast­ley to win the Aces Scratch (which fea­tured a rolling start) and also took out the Ju­nior and Light­weight fi­nals. By the time 1949 rolled around, the nearby Whyn­stanes cir­cuit had run its last race af­ter the own­ers of the land re­scinded the lease. Black­town staged an­other big meet­ing on Jan­uary 31st, which be­gan in in­tense heat and ended at 2.30 when a heavy storm washed out the re­main­der of the meet­ing. Be­fore

rain stopped play, Dick Hardi­man had won the Light­weight on his an­cient Rudge, and Billy Ring had de­feated Jack For­rest to win the Ju­nior. The bal­ance of the pro­gramme was resched­uled for the fol­low­ing Sat­ur­day, where Tony McAlpine took his cus­tom­ary win in the Se­nior and the Aces Scratch Race. One month later Western Sub­urbs club ran a spe­cial meet­ing, the pro­ceeds of which went to­wards sup­port­ing Harry Hin­ton and Eric McPher­son on their trip to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia at the 1949 Isle of Man TT. There was no prize money, but mem­bers of the mo­tor­cy­cle trade, the press and other per­son­al­i­ties do­nated tro­phies for the var­i­ous races. The freshly-graded and oiled course was in top con­di­tion, but as the event came be­tween the Vic­to­rian TT at Fish­er­men’s Bend and the an­nual Bathurst races, the qual­ity of the en­try was not up to the usual stan­dards, and as the meet­ing was ar­ranged at short no­tice, scant pub­lic­ity re­sulted in a smaller than nor­mal crowd. Nev­er­the­less, a healthy £200 was raised for the TT fund, and those that at­tended

wit­nessed some fine rac­ing. It turned out to be a day when rel­a­tively un­known names top­pled the starts, be­gin­ning with the Light­weight which was won by Harold Burch on a Ve­lo­cette, then the Ju­nior where BSA-mounted W. Hobbs from Wol­lon­gong came home first. Or­der was re­stored in the Ju­nior fi­nal, where Eric McPher­son carved through from last place to snatch the win on the fi­nal cor­ner. The Aces Scratch was an­other thriller, with Wol­lon­gong’s star rider Bill Mor­ris nar­rowly de­feat­ing Bill Mayes.

The last race on the card, the fi­nal of the All Pow­ers Hand­i­cap, went to Alan Boyle’s Ve­lo­cette who just held off the fast-clos­ing McPher­son. And so the cur­tain came down on an­other hot and dusty day at Black­town; and as it tran­spired, the fi­nal meet­ing at The Po­plars. A few weeks later came the bomb­shell that the own­ers of the land, which was in ef­fect a quarry, were not re­new­ing the lease. Their core busi­ness was the man­u­fac­ture of roof tiles, and the own­ers were con­tin­u­ally fol­low­ing clay seams, the lat­est of which took out the lower sec­tion of the track. With the re­cent loss of Whyn­stanes, it was a crip­pling blow for the sport in New South Wales, but Western Sub­urbs Club quickly coun­tered with a new prop­erty at nearby Baulkham Hills which was owned by club pa­tron Reg Wil­liams. To chris­ten the venue, a ma­jor scram­bles event, the NSW Grand Na­tional, was staged on 14th May, 1950, and the club an­nounced that it would soon be­gin work on the con­struc­tion of a 1-mile lap Minia­ture TT cir­cuit to be known as “The New Po­plars”. Un­for­tu­nately, noth­ing fur­ther was heard of the plan, and The Po­plars passed into dim mem­ory. For many years, ae­rial pho­to­graphs of the area clearly showed the rem­nants of the track, which grad­u­ally be­came en­gulfed in scrub. In 1965, the new Black­town Hospi­tal, with 160 beds, opened on the site of the for­mer cir­cuit.

Tight bunch at Black­town Cor­ner, 1947. 2 Harry Hin­ton, 3 Bat Byrnes, 5 Dave Jenk­ins, 7 Bill Mayes, 10 Les Slaugh­ter.

Start of a Ju­nior heat in 1947 with Dave Jenk­ins (5) and Sid Wil­lis (43).

BELOW Fairly ca­sual spec­ta­tor con­trol at the ‘Big Hill’.

ABOVE BSA ad­ver­tise­ment ap­plaud­ing Harry Hin­ton’s suc­cess in 1937. LEFT Harry Hin­ton cor­ners his BSA in 1938. BELOW The in­fa­mous Robin Hood Inn op­po­site Black­town rail­way sta­tion.

Eric McPher­son at Quarry Bend in 1940. Bill Mor­ris and Alan Bale charge through the dust. Fast and to­tally fear­less, Tony McAlpine (9) leads Eric McPher­son (12). LEFT The split sec­ond when Bill Mor­ris’ BSA ex­ploded. With the crank­case com­pletely gone, the frame is about to split in half.

ABOVE CEN­TRE Ron Kess­ing gets the che­quered flag from Harry Bartrop in 1946. ABOVE Art Se­nior (39) and Bat Byrnes on the line in 1947. BELOW Ae­rial view of the re­mains of the Po­plars Cir­cuit, taken in 1953. Black­town Rail­way sta­tion is just out of the photo top left.

Jack Ahearn leads Ray Cor­bett through Quarry Bend in Jan­uary 1949. Char­lie Scaysbrook in the pits, Oc­to­ber 1948.

ABOVE CEN­TRE Bill Mayes look­ing stylish on his Match­less in 1949. BELOW Bat Byrnes with his ace me­chanic Frank Ham­mond in 1947. The Nor­ton was brought to Aus­tralia by English speed­way rider Bill Kitchen. Eric McPher­son slides to earth at Easter 1947.

ABOVE J. Gold­smith aban­dons ship at Black­town Cor­ner in the 1949 Anniversar­y Day meet­ing. BELOW Don South drags the crankcases, Jan­uary 1949.

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