The Po­plars – a pop­u­lar place

Old Bike Australasia - - BLOW YOUR OWN -

Thank you so much for the piece on the Po­plars short cir­cuit at Black­town, where the Hos­pi­tal now stands: I re­mem­ber it well. As a kid not long out of school I was work­ing at Hazell and Moore when the Po­plars was at its best, and we were kept well in­formed as to when rac­ing was to take place on that very swift lit­tle dirt track. I trav­elled to the cir­cuit sev­eral times and it was al­ways a blast, if it was to take all day to get there and back home again! I would catch the train from Town Hall to Par­ra­matta, and then trans­fer to the steam train to Penrith – yes, steam train, for the line was not elec­tri­fied out­side Par­ra­matta un­til 1955, 100 years af­ter the steam train line was first opened. About 200 me­ters be­fore the Black­town sta­tion was a nar­row plat­form on the left about 50 me­ters long and about a meter or so wide where, as the train was slow­ing down for the sta­tion, one could leap off (along with thou­sands of oth­ers, many of whom of­ten fell about all over one an­other) and then stroll across fields of knee-high pas­palum grass to where the track was lo­cated. And what a track it was! Your photo of the main straight didn’t do the thing jus­tice, for the drop off half­way down the track af­ter the fast ‘speed­way’ left han­der which led to the straight was re­ferred to by the race an­nouncer as the ‘Hang­man’s Drop’. It fell away into what was once a quarry, and it dropped away even more steeply than Sky­line at Bathurst, re­sult­ing in some very fast speeds, which were al­ways dif­fi­cult to scrub off be­fore the fairly tight left-han­der at the bot­tom. I clearly re­mem­ber Tony McAlpine on his Em­pire Star BSA scrub­bing speed off in that cor­ner by dig­ging his solid steel (ex-Army M20 BSA!) footrest into the track sur­face as he was side-on and about half as fast again as al­most every­body else. The track then speared off into the bush where the rid­ers couldn’t be seen; ex­cept for the clouds of dust which rose from be­tween the trees. It was all pretty ex­cit­ing stuff! I also clearly re­mem­ber sev­eral other things which were men­tioned in your story. That photo of the Bill Mor­ris Gold Star BSA ex­plod­ing like a hand grenade at al­most the fin­ish line was one of them; the photo was ac­tu­ally quite fa­mous at the time. I will al­ways re­mem­ber that bike’s en­gine go­ing off like that, for it hap­pened right in front of my eyes as I stood in­side the ‘safety fence’ just be­fore the fin­ish line. The orig­i­nal photo was once fea­tured in the mag­a­zine “Mo­tor­cy­cling in Aus­tralia” which was

pub­lished on an ir­reg­u­lar ba­sis in the late for­ties and early fifties by the own­ers of a small mo­tor­cy­cle store called Crowe and Grace, which stood on Broad­way just op­po­site the Tooths Brew­ery near Cen­tral Sta­tion. How you man­aged to find that photo quite amazes me, as most of your ma­te­rial con­tin­ues to do. An­other mem­ory is of two ma­chines of more-or­less equal speed – at least on the Po­plars, if nowhere else – but which should never have been com­pet­i­tive on that cir­cuit. The two diced for lap af­ter lap at the head of the field in an ‘Un­lim­ited’ event later in the pro­gramme, of­ten so close to­gether that a King Sized bed­spread could have cov­ered both of them with enough left over to com­fort­ably tuck-in un­der­neath them. The rid­ers were Harry Hin­ton on his in­cred­i­ble 250cc OHV Blue Star BSA, the other Johnny Ast­ley – from Ast­ley and Ras­mussen Mo­tor­cy­cles – on the un­wieldy 1000cc se­ries – B Vin­cent HRD Rapide. Hin­ton had the edge through the dust on the far side of the track and would come onto the straight slightly ahead, while Ast­ley would gob­ble him up again dur­ing that hair­rais­ing de­scent down the main straight. The big Vin­cent was an ob­vi­ous hand­ful on the left han­der off the straight, al­low­ing Hin­ton to have a clear edge again through the back sec­tion. At one time dur­ing that fu­ri­ous dice I re­call the an­nouncer say­ing the track was 150 yards short of a mile in length, the lap record just over 59 sec­onds! Were they the good old days? Well, yes and no, I sup­pose, but it re­mains a Golden Age none the less, and we were all lucky to have seen it, and to have sur­vived it as well as we now bask in this new, if per­haps un­ex­pected, Golden Age. Lester Mor­ris Win­ston Hills NSW

From our ar­chives; John Ast­ley flat-out on his HRD at Bathurst in 1951, where he recorded 127 mph on Con­rod Straight.

John Ast­ley’s HRD in the pits at Bathurst in 1949, when he won the Se­nior Club­men’s event.

LEFT Tony McAlpine, tear­way star of pre-war Syd­ney Minia­ture TT, in footrest-drag­ging ac­tion on his BSA. BE­LOW The ver­sa­tile Johnny Ast­ley, seen here strug­gling through the no­to­ri­ous ‘Sand Sec­tion’ at the Moore­bank Cir­cuit on his Match­less.

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