The Poplars – a popular place
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.