Tracks in Time
Situated on the intersection of the main roads from Adelaide in the south west, Burra in the north west, and Renmark to the east, Morgan sits on a bend in the Murray River. For many years, it was the place where fast bikes raced, and to be successful you needed skill, bravery, and a quick motor.
Morgan is a small town approximately two hour’s drive east of Adelaide. It is situated on the banks of the River Murray, was established in 1878 and has a population of 4-5000 inhabitants. It supports two pubs, a large shop, service station, caravan park and some smaller businesses. It is surrounded by station properties and some irrigated properties. Thankfully the river frontage, while very pretty, has not been over developed. From the time of its establishment until the early 1900s, Morgan was the busiest river port on the Murray, catering for paddle steamers which travelled the length of the Murray and Darling Rivers, towing huge barges loaded with wool, grain, dried fruit and packed citrus. From Morgan this could be freighted to Adelaide via rail. On return trips these paddle steamers were floating hardware stores to the river properties. The advent of better roads and trucks and faster freight eventually killed off the paddle steamer industry but remnants of it can still be seen at Morgan, including a restored paddle steamer, part of the loading wharf, and one of the original warehouses. It is a very interesting part of the history of South Australia.
The Mile. The challenge.
The Morgan Mile is situated about two kilometres from the town and began life as a horse racing track. It is a quite flat area and the track shape was approximately a Capital D, with one end (Turn 1 for solos) slightly flattened off. The Start/Finish was situated on the straight side of the D and the safety fence also ran along this straight. The grandstand gave a good view of the whole track. The track surface was brown loam with some limestone pebbles. It was kept damp during race meetings and did not suffer badly from ruts of “digging up” during meetings. The usual track grading and watering was applied and as a Sidecar rider I always found the track condition to be excellent. Because I was working and living in the Northern Territory, I did not become involved with the Mile until moving back to South Australia in 1985. What became The Mile was originally “discovered” by Wally Thamm and Alan Jenkins, who took their discovery to the Velocette Club in Adelaide. In combination with the Morgan Sporting body, Long Track solo and sidecar racing commenced in 1973. Initially there were two meetings per year; in June and on the October Long Weekend, but this was reduced to just the October date. Classes catered for solos in 125, 250, and 500cc, Speedway solos, and 500 and 1000cc Sidecars, plus a class called “Clubman’s” which catered for specials and “chook
chasers” (2-stroke motocross bikes). In Adelaide at the time we had a bloke called Roger Feast who built very good Hagon-style frames, and quite a few of these raced at Morgan with all sorts of motors. The ‘Sliders” were the way to go. As Rod Hunter said, “These things (the ‘Sliders’)were really only glorified bicycle frames after all, so they really took a bit of controlling, especially at the speeds you did at Morgan.”
It would be impossible to list every rider who competed at Morgan but some of these names may jog some memories: Charlie Edwards, Les Lewis, Chris Watson, John Boulger, Dene Davies, Phil and Gain Sedgeman, Phil Crump, Trevor and Barry Sweetman, Mitchell Shirra, John Sears, Jeff Long, Peter and Henry Koesling, Dave Footner, Phil Franklin, Greg Lutze, Ian Nightingale and Graham Mutton. Amongst the Sidecar riders were Dean and Kevin Taylor, Clarrie Jones, Brian Schultz, Dave Parker, Brian Radford, Kym McConnell, Rick Monroe, Nipper Crabb, Chris Fraser, Neil Burston, Keith Bichart, Mark Drew, Len Bowes, Darren Treloar, Graham Jacobs, John Budcock, Dyson (WA), Mal Greig, Neil Munro, Chris and Brian Flaherty, Geoff Nuske, Wayne Kearvill and Wayne Mander. And most importantly St. John’s Nurse Jenny Bichard. The South Australian Sweetman brothers were spectacular and successful at the track; both taking titles when the Australian Long Track Championships were held at Morgan in 1975 – Trevor the Unlimited and the Clubman’s class, and Barry the 250cc as well as the 500cc. That 1975 meeting was possibly the biggest in the circuit’s history, with a massive crowd to watch riders from all over Australia. As well as the Sweetman brothers, titles went to Charlie Edwards (125cc), with the Taylor brothers scooping the Sidecars classes: Kevin (Junior) and Dean (Senior). Barry Sweetman tells of three notable
meetings; the 1978 Sidecar Spectacular which attracted outfits from Australiawide. The 1978 Morgan Centenary Meeting, with two Americans on Flat Track Harleys which were interesting but not spectacular, and the 1979 Big Track Spectacular, the final won by Trevor Sweetman on a Long Track Jawa. At one meeting the SA Police attended with a radar gun, clocking Rick Monroe on a big speedway outfit at 222 km/h (133 mph). Trevor Sweetman says the police clocked a Long Track Jawa solo on the curved section of the track at 160 km/h. Chris Watson disintegrated the Godden motor on the main straight, rumour has it with nitro and methanol in the fuel tank. The racing was fast and furious and you had to see it to believe it. Most of the speedway solos had quite small back sprockets and were difficult to push start, and out of the gate needed a lot of clutch slip to get going.
I still have vivid memories of John Boulger coming down the straight flat out on a Feast-framed pushrod Weslake, laying horizontally on the bike, chin on the head stem and feet and legs straight out the back, sliding in the turn, absolutely spectacular control at quite high speed. Mitchell Shirra who has ridden speedway and Long track all over the world rode a Godden framed Jawa belonging to Nigel Camin at Morgan. He won on the day and commented that he had never ridden Long Track as fast as Morgan. Mark Drew came down from Darwin with a big Speedway outfit to ride Morgan because he had heard about it. After the meeting he said he would not be back because it was too fast. I am sure those of us who raced motorcycles have our favourite memories of events and tracks, but mine is and will always be the Morgan Mile. Apologies for those I have not mentioned but like me I am sure they have some terrific memories of the Mile.
The Speedway class gets under way with Dene Davies leading Don Stafford (193) and Trevor Sweetman (8). Graeme Eberhard takes the outside line on his 250cc water-cooled Yamaha twin.
BELOW The grandstand. BOTTOM Judges and timekeepers’ box. BOTTOM LEFT American flat track rider Charlie Searle on his HarleyDavidson in 1979.
ABOVE The Morgan Mile, seen from the air in 1979.