Burnie’s First Carnivals
(i) A Delayed Start
On Thursday, 1 January 1987, the Burnie Athletic Club will celebrate the centenary of its annual New Year’s Day professional running, cycling and chopping carnival, acclaimed for 50 years or more as the premier one-day fixture of its type in Australasia.
But for the first four decades of settlement Burnie, the small port town on the shores of Emu Bay on the North-West Coast of Tasmania, had virtually no organised sporting events. Unlike the more affluent towns and districts in other parts of the island colony settled by moneyed businessmen and landed gentry with convict servants, the struggling pioneer bush farming families of the Emu Bay district had neither the time, the numbers nor probably the inclination to organise or participate in sporting activities.
They worked from dawn till dusk, six days a week, clearing their small farms from the dense rainforests and rested, if at all, only on the Sabbath. And the Sabbath was a day for worship, family gatherings and neighbourly visits – not sport. So too were the rare annual holidays observed by the yeomen farmers of Emu Bay at Christmas and Easter.
Although the history of the Burnie Athletic Club and its annual New Year’s Day Carnival, rather than the town, is the subject of this book, the early years of the settlement that is now nearing city status provide an insight into the delayed introduction of sport to the town and district compared with other areas of Tasmania, and the success of the sports-minded Burnie citizens who staged the first carnivals in the late 1860s.
The settlement on the shores of Emu Bay later to be named Burnie was established in 1828 by the Van Diemen’s land Company, a wealthy English pastoral enterprise incorporated under Royal Charter in 1825 ‘for the cultivation and improvement of waste land in His Majesty’s Island of Van Diemen’s Land.’
The VDL Co., with nominal capital of £1 000 000, had been granted the right to select 250 000 acres of land (later increased to 350 000 acres) in the unexplored North-West of the island, then inhabited only by Aborigines and lawless gangs of itinerant sealers, most of them escaped convicts and runaway seamen.
The intention of the VDL Co. promoters was to breed fine wooled sheep for which the climate and natural pastures of other areas of the island colony had proved eminently suitable since its colonisation two decades earlier.
The VDL Co. established its base at Circular Head in 1826 and selected 210 000 acres of its grants in three adjoining blocks extending from the coastline between the Emu and Cam rivers and 30 miles inland beyond St Valentines Peak. Emu Bay was chosen as the port settlement to serve the company’s hinterland pastoral blocks named Surrey Hills and Hampshire Hills. Thus the town that was named Burnie after a VDL Co. director in 1842 was born.
The first settlers landed on the shores of Emu Bay on 22 February 1828. They and those who followed in the next few years were all indentured employees or assigned convict servants of the VDL Co. Most were sent to the inland settlements while only a few were located at Emu Bay with its small jetty, boat shed, company store, half a dozen cottages, blacksmith shop and sawpits.
But the VDL Co’s. endeavour to raise finely bred merino sheep imported from Spain and Germany, in the cold, wet and poorly grassed hinterland of the North-West was a disaster, financially and in most other respects. Thousands of sheep and their progeny died of starvation and cold in the first few winters while others fell victim to the depredations of marauding Aborigines and Tasmanian tigers.
By the mid-1830s the Surrey and Hampshire Hills blocks were virtually deserted and the VDL Co. concentrated its pastoral and agricultural endeavours on its coastal blocks at Cape Grim and Circular Head. The Emu Bay district and Burnie degenerated to an isolated, miserable, neglected settlement of only a few subsistence farming families clearing a few acres a year of heavily-timbered land acquired from the VDL Co. under lease-purchase arrangements introduced in 1842.
But the first two generations of Emu Bay bush farmers had little or no incentive or inclination to organise or participate in the field of sport. The district didn’t even have a sporting field.
(ii) The Picnic Carnivals
Burnie entered its first era of real growth and a measure of prosperity with the discovery of the immensely rich mineral deposits of the uninhabited, mountainous West Coast in the closing years of last century – Mt Bischoff, the fabulous ‘mountain of tin’, the silver-lead fields of Zeehan, Magnet, Mt Read and Rosebery, the immense copper deposits of Mt Lyell and many more.
As the nearest deepwater port to the mineral fields of the West with eventual railway connections to the boom towns that mushroomed around them, Burnie became the gateway for the thousands of prospectors, miners, speculators, businessmen, engineers, tradesmen and others who flocked to the most exciting mineral bonanza Australia had experienced since the Victorian goldrush of the 1850s.
Vacant blocks in the Burnie town area surveyed in 1842 began to sell, export, import and general businesses were established, substantial hotels were built, banks opened, churches and schools were established to cater for Burnie’s growing population and the struggling bush farmers of Emu Bay found ready markets for their produce and livestock in the mining boom towns of the West.
By the late 1880s Burnie had emerged from its cocoon of isolation and its business trade with the free spending mining communities was the envy of the businessmen of the much older cities of Hobart and Launceston.
And with the new era of growth and prosperity a new breed of civic-minded Burnie citizens began to organise and encourage sporting activity in the town.
According to Burnie’s earliest recognised historian, Richard Hilder, the town’s first picnic sports were held on a stretch of flat grassland ‘kept short by a flock of geese’ near the foreshore between Spring and Ladbrooke Sts near Thomas Wiseman’s Burnie Inn and Tom Hands’ Welcome Hotel. The sports, which included running races, high jumps, pole-vaulting, horse jumping and novelty events – including an eel fishing contest in the pond at the bottom end of Spring St – were organised by Thomas Wiseman and Tom Hands and their wives on New Year’s Day of the late 1860’s. Richard Hilder recalled that a highlight of the afternoon for the youngsters of Burnie was the release of a gas-filled paper balloon which exploded in a ball of flame over Emu Bay.
An historical article in The Advocate on 10 January 1922 gave an account of a sporting carnival organised by the Loyal Wellington Lodge, IOOF, MU, at Burnie on New Year’s Day, 1882. Written by an anonymous author who was Noble Grand of the Lodge in 1881, said:
A meeting of the Loyal Wellington Lodge was held at the Town Hall on October 25, 1881. Present: F.M. Bridley, Thompson-Brown, F.S. Denny, Wm O’Halloran, F. O’Reilly, Peter Collins, James Hurst, R.S. Sanderson, Thomas Hilder and Richard Hilder.
Amongst the items of ordinary business at the meeting was the following: ‘Proposed by Bro. T. Brown, seconded by Bro. J. Hurst, that the members of this Lodge, in conjunction with other Friendly Societies, have a (sporting) demonstration during the Christmas holidays.’ Carried.
After several more meetings the ‘demonstration’ was arranged for New Year’s Day, 1882, beginning with a procession of local and visiting Lodge members ‘gaily decked in regalia of all colours’ led by the Leven Brass Band from Ulverstone. Burnie had not formed a brass band at that time. They marched from the Town Hall down Cattley St to Marine Terrace to the South Burnie foreshore near Oakleigh House where ‘a programme of sporting events was carried out and the Burnie Carnival was born.’
The programme included a 100-yard sprint, 300 yds., quarter-mile, three-legged races, tug-a-war and events for women and children. The writer said the 1882 ‘sporting demonstration’ was the first occasion at which more than a thousand people had gathered together in Burnie on New Year’s Day.
A.J. Donnelly, in his 75th Jubilee history The Burnie Athletic Club Story published in 1962, records that:
As the population of Emu Bay increased and more of the foreshore became cleared, the carnival organisers (Capt. Wm. Jones and Messrs Joseph Alexander, Harry Lane, Thos. Farrell, Jim Boatwright and F.W. Wells, who was secretary) selected a larger area of land in the vicinity of Ford’s Creek, between Hopkinson and Reeves Sts.
For his success in the first 130 yds. Sheffield Handicap decided on the track, Fred Wells, a young VDL Co. drover who later opened a butcher’s shop, received a pair of elastic braces. They were said to be the first elastic braces in Burnie.
(iii) South Burnie Carnivals
The first permanent sports ground developed at Burnie was the South Burnie Recreation Ground which originally, like all land at Emu Bay was owned by the VDL Co. According to A.J. Donnelly’s history the first sports carnival staged at the South Burnie Recreation Ground after it had been cleared of scrub by voluntary labour was organised in the early 1880s. The carnival organising committee consisted of F.S. Denny (chairman), Richard Hilder, Alfred Boatwright, R.S Sanderson, Capt. Wm. Jones and Thompson Brown (secretary). All were member of Burnie Lodges.
The Burnie Athletic Club was formed about 1885 and towards the end of that year it made arrangements with the VDL Co. to lease the four-acre South Burnie ground for 21 years from 1 January 1886. Rental was fixed at £5 per annum, less an allowance of £4/17/6, which made the actual rental a nominal 2/6 per annum. The trustees were Burnie’s first resident solicitor Thomas J. Crisp, hotelier Thomas Wiseman, business entrepreneur Capt. Wm. Jones with coach builder Sam Bird as secretary. The ground was finally purchased by the Burnie council from the VDL Co. on 16 April 1913 for £2000 but by then the BAC was already looking for a bigger ground.
(iv) The First Sheffield Handicaps
from 1987 to the present
Entering the 20th Century
(i) The First Decade
More than 2000 sports patrons from the North-West and West Coasts and districts east to Launceston ushered in the 20th century at the BAC 1900 New Year’s Day Carnival at the south Burnie ground. Gate takings were a record £75/14/0.
C.J. Harris, proprietor of The Wellington Times (later The Advocate) had been elected BAC President in 1900 and held the office for a record 13 consecutive years till his death.
The 1900 programme consisted of the Sheffield Hcp. of £20, £6 and £3 with Frank Brickhill taking first prize money, 100-yd. Novice Hcp., Mile, Quarter Mile, boys’ and girls’ events, selections by the Burnie Band and horse jumping.
A young student teacher from Stanley won the £1 Novice Hcp. His name was to become known to all Australians, although not as a runner. The young novice winner was Joe Lyons, 30 years later elected the only Tasmanian Prime Minister of Australia.
Percy Sturzaker (Ulverstone), who remained a regular patron of the Burnie Carnival for more than 60 years, won the 1901 Sheffield Hcp. from E. Terry who trained his son to win the Gift that narrowly eluded him 25 years later.
The BAC increased prize money for the 1902 Sheffield Hcp. to £30, £7 and £2 and it drew 27 starters from throughout the State and the carnival also had record takings £73/2/6 at the gate and £9/17/ / for seats in the grandstand. The decision not to re-handicap Launceston runner A.A. Castley in the Sheffield Hcp. after his sprint wins at Waratah and Wynyard in the previous week caused some criticism amongst the runners and a protest. The Wellington Times described Castley’s win as ‘interesting.’
The liberal prizes provided by the club were an additional draw and there was a feeling of general interest in the fact that the Sheffield of £30 should have gone to the young Launceston runner, Castley, following on his double wins at Waratah and Wynyard. For his week’s work Castley has netted £83.
Castley won from 11 yds. from P. Cohen (14 yds.) and G.J. Pearce (6 yds.) in the slow time of 13 1/5. Pearce entered a protest against both Castley and Cohen for wrong performances on their entries but their entries, but the protest was not upheld.
The handicapper set Garnet Pearce an almost impossible task at his next Burnie Sheffield start at the 1903 carnival but the home town hero was equal to it. Off the virtual scratch handicap of three yards he ran the race of his career – and one of the best in the history of the Burnie Gift – to win for the second time to beat front marker G.W. Roackliff (15yds.) and A.J. Bell (14 yds.). In a masterful understatement The Wellington Times commented:
The performance of Garnet Pearce in annexing the £30 and gold medal off the 3 yds. mark was hailed as a notable one.
And indeed it was ‘notable one.’ So notable, in fact, that no other runner has achieved a Burnie Gift win from so far back in the 83 years since.
Ulverstone’s popular policeman, Trooper Jack Hutton, delighted Ulverstone patrons at the 1903 carnival by taking the double of the Quarter Mile and Mile.
BAC President and proprietor of The Wellington Times C.J. Harris was no doubt gratified to see a member of this printing staff, George Tollner, win the 1904 Sheffield Hcp. But C.J.Harris was even more delighted 12 years later when his son, Len Harris, won the event that during his presidency had become the unrivalled premier sprint race in Tasmania.
Young Harold Rigby moved a stage further in his quest for the Sheffield Hcp. by running second to Tollner in 1904 – and won it the next year.
Trooper Hutton made it two in succession when he won the 1904 Mile from the back mark of 23 yards from a field of 23 starters.
For the first and probably the only time in its history the Burnie Carnival programme of 1904 included a 4-mile Walking Hcp. with first prize money of £5. M.J. Rowell won the event in 28 mins. 12 secs.
The 1905 New Year’s Day Carnival was described by The Wellington times as a ‘red letter day in the history of the Burnie Athletic Club.’
Visitors literally poured into the town by train from Launceston and the West Coast, and every other kind of vehicle, with the result that the attendance at the recreation ground numbered close to 3000, and seaside picnic resorts adjacent to the town were well patronised by visitors.
Even-money favourite Harold Rigby won the Sheffield Hcp. off the back mark of 7 yds. and J. Sheehan won the Mile off 30 yds. Sheehan had won the Waratah Mile the previous week and had not been re-handicapped but a protest by second placegetter E. Pratt was dismissed.
Band items had been staged intermittently at the Burnie Carnival since the late 1800s but the 1905 carnival saw the first band contests. They were to increase in popularity during the next two decades, although, from the BAC viewpoint, they were not without controversy. In fact, seldom a carnival passed without a protest of some kind – usually against the importation of professional players a week or two before the carnival – were lodged by one band against another with the result that BAC committee meetings in some years devoted more time to band protests than the running and cycling events combined.
(ii) Record Mile Entry
A record crowd estimated at more than 3500 attended the 1906 Burnie Carnival and takings at the South Burnie gate and grandstand totalled £155.
Thirty-six runners, claimed as an Australian record, started in the Mile Hcp. which, like the Burnie Sheffield Hcp., had won recognition as the top event for the distance in Tasmania. The Mile of 1906 carried prizemoney of £15, £2 and £1 and only three of the 36 starters finished.
The event was again won by an Ulverstone runner, W.L. Garrad, off the second back mark of 50 yds. from J.R. Campbell (110) and Arthur Mitchell (80). The following Easter, Garrad won the Federation Mile at Stawell off 40 yds. in 4.15 4/5 – the fastest time for the vent to that stage.
The Sheffield Hcp. – the 1st year before the name change to the Burnie Gift – was held in two divisions, 2nd. Class and Open, with 30 starters in the Open.
After finishing second in the final of the 2nd Class Sheffield Hcp. off 9 yds., Hec. Brown (Devonport) went on to win the Open Sheffield Hcp. off 14 yds. in 12 2/5. According to Albert Donnelly’s history Brown had been backed to win £200 in the open Sheffield and was questioned by stewards for not fully extending himself in the 2nd. Class Sheffield, which would have incurred a rehandicap for the main event.
Five bands contested the Waltz, Selection and Quickstep contests – Latrobe, Tasmanian Rangers (Ulverstone), Burnie, Burnie Federal and Wynyard Associated. Latrobe entered a protest against the winner on points, Tasmanian Rangers, on the ground that it had more than one professional player in its ranks. The protest was subsequently dismissed.
The 1906 carnival had been so successful that the BACk conducted a two-day programme in 1907 on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, a format that continued intermittently till the years of the 1914-18 War.
The programme on the first day consisted of the 2nd. Class Sheffield, 18-inch Hcp. Chop, Maiden Quarter Mile, Maiden Mile, boys’ and girls’ races, football kicking and bowling at the wicket. The main events were on the second day – the Open Sheffield Hcp., 1st. Class Quarter Mile, Mile and Band Contests.
The two-day programme drew an estimated crowd of 4000.
N.F. Pannam became the first Victorian to win the Burnie Sheffield when he beat C.P. Fawkner on the second day of 1907 programme. Pannam, one of thw ell known Collingwood football family, was captain-coach of Wynyard at the time.
Harold Rigby won the 1907 1st. Class Quarter Mile in the record time of 48 secs. Off 30 yds.
(iii) First Burnie Gift
1908 Sheffield Handicap becomes Burnie Gift
The Burnie Sheffield Hcp. officially became the Burnie Gift at the 1908 BAC Carnival and was appropriately won by a Burnie runner, Edgar Trethewey. The young Emu Bay Railway clerk’s win pleased the partisan crowd. The Wellington Times reported:
The win was very popular and the local man was ovated (sic) on returning up the straight.
Off 15 yds. Edgar Trethewey, also a prominent Burnie footballer and cricketer, won narrowly from D.B. Butterworth (Beaconsfield) and C. Fawkner (Deloraine), with Harold Rigby taking fourth place off the back mark of 8 yds. Trethewey dead-heated in the Burnie Gift final two years later.
Popular Ulverstone runner and footballer Harry McDonald dead-heated in the 2nd. Class Quarter Mile in 1908 with J.B. Patmore (Midlands). Rather than share the £4/10/0 first and second prizemoney the two decided, unfortunately for McDonald, to run again for first prize of £3 and victory went to the Midlands runner.
The 1st. Class Quarter Mile on the second day was popular with the West coast contingent at the carnival with victory going to Zeehan miner C.W. Hepworth.
Fire brigade contests were held for the first time at the 1908 carnival with the Launceston, Devonport, Queenstown and Burnie brigades competing.
Total prizemoney for the 1909 Burnie Gift was increased to £50 with £40 to the winner. Thirty-three runners started and the final again went to a Burnie runner, Frank Brickhill, also the town’s top tennis player of the time. Brickhill had won the event nine years earlier.
The Quarter Mile of 1909 again went to a West Coaster, G.W. Clough (Queenstown) off 38 yds. Clough held on to win from Harold Rigby whose record run of 48 2/5 off 23 yds. was a good warm-up for his Stawell Gift win a few months later.
The Burnie Carnival had achieved a degree of recognition that for the 1910 carnival both the Governor, Sir Harry Barron and the Premier, Sir Elliott Lewis, travelled from Hobart by train to attend. They saw the only official dead-heat in the history of the Burnie Gift between Edgar Trethewey and Zeehan runner C. Blanton, with Balnton winning the run-off.
Harold Rigby, who had won the Quarter Mile on the first day, completed the double with a win in the Mile off 80 yds. on the second day.
Devonport sprinter C.V. (Dick) Davey won the first leg of his Burnie Gift double at the 1911 New Year’s Day Carnival by a foot off 12 ½ yds. But perhaps the second placegetter, L.H. Cooley, was unlucky. He broke twice in the final and was penalised a yard each time to start off 11 ½ yds. instead of his original handicap of 9 ½ yds.
But the Mile Hcp. was the major controversy of the 1911 carnival. Fifteen starters lined up for the £25 event won by J.O. viney off 50 yds. from G.S. Bryan, 90 yds. Bryan immediately protested that Viney had run only three of the four laps. The Wellington Times reported:
Owing to the bell not being rung on the fourth lap, a couple of the competitors covered another lap, the second man Bryan doing so, and claiming the first prize. His protest, which was upheld by many spectators, was dismissed by the committee, who received conclusive evidence that the full distance had been run by Viney.
Bryan, a Ridgley farmer who had backed himself heavily in an endeavour to win his fare to Stawell to compete in the 1911 Federation Mile, protested to both the BAC committee and the Northern Tasmanian Athletic League, but after hearing evidence from judges, referee Sam Bird and the Times reporter, the appeal was dismissed. However, A.J. Donnelly, who won the event, wrote years later that Viney had in fact run only three laps and that Bryan had run the full distance. Bryan claimed for years afterwards that the initial winning time for Viney had been announced as an impossible 3.44, but had been altered to 4.44 after his protest. But the committee’s decision was final and the Ridgley runner did not get his fare to Stawell.
The two-day programme was continued for the 1912 carnival with the Burnie Gift (£65) Burnie Purse (£15), Quarter Mile (£10), Half Mile (£10) and Mile (£13) as the main running events with a Band Contest (£25), Handicap Chop (£15), Tug-a-war for teams of eight (£4) and a Fire Brigade Contest as added attractions. Permission was granted for a hoop-la to be conducted at the carnival for a fee of £3, a merry-go-round for £6 and a boxing tent for £2/10.
To have better control of the running events the committee also decided to rope the circular track on both sides for the Quarter, Half and Mile events.
Prominent young local sportsman Len Harris, son of the BAC President, son the 1912 Burnie Gift off 14 ½ yds. Harris, also a member of the Burnie Wanderers football team and the Wellington Times cricket team, had been encouraged to take on running by Harold Rigby. Both worked with the VDL Co. at the time – Rigby as a clerk and Harris as an office boy before joining the staff of the family newspaper of which he became Managing Director in 1935.
Len Harris later became a committee member of the BAC and was Club President from 1947 to 1949, achieving a unique family record with the club. His father C. J. was president for 13 years from 1900, his younger brother Russell held the office from 1922 to 1924 and a younger brother Selby., was a BAC committee member and carnival official for about 20 years from 1944.
The tug-of-war and fire brigade contests were omitted from the 1913 programme and first prize for the Burnie Gift was increased to a record £50. Dick Davey, the 1911 winner, completed the last double on the South Burnie ground when he won the 1913 Burnie Gift from 8 ½ yds. – 4 yds. back on his previous handicap.
The BAC held its last carnival on the South Burnie Recreation Ground on 1st January 1914 when T.C. Lucas won the Gift off 13 yds. and J.T. Nicol won the Mile.
From then on the South Burnie ground was used for cricket and minor sports gymkhanas in the summer months and hockey in the winter and later also became the headquarters of South Burnie Bowls Club.
A Change of Venue
(i)The West Park Move
The Burnie Athletic club first discussed a possible change of venue to the new sports ground at a committee meeting on 26 October 1900 when it was proposed ‘that the Town Board be requested to take definite action to acquire a larger recreation ground’ for the Emu Bay Municipality. The area selected was nine acres of rocky, tea-tree swamp on the West Burnie foreshore owned by the Anglican Church since the late 1870s and the site of its parsonage built in 1880. The area owned by the church totalled to 20 acres but it is not clear from either VDL Co. nor Anglican Church records whether the land was given to the church or purchased. It was more likely purchased from George Kay, shown on early VDL Co. charts as the first occupier. The VDL Co’s. land gifts to the Anglican Church had been the hill at the seaward end of Wilmot St in 1850 for Burnie’s first chapel and 25 acres south of the town on Shorewell Creek as a glebe.
The Burnie council bought nine acres from the Anglican Church trustees in 1912 for £5000 but, according to A.J. Donnelly’s history, the council paid an additional £3652/10/ in interest on loans before the debt was finally paid. Donnelly wrote:
The Trustee offered the Council another four blocks for £1900. The area comprised land beyond the croquet lawns and bowling greens, extending to the east of the old tennis courts. The Council of the day was not interested, and a golden opportunity was lost.
(The Wellington Times Cricket Club team photo at a working bee to clean the rea-tree swamp at West Park. Front (from left): L. Harris, A. Beach, T. Tighe, F. Kenner. Middle: F. Beaumont, C. Rolfe, J. Beaumont, J. Haines, A. Chrome, J. Mather. Back: G. Tollner, W.R. Wade, M. Stokes, S. Burnie, A. Kenner, H. Humphries, I. Margetts.)
Working bees organised by Burnie sporting organisations, including the Wellington Times Cricket Club began clearing the area and laying a turf wicket as early as 1907 and the BAC discussed the desirability of changing the venue of its carnival from the Burnie to West Park at a committee meeting on 29 November 1912. The minutes record that:
The President (Mr C.J. Harris) informed the committee that the Municipal Council had made certain suggestions with regard to the improvement of the West Park, which included one that the club advance the sum of £200 to the council, such amount to be refunded by annual payments equivalent to the annual rent payment for use of South or West grounds. The letter also intimated that the council would require 15% of the outside takings at each carnival as rent each year.
After a general discussion in which members agreed that while the club could do something in the direction aimed at, they should insist on some definite scheme of improvements being placed before the committee and some guarantee be given the club that such money would be economically expended, members favouring the club having some representation on the committee controlling such expenditure.
It was then decided that the President and Mr S. Bird interview the Warden (Cr T.L. Mace) on the question.
At a committee meeting on 10 March 1913 it was agreed to advance the council £250 for West park improvements with the sum to be treated as rent on the basis of 15% of gate takings. A sub-committee consisting of C.J. Harris, W.A. Pilbeam and H. Mollison was appointed to liaise with the Burnie Council on plans to develop the West Park sports ground.
During 1913-14 the council levelled, drained and top-dressed the former tea-tree swamp and erected a grandstand on the western wide of the ground capable of seating 2000 people. In November 1914 the BAC paid the council £350 for roofing of the grandstand and West Park was ready to become the new venue for Burnie’s New Year’s Day Carnival of 1915.
The new ground was praised by both the local and Launceston press. In a lengthy article on West Park the North-West representative of the Launceston Examiner of 28 November 1914 wrote:
For many long years Burnie has been handicapped by the absence of a playground obtainable under national rights.
Burnie has a four-acre recreation ground at the southern end of the town, for which it paid dearly, but owing to advancement of the town and district, it is too small for sporting fixtures excepting those in which juveniles are the leading contestants.
Burnie has removed the unavoidable embargo during the year, not through influence with the Government, but by its own cash.
The peoples’ enterprise is centred in what is known locally as West Park, an area of nine acres adjoining the rectory.
It is owned by the Church of England, but some years back the Emu Bay council leased it for £50 per annum with the right of purchase for £250 per acre when the lease is up. That expires three years hence when the purchase will be completed.
Seeing it is bounded on the north by the open sea and railway, on the south by the main road to Launceston, on the east by the rectory, bowling green, croquet and tennis lawns, and on the west by the sea, the ground is in a position without favourable comparison in the Commonwealth.
The local Athletic Club, the premier of the State in that line, made up its mind 12 months back to use every effort to have the park improved so that the carnival five weeks hence could be held thereon. The club was successful as the council recognised that, in addition to the town’s strong claims for the decent pleasure ground, every penny spent on it was assisting to improve their own prospective property.
When New Year’s Day arrives patrons of the sport will be highly pleased with their outing. Every consideration is being given to their comfort, as the £1000 which had been the approximate amount paid to December 30 for improvements, proves this.
The arena is not far from being as round as an apple, the length of the barrier surrounding it being exactly two furlongs, or rather 440 yards, as many people are not acquainted with racecourse terms.
The finishing post for all events is exactly similar to the situation at Flemington – that is, on the right hand of occupiers of the grandstand.
From any other part of the ground a splendid view of the arena is obtainable, as the natural position permitted the latter being slightly in recess to adjoining soil, aided by a fair amount of filling.
The grandstand, which faces south-east, will accommodate 2000 people.
In one respect 1915 was not a good year for the BAC to stage its inaugural West park carnival. By the end of 1914 more than 50 000 Australians had joined the AIF as Allies to Britain to World War 1, declared on 14 August. Most were sent to Egypt and there they joined with New Zealand volunteers in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) which landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915.
But the heroism and tragedy of Gallipoli was still in the future when the BAC staged its two-day carnival at West Park on New Year’s Day and 2 January 1915. The programme consisted mainly of athletic events, all of which had been previously contested at the South Burnie venue, including the Burnie Gift, Burnie Purse, Hurdle Race, Quarter-Mile, Half-Mile and Mile and band contests.
The carnival was opened by the Governor, Sir William Ellison-Macartney, who was introduced by BAC President Sam Bird and welcomed by the Warden of Burnie (Cr T.L. Mace). Gate takings for the two days totalled £206 at the main gate and £100 at the grandstand. The North-Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times of 2 January 1915 reported:
The annual Burnie Carnival which commenced yesterday will long remain in the memory of those who witnessed it. In the first place the meeting was celebrated upon a new ground and, further, it was a happy augury that the proceedings should be graced by the presence of His Excellency the Governor and Lady Macartney. West Park is an ideal place for holding a sports meeting; not only has it a pleasant situation, but the ground itself is especially adapted for the purpose. The committee, with the assistance of the Emu Bay Council, had hone to considerable expense in preparing the ground, and on all sides commendatory remarks were to be heard upon the arrangements that had been made.
The grandstand situated on the north side of the ground is considered to be one of the finest structures of its kind in the State and has seating accommodation for 2000 people, whilst from every point on the ground a clear view of events from start to finish could be obtained. The grass in front of the grandstand, planted for the formation of a lawn, has made good progress. The effect was added to by the planting of geraniums in small beds at the foot of the grandstand, part of which was portioned off for the vice-regal party, this being decorated with red, white and blue bunting.
The attendance, it is estimated, was in excess of last year, between 6000 and 7000 being present. Owing to the depression at present existent on the West Coast there was not the usual number of people from that part, but there was a larger patronage from the North-West towns. At the enclosure over £100 was taken for admission, and this shows that over 2000 people occupied the grandstand. The previous highest figure for the enclosure (at South Burnie) was £68, which proves that the committee and council were warranted in erecting such a commodious structure. The takings at the outside gates amounted to £206/4/.
The first Burnie Gift run at West Park carried prizemoney of £50 and a gold medal, £10, £4 and £1 and drew 29 starters. The event was won by Launceston sprinter F. Bennett (14 yds.) from co-marker H. Mence and C. Bonde (13 ½ yds.). But even the inaugural West Park carnival of 1915 was not without its disputes. A protest was lodged against Bennett alleging he had supplied the handicapper with incorrect performances, but the protest was dismissed after Bennett signed a written declaration that his entry from was correct.
And there were protests in the band contests. Apparently the competing brass band – Hobart City, Gormanston, Bischoff and Burnie – had neglected to comply with the BAC contest rule that members reside in the district of their band’s base for at least six weeks prior to the contests, as well as attend band practices.
At its meeting on 13 August 1915 the BAC committee decided to disqualify all band and to divide half the £120 prize money between the four bands with the balance being divided proportionately in accordance with railway fares incurred in travelling.
With the worsening war in Europe and its effects in Australia, the New Year’s Day carnivals from 1916 to 1919 were reduced in both prize money, the number and variety of events and entries. The two-day fixture was continued in 1916 but the band contests and some running events were omitted from the programme. In their place the BAC organised Defence Force Activities which included a rifle exercise, semaphore signalling, champion cadets’ race and similar events.
The 1917 carnival was advertised as a Patriotic Carnival and profit was distributed to the Returned Soldiers’ Fund. The programme consisted of the Gift, Quarter-Mile and Mile running events and a Mile Open Handicap Bicycle Race and Youths’ Bicycle Race. About 4000 people attended the carnival and The Advocate reported:
It was considered advisable to reduce the prize money, but this in no way militated against good entries. The programme was more varied than it has been for the past couple of years and an innovation that was justified was the inclusion of two bicycle races.
Seventeen runners started in the Gift with reduced prize money of £15, £3 and £2, victory going to Ulverstone sprinter E. T. Brain from H.O. Smith and A. S. Huxtable.
The Mile was won by Frank Thunder (Hobart) off 100 yards. In the next two years the Mile was won by his brother, Joe, who also won the Grampian Stakes at Stawell in 1919.
(ii) The First Burnie Wheel race.
There were only six starters in the first handicap Bicycle Race on West Park in 1917 and the race was over the same grass track as the Mile running event. Local youngster Vic Clark off 100 yards led all the way to win the £4 first prize money from scratch rider W. J. Johnstone and Q. Ivory (40 yds.). The other starters in the first event that became the Burnie Wheelrace were G.J. Marchant (20 yds.), W. Osborne (30) and B. Marchant (40).
Cycle racing had been introduced to the North-West Coast by the Latrobe Bicycle Race club at its annual Boxing Day carnival in 1891 and the BAC discussed the desirability of introducing cycling to its programme soon after its move to West Park. At a committee meeting on 1 December 1916 a sub-committee consisting of Sam Bird, F. Schnell, H. Mollison and G. Wise was appointed to investigate the laying of a track and club secretary G. C. Huxley was instructed to obtain relevant particulars from the LBRC.
* * *
The programme for ‘Burnie Athletic Club Grand Patriotic Carnival’ of New Year’s Day 1918 consisted of the £21 Burnie Gift, £13 Quarter-Mile Hcp., £15 Mile Hcp., £10 Handicap Bicycle Race and £3/10 Youths’ Hcp. Bicycle Race. There were also Selection and Quickstep contests restricted to country bands. The carnival was authorised by the Sate War council and profits again were donated to patriotic funds. Gate takings were £230 and The advocate reported:
It was the fourth patriotic carnival and prior to yesterday, £140 had been paid over to the patriotic funds from the gatherings, and this channel of assistance for our soldiers at the front will again be materially augmented as the result of yesterdays’ effort, although the imposition of the amusement tax was adversely criticised during the day.
Cycle racing has been added to the programme and has justified the inclusion; when the time is more favourable it is on the cards that an asphalt track will encircle the arena at the park.
Owen Guy, who was also young enough to compete in the youths’ cycle race, won both events – the Open off 110 yds. and the youths’ event off scratch. Vic Clark also was still riding in the youths’ event and finished second to Guy from a field of six.
J.A. Weedon won the 1918 Burnie Gift off 13 ½ yds. and completed the double by taking the Quarter-Mile.
Champion Hobart distance runner Joe Thunder won the first of his two consecutive Miles from 50 yds., beating his brother Frank (70 yds.) by 20 yds. in 4.34 1/5.
To further assist patriotic funds the BAC also ran a sports carnival at West Park on Anzac Day, 1918, with prize money of £80 for four pedestrian and three cycling races.
(iii) Asphalt Track for 1919
The banked, asphalt cycling track was ready for the first time at West Park for the 1919 BAC Carnival. And at a committee meeting on 11 September 1918 the club, after a lengthy discussion, made a quite momentus decision. Prize money for the three main running events – the Gift, Quarter-Mile and Mile were left the same as the previous year at £21, £13 and £15, a total of £49. But prize money for the first full cycling programme on the new track – the Burnie Wheelrace, New Year Hcp., Lightning Hcp. and Five-Mile Scratch – was set at £60, with the 2-mile Wheelrace carrying £30.
Six thousand people attended the two-day carnival and paid £291 at the gates. Of the 140 entries for the carnival, 36 were for the Wheelrace and 23 for the gift.
A. Newson (270 yds.) won the Wheelrace from P. C. Cleaver (225) and H. Westbrook (215) by a wheel in 4.25. Harold Millington (Hobart) won the New Year Hcp. and Cleaver, second in the Wheel, took the Lightning Hcp. The £11 5-mile Scratch, the first conducted at West Park, was won by Steve Barker from J.J. Mullins and R.N. Gardiner.
Hobart runner Les Vaughan clocked the fastest time in the history of the Burnie Gift to win off 13 yds. in 11 3/5. No other runner broke the 12 second barrier till Wally Lewis’ equalled Les Vaughan’s time in 1951.
Joe Thunder ran a magnificent race in the 1919 Mile to win off the back mark of 20 yds. in 4.26.
Through the 1920s
(i)Innovation and Consolidation
The decade of the 1920s was one of innovation and consolidation for the BAC and its carnival. It was the decade after World War 1 and before the Depression during which the carnival became firmly established as the premier event on the Tasmanian summer sporting calendar.
The club added new events to its programme and increased prize money for its feature races, the Gift and the Wheel, track cycling drew increasingly strong entries from Tasmania and the mainland and band contests reached their height of popularity. The club regularly trialled new events to gauge their acceptance with competitors and patrons and added new attractions, including fireworks, to its programme and assisted the Emu Bay Municipal Council in improving public amenities at West Park.
Under the presidencies of A. S. Rutter (1920-22), W. A. Pilbeam (1922-23), Tom Munn (1923-1924), Russell Harris (1924-27) and L. M Searle (1927-29) the club laid the foundations for a nationally recognised carnival and gradually developed the programme format that remains the basis of today’s carnival.
The BAC began the decade of the 1920s with two important innovations to its 1920 carnival. The Burnie Wheelrace was allocated substantially more prize money than the Gift - £39 compared with £25 – and band contests were reintroduced to the programme for the first time since the South Burnie carnivals. The band contests of 1920 were contested by the Burnie Brass, Gormanston, Scottsdale, Zeehan and Strahan bands.
The Advocate report of the 1920 carnival said, in part:
Twenty eight years ago the Burnie Athletic Club held its first picnic sports meeting at South Burnie. There was a gate of about £40. Yesterday the club held its annual carnival at West Park. There was an estimated attendance of 7000 people, a gate of £329, big cycling and running entries and a contest of five bands.
The President of the Latrobe Bicycle Race Club and one of the founders of the Latrobe Carnival, Mr J.T. Lucas, attended the 1920 Burnie New Year’s Day Carnival and congratulated the club on improvements to the ground, particularly the widening of the cycling and the quarter-mile running tracks.
Twenty-six starters contested the 1920 Burnie Gift with victory going to a former Waratah lad, Harold ‘Trigger’ Treweek, whose name became synonymous with Burnie carnivals in the ensuing years as a competitor, club official and for more than 20 years official starter for the Tasmanian Athletic League.
Running off 10 yds. into a strong headwind, Treweek clocked 13 secs. To defeat Reg Little (Devonport) 8½ yds. and the firm pre-race favourite, backmarker Wally Clements (Hobart) 5½ yds. by inches.
Treweek had joined the stable of Reg Pollard and had run for a couple of seasons to get a good mark. He had decided 1920 would be the year to run for a win, backed himself at the lucrative odds of 20-1 and bought himself cheaply in Calcutta. His return from betting the Calcutta far exceeded the first prize money of £18.
‘Trigger’ Treweek was also a star centreman for the Burnie Wanderers and when he moved to Melbourne played with Fitzroy in the VFL before sustaining facial injuries. Even though he lived in Victoria for 14 years he regularly returned to Burnie on New Year ’s Day for the carnival and in 1938 was appointed official running starter for the Tasmanian Athletic League, a position he filled for 20 years. Although it was widely believed his nickname ‘Trigger’ Treweek was derived from his years with the starting pistol he was known to his school mates at Waratah as ‘Trigger’ even before he came to Burnie.
Although he had been living in Hobart for some years he was made a life member of the BAC in 1982.
R.N. Gardner became the first Victorian – although certainly not the last – to win the Burnie Wheelrace in 1920 from Tasmanians A.E. Powell and E.A. Aram.
Only three from a field of 11 finished the gruelling Mile Hcp. with F.A. Smart (Wynyard) taking the £13 first prize money from J.W. Fisher (Burnie) and C.L. Daymon (Hobart).
Another young local sportsman who remained a key member of the BAC for the rest of his life, Stan Trebilco, won the 1921 Burnie Gift, for which prize money had been increased to £40, with £30 to the winner. The name of Stan Trebilco was well known to Coastal sports followers before he won his 1921 Burnie Gift win. He was a key player in the Ulverstone football team before and after World War 1, was appointed captain in 1923 and led the Robins to their fist NWFU premiership in that season. For the next three seasons he played with Carlton in VFL and returned to Tasmania to captain-coach Burnie in 1926 and took the Tigers to three consecutive premiership wins in 1927, ’28 and ’29.
But Stan Trebilco’s 1921 Burnie Gift win was one of his greatest personal sporting triumphs. Off 11 yds. he beat the odds-on Gift favourite H.L. Moss (Launceston) and A>A. Gillam (Burnie). The Advocate reported:
When interviewed immediately after the race the winner, S. Trebilco, was very modest about his splendid victory. Asked if he had fancied his chances before the event, Trebilco said he had felt sanguine all along.
A tailor by trade, Stan Trebilco became a successful North-West Coast businessman and later licensee of Burnie’s Central Hotel. He was elected a member of the BAC in 1930 and served two terms as Club President, 1949-52 and 1953-55 and was a BAC life member.
Launceston rider C. Brooks won the 1921 Burnie Wheelrace while the State’s top rier of the era, Harold Millington (Hobart) won the Commonwealth Championship Five-Mile Scratch Race.
The Burnie Band won the coveted and rich £100 Test Selection from Gormanston and Queenstown. The Burnie Band members of 1921 were: W.A Reid (conductor), A. Dennis, H Hind, F. Woodward, D. Talbot, W. Pitt, V. Hind, C. Hudson, F. Wallis, C. Butt, O.H Hind, F. Elliott, V. Clarke, T. Freeman, N. Howe, P. Clarke, E. Flint, S. Humphries, P. Tevelein and C. N. Southwell.
(ii)First Night Programme 1922
The installation of lights around the arena enabled the BAC to extend its programme into the evening for the first time at its 1922 Carnival. At its meeting on 10 December 1921 the club deputed its President A.S. Rutter and senior vice-president W.A. Pilbeam to meet the Emu Bay Council to request the provision of lighting around the arena. The council agreed and the events first held under lights on the 1922 evening programme were the five-Mile Scratch Race and Country Bands Own Choice Selection and other items from visiting bands.
Only 25 starters contested the 12 heats of the 1922 Burnie Gift, which meant that most had only two runners. Local runners C.V. ‘Tiny’ Newton (8 ½ yds.) and R. Goninion (10 yds.) dead-heated in the third semi-final and again dead-heated in a run-off. Both were put in the final but their three hard runs – heat, semi-final and run-off – had taken its toll and the first two placings in the final went to H. L. Moss (Launceston) from the 1919 Burnie Gift winner and backmarker off 6 yds., Les Vaughan. Neither gained a placing.
H.L. Moss (Launceston) won from the 1919 Gift winner, Les Vaughan. Newton finished third and Goninon fourth.
The Gift placings were reversed in the Quarter Mile with Vaughan taking first place ahead of Moss.
Twenty-six starters contested the four heats of the 1922 Burnie Wheel race with Launceston riders V.G. Prior and W.H. Tyson taking the first two placings narrowly ahead of Frank Kennedy (Fourth). Prior had also won the New Year Hcp. earlier in the programme.
Thirteen riders lined up for the first 5-Mile Scratch under lights with victory going to J. Atkins (NSW) from H.C. Millington (Hobart) and Cecil Walker (USA), the first international rider to compete at the Burnie Carnival.
The Test Selection Band Contest again carried the highest prize money of £100 on the 1923 programme and drew seven entries from Tasmania and Victoria. It was won by the Footscray Municipal Band with 132 Points from IXL (Hobart) 130 and the Burnie Brass Band, 120.
By 1923 the Burnie Carnival, still being staged over two days with the major Gift and Wheel events on New Year’s Day, had become firmly established as the major Tasmanian summer sporting attraction. Athletes and bands were crossing Bass Strait to compete and the town’s accommodation was fully booked out. In fact, one of the eight Tasmanian and Victorian bands entered for the country and B Grade championships had to withdraw because it could not obtain lodgings in the town. The TGR and EBR ran special trains for carnival patrons from Launceston and the West Coast on the main carnival day – a service that continued well into the 1940s.
Despite showers on both days 2000 patrons attended the first day and 8500 the second, with gate takings totally a record £762/15/6. The Advocate commented:
It is safe to say that had the weather been favourable the attendance (on New Year’s Day) would have been not far short of 10 000. But even handicapped by the unsatisfactory weather conditions, it can be claimed that this carnival is the most successful to date.
The Gift and Wheel were each worth £50 to the winners, with Hobart bank clerk and Cananore (TFL) footballer C.T. Bennett winning the Gift from Ulverstone’s R.A. (Bob) Gardiner.
Hobart rider H.C. Millington, classed as one of Tasmania’s top track cyclists of the time, took the Burnie Wheel race off 130 yards and the 5-mile Scratch at night. Millington had previously won minor events at Latrobe and Burnie in the years from 1914 but his 1923 Burnie Wheel was the biggest win of his career. He won the Burnie Wheel again five years later.
The £20 Mile Handicap was a race for stayers, with only the tree placed men finishing from a field of 25. All were hefty young athletes from the country, F.R. Barker (Stowport) winning from W.P. Collins (Riana) and F.A. Smart (Mt Hicks) in 4.26 4/5. Barker had earlier won the Quarter Mile.
(iii) 1924 Year of Records
The BAC Carnival of 1924 eclipsed all records. Prize money was a record £675 over two days – the highest of any carnival in Tasmania – with £75, £15 and £7 for the Gift placings. Entries were a record and, for the first time, the crowd exceeded 10 000 on New Year’s Day. Gate takings for the two days also topped the elusive £1000 for the first time - £1064 over the two days – a record which stood till 1939.
The Club also staged its first fireworks display in 1924 with £100 worth imported direct form China. The display continued for more than an hour from 8.30 p.m. and club officials were assisted with the display by members of Burnie’s Chinese community, mostly market gardeners living a few hundred yards from West Park. The Advocate commented:
Such a dazzling sight has never before been seen on the Coast.
The 1924 crowd was treated to some excellent racing with popular results. Twenty-year-old Burnie footballer F.J. Cartledge, who had moved from Circular Head to train under Reg Pollard, won the Gift from 10 ½ yds. from another local sprinter, C.V. ‘Tiny’ Newton.
The Wheel was a victory for popular Scottdale cyclist Max Dakers, who had been training at Devonport in A. Kilby’s stable. The Burnie Wheel completed a fine double for Dakers. He had won the Latrobe Wheel on Boxing Day. Ulverstone’s Lou Gardiner was only inches behind in second place and made amends by winning the Latrobe Wheel in the following season.
The BAC also elected its first life member in 1924, Burnie coach builder, Sam Bird. Mr Bird had been associated with the BAC and the carnival since 1893 and was regarded in his time as the ‘father of the carnival.’ He served in most executive committee positions including club secretary, president (1913-17) and had been carnival manager and treasurer for more than 20 years. During that time prize money had increased from £30 to £675. Although he resigned from those positions in 1924 when he was elected Warden of Burnie, Sam Bird remained an active committee member and club patron till his death in 1951.
The old South Burnie grandstand with seating for 300 people had been moved to West Park and re-erected for the 1925 carnival and bench seating had been built around the arena. West Park then had seating capacity for 5000 people.
E.R. (Ted) Terry, a young sprinter from the North-East farming district of Pyengana, won the gift from 25 starters. Off 11 yds., Terry won from M. Stuart (Hobart) and M. Campbell (Devonport).
Trained by his father, who had run second in the 1901 Burnie Gift, Ted Terry was Tasmanian amateur sprint champion during his student years at St Virgils College and at one combined public schools athletic carnival had won, in one day, the 100, 200, 440 and 880 yds., the mile and the 130 yds. hurdles.
Lou Gardiner came close to taking the Latrobe and Burnie Wheel race double at the 1925 carnival. He won the Latrobe Wheel on Boxing Day off 220 yds. and showed good form to win the Lightning Hcp. on the morning of the Burnie Carnival. Gardiner was highly fancied to take out the Wheel despite being re-handicapped to 180 yds., but was beaten into second place by 21-year-old Ellerslie rider C.R. Lette off 260 yds. Lette made a break at three laps to go and held his lead to win by six lengths.
But Lou Gardiner, one of the Coast’s top all-round athletes, was not finished with the Burnie Carnival. Soon after the 1925 season he gave away cycling to contest distance running and in 1929 won the Burnie Mile.
Melbourne professional Fred Keefe was brought to the 1925 carnival for the first exhibition of motor-paced cycling on the Burnie track. Paced by Alex Osborne on a 7 h.p. Raleigh sporting motorcycle, Keefe ‘developed amazing speeds’ and covered the mile in 1 min. 54 secs., beating the previous Tasmanian record by five seconds.
A record entry of 10 bands, including four from Victoria and NSW, competed in the 1926 carnival and strong fields contested the running and cycling events. Gate takings, however, were well down on the 1924 record at £656/18/ . The Latrobe Carnival also was poorly attended, with a gate of only £192.
Launceston cyclist Hedley Gunton (29) was the star of the 1926 carnival. Gunton, a wounded veteran of the 1914-18 War, was one of the State’s cycling idols and had previously won the Latrobe Wheel race in 1920 and two Scottsdale Wheel races.
Gunton combined with fellow backmarker, Launceston waterside worker Frank Smith to win the Burnie Wheel off 80 yds., the first backmarker to win the Wheel since its inception in 1917. It was also the first leg of a unique treble for Gunton, a PMG linesman, who again won the Burnie Wheel in 1931 and ’33 – a record that remained unequalled till Danny Clark’s three classic wins from scratch in the 1970s.
(iv) Opperman Rides at Burnie
One of Australia’s all-time cycling greats, Hubert Opperman, made his first Burnie appearance at the New Year’s Day Carnival of 1927. Opperman was Australian road champion from 1924 to 1929 and the year after his appearance at Burnie he first captained the Australian team in the Tour de France. In an exhibition motor-paced ride over three miles, Opperman broke the Australian record for the distance outside a velodrome on the Burnie asphalt track in 4.29 3/5.
The 1927 Gift placings were fought out by three Launceston runners with T.H. Edwards winning from E.J. Ride and R.C. Fulton. NSW rider C. Lindus won the wheel from a promising young local rider, Lew Brumby.
In the next season Brumby, also a classy footballer, beat Opperman in the Latrobe Wheel and from then on featured at Coastal carnivals well into the 1930s. His best win at Burnie was the 10-mile Scratch in 1930. After collecting 12 lap prizes he jumped the field at the bell and held off challenges from a classy field including Opperman and R. W. ‘Fatty’ Lamb.
A wiry little bushman from the Huon, Harry Fletcher, won the distance running double in 1927, the Half-Mile and the Mile. Thristy years later his son, Tony, was to make his mark on the Burnie sporting scene – but as a footballer, not a runner. Harry Fletcher, now 87 and still living at Huonville, has hardly missed a Burnie Carnival since his 1927 wins.
Burnie railway porter and former West Coast miner Len Bugg (20) won his first Burnie Gift in 1928 off 13 yds. in 12 2/5 secs. Bugg had moved from Tullah to Burnie to play football with the Tigers and local running trainer Reg Pollard soon recognised his potential as a sprinter. He had made the final of the 1927 Gift, won comfortably in 1928 and became the first runner in history of the Gift to notch consecutive wins when he improved his run to even time to win from 10 yds. in 12 secs. in 1929. Ian Probert equalled Bugg’s feat in 1963 and ’64.
Len Bugg very nearly scored the Burnie Gift hat-trick when he ran second to Deloraine schoolmaster E.P. Fleming in 1930. Off 7 yds. Bugg had in fact passed Fleming (11 ½ yds.) at the halfway mark but fell behind by inches when he tried to slow his breathing on the run to the tapes.
Harold Millington, the solidly-built Hobart cabinet maker who later established the firm of Funeral Directors still operating in Hobart, won his second Burnie Wheel race in 1928 and retired from racing soon afterwards.
Surviving the 1930s
(i) Depression Hits Carnival
The Burnie Athletic Club and its carnival did not entirely escape the effects of Australia’s worst economic Depression in the early 1930s. Gate receipts were down, prize money had to be slashed, fewer mainland competitors were able to travel to Tasmania and the BAC could not afford to continue a number of the special attractions introduced in the 1920s. Nonetheless, the carnival survived.
Burnie saddler Stan Gill became club president in 1931 and although the Depression cloud had begun to cast its shadow in that year, the carnival was not initially affected. Prize money for both the Gift and Wheel had been lowered to £45, but entries for the 1931 carnival were a record – 201 cyclists, 142 runners, 78 axemen and seven bands.
Nineteen-year-old Launceston sprinter C.G. Billing, formerly of Circular Head, won the 1931 Burnie Gift off 11 ½ yds., holding off a brilliant run by the previous winner E. P Fleming off 5 yds. Fleming’s trainer, Alf Fitzallen, maintained years later the 1931 effort was the best he had seen on the Burnie tack. Fleming broke in the final and was penalised a yard and was then swung off balance when he hit a peg halfway down the track, yet he managed to finish within inches of the winner.
Hedley Gunton got the second leg of his Burnie Wheel treble when he won in 1931 off 170 yds., compared with his 80 yds. handicap in 1926. That was Gunton’s last ride from a front mark. His next Burnie wheel win two years later was off 95 yds.
Patrons of the 1931 carnival also saw a rising star in Tasmanian cycling, Keith Oliver (St Marys), earn a national reputation when he won both the 10-mile and 5-mile scratch races, defeating world class riders like Opperman, R.W. ‘Fatty’ Lamb visiting French champions Joseph Mauclair and Jean Bidot. Oliver’s reputation soon spread beyond Tasmania and when he entered for the Melbourne-Warrnambool road race the following year the Victorian handicapper had him back on scratch.
The Depression took its toll on the New Year’s Day carnival of 1932. It was reduced from two days to one, the Gift and Wheel were each reduced to £35 for winners, the band contests were cancelled through lack of entries and gate takings were down to £481, less than half the 1924 record. The Advocate commented:
Ever since its establishment 35 years ago, the carnival has been the big annual event for thousands, and the members of the club have always striven to make each programme more attractive than its predecessor. This year, however, the club, like many other organisations, was compelled, owing to the economic depression and the need for general economy, to curtail expenditure, and consequently the customary advance in prize money was not made. The carnival was also confined to a one-day fixture – and incidentally it was the largest ever staged by the club in one day - but this proved no drawback.
Young Penguin athlete Alan Thorne, having his first season as a runner, took the coastal carnival double when he won the Burnie Gift after winning the Latrobe Gift on Boxing Day. Thorne (22) was teaching at the South Nietta Primary School at the time and Penguin trainer Charlie Hales took a job hoeing potatoes in the district so he could prepare Thorne for the Latrobe and Burnie carnivals.
A promising future was predicted for the young sprinter after his Burnie and Latrobe double but it was his first and last season. He gave the sport away to concentrate on his teaching career.
Alan Thorne returned to Burnie in 1956 as headmaster of the Burnie Primary School and again became involved with the New Year’s Day carnival as an official and running judge.
Victorian Arch Ploog off 200 yds. just edged out young Burnie rider Bern Fidler (225 yds.) to take the 1932 Burnie Wheel. A win in the Wheel would have made the treble for Fidler who had won the Lightning and District Handicap events. Bern Fidler retained a lifelong interest in the BAC and New Year’s Day Carnvial as a committeeman and official. He was club president from 1955 to 1958.
Women cyclists made their first appearance on the Burnie track in 1932. Eleven started in a Mile Handicap won by Miss Peg Allison (Latrobe) from Victorian scratch rider Miss. M. Lane and outmarker Miss G. Halfhide (Wivenhoe).Peg Allison later married Tasmania’s top cyclist, E.G. Moore, of Eugenana.
The 1932 carnival also saw the first use of public address amplifiers at West Park with Launceston cycling personality J.E. (Dick) Edwards on the microphone announcing race results.
(ii) Tim Banner 1933 Drawcard
Australian sprint champion Tim Banner was the big drawcard for the 1933 Burnie Carnival which was again run over two days. Banner did not disappoint the crowd. On the first day he ran the 220 yds. off four yards in 21 4/5 secs. (two yards outside evens) into a head wind to win comfortably. On New Year’s Day, Banner won through to the final of the Gift running his semi-final in 12 3/5 secs. off two yards, regarded by some as the best run ever witnessed on the Burnie Sheffield track.
But the champion encountered Tasmania’s top sprinter, Reg Mahony (Hobart) at his best in the final. Mahony ran superbly to win off 11 ½ yds., inches in front of L.W. Kelly (Launceston) and Banner.
In fact, Mahony had a brilliant day. He won the Gift, the Quarter and surprised officials and spectators by beating Banner in the invitation 75-yard sprint, particularly after hard runs in his heat, semi and final of the Gift and the Quarter. Mahony ran second to Banner in the invitation 100 and 130 yds. invitation sprints. Between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. he had raced over 2015 yds. covering the Gift distance four times, the 220 and 440 twice and the 100 and 75 once. It was a unique record.
Veteran Hedley Gunton had his final and perhaps greatest triumph on the cycling track in 1933 winning his third Burnie Wheelrace from up-and-coming coastal rider E.G. ‘Eccy’ Moore. After retiring from professional cycling Hedley Gunton, one of the toughest riders of his time, took on a sport far removed from the speed, thrills and spills of the cycling track. He became interested in the genteel game of croquet and was the only male member of the first Tasmanian team to compete in the national croquet championships in 1952.
The 1933 New Year’s Day carnival was opened by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, the only Tasmanian ever elected to the office. But Joe Lyons, of Devonport, was no stranger to the Burnie Carnival. He had regularly watched the New Year’s Day programme for years and had opened the carnival on a number of occasions in his previous offices of Tasmanian Premier and Cabinet Minister.
In fact, he was an old Burnie Carnival runner in the South Burnie days. As a young student teacher Joe Lyons had won the 100-yard sprint on the South Burnie ground in 1900 and had competed in the 130-yard Sheffield Hcp., although not with success, in the same year.
To keep pace with the times the BAC had the electronic ‘magic’ of the time, a wireless set, installed on the ground for the 1933 carnival so that patrons could be given progress scores in the Australia v England Test in Melbourne. That was the day Don Bradman scored 103 of Australia’s 191 runs.
(iii) ‘Night Turned Into Day 1934
The BAC staged its most successful day and night programme on 1 January 1934 and from that year the Burnie New Year’s Day Carnival became a full day and night programme. The success of the night programme was due almost entirely to a new lighting system installed around the arena which, as The Advocate reported, ‘turned night into day.
A unique lighting system, embracing 48 lights aggregating 28 000 candle-power – the first of its kind in Tasmania – turned night into day at West Park last night, for the evening section of the programme staged by the Burnie Athletic Club. Without doubt it was the most successful night programme yet staged by the club, and should lead to big developments in the future.
The lights were switched on at 8pm by Burnie Warden J.R. Hilder and for the next two hours the night crowd of 2000 had its best view ever of the night events, including the Mile Hcp. and the 10-mile Scratch. The West Park Oval is now illuminated for night sports by four banks of floodlights with a total load of 120 kilowatts.
Burnie surveyor and later politician J.R. Fidler had been elected to his first term as BAC president for the 1934 carnival and he and his committee were well satisfied with the carnival. Some 67 events were staged between 10.15 am and 9.45 pm and gate receipts were up £60 on the 1933 two-day carnival – a significant amount at a time the community was still recovering from the effects of the worst economic Depression in Australia’s history.
Hobart sprinter Laurie Lobdale, fullback for Newtown under Roy Cazaly in the TFL, won the 1934 Gift off 11 ½ yds. Lobdale, a 25-year-old chocolate maker at Cadburys, had won a number of smaller Gifts and quarter-miles in the South during the early 1930s and had been encouraged by Reg Mahony to enter for Burnie. Lobdale was trained by Pat Probert who, 30 years later, trained his son Ian Probert for two successive Burnie Gift wins in 1963 and ’64.
E.P. Moore, of Eugenan, had a clear win in the 1934 Burnie Wheel – but it wasn’t ‘Eccy’ Moore, who had been second in the 1933 Burnie Wheel and also second in the Latrobe Wheel races of 1933 and 1934.
The Moore who won the 1934 Burnie Wheel race from H. Woolrich and V.L. ‘Baggy’ Redpath was 24-year-old E.P. (Ted) Moore, the older brother of ‘Eccy’. It was the beginning of a good sporting year for Ted Moore. He also dominated the centre for Devonport in its 1934 NWFU premiership win. Now 76 years of age, Ted Moore has retained a lifelong interest in cycling and is a senior committee member of the Latrobe Bicycle Race Club.
Two of Tasmania’s best-ever distance runners, Eric Haydon (Ulverstone) and Mick Goss (Bishopsbourne), fought out the Mile under the new lights with Haydon (118yds.) winning by four yards from Goss (125 yds.) in 4.143/5. The places were reversed the following year but Haydon won the 1936 Mile while Goss was first through the tape again in 1940 and ’45.
The BAC brought the first of its one-man novelty attractions to the 1934 carnival – escapologist ‘Dare-Devil’ Dave Stirling. Stirlings’s act was to escape from a straight jacket hanging by the heels 50 ft. above ground. He performed in the afternoon and again under lights at night when, according to The Advocate
…his act was even more thrilling. While suspended in the same position as in the afternoon, the ropes supporting him to the scaffolding were set alight and running a big risk, he set about the task of extracting himself before the flames consumed the ropes and let him down. He did this with apparent coolness and efficiency and, judging by the applause of the crowd, everyone present appreciated the performance.
Another innovation at the 1934 carnival was the beginning of the public address race descriptions, as distinct from the formal announcement of results, originating the functions today’s well known Burnie Carnival commentators ‘Paddy’ Martin and ‘Tiger’ Dowling. The Advocate commented:
A feature of the carnival was the running broadcast of events by Messrs Henry Miller (cycling) and Lou Gardiner (pedestrian). The race descriptions of the various contests were greatly appreciated by the crowd.
Henry Miller, a cyclist in the early 1930s and a key figure in the newly-formed Burnie Cycling Club, was a clerk with the Burnie Marine Board and later its secretary for a record 33 years till his retirement in 1975.
(iv) The 50th Jubilee Carnival 1935
The BAC celebrated its 50th Jubilee Carnival in 1935, although this was two years prior to the actual 50th anniversary of the formation of the club. The carnival was opened by the Governor, Sir Ernest Clark, and 7000 patrons paid £688 to attend the day and night programme.
Big names on the running programme included Tim Banner, world sprint champion Austin Robertson and British sprint champion W. MacFarlane. Star cyclists included French and Italian aces Paul Choque and Nino Borsari, Australian sprint champion Jack Fitzgerald and Australian Centenary Derby winner Dean Toseland.
Neither of the internationals had experience in handicap racing and failed to win an event and were also beaten in special invitation races by the Australian Fitzgerald and Toseland.
Austin Robertson set a new Tasmanian 130-yard record of 12 5/10 secs., only 1/5 sec. outside his Australian record, and Tim Banner retained his 220-yard Australian sprint title, beating MacFarlane and Robertson.
Young Launceston runner and NTFA footballer Trevor McMahon started firm favourite for the Gift after winning the Latrobe sprint on Boxing Day. He won the Gift comfortably from stablemate C.G. Billing.
An electric judging machine invented by D. Eastburn (Launceston) was used for the Gift for the first time in 1935 at a hiring cost of £5 but it certainly wasn’t needed in the final. McMahon’s winning margin of two yards was the clearest for years. One of Trevor McMahon’s sons, Neal, won the 1979 Stawell Gift.
Star of the cycling track in the 1935 carnival was an 18-year-old Launceston rider whose name was subsequently to become synonymous with professional cycling in Tasmania, both as a rider and later League of Tasmanian Wheelmen handicapper and referee. Viv Green, who had been Tasmanian junior champion at 16, under-18 champion and junior 100-mile champion in 1934 had already won the Irishtown and Ulverstone Wheelraces. In the 1935 season he took Ulverstone, Sheffield and Burnie Wheelraces, winning at Burnie from a star-studded field.
Riding off 240 yds., Green and the front markers set a sizzling pace early in the race to burn off the backmarkers. At the bell lap Green sprinted ahead of J.T. Wescombe (Latrobe) and V.L. Redpath to win in 4.6 3/5.
Viv Green continued riding on the track and road, winning the Tasmanian 50-mile title in 1939, till he joined the AIF in 1940. In 1950 he was appointed LTW referee and handicapper and held those positions till his death in 1966. As referee he was tough but fair. At the 1955 Burnie Carnival he fined all riders in the 5-mile A Grade scratch for poor riding and at the Latrobe and Devonport carnivals in the early 1950s disqualified the entire field for the same reason.
Bishopsbourne farmer Mick Goss won the first of his three New Year’s Day Miles at the 1935 carnival. Goss started off 115 yds. and set a new race record of 4.13 4/10. Five years later Goss scored the Burnie Mile double and in 1945 the treble with a magnificent run from 11 yds. In the meantime Goss had won national recognition as a distance runner by winning the Mile and the two-mile Grampian Stakes at Stawell in 1939, setting a new track record for the two-mile event of 9.3 4/5 off 120 yds. Again in 1941 at Stawell, Goss, running from scratch, set a new world record for two miles when he ran fourth in the Grampian Stakes off scratch in 9.11 1/10.
During his long running career Mick Goss, now aged 72 and still farming at Bishopsbourne, won 18 mile handicaps – a record unequalled by a Tasmanian distance runner.
As an added attraction the club arranged with the Queenstown Whippet Club to bring dogs to the 1935 carnival for exhibition races. West Coast politician and a keen whippet racer Tom D’Alton, Chief Secretary of A.G. Ogilvie’s Ministry at the time, made the arrangements and endeavoured to create sufficient interest in whippet racing for the sport to be reintroduced to Burnie. The Advocate reported that:
A highlight of the programme was a match race between C.G. Billling, a previous (1931) Gift winner, and Rum ‘Un, acknowledged as the fastest whippet in the State. The dog conceded Billing 40 yds. (over the 130 yds. event) and in one of the best finals of the day, the dog prevailed by inches. The time was 87 2/5 secs.
Although the exhibition races were appreciated by the New Year’s Day Carnival patrons of 1935, the sport did not take on at Burnie.
Patrons paid a one-day record of £792 to watch the 1936 carnival and gate charges were 1/6 for adults and 9d. for children for the day programme and 1/-adults and 6d. for children at night. They saw Liffey sprinter B.A. Page, trained by Alf Fitzallen, win the Gift in 11 4/5 secs., the only time the 12 sec. barrier had been broken since Les Vaughan’s win in 1919. On Boxing Day Page had dead-heated with Trevor McMahon in the Latrobe Gift after winning the 75-yard sprint.
‘Eccy’ Moore was the star of the cycling programme. He won the District Hcp. from 10 yds. behind scratch and both the 5-mile and 10-mile scratch races. Viv Green, who had won the Ulverstone and Sheffield wheel races, took the New Year Hcp.
The whippets were back for the 1936 carnival with the 120-yard Burnie Cup carrying £50 in prize money – equal to the Gift and Wheel. More than 50 dogs were entered and the event was won by Flying Aspro, raced by Harry Nankivell, one of a well known Queenstown family, from First Rate raced by F.J. Slater (Penguin) and Radio, entered by Miss V. Sheehan (Burnie). The hurdle was won by Rare Charm, raced by well known Burnie bookmaker Frank Bahen.
But the running of 32 whippet events threw the well precisioned timing of the night carnival into chaos. The last race was not staged till the early hours of the following morning.
It was the last time whippet races were held as part of the New Year’s Day programme. BAC officials decided runners and cyclists were far easier to handle.
For the only time in its 100-year history the BAC saw its carnival washed out on Friday, 1 January 1937. Heavy rains overnight continued into the morning and club officials cancelled the programme about 10 a.m.
Under normal circumstances the club would merely have postponed its carnival till the following day, Saturday, but 1937 was not a normal year on the North-West Coast holiday sporting calendar. The Devonport Council had spent £3000 during the year developing the Devonport Oval and the town’s first big cycling, running and chopping carnival was organised for January 2. With most of the New Year’s Day competitors also entered for the Devonport carnival, postponement was not possible and the carnival had to be cancelled.
The BAC had total liabilities of £400 for the 1937 carnival but it had a reserve fund of £288, was owner £234 by the Burnie Council and collected £200 rain insurance. The 1937 setback by no means bankrupted the BAC but the committee prudently decided that the reserve fund should be increased from the profits of future carnivals. Until 1938 the whole of the carnival profit, in additions to ground rental at 20% of gate takings, had been paid to the Burnie Council for the maintenance and improvement of West Park.
By 1938 the three main present carnivals on the Coastal Christmas-New Year season had become established – Burnie, Latrobe and Devonport. Latrobe had the richest wheel race of £100 with the Gift worth £35, while the BAC offered £70 for both the Gift and Wheel. The Devonport Wheel carried £52 and the Gift £33.
The outbreak of ‘infantile paralysis’ had closed all schools in the summer of 1938 and children under 17 were not permitted to attend the Burnie Carnival. They solved the problem – as others had before and have since – by congregating on the appropriately name Scotsman’s Hill overlooking West Park.
Gift entries were down to 19 runners. Each heat winner went directly into the final with second placegetters competing in a semi-final. Dudley Saltmarsh (Launceston) won the Gift, running 11 4/5 secs. in both his heat and the final. He was from the Alf Fitzallen stable and gave the Launceston trainer the second of his five Burnie Gift winners – B.A. Page (1936), D.W. Saltmarsh (1938), W.A. Mills (1939), G.V. Lewis (1941) and W.P. Lewis (1951). Fitzallen trained no fewer than 14 Burnie Gift finalists between 1934 and the late 1950s.
A relatively unknown baker from Deloraine, 21-year-old Trevor Woodberry, defeated a class field including Mick Goss and Eric Haydon in the 1938 Mile Hcp. Woodberry had been competing in Tasmanian carnivals for several seasons without much success but became a prospect for the Burnie Mile by winning the Quarter Mile and Mile at Latrobe a few days earlier. Re-handicapped from 130 yds. to 114 yds., Woodberry stayed well placed from the bell and was running fourth behind Bob Goninon (Burnie) 125 yds., R.R. Butler (Rosebery) 120 yds. and backmarker Haydon, who had put in a powerful three laps from 90 yds. to close the gap on the leaders to 30 yds. for the final lap.
But the hard run had taken its toll on the Ulverstone champion Haydon and he finished out of a place behind Woodberry, Goninon and Butler.
Nor was 1938 Trevor Woodberry’s only Burnie Mile victory. He won again the following year off 90 yds. to beat Mick Goss of the same handicap and was first through the tape again in 1941 off 75 yds. – the only runner with Goss and Harold Downes in 1960s to win three Burnie Miles.
The BAC had spent £600 on reconstruction and resurfacing of the cycling track for the 1938 carnival and it received high praise from local and inter-state riders.
Queensland cyclist Eric Rodger celebrated his 20th birthday with a win in the Burnie Wheel in a race record time of 4.6 1/5. Rodgers’ father, Eric, who had been second in the Burnie Wheel in 1920, also competed in the 1938 Wheel.
Veteran South Australian scratchman Bill Moritz took the 5-mile and 10-mile Scratch races and ‘Eccy’ Moore again won the District Hcp. from 10 yds. behind scratch.
Another innovation for the 1938 Burnie Carnival was the provision of a first aid station. The Advocate reported:
An innovation was the fitting up of a dressing station by Dr C.H. Martin, the carnival medical officer, and a trained nurse was in attendance to render first aid. This was appreciated by the riders.
The services of Mr Tom Scott, of Queenstown, a former president of the club, and for many years an official starter, were enlisted in connection with the station, his first aid knowledge being helpful. Mr Scott, who is ambulance officer of the Queenstown No. 1 St John Ambulance Brigade, said that Burnie’s lead in establishing the station should be followed by other sporting clubs.
Band contests were reintroduced for the 1938 carnival but only three entered – Burnie, Devonport and Ulverstone. It was the beginning of the end of New Year’s Day band contests.
(v) War Clouds Gather 1939
Prime Minister Joseph Lyons was back to officially open the record 1939 Burnie Carnival which saw the biggest crowd since 1924. The day attendance was 11 000 and 5000 at night and the gate was a record £1122. Burnie auctioneer J.C. Leary, club president in that year, and his committee were delighted at the carnival’s success.
Tracing the growth of the carnival The Advocate reported:
An idea of the growth of the Burnie Carnival can be gauged by the fact that gate takings in 1902 were only £93; yesterday they were £1122. In 1908 takings were £219, in 1912 £316, in 1921 £452 and in 1924, when a two-day carnival was held, £1046. The total gate takings since the inception of the carnival are £18 474.
Prime Minister Lyons said in his official opening that the nation was thankful that the 1938 cloud of infantile paralysis had dispersed. He added:
Let us hope that the clouds which hang over the world today will be dispersed during this year.
The Prime Minister’s wish was not to be realised. It was, in fact, one of his last public speeches in Tasmania. Joe Lyons died of a heart attack in Sydney on 8 April 1939, 12 weeks after the Burnie Carnival. In September of the same year Australia was plunged into World War 2.
The Fitzallen stable again took the Burnie Gift when W. Mills broke the tape ahead of R. Jordan and Queenslander E. Easton won the Wheelrace off 170 yds. Scratchman Keith Thurgood had got to the front at the furlong but made his move too early after a gruelling two miles. Easton flashed past him on the line to win by inches.
World acclaimed professional strongman Don Athaldo, who was to have demonstrated his feats of strength at the washed out 1937 carnival, was brought back to Burnie by the BAC in 1939 and many people still remember his appearances at West Park.
In the afternoon he carried a horse, said to have weighed 900lb. (408 kg.), up a 14 ft. ladder and down again. At night, with a draught horse harnessed to each arm, ‘he resisted their combined pull, despite the fact that the crowd had made the horses fractious.’ Don Athaldo got the ovation of the crowd – and two badly bruised arms.
As a finale Athaldo, lying on his back, supported six bandsmen on a plank with his hands and feet while they played a tune.
The War Years
(i)Ray Patmore’s Gift 1940
Despite the worsening news of the war in Europe – or perhaps as a relief from it – Tasmanians travelled to Burnie in their thousands for the 1940 New Year’s Day Carnival. More than 15 000 people watched a programme of 84 events carrying prize money of £400. The Gift and Wheel each carried £100 in prize money.
Fifty runners had entered for the 1940 Gift, the biggest entry for years, and State sprint champion Percy Fry (Launceston) was firm favourite. But a slightly-built, fair-haired Hobart clerk who was to become a favourite with Tasmanian running followers, A. R. (Ray) Patmore best Fry by a yard in the final.
Patmore, nicknamed the ‘Pocket Hercules’ of Tasmanian running, was one of the neatest sprinters Tasmania has produced and won Gifts and sprints at most Tasmanian carnivals and several mainland Gifts, including Brunswick, Benalla and Colac between 1937 and 1946. Patmore was firm favourite for the 1941 Stawell Gift but broke down after winning the Brunswick Gift a few weeks earlier and did not run again for three years.
Patmore had begun running professionally in 1937 with a fellow HEC office worker and former distance runner, Jack Propsting, as his trainer. He was the first runner of the Propsting stable, although certainly not last. Patmore had a few wins, including the 1939 Latrobe Sprint, in his build-up for the 1940 Burnie Gift and his victory over the bigger and stronger Percy Fry, both off 12 yds., was never in doubt from the crack of starter H.J. Treweek’s pistol.
Ray Patmore is still a familiar figure at West Park each New Year’s Carnival, now training his own stable of Hobart runners.
Jack Propsting trainer
And Jack Propsting, 78 years of age and living in retirement near Burnie, is still training runners. In the years that followed Ray Patmore’s Burnie Gift win Jack Propsting became one of Tasmania’s most successful trainers and masseurs with a string of winners over sprint and distance events both in this State and on the mainland, training Tasmanian runners and preparing mainland competitors for their races at the major North-West Coast carnivals. His Burnie Gift winners included Jim Medwin (1944), Roy O’Toole (1952), Gerard Thompson (1975), Kevin Portch (1976) and Gary Westcombe (1984). He also prepared Harold Downes for his record three consecutive Tasmanian Mile wins at Burnie in the mid-1960s. In all Jack Propsting, a committee member of the BAC since moving to Burnie in 1963, has trained 16 Gift and distance winners at carnivals in Tasmania, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
The other classic win on the running programme of 1940 was again the farmer from Bishopsbourne, Mick Goss, in the Tasmanian Mile. After his 1935 Burnie win and the Stawell 2-mile in the 1939 season, Goss was back on 60 yds. but ran the mile in a record 4.13 2/5 to beat his old rival, Eric Haydon, by 12 yards. Most Burnie Carnival patrons probably thought they had seen Mick Goss at his best in the 1940 win, but a still better run was to come on the same track five years later.
The 1940 Burnie Wheel was a Tasmanian win against a strong contingent of riders entered from all mainland states and New Zealand. E.G. Hadley (Longford) held on to win off 160 yds. from Queensland E.R. Price.
Bill Moritz was still star of the scratch races, taking both the 5-mile and 10-mile from the cram of Australian track riders.
All profits from the 1941 New Year’s Day Carnival, which had a record gate of £1168, were donated to patriotic funds. After meeting all costs of the carnival, including £156 rent to the Burnie Council, the BAC had £480 to spare which was divided between the Red Cross, Comforts Fund and King George’s Fund for Sailors.
The new change room for cyclists was used for the first time during the 1941 carnival. It had been built by the Burnie Council at a cost of £600.
For the first time in 12 years a local rider, Yolla farmer Jack Smith, won the Burnie Wheel race. A strong Victorian combination had dominated the Coastal carnival cycling in 1941. The Victorians had teamed up to give the Tasmanians, including Jack Smith, a hard time in the Latrobe Wheel to take the first three placings with their young star Max Rowley the winner. Jack Smith had been upended in his Latrobe Wheelrace heat by a Victorian. Rowley also was set by his teammates to win the Burnie Wheel.
But young Jack Smith (250 yds.), who had been riding for two seasons with only minor wins in club track and road events, and a three other North-West Coast front markers, Roy Nicholls and Roly Gray (Burnie) and Vic Rouse (Sheffield) made the final. Burnie Cycling Club secretary Henry Miller hot them together before the final and convinced the locals that their only hope of getting at least one up against the well organised Victorian backies was to use their brains, as well as their muscles. So the local four teamed up to make the pace a cracker from the start. The hard riding took its toll on Nicholls and Prouse but with only two laps to go Smith and his Burnie Cycling Club clubmate Roly Gray were well clear of the main bunch. Gray withdrew with a lap and a half to go leaving Smith to hold his lone lead on the main bunch, including Max Rowley.
Sensing a long overdue local win the partisan crowd roared its support as Smith pedalled alone for the last lap to win by 30 yds. from Rowley and two other Victorians, A.R. Priestley and H. Kruger.
Soon after his 1941 Burnie Wheel win Jack Smith joined the AIF and did not race again. However, the now retired 71-year-old Yolla farmer hasn’t missed a Burnie Carnival since the War.
Flamboyant Victorian sprinting ace Billy Guyatt scored the first of his Burnie Carnival scratch race wins in 1941, taking both the 5-mile and 10-mile events.
The fourth of Launceston trainer Alf Fitzallen’s five Burnie Gift winners, 21-year-old G.V. Lewis, took the 1941 Gift – the fourth win in five years for the Fitzallen stable.
In the dressing shed after the win Lewis’ kid brother, Wally, told Fitzallen: ‘If George can win the Burnie Gift, so can I.’ Young Wally Lewis, still in his early teens, joined the Fitzallen stable and 10 years later emulated his brother’s win.
Noel Tevelein, who had won the Latrobe and Irishtown Gifts leading up to the Burnie Carnival, was the local hope for the Gift but his could manage only fourth.
(ii) Carnival Cancelled 1942/1943
The BAC had framed a programme for a 1942 programme and accepted entries. At a special committee meeting on 20 December 1941, however, Club President Jack Fidler reported on discussions held by the BAC and other Coastal clubs with the Premier Robert Cosgrave and on the motion of J.C. Leary it was decided to cancel the carnival. All entry fees were refunded and the club, along with the Latrobe Bicycle Race Club, met financial obligations to inter-state riders who had already travelled to Tasmania for the carnival series.
A smaller programme of cycling and running events was staged by the Burnie Cycling Club at West Park on New Year’s Day but in 1943 there was no carnival at Burnie or any other North-West centre.
At the BAC annual meeting on 29 July 1943 it was decided to conduct a modified 5 ½ -hour afternoon programme for New Year’s Day, 1944, with only three pedestrian and four cycling events. Prize money for the Gift and Wheel were reduced to £40 and £50 respectively.
But that did not deter 8000 patrons attending the carnival and contributing generously to various games of chance conducted by local service organisations to raise money for patriotic funds. The honour of opening the carnival was given to veteran club member Sam Bird, celebrating his 50th year as a club committeeman. And the 1944 carnival, despite the absence of mainland competitors, saw some excellent racing and the first win for the junior Burnie cyclist who was to become one of Australia’s best in the 1940s and ‘50s and a successful rider on the European circuit.
Seventeen-year-old Graeme French, perhaps the most stylish and consistent rider ever to come from the ranks of the Burnie Cycling Club, won his first important event when he took the 1944 Burnie Wheel race off 195 yards from scratchmen Lionel Cobbing (Cooee) and S.J. Kinnane (Launceston). The scratch bunch was up at three laps to go but French, who had won the New Year Hcp. earlier in the programme, out-sprinted Tasmania’s best in the final furlong to win the Wheel easily.
French was trained by Burnie’s most successful cycling mentor of the 1930s and ‘40s, Allan Sutton, whose stable also had included Lew Brumby, Bern Fidler and Alex Osborne. Soon afterwards Graeme French turned fulltime professional and won more than 25 Scratch races in succession on the old Essendon board track before riding motor-paced events on the European circuit.
Lionel Cobbing won the only other cycling event on the 1944 programme, the 5-Mile Scratch.
Twenty-two-year old draftsman Jim Medwin, who had moved from Burnie to Hobart a few years earlier, came back to win the 1944 Burnie Gift. Medwin had joined Jack Propsting’s stable in Hobart and trained with Ray Patmore to reach his peak for the Burnie Gift. Off 11 yds. he led from the start to break the tape in the smart time of 11 4/5.
A modified afternoon programme was also framed for the 1945 Burnie Carnival by the Gift and Wheel prizemoney had each gone up to £100.
The mainland riders were back and they dominated the cycling events with Tom Barron (Victoria) winning the Wheel from South Australian Jack Conyers.
Campbell Town mechanic Ray Geary (23), who had been discharged from the Army a few months earlier, took the 1945 Burnie Gift – and was to figure in a number of Gift finals in the ensuing years.
Geary had been ‘discovered’ by an old sprint trainer, Norm Saltmarsh, in 1939 running at a Midlands picnic meeting as a 17-year-old and was taken into the Fitzallen stable. He unsuccessfully contested two Burnie Gifts before joining the AIF and was trained by his father-in-law, former Burnie businessman and Campbell Town hotelier Bob Ryan, for his successful 1945 assault on the Gift.
A powerful runner over sprint and middle distances, Geary won a number of other Tasmanian races and was State sprint champion in 1949. He made the final of the Burnie Gift again in 1946 and ’48, finishing a close second on both occasions.
Ray Geary moved to Burnie in 1950 and continued running till he broke down in the 1951 Burnie Gift. He has remained actively involved with the BAC and the carnival. Thirty-seven years after his Burnie Gift win he watched his son, Michael Geary, win the event in 1982.
And another highlight of the 1945 programme was veteran Mick Goss’ third and last win in the Tasmanian Mile. Off the back mark of 11 yds., Goss won by about 20 yds. from C.W. jones (Sheffield) in 4.24.
(iii) Back to Normal 1946
The Burnie New Year’s Day Carnival was back to normal for 1946 with a full 12-hour programme. Advertised as the ‘Great Victory Carnival’ it attracted more than 12 000 patrons who paid a record £1886 at the gates.
Two new events, the Mile New Year Hcp. and the 220-yard Hcp. were added to the programme.
An ex-Burnie boy David Hobbs (Melbourne), the son of Methodist clergyman, became probably the youngest runner ever to win the Burnie Gift. He had only just turned 17.
Still a student at Wesley College, the 1946 Burnie Gift was Hobbs’ first professional race and he held his lead in the final to beat Ray Geary and Kevin Iles (Thirlstane). Hobbs continued to run successfully in Victoria and seven years after his Burnie Gift win he ran a sensational 4 ½ yds. inside evens to win the Bendigo Thousand.
Burnie cycle mechanic George Nickels hung on to win the Burnie Wheel in a tight finish from Victorian Max Rowley but another of the Victorian contingent, Ted Easton, winner of the 1939 Burnie Wheel, dominated the 1946 scratch races taking the 5-mile, 10-mile and invitation events.
Local runner Laurie Snooks had a popular win in the Tasmanian Mile to narrowly beat veteran Eric Haydon.
Burnie bank manager A.W. Tanner, BAC president from 1945, had the satisfaction of seeing gate takings, for the first time, top £2000 in his last year as president in 1947 – another milestone in the club’s history.
West Coast patrons, traditionally strong supporters of the New Year’s Day Carnival despite the long train journey from the mining centres, were well satisfied with the result of the 1947 Burnie Gift, won by 19-year-old WTFA footballer and Queenstown sprinter, Des Burton. Two years earlier Burton had won the Queenstown Gift and sprint on the gravel track and his trainer, H.J. Barwick, set him for the 1947 Burnie Gift. Off 13 yds. he won his heat and semi-final comfortably and won firm favourite for the final, which saw some solid betting by the West Coast sporting fraternity. They collected when Burton broke the tape 2 yds. clear of B.R. Jones (Latrobe) and L.F. Foster (Hobart).
Club secretary of 1947, Burnie real estate agent C. B. Guest, took time off from his official duties to watch his son, John, win the 100 yds. and 440 yd. schoolboy events. Ten years later Charlie Guest was the proudest man at the carnival when John won the Gift in 1957.
Cooee cyclist Roy Blizzard, trained by Elv von Bibra, beat Victorians M.J. Jones and R.J. Reynolds by a length in the 1947 Burnie Wheel and Graeme French beat Australia’s best in the 5-mile A Grade Scratch. It was his last appearance as a Burnie-based rider. By the following year he was a fulltime professional racing under contract at the Melbourne Velodrome.
Former Bac President J.R. Fidler opened the 1948 New Year’s Day Carnival in his new capacity as a House of Assembly Member for Darwin (now Braddon). He had been elected as a Liberal Party member in 1946. Jack Fidler was introduced by new BAC President, Len Harris, the 1912 Gift winner and the third member of the Harris family to be elected club president.
Cooee baker Gerry Hugo, off 285 yds., another rider of Elv von Bibra’s stable, won the 1947 Wheelrace by inches from Victorians B.D. Cochrane and R.A. Raines. He was the fourth Burnie Cycling Club rider to win the Burnie Wheel in five years, repeating the performances of French, Nickels and Blizzard.
Graeme French returned home to win the Lightning Hcp. from 5 yds. and the 10-mile Scratch.
The 1948 Burnie Gift drew its biggest entry to that time of 58 starters. Thirlstane farmer Kevin Iles, in his fourth start in a Burnie Gift final, took the final off the front mark of 15 yds. from a fast-finishing Ray Geary (9 ½ yds.). Trained by Tom Richards at Latobe, 22-year-old Iles also won the Quarter Mile.
Max Hodgetts, son of West Park curator G. ‘Chum’ Hodgetts, scored a popular win in the Tasmanian Mile from a field of 26.
Ray Patmore was back for the 1949 Burnie Gift as a trainer, not a competitor, and he scored instant success. Patmore had taken over former State amateur sprint champion C.A. (Ashton) Shirley and he won at his first start in the 1949 Burnie Gift, overtaking young Launceston sprinter Wally Lewis and Cooee footballer Ted Brown to win by inches from 12 yds.
A feature of the 1949 running programme was R. J. Hadfield’s win in the Mile. Hadfield had finished second to Hodgetts in 1948 but made sure of the 1949 Mile by running it in 4.7 3/5 off 100 yds. to break Mick Goss’ 1940 record by nearly six seconds.
A record 228 cyclists nominated for the 1949 carnival and the Burnie Wheelrace was won by 18-year-old South Australian junior champion Rex Webster in an all mainland finish from Victorians J. Teppar, H. Guyatt and R. Grant.
• Cooee baker Gerry Hugo winner of the 1947 Wheelbase off 285 yds.
Burnie cyclist Grame French was 17 when he won the 1944 Burnie Wheelbase. French (standing left) is pictured with other members of the Burnie stables of Allan Sutton, Alex Osborne (standing) and seated Lew Brumby, trainer Allan
• Ashton Shirley wins the 1948 Burnie Gift from Wally Lewis and Ted Brown off 12 yards.
• Champion Deloraine distance runner Trevor Woodberry winning his third Tasmania Mile Hacp at the 1941 Burnie Carnival. Woodberry had previously won the vent in 1938 and ‘39
• Launceston runner George Lewis won the 1941 Gift from R outing and LJ Gilley. His younger brother Wally, emulated the feat in 1951.
• Ray Geary (23) wins the 1945 Gift from FC Fry and J.Matheson. His eldest son, Peter, went close with placings on several occasions and younger son, Michael, won 37 years later inn 1982.
• West Coast footballer Des Burton won the 1947 Gift in fine style. Burton broke the tape 2 yes clear of BR Jones (Latrobe) and LF Foster (Hobart).
• In a tight finish Gerry Hugo, near the bottom of the track, wins the 1947 Burnie Wheel by inches from BD Cochrane.
1950S: The Vintage Years
(i) 1950 Controversial Gift
The decade of the 1950s is remembered by many New Year’s Day Carnival patrons as perhaps the vintage years. It was the decade in which two champion Tasmanian cyclists, Mac Sloane and Ron Murray, became the first riders to win the Burnie Wheelrace from scratch. Australian aces Sid Patterson, Russell Mockridge, Billy Guyatt and Keith Reynolds thrilled the Burnie Carnival crowds and internationals Reg Harris and Oscar Pattner became the first overseas riders to really come to terms with the Tasmanian tracks.
Woolnorth stockman Lindsay Stonehouse emerged as Tasmanian sprint champion and Burnie’s Barry Guy began a brilliant distance running career. Brothers Eric and Jack Billing won Burnie Gifts and Australian sprint champion John Stoney made his memorable runs at Burnie.
Chopping was successfully reintroduced to the New Year’s Day programme and thousands of carnival patrons saw tree-telling contested for the first time on the main arena.
It was a decade during which sideshow alley, dominated by harry Paulsen and his boxing troupe, was crammed with tent shows, games and rides at prices kids from ordinary families could afford.
Every decade of the New Year’s Day Carnival has had its highlights but the 1950s certainly established beyond all doubt that the BAC had succeeded in developing its programme to the most diversified and entertaining one-day carnival in Australia.
The BAC extended its programme over the Saturnday night and the full day and night for the 1950 Burnie Carnival and both programmes were well attended with gate takings totalling £2950.
Australian sprint champion and 1948 Bendigo Thousand winner John Stoney was the big name on the 1950 programme. He attempted to break Jack Donaldson’s Australian 100 yds. record of 9 3/5 on the Burnie track but the big striding Victorian found the West Park track just a little too soft. He just failed in his record attempt, clocking 9 7/10.
The 1950 Burnie Gift final created a controversy – not the first and not the last – still argued in the running fraternity. Stoney made the final with superb runs in his heat and semi-final off 3 yds. and was the crowd favourite for the final. But nifty Stanley runner C.A. Milburn (14 ½ yds.) got the decision by a whisker from Hobart footballer Jack Rough (12 ½ yds) with Stoney a close third.
Rough’s connections were confident their runner had been the first through the tape and protested. Subsequent photographs and movie film of the finish indicated the Rough could have been first through the tape, although perhaps breaking it with his shoulder and not his chest. The protest was dismissed.
Ironically the electric judging machine, which had been used in all Burnie Gifts since the 1930s, was not in use for the 1950 programme. Its inventor, owner and operator, D. Eastburn, had become ill in Launceston only a couple of days before the carnival.
Milburn (25) was trained by his father, Charlie Milburn, who had come to Burnie as manager of the Farmers’ Ltd stores. He had been Australian professional sprint champion from 1919 to 1922.
The other highlight of the running programme was again the Tasmanian Mile won by 18-year-old local Barry Guy in a new time of 4.4 2/5 off the 138 yds. limit mark. It was the beginning of a brilliant distance running career by Barry Guy, the son of a Burnie tailor and trained initially by G.K. ‘Nippy’ Hayes, later by his father-in-law Bern Leo and eventually by Mick Saltmarsh. He won the Mile at Burnie again in 1952 off 75 yds. and between 1950 and 1960 won miles, half-miles and quarter-miles at almost every Tasmanian carnival and was second in the Backmarkers’ Mile at Stawell in 1959.
In all Barry Guy won £1130 in prizemoney on the Tasmanian tracks - a sizeable sum of money in those years.
The Burnie Wheelrace distance was reduced from two miles to a mile for the 1950 and ’51 carnivals and 17-year-old local rider Ashley Jones won the event in 1950 off 115 yds. from Victorians Ron Gray and R. Chute. Trained by Clarrie Kelly, Jones had been Tasmanian junior track champion in 1949.
The Burnie Wheel went back to the two-mile distance in 1953 and Ashley Jones won again in that year.
One of the best performances on the 1950 Burnie Carnival cycling programme was put up in the traditional last race of the programme, the 10-mile Scratch. In a field that included Australia’s best, local rider Alex Osborne kicked through on the inside in the final few yards to beat Victorians J. Ashton and S. Jones by inches.
Track records took a tumble in the 1951 BAC New Year’s Day programme. New times were established for the Gift, Wheel and Tasmanian Mile.
Wally Lewis (Launceston) won the Gift in 11 3/5, the fastest time since the inception of the race, P.B. ‘Brusher’ Clarke rode the fastest mile on the Burnie track to win the Wheelrace in 1.54 4/5 and T.M. Boon (Launceston) ran a record 4.3 4/5 in the Tasmanian Mile.
Former Cooee footballer E. P. (Ted) Brown, who had gone to Western Australia soon after his third in the 1949 Gift and had been running well in the West, was firm favourite for the Gift. He ran well in his heat and semi-final to make the final along with three runners of the Patmore stable – A.C. Shirley, A.O Parsons and G.D. Waugh – Wally Lewis from the Launceston Fitzallen stable and local Miles Ponsonby.
Lewis made good his prediction of 10 years earlier when, after his older berother George had won the Burnie Gift, he had said he would one day repeat the performance. Off 11 ½ yds. he hold on to win by a foot from the three sprinters of the Patmore stable to give Alf Fitzallen his fifth, and last Burnie Gift win in the record time of 11 3/5.
Another Launceston runner T.M. Boon, trained by former sprinter Percy Fry, won the Tasmanian Mile from Barry Guy in a new mile time of 4.3 4/5., clipping 3/5 sec. off Guy’s record run a year earlier.
‘Brusher’ Clarke scored a popular win in the 1951 Burnie Wheel. He rode brilliantly from 90 yds. to overhaul the leaders in the last 50 yds. for a two length win.
The tragedy of the 1951 cycling events, however, was the fatal fall of popular Latrobe rider Arthur Tooby. From Bathurst, NSW, Arthur Tooby had moved to live at Latrobe several seasons earlier to be near the ‘home of cycling.’ He had competed consistently in club and open events. In his heat of the 1952 Burnie Wheel, Tooby catapaulted over a rider who had punctured in the furlong sprint and crashed heavily into a concrete light pole, sustaining severe head injuries. He died in hospital that night. The Arthur Tooby Memorial Hcp. was held at Burnie Carnivals for some years afterwards.
Five former Burnie Gift winners officiated at the 1951 carnival – Stan Trebilco (1921 winner) as BAC President; Edgar Trethewey (1910), running handicapper and timekeeper; Harold Treweek (1920), starter; Len Harris (1912), judge; Trevor McMahon (1935), assistant starter.
At a committee meeting in September 1951 the BAC finally decided to abandon band contests from future programmes ‘in view of the large one-day programme already in existence.’
(ii) Record Crowd in 1952
More than 19 000 patrons paid over £3000 to watch the 1952 Burnie Carnival. The gate was £750 up on the previous year and the BAC was able to present the Burnie Council with a cheque for £2000 for improvements to West Park.
More than 90 inter-state and overseas riders entered for Burnie that year but Ashley Jones, riding at the peak of his career, won his second Burnie wheelrace – this time over two miles – after finishing second in the Latrobe Wheel on Boxing Day. Jones out-sprinted Victorians E. Robinson and R. Warren to win by inches. Earlier in the programme Jones had won the half-mile Arthur Tooby Memorial Hcp.
Tasmanian’s new cycling idol mac Sloane (Launceston) was pitted against Australian champion of champions, Billy Guyatt, in the best of three half-mile match races. Guyatt’s showmanship in the first heat didn’t please the strongly partisan Tasmanian crowd and Sloane won the second and third heats to roars of approval. On the strength of the Burnie wins the young Tasmanian was invited to ride at the Melbourne Velodrome.
The Tasmanian Government had sponsored a special £500 series of invitation cycling events conducted over the Latrobe, Devonport and Burnie Carnivals with the final event, a three-lap pursuit, at Burnie. Graeme French sealed the series by winning the final at Burnie giving him 31 points to Sloane’s 26 and Tom Steele (Victoria) 13.
The stiff westerly sea breeze slowed times in the 1952 Burnie Gift but the conditions suited burly Hobart runner Roy O’Toole. He won the final by about a foot from A. Lee ( Victoria) and previous winners Burnie Gift winners Wally Lewis and Jim Medwin.
Before the final of the 1952 Burnie Gift 28 previous winners specially invited to the carnival were introduced to the record crowd by top sprinter of 1920s, R.E. (Bob) Gardiner.
Barry Guy notched his second £130 Tasmanian Mile win off the back mark of 75 yards. In his typical race tactics, Guy streaked over the first lap to carch the middle-markers, gradually overhauled the front runner in the next two laps and took the lead in the last lap to win by 20 yds. in 4.6 8/10.
Ground improvements for the 1953 Burnie Carnival included additional lighting to enable the 440 yds. Hcp. to be staged at night and the provision of bench seating on the natural rise between the east and west ticket boxes. The seating had cost £1300 and increased seating accommodation at West Park to 3500.
Chopping was reintroduced to the 1953 Burnie Carnival after a lapse of about 20 years and has remained on the programme since. The 1953 chopping programme, which drew good entries and an eager crowd to the new chopping arena on the eastern side of West Park, consisted of 10-inch and 12-inch handicaps each carrying prizemoney of £100 donated by Alstergren Pty Ltd and APPM Ltd, and teams’ race. Merv Youd and Len Rowe gave an exhibition of tree-felling on the main arena, another attraction that has remained a popular feature of the Burnie Carnival for the past 34 years.
Max Berwick (Launceston) won the 1953 Burnie Gift off 10 ¾ yds., beating T.H. O’Connor (Launceston) and B.T. Cleary (Deloraine).
Mainland riders almost scooped the pool in open cycling events with the Wheel going to Rodney Leach (NSW) from Victorians J. Fowler and J.R. Perry.
Mac Sloane won his biggest scratch race to that time when he downed Victorians A.K. Cook and J. Ashton in the 10-mile Scratch.
P60 Picture: The 29 Burnie Gift winners who were introduced to a record crowd at the 1952 BAC carnival.
Front (from left): P. Sturzaker (1901), A. A. Castley (1902), H. Rigby (1905), E Trethewey (1908), C. Blanton (1910), L.B. Harrris (1912), E.T. Brain (1917), J.A. Weedon (1918), L.W. Vaughan (1919).
Middle: H.J. Treweek (1920), S.D. Trebilco (1921), E.R. Terry (1925), A.D. Edwards (1926), C.G. Billing (1931), A. Thorne (1932), R.B. Mahony (1933), T.J. McMahon (1935), D.W. Saltmarsh (1938), W. Mills (1939).
Back: A.R. Patmore (1940), J.V. Lewis (1941), J.I. Medwin (1944), G.R. Greary (1945), D.G. Burton (1947), K.T. Iles (1948), A.C. Shirley (1949), C.A. Milburn (1950), W.P. Lewis (1951), R.W. O’Toole (1952).
(iii) Mac Sloane’s Wheelrace 1954
Mac Sloane reached his early career peak with a brillian win in the 1954 Burnie Wheelrace from scratch – the first scratch rader to win the event. Until then Sloane’s wheelrace wins had been at the smaller Tasmanian carnivals, including St Marys, Exeter and Irishrown, but the Launceston bank clerk really powered onto the Australian professional cycling scene with his 1954 Burnie victory.
Sloan’s co-scratchmen in his heat of the Burnie Wheel were British sprint champion Reg Harris and Italian ace Enzo Sacchi, who had been a disappointment at the Coastal carnivals. But they helped Sloane to win his heat.
In the final his nearest riders were Col Smythe (20), Ashley Jones (45) and ‘Brusher’ Clarke (90). They had teamed in the first two laps and were up with the main bunch at three to go. Sloane cruised till the final furlong and sprinted home to win by six lengths form Len Jamieson, Bill McDonald and Lou Redman in 4.108/10.
Sloane also won the 5-mile Scratch on the 1954 programme and was considered a certainty to take the 10-mile. But the Italian Enzo Sacchi surprised everyone – the crowd, other riders and probably himself – by finding form in the last event of the Coastal carnival series to out-sprint Sloane in the final furlong.
Mac Sloane’s professional cycling career reached new heights after his Burnie Wheelrace win. Before the end of the 1950s he had won, from scratch, the Latrobe Wheelrace twice, the Darwin Wheelrace, dozens of handicaps from half-miles to 2-miles, and major scratch races against the best professional cyclists in Australia. He won Austalian professional track titles each year from 1952 sprints to 5-miles and in his last year, 1957, won the Australian sprint championship.
Sloane and Sid Patterson, one of Australia’s all-time greats, became firm friends and after winning the 1963 Burnie Wheelrace, Patterson said of Sloane in an interview with The Advocate:
If Mac Sloane had turned fulltime professional he would have been a rider of world class. He is the best I’ve had to compete against and the best I’ve had riding with me. Riders like Russell Mockridge and Dick Ploog were specialists and probably unbeatable in their particular events, but that kind of riding doesn’t win 5-mile scratch races, 2-mile, mile and half-mile handicaps and the other races that a professional in Australia must win. Mac had the ability to win all types of races – and he won them.
Reg Harris rode some phenomenal times at the 1954 Burnie Carnival. He won the half-mile Arthur Tooby Memorial Hcp. from scratch and then clocked 11 6/10 for the final furlong in the Invitation Derby. This was believed to be the fastest furlong ever ridden in Tasmania and the BAC offered Harris £50 if he could better the time in a flying furlong at night. He did – in 11 1/10, a time hailed as the fastest furlong ever ridden in Australia.
Former Smithton runner Eric Billing got the first leg of a family double when he won the 1954 Burnie Gift by 4 ½ yds., one of the easiest margins in the history of the event. Trained by Percy Fry, second in the 1940 and ’45 Burnie Gifts, Billing also won the Ulverstone and Devonport Gifts in the week leading up to his Burnie win.
Lanky Woolnorth stockman Lindsay Stonehouse, a raw natural runner taken in hand three years earlier by Charlie Milburn, began a career of major Tasmanian sprint wins with victory in the 1955 Burnie Gift. Stonehouse had discovered his own running strength and speed as a boy on Robbins Is. Where, lacking other kids to run against, he chased and caught wallabies instead.
As a teenage stockman on the VDL Co. Woonorth property Stonehouse began looking for a trainer and found Charlie Milburn, then training his son, Charles jnr. for his 1950 Burnie Gift win. Stonehouse began to develop a better style under Milburn’s coaching but his mentor returned to Victoria before Stonehouse managed a win. He moved to Burnie to join the successful Saltmarsh stable in 1954 and in his first season with Mick Saltmarsh won the Burnie, Ulverstone and Wynyard Gifts and the Latrobe 75-yard sprint.
Between 1955 and the early 1960s Stonehouse won 21 sprint events at virtually every Tasmanian carnival – Burnie, Latrobe, Devonport, Ulverstone, Rosebery, Wynyard, Darwin, Campbell Town, Scottsdale, Longford and others – and was Tasmanian 75, 220 and 440 yds. professional champion in 1960.
Swiss speedster Oscar Plattner starred on the cycling track at the 1955 Burnie Carnival, winning the Arthur Tooby memorial Hcp. and New Year Hcp, from scratch, the 5-mile scratch and finishing second to Sloane in the 10-mile scratch. It was the best handicap riding seen from an international on the Burnie circuit.
A Government – sponsored world champion axemen series was held at the North-West Coast carnivals in 1954-55 with the 16-inch underhand and tree-felling events contested at Burnie. Victorian Jack O’Toole and Tom Kirk (NSW) dead-heated in the 16-inch underhand and George Parker (Queensland) beat Tasmanian champion Merv Youd in the tree-felling. O’Toole won the championship series on points.
(iv) 1956 Double for the Billings
A record day and night crowd of more than 20 000 paid £3747 - £500 up on the previous gate record in 1954 – to watch the 1956 Burnie New Year’s Day Carnival. The BAC staged 114 events on the main arena and 20 in the chopping arena.
And 1956 was the year of Billings. For what was believed to be the first time ver, two brothers made the final of the 1956 Burnie Gift and certainly for the first and only time in history of the race, they filled first and second placings.
Twenty-year-old Smithton bank clerk T.J. (Jack) billing won easily from his older brother Eric, the 1954 Burnie Gift winner. And to complete the family affair, Jack was trained by his father, Jack snr., who had been fourth in the 1929 Burnie Gift. Yound Jack Billing almost took the double the following year but was beaten by inches by a lanky local who had had the Burnie Gift in his sights for years – the former schoolboy champion John Guest.
In his first season as a professional former Tasmanian amateur mile champion Greg Tilyard (Hobart) completed the treble when he won the 1956 Tasmanian Mile at Burnie. Off 98 yds., Tilyard beat local Dennis Moore by 10 yds. Earlier in the carnival series Tilyard had won the Latrobe and Devonport Miles and the Devonport Quarter-Mile.
Front markers Ron Savage (Devonport), Col Stuart (Devonport), M. Rockliff (Launceston) and L. D. Franks (Somerset) combined to maintain their lead for the full distance of the 1956 Burnie Wheelrace and fill the first four placings in that order.
Victorian Olympic gold medallist Russell Mockridge, who had just turned professional, was the big name rider of the 1956 Burnie Carnival but was beaten by Mac Sloane in the final of an Invitation Half-Mile Match race. Sloane, who had influenza, withdrew from the rest of the programme. Mockridge scored his first major professional win in the Tasmania when he downed Keith Reynolds and Hec Sutherland in the 10-mile Scratch at night.
(v) 1957 Gift, Wheel to Locals
For the first time in years locals won both the gift and Wheelrace at the 1957 70th annual Burnie Carnival. Burnie real estate agent John Guest (27) finally realised the ambition of his 10 years of running when he won the Burnie Gift by inches and 17-year-old Russell French broke the four minute barrier for the first time to win the Burnie Wheelrace in 3.53 2/5.
But an axeman won more prizemoney than either Guest or French. Mr E.A. Alstergren provided £500 prizemoney for the 12-inch Hcp. chop (compared with £370 for the Gift and Wheel) to make it the richest axemen’s event in Australia. It was won by Stanley policeman Stan Crocker.
C.J.K. (John) Guest had been training for eight years with the Burnie Gift firmly in his sights by his only previous wins had been the 100 and 440 yds. schoolboy titles at the 1947 Burnie Carnival and Quarter-Mile in open company in 1952. It seemed the Burnie Gift might have eluded the 6ft. 2 ½ ins. Runner, the son of BAC committeeman, former secretary and Club President (1939-41 and 1952-53), Charlie Guest. Time was running out, but Guest’s strength, determination and speed had improved since he joined the successful Saltmarsh stable in 1954 and he knew the 1957 Burnie Gift was a ‘now or never’ race.
Guest won through to the final in the most desperate race of his career literally threw himself at the tapes in the last few yards to win by inches from 1956 winner Jack Billing.
As his excited father and trainer and stablemates indulged in a well-earned congratulations after the placings were announced Guest told The Advocate:
"When I won my semi-final I knew that if I was ever going to sin the Burnie Gift, today would be the day. I felt I had that little bit of extra something for the finish and I put everything I had into it – absolutely everything. This was the race I wanted".
John Guest retired from running soon after his big win but remained actively involved as a BAC member and carnival official. He was Club President from 1973 to 1975.
John Guest’s win was the second of four Burnie Gifts for the Saltmarsh stable of E.B. (Mick) Saltmarsh as trainer and his father Baden as masseur. The remarkably successful Saltmarsh stable also won with Ian Batt 91961) and Phillip Lincoln (1968) and had 15 seconds in the blue-ribbon event. Their runners also won five Latrobe Gifts, two Darwin Gifts with Ian Jones and Reg Hawthorne when the Darwin Athletic Club held its carnivals at West Park in the 1950s, two Queenstown Gifts with Barry Gossage and Ted Eagling and scores of other events in Tasmania and on the mainland over distances from 75 yds. to the mile. Mick Saltmarsh is still training a stable of runners. His father, Baden, died two year ago.
Ex-cyclist W.A. ‘Hand’ Matthews, who had hung up his bake and taken up distance running three years earlier won the 1957 Tasmanian Mile with Dennis Moore again taking second place. A feature of the race was the brilliant run by Greg Tilyard from 38 yds. to take fourth placing.
Seventeen-year-old Burnie rider Russell French, in his first season as a professional, won the 1957 Burnie Wheelrace off 260 yds. in a race record time of 3.53 2/5. French had been Tasmanian schoolboy track champion and State junior champion in 1956. He was trained as an amateur and for the Burnie Wheel by dual winner Ashley Jones who also had been only 17 when he won his first Burnie Wheel in 1950.
Russell Mockridge thrilled the crowd with his win in the Half-Mile Invitation Derby from Oscar Plattner and Barry Waddell.
Hubert Opperman, as a member of the Federal Parliament, was back in Burnie to open the 1958 New Year’s Day Carnival. He didn’t say much about his own cycling career but told Tasmanians they should be proud of a young Burnie rider making the headlines in Europe – the 1944 Burnie Wheelrace winner, Graeme French. French had become a crowd favourite in European cycling countries including Denmark, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Francis and Switzerland and had won the world’s motor-paced title in Copenhagen in 1956. French had thrilled the European crowds by achieving speeds up to 74 miles (119 km) per hour on the steep-banked European tracks specially built for motor-paced events.
(vi) 1958 Mockridge’s Last Appearance
Russell Mockridge was star of the 1958 Burnie Carnival winning the Mile new Year Hcp. from scratch in a Tasmanian track record time of 1.50 7/10. Mockridge and co-scratchmen Keith Reynolds (Victoria) and M. Morettino (Italy) rode the mile brilliantly to take the first three placings. Mockridge later won the 5-Mile Scratch and rode several seconds to give the best performance of his professional career at the 1958 Burnie Carnvial.
But it was the last time the popular Olympic gold medallist competed in Tasmania. A few months after the Burnie Carnival Russell Mockridge was killed when he crashed into a bus during a road race near Melbourne.
Front markers put their noses to the wheel to hold out the backmen in the 1958 Burnie Wheelrace. M. Rockliffe (Launceston) 330 yds., G. Davis (Burnie) 320 yds. and F. Rugari (Launcston) 330 yds. clocked 3.55 2/5 to take the placings.
Graeme French had returned to Australia for the summer racing season but was not at his best for the Burnie Carnival. He had fallen heavily at the Melbourne Velodrome a few nights earlier and was still badly bruised when he saddled up on New Year’s Day. But he managed to win the Invitation Half-Mile Derby final.
Devonport teenager Barry Medcraft, in his first season as a professional, won the 1958 Burnie Gift off 10 ½ yds. from Burnie runners John Lean and N. Henricks. Many in the running fraternity predicted that Medcraft had the potential to become one of Tasmania’s best-ever sprinters but he failed to live up to expectations after his Burnie Gift win.
Wynyard mechanic Ken Docherty won the 1958 Tasmanian Mile in a new race time of 4.2 5/10.
In the chopping arena Waratah veteran Joe Fagan scored his biggest win with a three blow victory in the 12-inch. Joe Fagain’s chopping career ended after a bad bush accident a couple of years later but he has retained a lifelong interest in the sport and was made life member of the Tasmanian Axemen’s Association in 1986.
And the 1958 Burnie Carnival saw the last of Harold ‘Trigger’ Treweek as starter of the running events. He had been Tasmanian Athletic League starter for the major Tasmanian carnivals since 1938 but had decided to retire after the 1958 series. Harold Treweek was later elected a Life Member of the BAC.
Among the crowd of youngsters who saw Ashley Jones win his second Burnie Wheelrace in 1952 was a 15-year-old Somerset schoolboy, Ron Murray. It was the first bike race Ron Murray had seen and the curly-headed youngster decided then and there that cycle racing would be his sport.
Seven years later Ron Murray won the 1959 Burnie Wheelrace from scratch in 4.6 1/10, bettering the only previous scratch win by Mac Sloane in 1954 by four seconds. Three years later after riding the European circuit Ron Murray returned to Burnie and repeated the performance – the first scratch rider to shatter the four minute barrier.
Ron Murray began his cycling career in the 1952 season under veteran Cooee trainer Elb von Bibra who had trained two previous Burnie Wheel winners, Graeme French and Roy Blizzard. For the first couple of season Ron Murray rode for a handicap, winning a few minor races on the Coast, and set himself for a major win in the 1955 season. He struck a rough heat in the Latrobe Wheel and burnt himself out chasing a breakaway bunch in his heat of the Burnie Wheel.
Without any big ideas of even making the final, the young Burnie rider entered the 1955 Austral Wheelrace and started a 50-1 rank outsider. Even when he beat Billy Guyatt by about 100 yards in his heat and shortened to equal favourite, Ron Murray still didn’t back himself in the Australian classic. But he stunned the Victorian crowd by beating race favourite Gordon Lindsay in the final – the first Tasmanian to win the Austral Wheel for about 30 years.
In the seasons that followed Ron Murray won the Bendigo Easter, Wangaratta, Devonport and Irishtown Wheelraces and the Burnie Wheelrace from scratch in 1959. For the next two and half years Ron rode on the Continent, mainly in six-day, team and road races. He returned to the Tasmanian cycling scene in triumph in 1962.
Launceston sprinter Arnold Gunther fulfilled the promise he had shown as State schoolboy champion by winning the 1959 Burnie Gift off 8 yds. Gunther (23) had been Burnie Gift favourite several times since turning professional in 1955 but had failed to run a place. But 1959 under Wally Lewis, the 1951 Burnie Gift winner who had just retired from running, was Gunther’s year. He beat Burnie sprinter Gerald Wells (11 yds.) and Queenstown’s D.P. Evans (10 ½ yds.)
Ken Dockerty (Wynyard) notched his second consecutive Tasmanian Mile by holding off a strong challenge from Barry guy to win by two yards.
Chapter 8 The Golden 1960s
A Decade of Achievement
The decade of the 1960s in many respects is remembered as the ‘golden years’ for Tasmania. The State saw record industrial development, increased rural productivity, substantial population growth, the establishment of major new mine on the West Coat and the beginnings of its modern tourism industry. And the decade of the 1960s also were ‘golden years’ for the Burnie Athletic Club and its carnival.
The BAC held its 75th Jubilee Carnival over three days in 1962 and all carnivals of the decade saw some memorable racing. Ian Probert (Scottsdale) became only the second runner in the history of Burnie Git to win the blue-ribbon event twice in succession, local runners Ian Batt, Bruce Dobson, Basil Burley, Kerry Whitehead, Peter Bowles and Phillip Lincoln took out the event and world professional mile champion Harold Downes (SA) won the Burnie Mile from the back mark three years in a row.
Ron Murray (Somerset) became the first rider to win the Burnie Wheelrace twice from scratch and Sid Patterson (Victoria), unquestionably the most popular and best international rider competing at Coastal carnivals in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, finally cracked the Burnie Wheel in 1963. Ron Grenda and brilliant junior Graeme Gilmore (Launceston) succeeded Mac Sloane as the idols of the Tasmanian cycling fraternity.
The chopping section of the programme continue to grow in popularity, highlighted in 1961 with a Tasmanian teambeting a visiting team of top New Zealand axemen.
Two 19-year-olds took the premier events on the 1960 programme – Brian Tucker the Gift and Roly Sloane the Wheel. More than 16 000 patrons paid £2883 to watch the action-packed day and night programmes.
Brian Tucker, former Devonport High School sprint champion who had moved to Hobart, returned to the Coast for the Christmas-New Year carnivals with the £400 Burnie Gift as his mission. Trained by 1952 Gift winner Roy O’Toole with some added help from 1940 winner Ray Patmore, Tucker had trained rigorously losing a stone in weight to drop to 10 ½ stone. But there wasn’t a fitter runner in the race.
Tucker ran brilliantly to win his heat and semi-final off 11 yds. and broke the tape in the final, half a yard clear of Burnie sprinter Tassy Haywood in 12 2/5.
He went on to complete a double on the day programme winning the Quarter-Mile Hcp. off 32 yds. in a new race record time of 45 4/10.
Lanky Cooee and State footballer George Mason (23), trained by Reg Cullen jnr., produced a brilliant burst in the final 100 yds. of the Mile Hcp. to hold off promising Launceston distance runner Jeff O’Byrne. At 6ft. 3ins., Mason was probably the tallest runner to win the mile, usually a distance for runner of slight to medium build.
The 1960 Burnie Wheelrace was an all Sloane affair. Youngest brother Roly, trained by second brother Bill (27) won in a thrill-packed finish which was called by former Australian champion brother Mac (30), who had retired from the track and was cycling commentator at the 1960 carnival.
Big Sid Patterson, a favourite with the Tasmanian cycling fans with eventually five Latrobe Wheelraces a two Devonport Wheelraces, 15 Five-Mile and 10-Mile Scratch races and a host of smaller handicap wins to his credit since 1951 made the final of the 1960 Burnie Wheel and looked a winner when he reached the main bunch from scratch with a lap and a half to go. But Patterson got boxed in at the furlong, tried to bore through in the sprint to the line and clipped the wheel of another rider, losing three spokes from his front wheel.
He came in fourth behind Sloane, Alan Wilson (Devonport) and Noel Smith (Burnie). Patterson had earlier won the rubina Joy Stakes from scratch.
Riding from scratch Ron Grenda (Launceston) beat Roly Sloane in the Mile Tasmanian Hcp. while the Five-Mile Scratch was won by veteran Len Jamieson from a top line field that included Patterson, Grenda, Dick Ploog and John Green. Jamieson had broken away with Kevin Dixon (Victoria) and Harold Dowling (Burnie) and the three held their advantage to the finish.
Nineteen-year-old Burnie footballer Ian Batt, one of a well known local sporting family, wrote his name in the record books with a brilliant win in 1961 Burnie Gift. Off 9 ½ yds., Batt beat Scottsdale flyer Ian Probert and Ted Eagling (Launceston) by half a yard.
Batt’s win was the third Burnie Gift for the Saltmarsh stable following Lindsay Stonehouse in 1955 and John Guest in ’57.
Young Wynyard miler Barry Percy completed the double with a comfortable win in the Mile Hcp. over Ian Batt’s cousin, Kevin. Percy had won the Latrobe Mile in the previous week.
Former West Australian junior champion Ian Campbell, who had med to Launceston for the cycling competition Tasmania offered, justified the move with a win in the 1961 Burnie Wheelrace. It was the second Burnie Wheel in a row for his trainer, Bill Sloane.
The 1961 season was one of Ron Grenda’s best. He completed five scratch race wins for the carnival series by winning both the Five and 10-Mile Scratch races at the Burnie Carnival.
The 1961 Burnie chopping programme was highlighted by the entries of a team of 31 top New Zealand axemen, including several Maoris. But the Kiwis found the hard Tasmanian blocks rough going and failed to take a major event. Three Coasters took the placings in the 12-inch Hcp. with Tom Deverell (Smithton) winning from Perc Cox (Forest) and Joe Grieves (Somerset).
Tasmania also won a special eight a side team event against the New Zealanders. The Kiwis kept level with the Tasmanians through the first seven blocks but Tasmanian captain Rex Kennedy gave the home team a clear win when he out-cut the New Zealand captain in the final block.
1962 The 75th Jubilee Carnival
With club stalwart and form secretary R.C. (Dick) Trevarthen as President, the Burnie Athletic Club organised a three-day carnival to celebrate its 75th Jubilee in 1962. It staged professional cycling and running on the Saturday night, amateur cycling on the Sunday and the normal New Year’s Day programme on the Monday. Prizemoney over the three days was £2500 and the carnival cost £4000 to stage.
More than 16 000 patrons – approximately the population of Burnie at the time – paid £3670 to attend the three programmes.
Premier Eric Reece was guest of honour at a dinner preceding the carnival. The former West Coast had rarely missed a Burnie Carnival during his 29 years as a House of Assembly member for Braddon and Premier for 13 years.
At the dinner BAC Patron T. M. (Mac) Crisp awarded life membership to club stalwart Edgar Trethewey, former Gift winner, handicapper and carnival official since the early 1900s.
Mac Crisp, son of Burnie’s first resident solicitor and an original trustee of the South Burnie Recreation Ground, T.J. Crisp, had been involved with the development of West Park and the BAC for more than 50 years. As a law student he had been on a deputation to Premier John Earle in 1914 to seek Government assistance for the purchase of the West Park ground and, as a young cricketer and footballer and later sports administrator, he was closely involved with the development of the ground and its facilities. He was a life member of the BAC and club patron for many years.
It was also announced at the BAC Jubilee dinner that in the years from 1912 to 1961 the club had given the Burnie Council no less than £35 000 for ground improvements – the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars in today’s money values.
Evergreen Sid Patterson dominated the first night of the three-day 1962 programme winning the Mile BAC Repecharge from scratch in 1.56 3/10 and the special Aces’ Invitation Five-Mile Scratch.
Victorian Gordon Johnson scooped the pool in the amateur events on the Sunday taking the Open Combined Wheelrace, Open Junior Half-Mile Hcp. and the Open B Grade Scratch race.
The packed ground of spectators were hoping for local wins on the main day of the programme, 1 January 1962, and they were not disappointed. Bruce ‘Duke’ Dobson won the Gift and Ron Murray scored his second Burnie Wheelrace from scratch.
Twenty-year-old Dobson, trained by 1945 Mile winner Max Hodgetts, just held off a desperate attempt by Ian Batt to win his second consecutive Gift. Off 10 ½ yds. Dobson beat Batt (6 ¾ yds.) and Ted Eagling (10 yds.) by inches in a photo-finish. Dobson capped the double by winning the 220-yds. Hcp. at night.
Kevin Batt also notched a fine running double with the 880-yds. Hcp. on the Saturday night and the Quarter-Mile on Monday. His time for the 880 was a record 1.46 6/10.
Launceston’s Jeff O’Byrne, second in the 1960 Mile, won the distance classic in 1962 from Burnie champion Layton Smith. Running off 95 yds.
O’Byrne clocked a record 4.1 1/10 to lower ken Docherty’s 1958 time by more than a second. And Docherty had run off 130 yds.
The 1962 Burnie Wheelrace was hailed as one of the best races seen on the Burnie track to that time. Seven scratchmen made the final field of 16 and they filled the first four placings – Ron Murray winning from Sid Patterson, John Green and Ron Grenda in 3.58 8/10, an improvement of two seconds on his 1959 winning time.
Sky-diving was held over Burnie as an added attraction for the 1962 carnival with a team of mainland parachutists brought to Burnie by the BAC. On the Monday team leader Gil. Rogan set an Australian free-fall record over water when he jumped from 11 000 ft. And fell 9000 ft. At an estimated 120 m.p.h. (193 km/h) before opening his parachute.
(iii) 1963 Patterson and Probert
Newspaper headlines proclaimed the 1963 Burnie Carnival as ‘The Day of the Big Ps’ – Patterson and Probert. They won the Gift and the Wheel.
It was Sid Patterson’s third try and first victory from scratch in the Burnie Wheelrace after his fourth in 1960 and second in 1962. It was also one of the last big handicap wins for the 1948 Olympian and world amateur pursuit champion who had turned professional in 1950. ‘Big Patto’ was 36 years of age when he won the 1963 Burnie Wheel in the sizzling time of 3.5 6/10, seven seconds better than Ron Murray’s win in 1962. The previous week Patterson, still riding in top form, had won his fifth Latrobe Wheelrace.
Six scratch riders – Patterson, Grenda, Murray, Barry Waddell, Alan McLennan and Harry Willemsen – made the final which The Advocate described as ‘the fastest and most thrilling Burnie Wheelrace for years.’
The way in which Sid Patterson made up about one yard in three to reach the brilliant Launceston youngster Graeme Gilmore right on the line is one of the amazing achievements that will go down in the history of the event.
Only Patterson could have done it and it made him the most popular of the many star bikies to visit the Coast.
No one thought Patterson had a show when he and Ron Grenda were well out of their ground at the half furlong, while Gilmore and his ace rival, Devonport’s Phillip Harrington, diced for the big money.
But the veteran Patterson and Grenda swept past the younger riders in the last few yards to win by a wheel. Patterson acknowledged the roar of the crowd with a wave as he crossed the line - and was fined £1 by referee Viv Green for taking a hand off the handle bar.
To cap off a brilliant day and night of riding Patterson won the Five-Mile and 10-Mile Scratch races.
Gilmore, having his first season as a professional, won the New Year Hcp. and the B Grade Scratch. It was a good preparation for his Burnie Wheelrace win a year later.
The 1963 Burnie Gift finish was one of the closest in the history of the event with only inches separating the placegetters. The judges conferred for several minutes and then consulted the judging machine before hoisting the colours of Scottsdale footballer Ian Probert (8 ¾ yds.) as the winner from veteran Lindsay Stonehouse (10 ½ yds.).
Probert, who had won the 440-yard Devonport Gift on the Saturday night, was trained by his father, Pat, a railway worker. It had been a long time between Burnie Gift wins for Pat Probert. He had trained Laurie Lobdale for his 1934 win when he was working in Hobart 29 years earlier.
Ridgley farmer Layton Smith, Tasmania’s top miler of the time, finally won the Burnie mile in 1963 in a field of 18 starters. Running off 80 yds., Smith held off a determined challenge from Jeff O’Byrne (75 yds.) who had beaten him the previous year.
Lanky Layton Smith, another success story from the Saltmarsh stable, was an outstanding runner of the 1960s. Whereas quite a few sprinters take on distance running later in their careers, Smith did just the opposite. Mike Saltmarsh had concentrated on improving Smith’s sprint to give him a stronger finish for his distance events and was successful. So successful, in fact, that Layton Smith made the final of the 1964 Burnie Gift and ran third and went on to win the 130-yard Tasmanian Thousands Gift at Devonport in the same season. Before that he had won the Burnie, Latrobe and Devonport Miles, the 600 yds. world title at Geelong and 600 yds. handicap at Stawell.
In the chopping arena at the 1963 Burnie Carnival Wynyard’s Neville French provided a popular upset when he nudged underhand specialist ken Devine (Hobart) out of the Tasmanian 15-inch underhand championship. King Island axeman Eric Woodcock recouped his air fare to the Coast by winning the 12-inch Standing Hcp. from Trevor Jordan.
Ian Probert became only the second runner to win the Burnie gift in successive years with his victory at the 1964 Burnie Carnival. The only other runner to achieve the feat was Len Bugg in 1928 and ’29. Probert had been rehandicapped more than four yards on his 1963 win but won the 1964 final by the bigger margin of two yards in the fairly slow time of 12 9/10 off 8 ¾ yds.
Jeff O’Byrne, off the second back mark of 46 yds., displayed stamina, judgement and courage in a brilliant sprint at the finish to win his second Burnie Mile off 46 yds. After being passed by world professional mile champion Harold Downes (Victoria) off scratch. Many runners rated O’Byrne’s win in 4.8 1/10 as the ‘Tasmanian Mile of the Century’ and it stamped the 25-year-old Launceston commercial traveller as the State’s outstanding distance runner of the early 1960s with three Latrobe and two Burnie Miles to his credit.
But Harold Downes was by no means finished with the Burnie Mile. He came back to it three years in succession.
There was an upset in the 1964 Quarter-Mile when the first runner through the tape, Roly Chatterton (Launceston) was disqualified. He was reported stewards for tactics and the protest committee of W.J.T. David, MLC, J. C. Leary and C.M. Smith (TAL), after taking evidence from stewards and other runners disqualified Chatterton and gave first placing to the second runner to finish, John McGuire (Burnie).
Eighteen-year-old Graeme Gilmore (Launceston) avenged his defeat in the 1963 Burnie Wheelrace by winning the event in 1964. Gilmore had earlier won the Latrobe Wheelrace and had been rehandicapped to 95 yds. for Burnie. He rode a well judged race to beat Ian Campbell (140yds.) and Frank Atkins (265 yds.) by a clear two length. Within a few years Gilmore was partnering another Tasmanian ace, Danny Clark, on the European six-day circuit.
Ron Murray won the Five-Mile Scratch and veteran Sid Patterson, nearing the end of his cycling career, was back for another Burnie Carnival. He won the last event on the programme, the gruelling 10-Mile Scratch.
(iv) 1965 Basil Burley Hits Peak
Burnie runner Basil Burley (21) was widely hailed as Tasmania’s new sprint star after his win in the 1965 Burnie Gift and the predictions were spot on. A month later Burnley won the Tasmanian Thousands Gift at Devonport and within two seasons he was professional sprint champion of Australia.
Trained by former mile champion Barry Guy, Burley was hot favourite for the 1965 Burnie Gift after running even time in the non-penalty Latrobe 75 yds. Sprint on Christmas Day. The Burnie footballer cruised to a three yard win in the Gift final to beat Launceston sprinters Dale Eagling (9 ¼ yds.) and John Nankervis (8yds.) in 12 3/10.
Victorian school teacher Harold Downes was back for another crack at the Tasmanian Mile from scratch in 1965 and he won from a field of 32 in an event full of incidents. With a lap to go Downes was boxed in 70 yards behind and leading runners but, as The Advocate reported:
...with a withering burst of speed and going three wide, Downes passed runner after runner to win easily from limit marker R. Lewis (140 yds.) and Burnie runner Brian Halton (110 yds.).
Downes was the first runner to win the Mile from scratch since J. Hunter on the old South Burnie ground in 1894 and although his time of 4.5 was well outside his world record, he shattered the Australian 1500 metres record by running that distance in 3.49.
Some runners claimed after the race that Downes had been paced over the last 250 yds. By Victorian Ray Middleton but the reaction of stewards and spectators was, ‘So what?’ It was still a magnificent run.
Wynyard rider Lance Beamish, Tasmanian 25-mile and 50-mile road champion, scored the biggest track win of his career when he won the 1965 Burnie Wheelrace from Victorian Barry Waddell and Russell French (Burnie). The win gave his trainer, Jack Propstring, a unique record. All his previous winners at Burnie and other carnivals had been runners.
West Australian schoolteacher Stewart Bonsor received the plaudits of cycling fans when he broke the Australian professional record for a mile handicap by winning the New Year Hcp. in 1.46 9/10. The previous record of 1.50 7/10 had been set by Russell Mockridge at Burnie in 1958. But perhaps Bonsor’s time was not quite as significant as reports suggested. He was off 150 yds. Mockridge had ridden off scratch.
Although nearing 40 and getting close to retirement, the evergreen Sid Patterson again showed his class at the 1965 carnival by winning both the Five-Mile and 10-Mile Scratch races.
Whitehead and Winduss made the headlines in the 1966 BAC Carnival with Kerry Whitehead winning the Gift and Vern Winduss the Wheelrace.
Whitehead (21), one of the large and well known Burnie family, had been living in New Zealand for some years but returned to Tasmania to win the 1966 Burnie Gift.
Whitehead joined the new Burnie running stable of Lance Woods and John McLaren which had a string of successes in the 1965-66 season. Their runners including Bruce Dobson, David Evans and Ian Waddle had won at Campbell Town, Rosebery, Devonport and Latrobe, winning about £800.
But Whitehead had been saved for Burnie and he came up trumps. Off 10 ¼ yds. He scored a narrow win from Roly Chatterton (Launceston) and stablemate Bruce Dobson.
Harold Downes was back to win his second consecutive Tasmanian Mile from scratch in 4.3 5/10 but, unlike the previous year, the vent was without incident.
Victorian Vern Winduss (26), a consistent competitor at the Coastal carnivals since the late 1950s, finally cracked a big one when he beat Burnie rider Graeme Malley by a length in the Burnie Wheelrace in a new race record time of 3.50 3/10. Winduss rode off a front mark of 260 yds.
(v)1967 Winning the Dollars
Prizemoney winners at the 1967 Burnie Athletic Club’s 80th annual New Year’s Day Carnival were paid in dollars and cents for the first time. With the conversion to decimal currency the Gift and Wheel were each work $800. At the Centenary Carnival on 1 January 1987 the Esanda Burnie Gift will carry prizemoney of $10 000 and The Advocate Burnie Wheelrace, $7500.
Ian Campbell, the West Australian who had moved to Devonport to contest Tasmanian cycling and winner of the 1961 Burnie Wheelrace, won the vent again in 1967. By then he was riding off scratch compared with his 190 yds. handicap for the 1961 win.
Trained by Mac Sloane, Campbell was ‘carted’ by Frank Atkins (80 yds.) to catch the main bunch at three laps to go and timed his sprint well to cross the line a length ahead of K.W. McCarthy (190 yds.) and G. Woods (120 yds.) in the smart time of 3.55 4/10.
East Launceston footballer Roger Charlton (22), running in his third Burnie Gift final, took the money in 1967 with a comfortable win over popular NSW sprinter Reg Austin (8 ½ yds.). Austin was probably one of the unluckiest runners in Burnie Gift history, finishing second from a back mark in three finals – 1967, ’69 and ’70.
Basil Burley fulfilled the expectations of those who had predicted a big future after his 1965 Burnie Gift win by winning the title of Australian professional sprint champion in the 1966-67 Coast carnival series. The title was contested by top sprinters from Victoria, NSW, SA, Queensland and Tasmania in a series of events over 75, 100, 130 and 220 yds. Burley won the 75 yds. at Latrobe and the 100 yds. at Burnie and finished second in the 130 yds. at Devonport and the 220 yds. at Burnie to win the title from Victorian Ricky Dunbar and Kevin Portch (NSW).
Harold Downes returned to take the Tasmanian Mile hat-trick at the 1967 Burnie Carnival. With Jeff O’Byrne (55 yds.) and Layton Smith (65 yds.), Downes had caught the main bunch at the bell lap but had to withstand a determined finish by Victorian Allan Ferguson (90 yds.) to win by a foot.
In the chopping arena four of the North-West Coast’s most popular axemen won the main events in 1967 – Murray Graue (Devonport) the 12-inch standing, Marty Radford (Stowport) the 10-inch, Fred Dicker (Cuprona) the 12-inch underhand and Ken Gillard (Burnie) the tree-felling.
But for the Burnie Carnival crowd of 1967 the most memorable riding was the last appearance at Burnie of ‘Big Patto’ – Sid Patterson, the champion who had thrilled Tasmanian cycling followers since his first appearance at the Coastal carnivals in 1951. Patterson (39) had decided the 1967 season would be his last and he left a memorable impression with the New Year’s Day crowd by winning the Invitation Mile Match Race, Invitation Half-Mile Derby and the last and most gruelling event on the programme, the 10-Mile Scratch race. For many cycling fans, Sid Patterson’s retirement in 1967 was the end of an era.
Penguin footballer Phillip Lincoln, in his first season of running, took out the 1968 Burnie Gift from a field of 42 starters.
Lincoln (21) had been spotted by trainer Mick Saltmarsh in a footballers’ sprint and joined the Saltmarsh stable at the beginning of the 1968 season.
He won a 100 yd. Handicap at Devonpart and a 75 yd. at Latrobe as a warm-up to the Burnie Gift for which Peter Geary, son of 1945 Burnie Gift winner Ray Geary, was pre-race favourite.
In a classy final field which included Geary, dual Stawell Gift winner W.G. Howard, Basil Burley, Reg Austin and stablemate Ron Cornish, Lincoln ran a perfect race to break the tape two yards clear of Geary with Howard putting up a powerful run from 2 yds. to take third place.
Peter Geary’s second was a disappointment for the Geary family, but their time was to come 14 years later with younger brother Michael.
Former Wynyard athlete Winston Sherriff (27) returned to Tasmania from Victoria to win the 1968 Tasmanian Mile.
The 1968 Burnie wheelrace was a triumph for front markers. They made the pace a cracker from the start and veteran Neville Abell (Launceston), off 180 yds. took the first prizemoney from Victorians A. Bann (280 yds.) and W. Dove (200 yds.).
Abell (27) had begun riding 14 years earlier with Mac Sloane as a stablemate but had given the game away after seven years and mediocre performances. With the retired Sloane as his trainer Abell made a successful comeback in 1967 with a couple of road race wins, culminating with the Burnie Wheel in the 1968 track season.
Peter Bowles, the ‘Longford flyer,’ won the 1969 Burnie Gift off the front mark off 9 yds. Bowles (22), a Longford and NTFA footballer, beat NSW veteran Reg Austin ( 8 ¼ yds.) and backmarker Kerry Whitehead (8 yds.) the 1966 Gift winner.
Burnie police sergeant Ron Cornish, fourth in the 1968 Gift, had been set by the Saltmearsh stable for a win in 1969 and was the pre-race favourite. He made the final and looked a winner 100 yds. from the finish. But Cornish pulled a thigh muscle in the home stretch and could only limp to the finish to congratulate the winner.
The record for the Tasmanian Mile was again broken in 1969 when Penguin distance runner Gerald Davey clocked a winning time of 3.56 4/10 off 130 yds. Davey ran strongly from the gun to beat Launceston journalist Lloyd Whish-Welson off 115 yds. with scratchman Harold Downes again putting up a great run to finish third. Whish-Wilson would have to be classed one of the unluckiest runners in the history of the Burnie Mile. He ran second on three consecutive years.
In contrast to the frontmarkers’ Burnie Wheelrace of 1968, the final of 1969 was a breeze for the scratchmen. The front riders failed to take advantage of their handicaps and eight were fined for slow riding in the first few laps. Mexico Games Olympian Hilton Clarke (Victoria), Keith Oliver (NSW) and Barry Waddell (Victoria), all off scratch, caught the field with four laps to go and easily filled the first three placings. It was Clarke’s first professional wheelrace win.
Waddell established a new scratch rider’s record time for a mile on the Burnie track when he won the Viv Green Memorial Hcp. in 1.48 4/10 to lower Russell Mockridge’s scratch 1958 time by 2 3/10 secs.
The Memorable 1970s
(i) The Danny Clark Era
Few Tasmanian sports fans would argue that the decade of the 1970s of the cycling and running carnivals was the decade of Danny Clark. There were other highlights, of course, but none outshone Clark’s three Burnie, two Latrobe and one Devonport Wheelrace wins from scratch and his dozens of handicap and scratch wins against the world’s best.
In the decade of the ‘70s the George town ex-Olympian became the biggest drawcard since, and probably including, the Patterson-Sloane are turning in rides veteran followers of professional cycling still rate as the best seen on Tasmanian tracks.
Schoolboy Kevin Jamieson also wrote his name into Burnie Carnival history with two consecutive wins in the Burnie Wheelrace in 1971 and ’72 and the Sheffield Atkins brothers, Frank and Grant, frequently outclassed the cycling aces from inter-state and overseas.
Victorian and NSW runners also targeted on the Burnie Gift and nearly half of the Burnie Gifts of the 1970s were won by inter-state competitors while the 1976 Gift drew the biggest entry in the history of the race to that time with 64 starters.
The decade of the 1970s also saw chopping o the North-West Coast and at the Burnie Carnival achieve international status with axemen from the USA, Canada and New Zealand competing against the best in Australia. Tasmania axemen more than held their own, with George Foster and Doug Youd both winning World Champion of Champion titles.
By the end of the 1970s the BAC New Year’s Day Carnival carried total prizemoney of more the $13 000, with $3500 for the Gift and $2300 for the Wheel, and more than 130 running and cycling events were staged during the day and night programmes and an additional 28 events in the chopping arena.
Axemen had the spotlight at the 1970 Burnie Carnival. With State Government support Tasmania conducted the World Centenary of Competitive Chopping with a series of events and carnivals contested by the top axemen of Tasmania, most mainland States, New Zealand, USA and Canada, with the first events staged at the Burnie New Year’s Day Carnival.
The world title events were held in conjunction with the normal chopping arena programme and were watched by crowds of more than 5000. Tasmania’s top all-round axeman of the time, Deloraine veteran Doug Youd, had suffered severe injuries in a bush chainsaw accident a few weeks earlier and was not competing.
The 14-inch World Underhand Championship at Burnie was won by Queenslander Garry Hewitt from G. Smith (Victoria) and New Zealander Bill Curtain.
The 12-inch Invitation Tree Felling Hcp. also was won by a Queenslander, P. Hillcoat, from Doug Youd’s young brother, Ray.
Tasmania won the first heat of the $2000 International Teams’ Race at Burnie and Wilmot dairy farmer Ted Morse won the richest individual event, the $500 41-inch Standing Hcp.
At the end of the series conducted at Coastal centres during the next 10 days Tasmania had won the world Championship and George Foster (Ross) had won the title of World Champion of Champions. The name Foster, Notably George’s son David, has remained in the forefront of Australian chopping ever since.
Bishopsbourne, the small Northern farming community which had earned a name in Tasmanian sport from Mick Goss’ mile running career in the 1930s and early 40s, again came to the fore at the 1970 Burnie Carnival when Keith Badcock won the Burnie Gift.
Badcock (23), a Bishopsbourne farmer who was studying at a Bible School in Melbourne, beat pre-race favourite Reg Austin (NSW) and Deloraine sprinter Ralph Heffernan. Hi win gave trainer Ross Bowles two Burnie Gifts in succession. Ross had trained his son, Peter, for the 1969 Burnie Gift win.
Australian professional mile champion John Toleman (Victoria), competing at the Tasmanian carnivals for the first time, won the Burnie Mile off 95 yds. from Lloyd Whish-Wilson.
Ulverstone veteran Allan Heathcote, after eight years in retirement, returned to the cycling track with an upset win in the $800 Burnie Wheelrace from 270 yds. Heathcote had not figured in calculations for the Burnie Wheel before his win in the Half-Mile Rubina Joy Stakes earlier in the programme and he rode strongly with fellow frontmarkers R. Lee (Launceston) and G. Fraser (Launceston) to keep the backmen out of contention in the Wheel final.
Almost every decade has seen the rise of a new star of Tasmanian cycling and the 1970s were no exception. A 15-year-old Devonport schoolboy, Kevin jamieson, emerged as the new local champion with a brilliant win in the 1971 Burnie Wheelrace.
Jamieson was not only the youngest rider ever to win the Burnie Wheel – he also rode it in a race record time of 3.41. And the following year he became the first rider to win the Burnie Wheelrace in consecutive years.
Jamieson was from a well known North-West Coast cycling family. His father and trainer, Allan Jamieson, had been a consistent rider in the 1950s and his uncles Len, Lyell, Don and Geoff also had been regular competitors at the Coastal carnivals with Len Jamieson being rated second only to Mac Sloane in Tasmanian cycling of the 1950s.
NSW sprinter Barry Poulter (27), trained by three times Latrobe Gift winner Reg Austin, also had won the Latrobe Gift on Boxing Day. Both Poulter and Austin made the Burnie Gift final but Austin was unplaced. Poulter beat the pre-race favourite Ron Cornish by a yard with Ralph Heffernan (Deloraine) and Gerard Thompson (Burnie) taking third and fourth placings.
Ron Cornish went close in later years, but the classic eluded him. But both Heffernan and Thompson were to win the Burnie Gift before long.
West Pine farmer Mike McKenna (25) beat a field of 56 to win the Burnie Mile off 95 yds., a clear 20 yds. ahead of Lloyd Whish-Wilson. McKenna’s win gave trainer Dennis Moore, second in the 1956 and ’57 Burnie Miles, a clean sweep of distance events in the 1971 carnival series. Runners from his stable had won all major events from 880 yds. to the miles.
(ii) 1972 Jamieson Creates History
Kevin Jamieson created Burnie Wheelrace history by becoming the first and so far only rider to win the event two years in succession at the 1972 BAC Carnival. More than 16 000 patrons paid nearly $8000 to see the day and night programmes.
Jamieson had gone back from a 220 yds. handicap to 160 yds. for the 1972 Wheel and made the final in a strong field of 15 middle and front markers. His main rivals appeared to be middle markers Vern Winduss and Barry Mollison.
But both those riders and three others – Dennis and Dick Clarke and Leigh Holland – fell when a rider punctured with a lap and a half to go. Trailing the main bunch by a few yards, jamieson managed to weave through the fallen riders and caught front markers M. Dean (Victoria) and P. Bigham (Launceston), both off 260 yds., to win by a wheel in the sprint to the line.
Gutsy little Sheffield rider Frank Atkins, who had dominated scratch races at the Coastal carnivals against strong mainland competition, took both the Five and 10-Mile A Grade scratch races.
Ralph Heffernan, third in both the 1969 and ’70 Burnie Gifts, had decided early in the 1972 season to win the classic. Six months before the carnival he had contacted the runner he admired most in Australia, Reg Austin (NSW), to ask to train with him and moved to Deloraine to Sydney to join the Austin stable. The move paid dividends.
Heffernan (22) returned to Tasmania with the Austin stable runners for the carnival series with the Burnie Gift as his target. He won off 10 ½ yds. by a yard from Peter Geary (10 ¼ ) with Queenslander T. Keegan taking third place. The two backmakers in this final were 1975 Gift winner Gerard Thompson and a future Tasmanian Premier and former star VFL footballer, Ray Groom. It was Groom's only appearance on the professional circuit in this era.
The confident Austin stable had backed Heffernan solidly and was reported to have cleaned up more than $4000 on the Gift win.
Heffernan completed a double by winning the 220-yds. Hcp. at night.
Harry Davey, brother of 1969 Burnie Mile winner Gerald Davey, won the 1972 Mile by inches from stablemate Barry Ling with Bernard McKenna taking third place. All were from the Dennis Moore stable.
All race distances were converted to metres for the 1973 Burnie Carnival which, to some extent, brought the end of an era. Record times of earlier carnivals were no longer really comparable, even though most events were over the same distances, given a yard (or metre) or two.
The 12-metre Burnie Gift was won by Launceston’s Max Seymour who had also won the Devonport Gift and the 220 at Stawell the previous season. Off 10 ¼ metres, Seymour beat Tasmanian sprint champion John Howard (Hobart) off six metres with Peter Geary, still trying to get the Geary name back on the Burnie Gift winners’ list, finishing third.
Burnie butcher Colin Kelly (34) capped off a successful season in the Coastal carnival distance races with a win in the Burnie Mile – still called the mile despite the new 1600 metres distance, Kelly had won the Mile at Latrobe and the 800 metres at Devonport.
Nineteen-year-old Ulverstone cyclist Rod Johnson completed a good double with a win in the 1973 Burnie Wheelrace. He had won the Devonport Wheel a few nights earlier.
The front riders were well organised and the three scratch riders in the final, Hilton Clarke, Keith Oliver and Bob Whetters were never a real threat, although Clarke got up to take fourth place. But Johnston won by a clear eight lengths from R. Grey and G. Davis. All were off 210 metres.
Frank Atkins gain won both A Grade Scratch races over the new 8000 metre and 16 000 metre distances.
(iii) 1974 Record Gate
The 1974 BAC New Year’s Day Carnival drew a crowd of more than 20 000 people – 4000 up on the previous year – and they paid a record $14 237 admission at the gates.
And both the regular carnival patrons and thousands attending perhaps their first Burnie Carnival were there for one main reason – to see whether the new sensation of Tasmanian professional cycling, Danny Clark, could make a clean sweep of the major Coastal carnival wheeraces by taking the Burnie Wheelrace after already having won the Latrobe and Devonport Wheelraces from scratch in the previous week. They were not disappointed.
The young George Town rider, rated as the best Tasmania has produced, got his first bike when he was a scrawny 13-year-old as a present from his father Terry. At 15 he blitzed Tasmanian amateur cyclists by winning the Examiner Wheel of Wheels in Launceston and at 16 won the Australian junior sprint championship. The following season he won three national junior titles and represented Australia in South Africa. He returned to Australia and won the Examiner Wheel of Wheels again from scratch. After that he was never again to ride in front of scratch, either as an amateur or professional.
Clark won a silver medal in the 4000 metres pursuit at the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games and, after winning nine Australian and 31 Tasmanian titles, including three Australian records, was an automatic selection for the Munich Olympics of 1972. There he rode the best time of his career of 1 min. 6.87 secs. In the 1000 metres time trial and an Olympic record. Fifteen minutes later a Dane, Niels Fredbord, won the gold medal with a ride of 1 min. 6.44 secs.
Danny Clark returned home as the first Tasmanian to win an individual Olympic silver medal but soon clashed with officialdom over relatively minor matters. He withdrew from the Commonwealth Games team in late 1973 when, as the final straw, his father was sacked as assistant coach of the cycling team. Within a week he had turned professional in his debut in Melbourne became the first scratch rider since Sid Patterson to win the Melbourne Cup on Wheels from scratch.
But Tasmanian followers of professional cycling reserved their judgement on the former Olympian as a handicap rider on the big tracks till the Christmas-New Year coastal carnival series of 1973-73. They didn’t have long to wait.
Danny Clark won the Latrobe Wheelrace and Devonport Wheelraces with comparative ease from scratch beating Frank Atkins (scratch) and N. Provis (160 metres) at Latrobe and annihilating the Devonport Wheelrace finalists the same week with a 40 metre winning margin over Greg Brown (170m.) and Grant Atkins (scratch).
Some sports writers predicted Clark would be put behind scratch for the $1500 Burnie Wheelrace on New Year’s Day and most of the other 107 heat starters probably wished he had been. But the LTW left him on scratch and he made the final with four other scratch riders – Keith Oliver, Grant Atkins, Bob Whetters and Ezio Cardi, with Phil Sawyer the other backman on 30 metres.
The final was never in doubt from the starter’s gun. The strong back bunch steadily closed the gap on the rest of the field. Clark made it three in a row with a win from Oliver, Atkins and Cardi. And just to leave a lasting impression from his first ride at Burnie, Danny Clark won the 8000-metres Scratch and Invitation Derby on the same programme and finished second in the 16 000-metres Scratch.
Danny Clark had been paid just $500 appearance money to ride at Latrobe, Devonport and Burnie. His rides and the crowds he attracted were worth thousands of dollars to the clubs. A little over a week later he fell and broke a collarbone at the Devonport Thousands and was unable to compete in the Australian professional titles, for which he was firm favourite to take the overall Australian champion title.
And just as Danny Clark dominated the cycling at the 1974 Burnie Carnival, 23-year-old Melbourne youth worker John Mowat dominated the running events, winning the Maiden Hcp., Burnie Gift and 200-metre Championship.
Mowat had been brought to Burnie by nationally renowned veteran mentor Fergie Speakman (73), trainer of four Stawell Gift and two Bendigo Thousand winners since 1932. Mowat and Speakman were bad news for the Saltmarsh stable and the runner it had set for the 1974 Burnie Gift, Ron Cornish, second in 1971 and running at his peak in 1974. Mowat (7 ¾ m.) edged out Cornish (7 ½ m.) by a fraction as they broke the tape.
Gerald Monson, second in the Mile in 1973, won the 1974 distance classic from Bernard McKenna and the ’73 winner, Colin Kelly.
Chopping was again a feature of the 1974 Burnie Carnival with the World Festival of Chopping being staged on the North-West Coast and contested by the USA, Canada, North and South Island of New Zealand, Queensland, NSW, SA, WA and, of course, Tasmania. The series had officially started with a ceremony at Ulverstone on New Year’s Eve and was conducted during the next 10 days with carnivals at most North-West Coast centres.
Tasmania’s best known axeman of the time, Deloraine district farmer Doug Youd who had suffered severe injuries in a chainsaw accident just before the 1970 world series and could not participate, was the Tasmanian favourite at the Burnie Carnival and won the world 37.5 cm standing title and was also captain of the Tasmanian team.
Youd (46) eventually won the world champion title on points at the end of the series from J. Goodwin (NZ) and the 1970 winner, George Foster (Ross), and was selected to captain the Australian team to compete in New Zealand later in the year.
1975 First Legal Calcutta
The gate takings record of the 1974 BAC New Year’s Day Carnival did not stand for long. It was broken again at the 1975 carnival when patrons paid $16 000 to watch an action-packed day and night carnival with Danny Clark and nine other national and international scratchmen, including world sprint champion Robert Van Lancker (Belgium) as the star attractions. There were also record field entered in the Gift.
Former Burnie journalist Gerard Thompson returned from Port Macquarie NSW to win the Gift to take the race in under 12 seconds for the first time for many years, winning in 11.8 seconds.
Some sensible teamwork and hard riding by the front markers kept the backmen out of the big money in the Wheel, won by little known Victorian Wayne Dixon off 150 metres.
The 1975 carnival was the first at which Calcuttas, held on the Gift, Wheel and other major events at North-West Coast carnivals almost since their inception, were legalised.
The law had chosen to turn a blind eye to the sale of the Calcuttas in pubs and dressing sheds for more than half a century but in 1975, due mainly to sensible legislation introduced by the Reece Government, the Calcuttas could be conducted legally.
Gerard Thompson bought himself for $25 in the $725 Gift Calcutta – odds of nearly 19-1 – and backed himself for a further $50 at 5-1. With the $1200 first prizemoney he took more than $2000 back to Port Macquarie, NSW, after the carnival.
Thompson had won a number of Tasmanian gifts in earlier years while working in Burnie and had made the final of two previous Burnie Gifts. He was later to end his career winning more than 10 gifts and many other races from 70 metres to 800 metres, and was a strong 400 metre performer, also winning State titles in Tasmania and in NSW as an amateur.
Uniquely, Thompson was a member of a famiy that saw four close relatives win the Burnie Gift including uncle Ray Geary 1945, second cousin Ashton Shirley 1949 and first cousin Michael Geary in 1982.
Off the handicap of 8.25 metres he beat the hot pre-race favourite Ross Baxter (NSW) whose stable had backed him for $500 and paid top price of $155 in the Calcutta. But Baxter (7m.) could manage only third behind Thomnpson and another former Burnie runner Adrian Medwin (Launceston).
Six of the 10 scratch riders competing at the 1975 Burnie Carnival – Danny Clark, ken Jamieson, Frank Atkins, Ezio Cardi, Keith Oliver and Laurie Venn – made the final of the wheelrace but the front riders gave them virtually no chance. They teamed well to ride 3000 metres in 3.27 – 10 seconds faster than Clark’s winning time in 1974 – with Wayne Dixon winning by three lengths from middle marker P. Swatton (70m). Clark was the only scratch rider to catch the field and take third place.
But the big name scratch riders did not disappoint the 1975 carnival crowd. Clark rode probably the best race of the Coastal carnival series to with the Viv Green Memorial Hcp. and Van Lancker turned on a powerful sprint performance to win the 1000-metre Lightning Hcp.
At the Tasmanian professional sprint titles the following weekend Danny Clark established his complete dominance of Tasmanian cycling by winning, in one night of racing, the State Sprint, 1000-Metre Lightning Hcp.
At the Tasmanian professional sprint titles the following weekend Danny Clark established his complete dominance of Tasmanian cycling by winning, in one night of racing, the State Sprint, 1000-Metre, 5000-Metre Pursuit and 10 000-Metre titles at Devonport.
The lion’s share of prizemoney for the Burnie Gift was again taken back to Port Macquarie, NSW, after the 1976 Burnie Carnival. Gerard Thompson’s stablemate, 34-year-old Kevin Portch, beat the red hot local favourite Bruce Tschirpig (Latrobe) by a fraction to take first prizemoney which, with the Calcutta conducted for the first time by the BAC, totalled $3753.
Portch was no stranger to the Coastal carnivals or the Burnie Gift. He had first run at Burnie in 1964, representing NSW in the Australian sprint titles won by Basil Burley, and had competed at the Coastal carnivals regularly since then with Jack Propstring training him whilst in Tasmania.
But Portch, winner of the 1967 Bendigo Thousand, had not won a major event in Tasmania and did not fancy his chances in the 1976 Burnie Gift, although he had finished fourth in 1975 and he won the Ovaltine Sprint in Devonport in the lead up to the 1976 Burnie Gift.
He did not even buy himself in the Calcutta. Latrobe distance runner Neville Appleby (21) capped off a successful carnival series with a gutsy win in the Burnie Mile. He had won major races from 400 metres to 1600 metres at Rosebery, Latrobe and Devonport in the lead-up to Burnie.
Appleby, off 135 metres, seemed beaten when Victorian Geoff Willdox (80m.) passed him in the last 20 metres but the Latrobe runner fought back to win narrowly in the last few strides.
Victorian middle marker Ray O’Brien, winner of the 1975 Melbourne Cup on Wheels, beat local favourite Glen Malley in the 1975 Burnie Wheelrace. O’Brien carved seven seconds off the previous fastest time since the Wheel distance was changed from two miles to 3000 metres. Off 200 metres, he rode the final in 3.20.
(iv) 1977 Danny Clark’s Carnival
More than 130 cyclists, 163 runners and 113 axemen competed in the 1977 Burnie Athletic Club’s 90th annual carnival but at the end of the 173-event programme patrons, officials and competitors were unanimous. The 1977 Burnie Carnival really belonged to one man – Danny Clark. In an almost superhuman day and night of riding Clark had 12 races between 9 a.m. and 11.30 p.m. and won eight of them including the two biggest, the Burnie Wheelrace and the marathon 16 000-Metre Scratch Race. Danny Clark’s 1977 Burnie Wheelrace victory from scratch in 3.22 2/10 has been written into Tasmanian sporting history as the greatest ride ever seen in this State – and there have been some great performances. In a front page report of 3 January 1977 The Advocate said of Clark’s Wheelrace win:
The 14 000 people at West Park on Saturday witnessed the eighth wonder of the modern world. No one had seen anything like it before, and they’ll probably never see anything like it again. Anyone not at the ground missed a once in a lifetime experience.
Because at West Park on Saturday, Danny Clark turned in the greatest ride ever seen in Tasmania when he got up to win the $1750 Burnie Wheel. To see it was to believe it. Clark did what for any other cyclist was ‘the impossible.’
‘Motor Mouse’ was more than 100 metres behind the tearaway leaders at the bell. Only he could have made up that much ground.
Going into the furlong he still trailed Eric Bishop and Craig Price by 40 metres.
But with his eyes shut and riding from memory, the champ. started to mow the leaders down. He moved alongside the breakaways just as Price got to the front and looked set to make up for his third in the big one last year.
But Clark kept on keeping on and in the last 20 metres lifted himself out of the ground to grab victory by a wheel. Price plugged on gamely to get second money and Eric Bishop was well clear of the rest of the field in third position.
But few of the huge crowd would even have noticed. All eyes had been on Clark and the reception he received had to be heard to be believed.
It had been an unbelievable and virtually indescribable ride by the greatest cyclist ever to ride the Coastal carnival circuit.
The thousands who paid their $2 admission for the day programme and $1.50 at night got their money’s worth with Clark’s rides alone but they were treated to much more at the memorable 1977 carnival.
First cousins and stablemates Steven Roach (Westbury) and Gary Clayton (Launceston) fought out one of the closest Burnie Gift finishes on record with Roach beating Clayton, pre-race favourite, by the official margin of one centimetre.
Both were trained by Gary Clayton’s father, Allan, and Roach had been ‘set’ for the 100-metre Maiden Hcp. and Clayton for the Gift. But Roach had been run out of the Maiden in his semi-final and came into Gift calculations when he beat Eric Cummings (Victoria), who had brought top price of $190 in the Calcutta, in the heats.
In one of the most even finals for years Roach (10 ¾ m.) held on to beat Clayton (9 ½ m.) by the narrowest of margins with young Burnie sprinter Gary Wescombe (9 ½ m.) taking third prizemoney.
Westcombe had earlier won the Maiden Hcp. and his third in the Gift made him a hot prospect for the following year.
Ulverstone real estate agent Greg Woodhouse (23) won the $1000 J.C. Leary Memorial 1600-Metre Hcp. after having finished second in four distance events at the Rosebery, Latrobe and Devonport carnivals. Trained by 1969 Mile winner Gerald Davey, Woodhouse upset a heavy plunge on red hot favourite David Thompson (NSW) whose connections had paid $405 for him in Calcutta. Woodhouse had been bought for $140 and won by a clear five metres from Gerald Monson (Burnie).
The Foster name again dominated the chopping arena in 1977 but this time it wasn’t the 1970 World Champion of Champions, George Foster, who got the headlines, although he was still competing – and still is. His husky 19-year-old son David got the headlines from the 1977 Burnie Carnival with a win in the $285 30cm. Open Hcp. after having won the Australian hard-hitting championship, 30 cm. Underhand and 33 cm. Underhand at the previous Royal Melbourne Show. Veteran officials and competitors of the chopping arena predicted David Foster (Devonport) would develop into a world class axeman. They weren’t wrong. Today, 10 years later, David Foster, the ‘gentle giant’ of Tasmanian chopping, is a world champion in his own right and widely regarded as the best all-round axeman Tasmania has ever produced.
(v) 1978 Wheelrace controversy
Few of the Coastal Christmas – New Year carnivals manage to avoid controversial finishes in major events from time to time and the Burnie Carnival has been no exception. The controversy at its 1978 carnival was the finished of the $2000 Burnie Wheelrace when, for the first time since 1946, a protest was lodged against the winner by the second placegetter.
Mark Osborne (Penguin) and Len Hammond (Victoria) flashed over the finish line locked together and the judges gave Osborne first placing by a fraction. Hammond immediately protested, claiming he had won and that Osborne had elbowed him as they went to the finish.
After a lengthy hearing and evidence from both riders the protest was dismissed by BAC stewards, Hammond stormed to the centre of the ground and lodged an appeal with LTW officials but the appeal also was dismissed after a 30-minute hearing.
Hammond claimed after the hearings that he had been the victim of a biased ‘home town decision,’ but Osborne, son of A Grade rider of the 1950s Alex Osborne, said he never doubted that he had won narrowly and that he would survive the protest.
A photograph of the finish by Advocate photographer Don Carter, a veteran of Coastal carnival coverages, was subsequently viewed by BAC and LTW officials and confirmed their judgement that Osborne had won by a fraction.
Osborne, who had ridden off 40 metres in the Wheel, was immediately rehandicapped to become a new Australian scratch rider.
Graeme Hodskiss (Launceston), winner of the 1975 Latrobe Wheel, rode brilliantly from scratch to win the 2000-Metre hcp. in 2.11 5/10. Hodskiss was ‘carted’ to the main bunch by co-scratchman Grant Atkins and the 30-metre pair of Mark Osborne and Steele Bishop but he had to ride the last furlong alone to beat the fast-finishing G. Pollard (Victoria) off 140 metres and L. Kerrison (Launceston) 190 metres.
But the big disappointment for cycling fans on the 1978 programme was the traditionally hard-fought $225 16 000 Metre Scratch Race which is usually by highlighted keen contests for the major prizes, additional lap prizes and sponsored sprints. A strong bunch of four A Grade riders – Steele Bishop, John Trevorrow, Neville Allison and Terry Stacey – broke away from the 20 other riders with 35 of the 38 laps to go and held their lead to the finish, with Trevorrow winning from Allison and Bishop. LTW referee Graham Eade and most of the crowd believed that most of the main bunch had not made a real effort to catch the breakaways who shared all the winning prizemoney, lap prizes and special sprints. Referee Eade fined all but eight of the 24 riders $10 for unsatisfactory performances.
The 1978 Burnie Gift final was an all-footballer finish with 21-year-old Gary Wecombe (Burnie) winning from Gerald Mathews (Longord) and Garry French (Penguin). Trained by John McLaren, Wescombe had emerged as a strong Gift prospect with his win in the 1977 Maiden Hcp. and third in the Gift but punters had evidently forgotten those runs. Off the same handicap of 9 ½ metres the improved Burnie runner had sold for a mere $30 in the $1500 Gift Calcutta – the equivalent of 50-1 odds.
Undeterred by finishing among the also-rans after a heavy betting plunge in the 1977 metric Mile, 21-year-old David Thompson (NSW) was back with a vengeance in 1978. Off 105 metres he spread-eagled one of the classiest fields for years to win by 15 metres from consistent Hobart runner David Quarrell and David Heron (Launceston) in a record time of 3.53 8/10.
As an added attraction for its 1978 programme the BAC again organised a spectacular fireworks display – the first since the 1920s – and this has continued as a highlight on the night programme of most carnivals since.
The decade of the 1970s closed on a high note for the BAC with record attendance of 20 600 at its 1979 Carnival, about 200 up on the 1974 record. The 1979 carnival drew 13 000 patrons for the day programme and 7600 at night.
Danny Clark won his third Burnie Wheelrace from scratch in an almost casual finish. Unlike his 1977 win Clark did not face a gruelling lone ride for the last lap and two other scratchmen, Laurie Venn and Steele Bishop, took the minor placings. With Clark, Venn Bishop and Clarlie Hall all off scratch and Dave Sanders, Hilton Clarke and Murray Hall off 40 metres in the field of 16, it was a backmarkers’ race almost from the gun. The backies had the main field with three laps to go. Several pulled out after their stint of pacing during the seven laps leaving Clark, Venn and Bishop to take the placings.
Not surprisingly Clark paid out most of the $1150 first prizemoney to his co-backmen and referee Graham Eade fined three of them, Doug Sanders, Hilton Clark and Charlie Walsh $100 each for unsatisfactory performances. They were the heaviest fines imposed in Tasmanian professional cycling.
But the help of the backmen did not diminish Danny Clark’s win with the spectators and he rode another brilliant handicap race to take the Lightning Hcp. from scratch.
Victorian Ian Hagger (28), another of the Fergie Speakman stable, won the 1979 $2500 Burnie Gift by a centimetre from local favourite and 1978 Thousands Gift winner Garry French (Penguin). French, off 6 ½ metres, had hit the front 30 metres from the tape but Hagger (9 ¼ metres) fought back in the last few metres to get the decision. In his next Burnie Gift final a year later French remembered that sprints can be won or lost over the final few strides and he didn’t make the same mistake twice.
Ulverstone’s Greg Woodhouse steamrolled the cream of Australia’s distance runners in the $500 BAC Invitation 1600 Metre Hcp., a new event on the programme, to win by 10 metres from George Monson and Bernard McKenna.
Three Launceston runners, W. Byron, D. Heron and Gerald Monson took the placings in the $1250 J.C. Leary 1600 Metre Tasmanian Hcp.
Huon axeman Greg Lovell starred in the chopping arena beating Tasmanian champion and holder of several national titles, 21-year-old David Foster, in both the 30 cm. Burnie New Year Thousand off 25 secs. and the Tasmanian 42 cm. Standing Championship. It was not a good ay for Foster who, till then, had won 16 consecutive championships in Tasmania and on the mainland.
And for the first time for more than 20 years one of the best known officials of the BAC New Year’s Day Carnival was able to watch the events at leisure. Alf Paske (65) had handed over the reins of club secretary to Peter Blake after 20 years. In fact, Alf Paske had been closely associated with the carnival since he first competed as a cyclist at the age of 16 and later became a pusher-off, BAC committeeman and carnival official before taking the position of secretary in 1959.
ASHTON SHIRLEY winning the 1949 Burnie Gift
• First cousins Ashton Shirley (1949 Burnie Gift Winner) and Ray Geary (1944 Burnie Gift Winner) with Cyril Shirley (left) and Ray Patmore.
Towards the Centenary Chapter 10
(i) 1980 Wins to Locals
The Burnie Athletic Club entered the decade of its centenary in 1980 and, appropriately, North-West coast competitors scooped the pool in the major handicap cycling the running events at the first carnival of the new decade.
Persistent Penguin footballer Garry French, third in the Burnie gift in 1978 and second in 1979, finally broke through for a win in the 1980 gift, which drew a record 75 starters. In one of the classiest fields ever to contest a Burnie Gift final and off the tight handicap of 6 ¼ metres, French beat champion mainland sprinters John de Coite (Victoria) and Steve Brossman (NSW).
And in addition to achieving the victory he and his trainer Ted Eagling had cherished since 1978 Garry French, former State amateur sprint champion, had another good incentive to win the 1980 Burnie Gift. The winner’s prize money had been increased by $1000 to $2400.
With backmarkers Brossman (4 ¾ m.) and de Coite (5 ¼ m.) the 1980 final also included former Burnie gift winner Gary Wescombe (8 ½ m.) and the new hope for another Geary family win in the Gift, Michael Geary (8 ¼ m.) French got away smartly and steadily gained on the front runners but de Coite and Brossman were less than a metre behind within 20 metres of the finish. French lunged at the tape in a desperate finish and fell heavily but won by the narrowest of margins.
Garry French’s win was from the tightest handicap since Garnet Pearce’s record run off three yards on the old South Burnie ground in 1903.
Peter Radford (Devonport), winner of the 1975 Tasmanian Mile at Burnie, won the $1250 event again at the 1980 carnival with a record run off 105 metres in 3.52 2/10. Radford had the race well in his keeping from a field of 47 from the start and won by more than 10 metres.
Bernard McKenna (Burnie) won the Backmarkers’ Invitation Mile (1600 metres) from Devonport runner Viv Woodward. The win was the highlight of a successful season for 27-year-old McKenna who had won the 3200 Metres at Latrobe and the 1600 Metres at Devonport the previous week.
Viv Woodward went on to become Australia’s top professional cross country runner and has since won 35 national titles over distances ranging from a mile to marathons.
Bob Brinkman (Ulverstone), in his first season of running, took the 1600 Metres Encourage Hcp. and locals also won the other main events on the running programme. The Eagling stable took the double when Don McDowell (Penguin) beat NSW runners J. Van Staffers and Steve Brossman in the final of the 200 Metres Hcp. and Garry Spinks (Burnie), one of the McLaren stable, won the Wm. Pitt 400 Metres Memorial Hcp.
The 1980 New Year’s Day cycling programme also was a triumph for local riders.
Riders from four States – NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania – made the final of the Wheelrace and the field included six scratchmen and the winners of the previous week’s Latrobe and Devonport Wheelraces, Steele Bishop and Leon Laskey.
The scratch bunch had the outmarkers well within reach after four of the seven laps and the question was not whether a scratchman would win the $2300 final, but which one? Again, it was a local.
Grant Atkins (Sheffield), younger brother of former scratchman Frank Atkins, had the strongest finish to win by a length from co-scratchmen Graeme Hodskiss (Launceston), Steele Bishop (WA) and Laurie Venn (Victoria). Atkins, the Sheffield council Clerk who had won Australian sprint titles in 1974, ’78 and ’79, had one of his best days at the 1980 Burnie Carnival. In addition to the major Wheelrace victory he won the 1000 Metres Invitation Omnium and the 8000 Metres A Grade Scratch. He was strongly fancied for the final event on the programme, the 16 000 Metre Scratch, but punctured halfway through the 32 laps.
But another local, mark Osborne, who had won the 1600 Metre Lightning Hcp. off scratch earlier in the programme, held off the strong inter-state contingent to take first prizemoney in the 16 000 Metre Scratch.
Veteran Forth axeman Reg Purton, winner of the first ever Tasmanian Thousands chop in 1961 and the Burnie Thousand in 1963 earned sustained applause in the chopping arena when he won the $1000 30cm. Thousands Hcp. He was 60 years of age.
In marked contrast to the previous year inter-state and international competitors outshone the Tasmanians at the 1981 Burnie Carnival. They took first prize money in the Gift, Wheel, both A Grade Scratch races and most of the invitation races on both the cycling and running programmes.
Michael Geary and Garry French were local pre-post favourites for the Burnie Gift. Despite the re-handicap to four metres for his 1980 Gift win, French was rated a top chance to make it two in a row and Geary was the strong fancy of Burnie running fans.
Garry French was still in contention after the heats but broke in his semi-final and was penalised a metre to put him back on three metres. The gap was too great and French was fun out in his semi.
Geary was one of only two Tasmanians to make the final but 1981 was not his year. Off 8 ½ metres, Geary finished two metres behind 30-year-old Victorian Neil King (6 ¾ m.) with Steve Proudlock (3 m.), the 1978 Stawell Gift winner, taking third place. Michael Geary had to wait another year to emulate his father’s win of 1945.
Sydney distance runner Peter Guest off 30 metres defeated the locals in the Invitation Backmarkers’ Mile. He was first through the tape ahead of Stan Bailey (Devonport) and Viv Woodward.
But Burnie veteran Mike McKenna won the acclaim of the home-town crowd with his victory in the 1981 Tasmanian Mile Hcp. a decade after first winning the prestigious event in 1971. McKenna (35), a committee member of the BAC and carnival official, had almost decided to scratch from the Mile on the night programme after a tiring day. He didn’t give himself any chance of a win in the strong field of more 50 starters. He sold for only $40 in the $1700 calcutta while race favourite David Heron (Devonport) sold for $500.
But to everyone’s surprise, including his own, Mike McKenna, soon got to the front from his 120 metre handicap and stayed there to finish two metres ahead of another distance stalwart Barry Ling (Penguin) and race favourite David Heron, second in 1979 and 1980 and third in ’81. But Heron, like Michael Geary in the Gift, scored the elusive Tasmanian Mile win the following year.
For the third year in succession scratch riders dominated the 1981 Burnie Wheelrace with six making the final. They were up with the field at three laps to go and Victorian Murray Hall rimed his sprint well to pass Swiss ace, Urs Freuler, a few metres from the finish.
Victorian scratchman Laurie Venn was the outstanding rider of the carnival. He won the quadrella of the 8000 and 16 000 Metre A Grade Scratch races, 1000 Metre Invitation Derby and 1000 metre match Race.
(ii) 1982 The Geary Celebration
Many sons of Tasmanian professional runners have taken up the sport to follow in their fathers’ footsteps in the past 100 years with varying degrees of success. Some make it to the top; some don’t. But until the 1982 Burnie Carnival no son of a previous Burnie Gift had succeeded in their quests of a father-and-son winning combination, although many had tried.
After two finals in which he finished fourth and second, 24-year-old Michael Geary created that record with his clear win in the 1982 final of the Burnie Gift, the sprint classic won 37 years earlier by his father, Ray.
His elder brother Peter had come close with two second placings, a third and fourth in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and Mike finally broke the minor placings hoodoo in 1982.
Mike Geary’s win was never really in doubt. Under trainer Ted Eagling who had brought Garry French to his peak for the 1980 Burnie Gift win, Geary had won the non-penalty Wynyard Gift, Latrobe 400 Metres, Devonport 400 Metre Gift and the 100 Metre Ovaltine sprint at Devonport in his build-up for the big one at Burnie on New Year’s Day. Off 7 ¼ metres Geary cruised to comfortable wins in his heat and semi-final and broke through the tape easing up half a metre ahead of Burnie’s Steve Arnol (9 ¾ m.) and stablemate David Keen (8 ¾ m.).
At any other Burnie Carnival Ray Geary would have probably been the first to congratulate his son on completing the family double. But on New Year’s Day, 1982, Ray was at his Burnie home nursing a painful attack of gout. He listened to the final on radio, immediately call a taxi and hobbled on the ground over which he had sprinted many times 40 years earlier to join Mike and his connections in their victory celebrations. Mike Geary was the fourth member of his family to win the prestigous Burnie Gift following his dad in 1945, second cousin Ashton Shirley in 1949 and first cousin Gerard Thompson in 1975.
The $2700 winner’s cheque had taken Mike Geary’s prizemoney for the coastal carnival series to almost $5000, probably a record for one runner in a Christmas – New Year season.
But if the Gearys were in the mood to celebrate at the 1982 Burnie Carnival, champion cyclist Danny Clark certainly wasn’t. In fact, Clark was so angry at his treatment by LTW officials during the carnival series that he claimed he would not ride at the Coastal carnival again – and so far he hasn’t. But Clark is booked to return from Europe to ride at the 1987 BAC Centenary Carnival.
Clark, the winner of three Burnie, three Latrobe and one Devonport wheelraces from scratch since 1971, claimed he had been victimised by LTS officials in the 1981-82 series. His anger came to the boil when, four minutes before he was due to ride, LTW officials switched him and co-scratchmen Shane Sutton and Colin Rayan from the second heat of the Wheelrace to the third heat and put scratch trio Urs Freuler, Hans Kanel and Garry Sutton from the third heat into the second.
Neither LTW referee Bruce French nor handicapper Eric Webster would comment publicly on the reason for the switch but they were believed to have acted on a report that the second heat had been rigged for a Clark win. Clark rode brilliantly – the last three laps alone – to finish third in his heat and make the final but the ride appeared to flatten him and he did not threaten the outmarkers in the final. Canberra’s Neil Stephens (210 m.) won easily from Craig Price (60 m.) and Greg Whybrow (180) in 3.28 1/10.
Obviously irate for the rest of the carnival, Clark did not ride to expectations in any other of the invitation backmarkers or A Grade Scratch events at the 1982 carnival and failed to take a placing on the cycling programme.
Devonport runners won both the Backmarkers’ Invitation and the Tasmanian hcp. metric miles o the night programme. After his second placing in 1979 and ’80 and the third in 1981, 26-year-old Davideron won the Tasmanian Hcp. comfortably off 75 metres. He beat race favourite Leon Saltmarsh (Yolla), who had been bought for $750 in the Calcutta, by two metres.
Leigh Taylor had an easy win in the Backmarkers’ Invitation over George Monson (Scottsdale) and Brian Ling (Penguin) in 4.6 9/10. Trained by Bevan Hutton, Taylor had turned professional 18 months earlier and had run second in both the 3200 metres and 1600 metres at Stawell. His 1982 win at Burnie was his first as a professional.
Australia’s two top axemen, Queenslander Garry Hewitt (37) and Tasmania’s David Foster (24) had contested a series of six challenge chops during the 1982 Coastal carnival series with the final event at Burnie. Hewitt, the holder of 35 world titles and Foster, with 17 world and 25 Australian titles, were evenly poised at the Burnie Carnival, both having won two of the five previous challenges and dead-heating in the other.
The Tasmanian champion clinched the series before an eager crowd of spectators in the Burnie chopping arena by winning the final under-hand event by about four blows.
(iii) 1983 Gift Family Affair
Mike Geary set a father-and-son Burnie gift win precedent with his 1982 win and that precedent was well and truly repeated in the final of the 1983 Burnie Gift. All three place getters in the $4000 final – Lee Berwick (Launceston), Marcus Billing (Devonport) and Stuart Guest (Hobart) – were the sons of former Burnie Gift winners. Max Berwick had won the gift in 1953, Eric Billing in 1954 and John Guest in 1957.
It was particularly rewarding win for 23-year-old Lee Berwick, trained by his father. His only win in his first season two years earlier had been a small $85 sprint at a Cooee gymkhana but had an impressive build up for the 1983 Burnie Gift with wins in non-penalty 70 metre sprints at cheque of $2700 and a $1375 bonus from the Gift Calcutta in which he had been bought by his father for top price of $415.
Off a front mark of 8 ¾ metres, Berwick overhauled Billing (9 ¼ m.) and stayed ahead of Guest (8 ¾ m.) to win by three metres in an equal race record time of 11 7/10 secs. – equal to the fastest time recorded in the Burnie Gift final for 32 years.
Devonport cross-country runner Michael Higginson notched his first major track win in the 1600 Metre encourage hcp. while the $2500 1983 Tasmanian Mile saw a convincing win by second backmarker Greg Ritchie (NSW) off 75 metres. The win capped a successful Coastal carnival series for Ritchie. He had earlier won the 400 Metre Devonport Gift and the 800 Metre Hcp. at Devonport.
The 1983 Burnie Carnival again saw a dispute between scratch riders and LTW officials. To reduce the number of scratch men in some of the Burnie Wheelrace heats LTW handicapper Graham Eade altered some of the original heat draws and all 10 scratch men entered in the Wheelrace field of more than 120 riders threatened to withdraw from the event. But the LTW refused to budge and BAC official told the scratchmen their contract appearance money would not be paid if they withdrew from the Wheelrace.
Not surprisingly, the scratch riders decided not to boycott the event which, for one of them in particular, was a sensible decision. Despite their protests five scratch men reached the final of the 1983 Burnie Wheelrace and one of them, West Australian Steele Bishop, won the $3750 event. Bishop (29), winner of the 1979 Latrobe Wheel and third in the 1979 and 1980 Burnie Wheels, won by half a length from 19-year-old NSW frontmarker Michael Crowe (140 m.) and Swiss champion Urs Freuler, who had won the Latrobe Wheelrace from scratch the previous week.
Freuler, one of the most popular internationals to compete at the Coastal carnivals in the 1980s, proved his world rating with wins in both the 8000 Metre and 16 000 Metre A Grade Scratch races on the 1983 Burnie programme. His wins at Burnie also earned Freuler the Advocate ‘Mr Carnival Cyclist’ award.
In fact, the 1982-83 Coastal carnival wheelraces were a clean sweep for scratchmen with Freuler winning at Latrobe, Hans Kanel at Devonport, Laurie Venn at Rosebery and Steele Bishop at Burnie.
A record field of more than 100 runners contested the 1984 Burnie Gift and Stuart Guest, third in 1983, was red hot pre-post favourite. He had won five non-penalty sprints in earlier carnivals of the season and sold for a record $2125 to Cooee Football Club coast Warren McCarthy in the $3825 Gift Calcutta.
But the big plunge failed. The 1978 Burnie Gift winner, 27-year-old Gary Wescombe (Burnie), who sold for a mere $130 in the Calcutta and was rated only an outside chance for the final, beat the odds to win the 1984 Burnie Gift by a metre from NSW champion John De Coite with Guest taking third place for the second year in succession.
Wescombe’s win was a triumph both personally and for his 75-year-old trainer jack propsting. Fifteen months earlier he had broken a leg playing football with the country team Yeoman and his ambitions of ever repeating his 1978 Burnie Gift victory all but vanished. In fact, he doubted whether he would ever run again. But Jack Propsting had different ideas and within 12 months had Wescombe back to peak form for the 1984 Burnie Carnival.
The record field was one of the strongest ever to contest the Gift and included a stable of seven topline Victorians brought to Burnie by 1981 Burnie Gift winner Neil King.
Wescombe (9 ¼ m.) was momentarily headed in the final by one of the Gift fancies, Launceston sprinter Wayne Johncock (8 ¾ m.), who had run the fastest heat and semi-final. But Johncock pulled up with a torn hamstring in the home stretch and Wescombe made a desperate lunge at the tape to beat the fast-finishing backmarker John De Coite (2 ¾ m.) and Stuart Guest (8 ¾ m.).
The BAC introduced a new incentive for Tasmanian competitors in 1984 for the most outstanding runner, cyclist or axeman of the carnival. Young Burnie runner Dean Lahey from the John McLaren stable got the prize of a holiday for two in Queensland when he won both the 200 Metre and 400 Metre Handicaps.
Launceston veteral Tony Shea, after 13 years of professional distance running, finally got the bog one when he won the 1984 Tasmanian Mile from a record field 56 off 140 metres. Shea (35) had almost decided to retire before the 1983-84 season but was encouraged by his trainer, Bevan Hutton, to have just one more season. It paid off to the tune of $1350 for the win at Burnie.
Former Commonwealth Games representative Shane Sutton (NSW) had his biggest professional track win in the $3500 1984 Burnie Wheelrace. Sutton and both other placegetters, Victorians Phil Sawyer and Max Rainsford, all rode from the 30 metre handicap.
Sutton and his older brother Gary had both won gold medals in the tams pursuit at the 1978 Edmonton Games in 1978 and had turned professional the following year. In the 1983 season leading up to his Burnie Wheelrace win Sutton had notched major wins in national track and road races including the Australian Keirin, Teams Pursuit and Madison events and the Sun Tour in October.
Johncock (8 ¾ m.) left his blocks like a rocket and had the race in his keeping from the halfway mark to the roar of encouragement of the partisan Tasmanian spectators. Johncock broke the wire a clear metre ahead of Victorian Garry Gregorio (7 ¼ m.) and Neil King trained backmarker Mathew Webster (3 ¼ m.).
David Heron (Launceston), the most consistent of Tasmania’s mile runners at the Burnie carnival in recent times with second placings in 1979 and ’80 and a win in 1982, took out the $2000 ‘Metric Mile’ final again on the 1985 night programme with a three metre win from another consistent mile performer, George Monson (Scottsdale), second in 1973, first in ’74, and second in ’76, third in ’79 and ’80 and second again in ’85.
Off 100 metres, Heron paced himself well and won from his old friend and rival easing down.
NSW scratchman Gary Sutton (29) established another type of Burnie Wheelrace history with a win in 1985 final – the first time brother had won the event at consecutive carnivals. His younger brother Shane, winner in 1984, also made the 1985 final with two other scratchmen, Dean Wood sand Hans Kanel. The four teamed well to get Gary Sutton and Kanel up with the main bunch early and more than a dozen of the 19 finalists contested the sprint over the final furlong.
But Gary Sutton and Kanel had too much speed and took the hours in a crowd-pleasing finish from middle marker and leading amateur Byron Tucker (90 m.).
Gary Sutton was not able to ride with his younger brother at the 1983-84 carnival series because of injury but he was to again write the family name into Burnie Wheelrace history the following year.
Urs Freuler again won the 8000 Metre A Grade Scratch race and Rik Patterson, son the great Sid Patterson, had his first win at Burnie in the 16 000 Metre A Grade Scratch.
(iv) 1985 Johncock’s Change of Luck
Twenty thousand people watched the day and night programmes of the 1985 BAC New year’s Day Carnival and hot real value for money. The carnival produced some of the best finishes for years in all three sports contested by 172 runners, 158 senior cyclists and 87 axemen.
Wayne Johncock had been the unlucky runner of the of the 1984 Burnie Gift final when he broke down with a torn hamstring leading the field in the home stretch. But he got to the front and stayed there in the 1985 Burnie Gift final to give penguin trainer Ted Eagling his third Burnie gift winner in five years.
Johncock (23), a teacher at Burnie’s Hellyer College, was firm favourite and a syndicate headed by his father, Brian, paid top price of $1100 from him in the Calcutta. But he was the only Tasmanian in the top class final field and after brilliant semi-final wins, all his Victorian and NSW opponents were rated as chances as they got down on the blocks.
Rik Patterson (24), who had just completed his Degree in law, was back for the 1985 carnival and the crowd, including father Sid, appreciated his dynamic ride to win the 2000 Metre New Year Hcp. from 40 metres. With that win the handicappers put Rik Patterson back to where his father had ridden for a decade – no scratch.
Swiss international Han Ledermann, in his first series of Coastal carnivals, maintained the tradition of countrymen Freuler and Kanel with a breakaway win in the 8000 Metre A Grae Scratch and Victorian Max Rainsford had an ego-boosting win in the 16 000 Metre A Grade Scratch. He held off Olympic gold medallist Ron Grenda in the final sprint of the 38-lap event.
‘Gentle Giant’ David Foster continued his domination of the championship chopping events in 1985. He won the world 27 cm. Championship by five blows from Queenslander Gary Anderson. Foster toppled his block with 15 blows hit in exactly 15 seconds.
He was also awarded the Australian Champion of Champions title, decided on pointes over the major chopping carnivals throughout Australia, for the fourth consecutive year and captained the team which won a new $3000 Tasmanian teams’ race competition conducted over the Latrobe, Devonport and Burnie carnivals. The others in Foster’s team were Deloraine champions Bill and Barry Youd.
(v) 1986 Gift Controversy
In the lead-up to its centenary year the Burnie Athletic Club organised its 99th annual carnival on New Year’s Day 1986 with running, cycling and chopping events carrying record prizemoney of nearly $20 000. The feature events included the Burnie Gift of $5000, the Burnie Wheelrace $3750, the Tasmanian 1600 Metre ‘Mile’ $2500 and an Invitation Chopping Teams’ Race $2210 and the 16 000 Metre A Grade Scratch Race $1500. The carnival drew entries from 166 runners, 104 professional cyclists and 80 axemen.
As usual Club officials were hopeful the programme would be completed without a major race controversy – but no such luck!
Once again a strong contingent of Victorian and NSW runners came to Burnie dominated by the Neil King stable which had set 25-year-old Melbourne motelier Mark Hipworth, who had scored the 550 Metre and 800 Metre double at Stawell in 1982, to win the Burnie Gift. He brought top price of $430 in the Calcutta but the local running fraternity was strongly behind its favourite, Burnie sprinter Darren Batt, trained by Mick Saltmarsh and a son of 1961 Burnie Gift winner, Ian Batt.
After 14 heats and six semi-finals the 94 Gift entrants had narrowed down virtually to the King team versus the rest in the final with three of King-trained runners – Mark Hipworth (6 ¾ m.), Mathew Webster (3 ¼ m.) and John Dinan (6 ½ m.) – lined up against Tasmanians Darren Batt (8 m.), Patrick Bakes (8 m.) and NSW sprinter Paul McCaffrey (7 m.).
And in a highly controversial finish Mark Hipworth got the judges’ verdict over Darren Batt. The two runners broke the wire with only a fraction separating them. The electronic judgeing machine gave the win to Batt but the judges overruled the machine to place Hipworth as the 1986 Burnie Gift winner.
Hipworth and his connections were confident the result was correct but Batt and his connections and a number of spectators close to the finish – were not. Batt’s connections demanded to see the judging machine result. The request was refused. After watching a video of tinal Batt’s connections demanded to see the judging machine result. The request was refused. After watching a video of the final
Batt’s connections said they intended to appeal against the decision to the TAL but no action was taken. As with all other similar carnivals, the decision of the judges on the day is final.
Fulltime professional distance runner Glenn Ritchie (NSW), winner of the 1982 Stawell Backmarkers’ Mile and the Tasmanian Mile at Burnie in 1983, thrilled the crowd with a superb run to win the 1986 Tasmanian 1600 Metre Hcp. from the back mark of 50 metres in the smart time of 3.57 5/10. Ritchie emerged from the pack in the final lap to gradually close the gap on Devonport’s Robin South (125 m.) and Penguin’s Gary Taylor (120 m.).
Ritchie rated the run as probably the best of his career and running commentator ‘Paddy’ Martin has predicted that Ritchie could become one of Australia’s all-time greats in professional distance running.
Scratch riders competing in the 1985-86 carnival series, including topliners Urs Freuler, Michael Grenda, Laurie Venn and Hans Kanel, had failed to win a wheelrace at the Rosebery, Latrobe or Devonport carnivals but sports columnist and Carnival commentator Harold ‘Tiger’ Dowling confidently predicted in his Burnie Carnival preview that one of the aces would take the 1986 Burnie wheelrace. He went for Freuler, having his fifth season in the Coastal carnival circuit and riding in top form. With Laurie Venn, Murray hall and David Allen in his heat, Freuler was almost certain to make the final and was the form rider to take the honours.
But the performance of the popular Swiss cyclist disappointed his fans. He appeared to make an error of judgement in endeavouring to please the Tasmanian crowd by sacrificing a personal win to allow the local hero, Los Angeles Olympics Teams’ Pursuit Gold medallist Michael Grenda (Launceston), to collect the winner’s sash and trophy – although perhaps not all the prizemoney. Freuler easily made the final and teamed strongly with Grenda to be up with the bunch in the sprint for home. But Grenda lost Freuler’s shell in the pack and Swiss ace led by more than two lengths into the straight going away. In the opinion of most spectators Freuler could have won by 20 metres. But he appeared to ease off over the last few metres to let Grenda close the gap and take the honours.
As Dowling said, Freuler’s apparent decision to let the local champion win not only detracted from Grenda’s victory. It also disappointed cycling spectators who paid to see fair dinkum hard riding from the world’s best. Dowling’s comments at the carnival and in his Advocate column were contested by Grenda’s connections, who claimed the Olympian had been clocked over the final 200 metres in 12 3/10 secs. on top of the track – a winning sprint by most standards. They instituted legal proceedings against Dowling, The Advocate and the Launceston Examiner but later dropped the charges.
Freuler made amends with a clear win in the 16 000 metre A Grade Scratch race at night but again it was a disappointing race. Freuler and Commonwealth Games representative Ricky Flood (Victoria) made an early break on the field of 24 and held it to the finish. The main bunch failed to show much aggression or willingness to chase the two breakaways.
But there was no lack of action or crowd displeasure with the 1986 Burnie Carnival chopping programme. To the contrary, it was one of the best on record.
Kindred farmer Murray Mace, a veteran of the chopping arena, made a spectacular return to the sport after a two-year break by winning the New Year Thousand 30 cm. Hcp. from consistent competitors Henry Munday and Lee Purton.
The $2500 Invitation Combination Teams’ Race conducted on the main arena proved a highlight with carnival patrons, many of whom previously had no great interest in chopping. The event was contested by 12 selected teams each of three axemen competing in a tree-felling, underhand and standing event. The final was won by the team of Denzil Munday, David Goninon and Wally Graue who defeated frontmarkers Mick Munday, Selwyn Deverell and Kevin Pinner. The backmarker champion combination of David Foster, Bill Youd and Jack Jaffray, off a handicap of 95 seconds, took third place.
from 1987 to the present
p127 Harold Downes and Trevor Woodberry, both three time Mile winners, at the 1980 Burnie Carnival.
p129 Grant Atkins (Sheffield) sits up as he crosses the line to win the 1980 Burnie Wheel from co-scratchmen Graeme Hodskiss (Launceston) and Steele Bishop (WA).
p134 The 1983 Burnie Gift finish with Lee Berwick (Launceston) winning from Marcus Billing (Devonport)
p130 Victorian Neil king raises his arms in salute as he crosses the line to easily win the 1981 Burnie Gift.
p136 A tight finish to the 1983 Burnie Wheelrace with scratchman Steele Bishop (WA, bottom of track) winning by a fraction from Michael Crow (NSW)
p135 Burnie Gift winner Lee Berwick with his proud wife Sheryl and father-trainer Max, who won the Gift in 1953.
p143 Michael Granda crosses the line ahead of Urs Freuler to win the 1986 Burnie Wheelrace final.
p137 1984 Gift with (from left) John De Coite (2nd), Grant Tivany, Adrian Scott, Stuart Guest (3rd), Wayne Johncock and winner Gary Wescombe falling after breaking the tape.
p128 Penguin footballer Garry French wins the 1980 Burnie Gift from mainland sprinters John de Coite (Victoria) and Steve Brossman (NSW).
p142 Victorian Mark Hipworth (nearest to camera) was declared the winner of the 1986 Burnie Gift.
p143 NSW professional distance runner Glen Ritchie scores a clear win in the 1986 Tasmanian Mile at Burnie.