Bob Murray, 76 years old and a lifetime member of Taree Motorcycle Club, has enjoyed a long-time love of motorbike racing. Bob has some keen memories of some of the Club’s earlier years; in particular, the establishment of the bike track on Old Bar Road, which is still used today …
Hi Bob. How did you become associated with the Taree Motorcycle Club?
I left school when I was 14, and I think just about everyone had a motorbike back then. I got an old bike and decided to join the Club – and that was back in 1952. I was there from 1952 to 1978; I raced for about 20 years. I’m a lifetime member of the club now.
What are some of your earliest memories from your Club days?
When we first started, we didn’t have anywhere to race. Before I joined the club, they apparently had a little track over behind the Showground – this would have been back in the ’40s. A group of us were all really interested in racing, and we were given permission to use the Aerodrome at Old Bar. We built a circuit right around the outside of the Aerodrome – it was a mile and a half long. This circuit was always known as the ‘seaside circuit’.
We had one race meeting there, but it was really too long a distance for the old bikes in those days. We decided to cut the track down to half a mile, and then we cut it again to a quarter of a mile.
After a while, we weren’t allowed to use the Aerodrome anymore, so a few of our members got together, contributed some money and bought the land along Old Bar Road, where the track still is today. Some of these blokes who put in the money were Les de Leon, Des Rigby, Maxie Salter, Ian Cooper and Noel Godwin.
What did you guys do once the land was purchased?
This was back in about 1959 – 60. We were down there every weekend with post hole diggers and tools, putting up fences – we did it all by hand. We got an old grader that we took turns to drive and make the track. This track’s now known as the ‘roadside circuit’.
What was the very first bike you ever owned?
It was an AJS. I bought it for about one pound ten, I think. I won my first race on that bike, on the quarter mile track over at the seaside circuit, in about 1958-59. There were over 2,000 people there on the day!
How many bikes do you reckon you’ve gone through?
(Laughs.) Oh … heaps!
Most of the bikes I raced ranged from 125 cc to 500 cc back then. Back on the short circuit, we used to race the Ultra Lightweights – 125s, then there were the Juniors (up to 350 cc) and the Seniors (from 350 cc – 500 cc).
What are some of your other special memories from your racing days?
I got to meet Bobby Limb in 1965 over at the circuit.
We used to always race in January over the Aquatic weekend back in those days – it was always a great weekend, as people would come visit to see the boats, and then they’d come watch the bikes.
I used to go to Newcastle, Muswellbrook, Nepean, down in Sydney, and Tamworth to race. Some of the boys would even go to Western Australia. We’d take the bikes with us on trailers.
Down at the circuit, there also used to be go kart races, TQs (they’re a little car with a motorcycle motor) – even old 10 horse motor cars like the Morris Minors and Triumph Heralds – they were a bit wild (laughs)!
What’s the toughest race you ever competed in?
They were all tough!
The one that sticks in my mind the most was a ride I had at Bathurst in April 1968. It really frightened me! I was racing down Conrod Straight at 100 miles an hour, and my back tyre went flat. I was trying to pull over, and the other blokes were whistling past at 100/110 miles an hour. It was pretty hairy. But I survived!
I was able to get back out on the track once we fixed the tyre – I think I came about 30th out of 60. I was more of a dirt bike racer than a road bike racer, but it was good experience.
We’ve had some wet races at the circuit over the years – sometimes there was so much mud, you couldn’t see though your goggles!
The Club’s been going for a long time now. What do you think’s kept it going all this time?
Last time I went down to the circuit to visit, it was great to see all the little kids down there on their bikes – I think their helmets were almost bigger than some of the bikes!
I think it’s great it’s still going – and it’s great that all these young ones are learning to ride a bike. I’ve always said that before people get their car licence, they should get their motorbike licence first. Riding a bike teaches you to look around you everywhere, and it makes you more aware.
Through the years there have been some really good riders come through the club or race at the circuit – like Troy Bayliss (Superbike champ) and Herbie Jefferson (an Australian title holder); John Rumford from Cessnock was a good rider; Mick Turner; Jack (John) Davies from Wallsend … there are too many to remember!
Some of the clubs that used to visit the circuit were Wiley Park, Willoughby, Gosford, Penrith, Fairfield, Cessnock, Aberdeen, Maitland, Lake Macquarie, Wallsend, Ipswich, Manly, Western Suburbs, Canberra and Lake United.
Do a lot of professional riders get their start on dirt tracks?
Yeah. Troy [Bayliss] did, Casey Stoner did, Mick Doohan … a lot of them start on dirt tracks.
From all the years you actively raced at the Club, what’s the best memory for you?
The friendships. It would’ve been just like playing footy, I suppose … we had the Taree crew, but we’d travel away and meet up with the same blokes from all the other clubs. You know … there’s one bloke who stills owes me 5 quid from those days – I’d forgotten about that!
Some people had money and could buy the best machinery, but if you didn’t have the money you did what you could with what you had. Just because you had the best machinery didn’t make you the quickest!
So, you’d encourage all the young ones these days to get out and ride?
Oh yeah. It’s not as dangerous as most people might think. I raced from ’52 to almost 1980, and I only ever had one prang, and I broke my leg.
Back in my day, we’d race with thongs and shorts, but these days it’s really controlled. There are people on every corner to make sure riders don’t fall off, and all the riders wear protective gear too.
The kids love it – you should see the grins on their faces when they get off the bikes!
For all motorcycle fans, the Taree Motorcycle Club will be hosting a special event organised by three times World Superbike Champ Troy Bayliss at their circuit on Old Bar Road on Saturday 19 January. For more information, please see our What’s On page.
This interview was found in issue 71 of Manning Great Lakes Focus