From the Blog

So long, my friend

Photo by John Small, used with permission.

Yesterday I received some very sad news. My old CRRC mate, Allan Harding, passed away after a long and very private battle with cancer. Al and I went back a long, way, all the way to 1976. I first met him at a race meeting at Oran Park where he was flag marshalling along with his young protege, Peter Raby. Shortly afterwards I visited him at his house in O’Connor and watched as he restored a 1950’s barn-find Vincent in his lounge room (Al was a confirmed bachelor!) He also introduced me to his project, the Suzuki 500 road racer, all home built from a road-going Suzuki GT380 triple. He sourced the plans for the build from Barton Engineering in Wales (all on paper, no internet then) and even built his own expansion chambers. I’ve told the story of the bike here before Allan’s Suzuki Racer  but today I want to talk more about the man.

Allan was small and wiry with an unruly mop of curly red hair. He always had a smile and a twinkle in his eye and he was always on the lookout for a new project. Our friendship was established quickly as he was, like me, a motorsports “nut” Allan re-introduced me to speedway not long after this. I’d watched it on TV in the 60’s but lost interest when I started to follow circuit racing. “Come on, you’ll love it,” he said. I relented and went out to Tralee, which was a tar speedway at that stage. We sat between T3 and T4 and watched the cars scream down the back “straight then disappear up the front “straight”. The feature race that night was a 100 lap speedcar race and it featured the visiting American superstar, Ron (Sleepy) Tripp. On tar, Tripp was awesome, lifting his inside front wheel all the way around the two turns in front of us. I was hooked and have been hooked on speedway ever since.

Not long after this we formed Canberra Road Racing Club of which Allan was an enthusiastic and hard-working Foundation Member. The very first CRRC logo was designed by Allan and featured a drawing of Steve Baker’s OW31 Yamaha. It was later used for stickers, shirts and advertising and was only replaced some 10 years later when we felt that the image needed “freshening up” a little. Here is a copy of the original sticker on the tailpiece of the Shadowfax Kawasaki.

Allan also helped me a lot with my bikes; it was he who donated the set of Suzuki GT750 front forks and disks that I grafted onto my Honda 500/4 to make it stop and handle. Allan took nearly a kilo of metal out of each disk on the drill press at the Nuclear Lab at the ANU to further reduce unsprung weight.

Allan was “into” so many things. He was a leader in his local group of Venturer Scouts whose many and varied activities included camping and caving. Al loved nothing more than to head out to Wee Jasper for the weekend and get dirty exploring new underground worlds.

Having successfully scratched the “motorcycle” itch it wasn’t long before he found another passion. This time it was Land Rovers. He found and restored an old “Landie” in his back yard as well as going through several “Rangies” in the time that I knew him.

I moved away from Canberra in 1982 and we lost contact for quite a while. However, during this time I heard from the to time of his other exploits. He tried hot air ballooning, white water rafting, getting his pilot’s licence, panning for gold, looking for opals, and driving around Australia.

In the last decade, Allan took his passion for flying to another level, buying and restoring a WWII Auster aircraft and taking on the role of caretaker of the aircraft museum at Temora in western NSW. Here he got to play with all manner of exotica including the museum’s prize exhibit, a WWII Spitfire. When I spoke to him about it in one of our phone conversations he remarked that he could never afford a Spitfire of his own but he took comfort in the fact that, even though his plane was only a little one he was one of the few private owners in Australia who had and flew a genuine WWII aeroplane.

Sadly, Allan leaves behind no family but that will not prevent there from being a huge turn-out at  his funeral later this week for though he had no family, he amassed in his lifetime a large family of friends and young people who he mentored and tutored over the years. I count it a privilege to have known him, to have shared a small part of his life and to have the great honour of being able to call him a dear friend.

RIP, Allan Harding, fly high.

Comments

  1. Martino says:

    RIP Allan !