My first encounter with a motorcycle actually generated fear rather than attraction. Growing up in the Post-World War II years meant that there were many more motorcycles on the road than what you would first imagine. The privations of the Great Depression and the restrictions and rationing that had followed during the war years led to an economy that was a little slow to bounce back, and an auto industry almost totally dependent upon imports.
Since the countries from which we imported our cars, predominantly Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, the USA, were vastly harder hit by the war than we were, their ability to produce and deliver cars in the post-war years very was limited and it wasn’t until the mid-50’s that we started to see the fruits of the “Export or Die” mantra that was dragging the British car industry out of the doldrums and on-going rationing.
The production of the first Holden, the 48/215 in 1948, has rightly been hailed as a major step forward in freeing Australia of its dependence upon imports, but also of proving to ourselves that we could do it alone.
But, for the average Australian, there were only 3 choices. Public transport, pre-war cars, or a motorcycle. And it was the motorcycle that was the cheaper to own of the two privately-owned alternatives that saw a huge number of young men, and family men too, having a motorcycle as their sole means of transport. Sidecars were hugely popular and it was quite common to see a whole family out on the roads in a motorcycle/sidecar combination.
The first house I remember living in was in Albert Road in Strathfield, an inner western suburb of Sydney. When I say house, it was a house, but an old 2-storied one that had been converted into 4 one-bedroom flats. My parents and my twin brother and I lived in very cramped and unsalubrious accommodation in one of the upstairs flats.
My dad was an itinerate evangelist, embarking on preaching tours of country NSW and Victoria and was often away for periods of weeks at a time, leaving his young wife at home to raise two very energetic and mischievous twin boys.
Backing on to the property where we lived, and not separated by any fencing at all, was the Sydney Bible and Training Institute, where young men, and some young women, came to study for the ministry. And it was one of these young students who I distinctly remember owned the biggest, blackest motorcycle that I could imagine.
I am certain that it was an AJS, something like the one above, though I have no idea what model it was. My brother and I were much more interested in cars at that stage; passionately so, it seems. On our regular and extensive country trips when the family used to go with dad on preaching engagements, Paul and I would sit in the back seat and try to identify all the cars passing by. I can distinctly remember doing this, and my father used to tell us later in life that, by the time we were six years old, there wasn’t a car on the road that we couldn’t correctly identify.
So, the bike was somewhat of a mystery, but more so from an engineering point of view than any great desire to ride one or to find out more about one.
The owner of this bike knew how mischievous and inquisitive my brother and I were, both from reputation and his own experience and he had strictly warned us not to touch his bike. As if that was going to achieve anything! It only took a bit of “I dare you.” to see my brother climb onto the seat one day when left unsupervised and to pretend to ride it. As luck, or perhaps, just desserts would have it, the bike gently toppled over of its usually unreliable British sidestand, trapping Paul under it by his leg.
In the ensuing panic and hullabaloo, he was rescued, we both got a lecture from the owner and a good belting from dad to drive home the point that disobedience usually leads to unintended consequences.
It was then that I’m sure I decided that motorcycles were very dangerous and I vowed, although I don’t remember doing so, to never have anything to do with them ever again.