The end of racing at Macarthur Park in November 1981 should have been the final chapter in the saga, but, through a bizzare set of circumstances, it wasn’t. I was sitting in my office at school in early 2002 when the receptionist put through a call to me.
“Good morning, Phil. My name is Julie Jefferies and I’m from the Environment ACT, Heritage Unit.” All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind. Had I done something to the environment that I shouldn’t have? Am I now so old that I am being considered as being part of Canberra’s heritage? and so on.
“Phil, I understand that you had something to do with organising the road races at Macarthur back in the 70s’ is that right?” I replied that it was. “Well,” she went on, “I believe that those races are an important part of the sporting heritage of the ACT and I’d like to get together with you to discuss a plan that I have to recognise that.”
She had my attention, and, over coffee at Tilley’s she laid out the plan. She was a member of the organising committee of the ACT Heritage Festival, a yearly event that celebrates all aspects of the ACT’s culture and heritage. Her idea was that we should put together a “Back to Macarthur Park” retrospective and make it one of the events of the 2002 Heritage festival. Was I interested?
Is the Pope a Catholic? Does Dolly Parton have trouble seeing her belly button? OF COURSE I was interested.
So the planning began and, for once, I was merely the adviser/technical expert/provider of knowledge. She was prepared to do all the work, the photocopying, the printing, the preparing of Press Releases, the arranging for an “Interpretation” (their fancy name for a sign) to be erected on the site, etc, etc. How good was this?
Fortunately I had had the presence of mind when the Road Closures finished to compile a folder that contained all the Press clippings concerning the meetings, a copy of the programme for each meeting and any other memorabilia that I could grab. This was my own project, not the club’s and I retained ownership of it, so was able, in one hit, to provide Julie with most of the material she needed.
Lots of phone calls and meetings later saw us gathering at Macarthur Park, in the very parkland that had been the pits some 20 years before and celebrating the Canberra Road Closures. Julie had arranged huge display boards with many of my photos, printed and enlarged, copies of all the Press clippings and other items that we had been able to source from ex-club members and former competitors. She had done an amazing job, and the interpretation was a superb piece of signage, comprising a well-worded precis of what had happened on that site, and, especially pleasingly from my point of view, an enlargement of one of my photographs of Stu Avant and Murray Sayle.
The man himself had accepted with alacrity my invitation to be part of the celebrations and it was he who was invited to unveil the plaque. Hundreds of current and past club members and friends turned up and helped us celebrate the day and look over the many static displays that we were able to out together.
Former Founding club member, Peter Sutton, brought along his TZ250A, and Rob Small, his TZ250B and his TA125, all period bikes from the road closure era. But the piece de resistance was the very Honda CB1100R that Dennis Neill had ridden to victory in March 1981, along with Dennis’s ‘works” Honda leathers, his gloves and boots.
If you go to Macarthur Park today, park in the car park next to the pre-school and walk across the grasslands behind it, you will see the memorial and you will know that you are standing where the pits used to be and within the boundaries of where, once not that long ago, this quiet housing estate echoed to the sound of racing bikes.
Stu and me at the unveiling.
Now I can’t leave the story of the Canberra Road Closures without a belated (very) thank you. The meetings simply would not have happened if it were not for the tireless efforts of my fellow CRRC club members, most of whom worked long and hard and for no pay to accomplish what most said was going to be impossible, and they did it FIVE times! In particular Ian Martin, Tony Annand and John Studdert who made up the backbone of the Road Race Committe and whose bloody-mindedness ensured that, regardless of the obstacles, it WAS going to happen. And, of course the Morgans, Eric and Muriel and their gorgeous daughter Kathy and her husbamd George who did the lion’s share of the mountain of paperwork required. One day, when the history of the road closures is written these people’s names will be etched in gold.