[CR] Memoirs of Kevin Wetherall .. a remarkable snapshot of the Sydney cycling scene post war


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From: Ben Kamenjas <kamenjas@gmail.com>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2009 13:03:36 +1100
Subject: [CR] Memoirs of Kevin Wetherall .. a remarkable snapshot of the Sydney cycling scene post war


Coolio's,

I stumbled across the online bio of Kevin Wetherall and found it and engrossing read, particularly as it really covers the local Sydney club racing scene with insight like I have never found before and it contains some invaluable historical detail. Here's a snapshot from Kevin as a 9 year old at the Sydney Sports Arena (no longer there).
> Sydney Sports Arena
>
> I remember going with Dad to the Sydney Sports Arena where, on a
> seven lap to the mile indoor track, some of the best track riders in
> Australia competed before huge crowds.
> I was 9 years old during the summer of 1939-40 and it was during
> this time that I experienced the excitement of seeing Joe Buckley
> team with Stan Parsons in a six day bike race at the Sydney Sports
> Arena. This was to be a never to be forgotten race, the Sports Arena
> was standing room only for the last hour of the race, the roar of
> the crowd was deafening and that night they gave Sydney bike fans
> the most exciting night in the history of the famous Arena. Every
> Saturday night in the summer months, dad and I would catch the 6
> o\u2019clock tram from Maroubra Junction to Riley Street, Surry Hills,
> then we would walk up a small hill to the Sydney Sports Arena. This
> was the home to some of the best cyclist in Australia.
>
> The Sydney Sports Arena was a seven laps to the mile indoor
> velodrome with the track made out of timber. The first night that I
> went there and saw those large bunches of fast pedalling cyclist
> whirling around the track, it was like magic, I was drawn to it.
> Inside the velodrome it was hot, smoky and noisy and I was bumped
> and barged by a large and very vocal crowd. On those nights the big
> names of the era were on view. Lennie Rogers, Stan Parsons, Rex
> Oxford, Tommy O\u2019Donnell, Ray Brooking, Charlie Parker, Hilton
> Bloomfield, Angus Starr and Joe Buckley were just a few of the big
> names, and the current master of all one Billy Guyatt.
>
> Just in front of where we were sitting the riders would climb onto
> their bikes and strap their feet on to the pedals in preparation for
> the fast and furious action. I can remember that I shivered with
> apprehension at the riders apparent indifference to danger. I did
> not understand that strapping their feet to the pedals was essential
> for greater speed on their bikes. After all these years, my memory
> has dimmed to times and places but there are things that do stay in
> your mind, like the smoke from cigarettes, it appeared to me to be
> more prevalent than the oxygen in the air. Over the years, I never
> ceased to be amazed at the power of the mind, how it can retain an
> incident and bring it back to life by the sounds of a tune, an
> odour, or a voice. During the race nights they would play the latest
> wartime hit tunes over the loud speakers. I can still visualise
> those riders racing in the early forties. Young fearless warriors
> racing their steel horses against each other as they hurtled around
> the steep timbered track at break neck speed, the wild roar of the
> crowd, and the gasps of disbelief from the crowd as one of their
> favourite riders tumbles to the ground bringing 5 or 6 riders down
> with him, and the cheers from the crowd as their fallen idols regain
> their feet, dust themselves off, and prepare for the next battle.
>
> I remember the floodlit track with the mechanics in the centre
> changing wheels and tuning bikes, the smell of liniment as the
> coaches and managers rubbed their prodigy's finely tuned muscles and
> the ringing of the bell, signalling the start of the last frantic
> and frenetic lap. I can still feel the excitement of those days now.
> The nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, your heart begins to
> pound a little faster, your body twitches, your hands squirm as you
> fight to control the excitement that builds up. You speak in short
> excited sentences, your voice goes hoarse as you cheer your champion
> home, as he breaks free from the wall of riders, 10 abreast across
> the track, they thunder around the last bend, knees and legs pumping
> elbows flying as the bunch makes one last desperate lunge to catch
> the winner. Whenever I hear those tunes today it brings a smile to
> my face and lifts my spirits as I remember those halcyon days of
> arguably Australia\u2019s greatest era of sport. After school I would
> watch the professionals training at the Sydney Sports Arena. Those
> days were some of the best in my life \u201cjust to mix with those riders
> and listen to their stories\u201d was fantastic.

The link to his memoirs is http://www.kokodaspirit.com/writing-history/journey-through-time-chapter-1 .htm

It has some 29 pages but the tab forward button link seems broken at 17 so you might have to manually change to number in your browser to move forward from there. A lot of falls, a lot of fights, tough times

and some remarkable anecdotes of the way it was in the tough southern

suburbs of Sydney ... kinda like Brooklyn but with a lot more sunshine !!! And lots of history that helps build a picture of the cycling scene back then what with Gino Bambagiotti's shop location, the emergence of Russ Tollis as a builder, and mention of Charlie Bazzano of V.E.W. components to name a few. There's a lot of geographical detail which might be boring for those outside Australia

but knowing there's a few Aussie's on the list I can't help but wish to pass on what I found to be such an entertaining read. In saying that I'm sure the story's the same for many a young cyclist worldwide

and it shows a lot of passion and struggle and dedication.

It is a life story but a lot of it has reference to Kevin's triumph's,

pitfalls and setbacks as a cyclist and I hope other's might enjoy his

story.

ciao,

Ben Kamenjas
Kensington Australia