Cycling History

Thirty Years of Australian Club Racing: The Dandenong Cycle Club, 1908-1948

1912, Before the start of the 25 Miles Open Road Race, Dandenong Road Oakleigh opposite the Brick Works (Source: State Library of Victoria) †

Wednesday July 8, 1908, outside Garnar’s on the Cranbourne Road, Melbourne, at 3:23 p.m., and Mr R. West sets off on his bicycle as the limit man in the day’s race. A 10 mile route that would take the entrants 5 miles towards Cranbourne before they turned round to complete the return leg. Of the twelve who had entered only nine started on the day, perhaps due to the bad weather and the poor state of the roads after heavy rains. Behind West at staggered intervals based on their handicap were W. Morris, M. Anderson, P. Green, H. Kirkham, T. Lucy. V. W. Sime, M . Kirkham, and J. Gamble. About 25 minutes after West had started, the race official, Mr Lewis, saw Gamble and Morris come back into view, the former having punctured and Morris having failed to go the distance. At 4 p.m. M. Kirkham crossed the finish line in first place. His brother H. Kirkham, coming in second 5 minutes later, and third place going to Green after a contested race to the line with Lucy, 2 minutes behind H. Kirkham. From surviving records we can identify the Kirkham brothers as Malcolm (born 1885) and Henry (born 1889), the eldest and youngest of three sons born to William Edward and Margaret Kirkham, of Lyndhurst, Victoria [1].

These scant details, reported in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal the following week, appear to be the first recorded race of the Dandenong Cycle Club, and the first of three that were to be run in 1908 on a points basis; the overall winner being the rider who had accumulated the most points over the series. Whether it was the first ever race of the Dandenong Cycle Club, or the first of that year is unclear. No record of the formation of the club appears to exist, at least in the newspaper archives available in the digitised newspaper collection available through the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. The article does, however, describe the event as “The first race of the Dandenong Cycle Club”. Given that other clubs in the Melbourne area are reported as actively racing from much earlier in the year it seems likely that the July 8 race was the first ever to be run by the newly formed Dandenong Cycle Club.

Frustratingly, the club all but disappears from local and state newspapers until The Dandenong Journal began to regularly report on the club’s activities from 1927. Club riders were certainly active however, as attested by their names appearing in race results in the local press. The brothers Henry and Malcolm Kirkham, for example, were reported as placing respectively first and third in a 12.5 mile race on Wednesday September 23, 1908 [2]. In 1913 Henry placed fourth in the first club road race to be organised under the auspices of the League of Victorian Wheelmen Road Board which was run over a distance of 36 miles starting at Essendon and going through Sunbury, Diggers Rest, and Keilor before finishing at Essendon. A third Kirkham brother, the professional rider Don, who went on to place seventeenth overall in Le Tour de France the following year and who coached the great Hubert Opperman in his first race, appears in the results as the winner of the prize for being fastest overall with a time of 1 hour, 39 minutes, and 59 seconds.[3].

The next explicit reference to the Dandenong Cycle Club does not appear until 1912 when cycling events at the Easter Monday sports meeting organized by the Dandenong Fire Brigade were run under the rules of the club. There were three races in all, the 2 mile Dandenong Wheel Race, the 1 mile Commonwealth Wheel race, and the half-mile Victoria Wheel Race. These were respectively won by J. Tebbs, T. Fisher, and A. Walton, who with the other competitors “put up a very fair exhibition of riding” despite the “slippery nature of the track” [4]. Other races that year included a 12 mile race on the Cranbourne road on June 22, won by J. Cole in 33 minutes, 30 seconds, with W. Mundy and Moysey contesting a close and exciting eight man sprint to gain second and third. Unfortunately one of the “leading men had the misfortune to be run off the road by a non-competitor”. Presumably he was not seriously injured as the report makes no mention of this [5].

1912 also sees the club engaged in an important aspect of contemporary society as the organizer of one of the many events and entertainments that punctuated the social calendar in Melbourne and in towns and cities throughout Australia and the empire. A “Social and Dance” to be held in the Fire Brigade Hall was organised for May 21 with tickets priced at 2 shillings for gentlemen. Admission for the ladies was presumably free. No record of the event itself seems to appear in the local press, but we can safely assume that it followed the formal pattern of functions of its kind at that time. Reports of the club’s annual balls in the 1930’s suggest they consisted of dancing to a live orchestra, the taking of refreshments, and speeches and prize-giving [6].

After 1912 the club once more disappears from the pages of the press for several years, though we may again trace the cycling activity of a few members through race results. J. Tebbs being particularly prominent in the newspaper reports from 1911 to the early 1920’s. Highlights during the period included his victory in the 1911 Dunlop Road Race from Warrnambool to Melbourne in a time of 8 hours, 45 minutes, 11 seconds, but only after later being promoted from second to first place after the winner on the day, A. R. W. Collins, was disqualified for an infringement against third placed F. Lessing during the sprint to the finish line [7].

The first three finishers of the 1911 Warrnambool to Melbourne Road Race.

The first three finishers of the 1911 Warrnambool to Melbourne Road Race (Source: National Library of Australia)

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Competitors in the 1911 Warrnambool to Melbourne entering Camperdown. (Source: National Library of Australia)

The next edition of the race wasn’t run until 1922. Reports in The Sporting Globe and The Argus suggested that Tebbs would ride the race as defending champion [8]. A certain J. A. Tebbs does appear in the published results with a time of 11 hours, 2 minutes, 24 seconds to his credit. It is unclear if this is the same person, though it should be noted that the first appearance of the name occurs in 1913 as the winner of a 1.5 mile race at the annual sports held by the United Friendly Societies of Dandenong which makes a connection with J. Tebbs highly likely [10].

More prosaically, in 1917 Tebbs is recorded as the winner of the “Musical Cushion” for bicycles and the “Novelty Bicycle Race” at the Oakleigh Carnival [11]. The nature of the competition wasn’t described but a flavour of what Tebbs may have had to do to win can be found in other news reports. For example, The Leader described a novelty bicycle race held in 1886 at the Fernside Club’s race meeting:

This race was ridden under the following conditions: —First lap : Start from ground with umbrella in hand and get going with umbrella open within 30 yards from post. Second lap: Half lap without handles ; quarter lap, push machine wheelbarrow fashion ; quarter lap, ride with one foot on step. Third lap: Mount and dismount four times, both feet to touch ground. Fourth lap: At finish of third lap dismount, go to centre of ground, take refreshments, put on belltopper and coat, mount and finish lap full speed.

It seems a far cry from Tebbs’ racing performances and perhaps speaks volumes about how cycling as a pastime, and the way in which society seeks communal entertainment, have changed in the last 100 years or so.

The next direct mention of the Dandenong Cycle Club comes in 1924 in an advertisement published in The Age when the club announced a “Grand Cycling Carnival” would be held at the Dandenong Cycle Track on February 2. Disappointingly for the organizers the event did not draw a large attendance, though the racing was exciting. A. L. Carter won the mile and a half Dandenong Bicycle Club Wheel race in a time of 3 minutes, 28 seconds. The Carnival Mile also went to Carter by a length from S. W. Box in a time of 2 minutes, 13 seconds. Box then pipped Carter for first place in the Half Mile Flutter in 1 minute, 8 seconds. L. Gowtie won the One Mile Club Race, and C. Brown completed the honours list by taking the Half Mile Bicycle Race by a length and a half in 1 minute, 2 seconds [12].

After 1924 another hiatus in direct reporting of the club’s activity occurs. In 1927 The South Bourke and Mornington Journal, founded in 1865 by Harvey Roulston, changed its name to the Dandenong Journal. Whether the change of name also heralded a new editorial policy, or whether a journalist with a greater interest in local cycling was employed is impossible to determine. What is certain is that coverage of the Dandenong Cycle Club became a regular feature following the change in the newspaper’s name.

Club racing for 1927 began in earnest at the end of April when a 5 mile race run on the Berwick road was won by E. Allen, with J. Monk achieving the fastest time. A season long points competition was also announced with trophies donated by W. M. Mitchell to be awarded to the rider with the highest accumulative points total, and to the rider who had recorded the fastest time for the season [13]. A 10 mile handicap took place on the Berwick road on May 14, the laurels going to A. Franklin, and the fastest time to W. Franklin in a time of 31 minutes, 34 seconds [14].

Two weeks later the club was on the Frankston road where thirteen members took place in a 20 mile handicap. J. Monk achieved his second fastest time of the season, and F. Barfoot won the race. The news report also marks the first appearance of the club’s ladies committee who under the supervision of the president, Mrs W. Franklin, and the secretary, Miss Charman, provided much appreciated bowls of soup to the competitors. We also learn that the ladies committee had “secured the use of the swimming baths dressing-room for the cyclists for the season” [15]. On Saturday 11 June the ladies were back in bad weather and armed with more soup with which to greet the riders at the end of a 25 mile race along the rough and slippery Cranbourne road. S. Pohlner placed first, with Franklin taking his second fastest time for the year [16].

By July the fortnightly races had increased to 33 miles, with a race from Frankston to Cranbourne run on poor roads that left the riders visibly tired. Monk once more showing his form and consistency by taking the fastest time [17]. This was followed by a 50 mile race to Narnargoon and back on August 6 which was won by T. Holschier, with Monk in third [18]. Racing over varying distances continued throughout the season with trophy events commencing in September when A. McDonald took the club’s Cup Race in a 20 mile race on the Melbourne road on September 24 [19]. Several weeks later the club lined up on November 5 for their championship race which was ran over a distance of 33 miles. With 400 yards to go four riders were in contention when G. Scott took the lead closely followed by E. Allen, S. Pohlner, and the ever present Monk, who proved strong enough to take the final sprint by four bike lengths, deservedly ending the season as club champion [20]. The championship race marked the end of the competitive season, though the club did organise a few races over short distances to bridge the gap to the track cycling season.

In many ways 1927, with its series of competitive races, its season long trophy competitions, and its championship race, was typical of the Dandenong Cycle Club’s annual activities at any time between 1908 and 1948. While seemingly not reported on we may also posit that the club enjoyed the regular club runs and training rides that are the bread and butter of cycling clubs everywhere. Away from the bicycle there were social events such as the dance held in aid of the club at Hampton Park on Saturday September 24 [21]. And there was the inevitable administrative work that any organization must face, an insight into which comes from a brief report in The Dandenong Journal in December 1927 that Dandenong Council had granted permission to grade the track at the show grounds and to hold races there following a request from the club secretary [22].

The club’s annual meetings were an opportunity to assess its fortunes, elect its officers and propose the way forward for the club. They were also the occasion when the main programme for the following season’s racing was determined. That for 1928 is typical:

June 9 – 25 miles. Cranborne road.
June 23 – 33 miles. Via Frankston to Cranbourne to Dandenong.
July 7 – 20 miles. Club Cup Race. Berwick Road.
July 21 – 15 miles. Club Cup Race. Frankston Road.
Aug 4 – 10 miles. Club Cup Race. Cranbourne road
Aug 18 – 25 miles (double turn). Frankston road.
Sept 1 – 50 miles. Berwick road. Narnargoon and back.
Sept 15 – 20 miles (No Points). Austin Cup Race. Melbourne road.
Sept 29 – 25 miles. Cranbourne road.
Oct 13 – 33 miles (No Points). Championship Race, via Frankston to Cranbourne to Dandenong [22].

Source: Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), July 16, 1928, 9)

Source: Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), July 16, 1928, 9)

As well as planning their racing calendar the club’s officers were concerned with raising sufficient funds to keep the club running and to meet the cost of cash prizes, trophies and prizes in kind. Trophies were permanently awarded, rather than being returned for presentation to the next winner of an event. Donations were gratefully received and, in addition to the cups and shields we normally associate with trophies, over the years the club received donations that included a cutlery set, an electric lamp, a teapot, a pyrex dish, a sandwich tray, Dunlop road racing singles, a sash, a camera, a set of carvers, a toast rack, and a honey jar; the prizes being donated by various local companies and individuals [24]. In addition to seeking donations the club also sought to raise funds by arranging events where they could charge admission fees. In 1931 they were in contact with the Dandenong Hospital in regard to holding a race meeting, with any profits being shared equally between club and hospital [24].

We also see the club active in the wider cycling scene in the Melbourne area. In 1936 under the headline “1000 Amateurs On The Road”, The Sporting Globe reported on the club’s 25 mile event from Dandenong to Carnegie and back in which the Oakleigh, Mordialloc, and Chelsea cycling clubs participated as the chief fixture of the day [25]. In the same year the club promoted an open invitation 65 mile race from Dandenong to Wonthaggi, a race that was won by D. Powell of the South Melbourne club [26].

In 1931 following the death of Don Kirkham aged just 42, the club inaugurated an annual memorial race in his name. Don was buried in Dandenong cemetery and clearly had close links to the club. He appears for example, as the winner of a 10 mile race at Dandenong on Saturday August 13, 1910, with his younger brother, Henry, placing second [27]. Other news reports from 1910 see Don riding for the Brighton club, but this does not necessarily preclude him from membership of the Dandenong Cycle Club as well. The inaugural Don Kirkham Memorial race was run on August 15, 1931, and attracted 95 riders from clubs around the Melbourne area. The 50 mile route ran from Dandenong to Cranbourne via Frankston with the turn for the return leg at Tooradin. The winner was Charles Fraser of the Brighton and South Caulfield professionals, earning himself £10, 10 shillings, and the Sporting Globe sash for his 2 hour, 17 minutes, 3 second effort. J. Scott was the first Dandenong rider to finish [28]

Racing continued apace throughout the 1930’s and in April 1938 the club announced at its annual meeting that it was in the black to the tune of £21 [29]. News of the club continues to appear in the press until November 1, 1939, when the Dandenong Traders Association were reported as donating a trophy [30]. In January 1940 The Dandenong Journal announced that “As the Dandenong Amateur Cycling Club is now inactive, it has been decided to change over to professional cycling this year” [31]. The reasons for bringing the club to an end are not stated but one wonders if this was in some way connected to Australia finding itself involved in the Second World War. Clubs tend to rely on a small number of individuals who perform the administrative and executive functions that keep the organization alive. It is conjectural, but the demise of the club between November 1939 and January 1940 may have been a result of key personnel being suddenly called to other duties. It is equally possible that the demise of the club may have been due to internal differences.

Lonsdale Street, Dandenong, in 1938 (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Lonsdale Street, Dandenong, in 1938 (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Despite the proposed intention to move to professional cycling in 1940 a year was to elapse before a professional club was officially formed. An advertisement in The Dandenong Journal of January 22, 1941, announced that a meeting was to be held at the Greaves building the following day to discuss the matter [32]. At the meeting the Dandenong Professional Cycling Club was revived, with Mr A. “Mick” Hamilton, the owner of a cycle shop on Lonsdale Street, as president, and Mr W. Elliott as secretary. Interestingly, both Hamilton and Elliott are named as vice-presidents of the Spring Vale Cycling Club in 1940, which may be a further indication that the demise of the Dandenong Cycle Club was the result of local club politics.

The club was in credit, £9 to £10 being left over from the old club, and keen to get back to competitive cycling. Its first race was held over 5 miles along the Berwick Road on February 1, 1941. Noel Jeffs riding scratch won from a field of thirteen riders, powering away from the bunch at the turn and overtaking the last of the limit men with about a mile to go. G. Bell placed second after winning a sprint against J. McDougall [33]. An active calendar of racing took place with races following a broad pattern of three consecutive Saturdays per month, followed by a two week break. Jeffs was to suffer a serious accident shortly afterwards that left him in hospital, but he returned from injury in May to make a “splendid comeback” by taking fastest time honours against the scratchmen in a 15 mile race that was won by J. Miller [34]. Jeffs was back to winning form on September 6 when he won the club’s 20 mile Unpaced Championship Race on the Berwick road [35]. Throughout the year a number of names crop up regularly in the race results, among them M. Elliott, E. Himbeck, J. Miller, and Des O’Sullivan, all of whom each won three races in 1941.

T. Matthews, a young rider from Langwarin, emerged as a new talent in the President’s Cup race on April 19, catching and then beating the leaders in the final sprint. His form continued throughout the season where he is seen placing high in several races and achieving the fastest time in a handful. His next victory came in September when he won a 15 mile race on the Cranbourne road [36]. The puncture that forced Matthews to withdraw from a race in August reminds us that the frustrations of racing have changed little over time. In May J. Miller looked to be soloing to victory when he shipped his chain, allowing the chasers to catch up with him. Now in a small bunch he was probably fortunate not to be brought down when Matthews and L. Cummings crashed. And in June George Prosser suffered a far more serious accident when he collided with a stationary motorbike, damaging his bicycle but fortunately escaping personal injury [37].

Despite Australia being at war, 1941, like 1927, was a typical year in the life of the club, following a regular pattern of intra and inter-club racing. For the remainder of the war the format of each year’s season changed little. New names appear in the results list, old names continue to crop up regularly with Des O’Sullivan prominent, and some names disappear. Though the annual sequence of races run over distances from 5 to 50 miles on local roads continued uninterrupted we can see the effect of the war on the club and the wider Dandenong community.

Though full conscription did not exist in Australia, many men joined the Armed Forces, and unmarried men aged under 21 were required to perform three months of militia training. From 1942 all men 18–35, and single men aged 35–45, were required to join the Citizens Military Forces. Among those who joined the regular and reserve forces were men from the Dandenong cycling club.

Jack Richards of Frankston Road, a prominent clubman, enlisted in the Army as a Sapper. In July 1941 he had placed second to Les Nelson in the club’s 33 mile race [38]. In July 1942 we learn that the club held a farewell dance for Nelson on the occasion of his leaving to take up his posting with the Royal Australian Navy after transferring from the Army. Nelson had won his first recorded race on June 18, 1938, when as a junior he won the “Krokoss” trophy in an 18 mile handicap race on a rough and muddy course through Harkaway. His brothers, Stan and Jack, were also club members who left to join the Navy and the Army [39].

Jack Evans, from Wells Road, joined the Royal Australian Air Force, trained in Australia and was posted to Britain in 1942, achieving the rank of Pilot Officer and serving as an observer on a Lancaster bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1942. His brothers, Lieutenant Reg Evans, AIF, and WO Bob Evans, RAAF, both also served during the war. All three were members of the Dandenong Cycle Club. In 1935 Jack and one of the brothers achieved first and second place in the club’s 20 mile race held on the Berwick road. Which of the brothers it was is hard to determine, the results listing a “R. Evans” which could refer to either [40].

The tragedy of war was also to visit Dandeong when the township’s first war casualty was announced in The Dandenong Journal on May 21, 1941 [41]. Private Kenneth William Elliott of the 2/24 Battalion, Australian Infantry, was just 20 when he was killed in action in Libya on May 2, 1941, probably at Wadi Giaida during the Battle of the Salient, as Australian forces sought to stop Rommel’s attempt to bring the Siege of Tobruk to an end by a direct assault. As a former member of the Dandenong Cycle Club he had held the position of Assistant Secretary for three years and been a leading performer. In 1938 as a junior he is seen placing well in several races which helped him to second place in the Matthews Grand Aggregate Cup with a total of  80 points. In September of that year he won the club’s annual 50 mile road race on a course that ran through Tooradin, Kooweerup, Pakenham, and Berwick, finishing at the Dandenong Drill Hall [42].

Elliott appears to have moved to the Spring Vale Cycling Club in 1939 and represented them in races as well as acting as a race official. His last appearance in a race before being mobilised appears to have taken place on May 11, 1940, when he placed third in a 20 mile handicap race despite having punctured with 3 miles to go [43]. His younger brothers, Frank and Max, were also cyclists who both rode successfully for the Dandenong Professional Cycling Club in the 1940’s. It’s also likely that the W. Elliott who appears as the secretary of the club was William Henry Elliott, Ken’s father. It was not the first death of a club member. Malcolm Kirkham had joined the 59th Australian Infantry Battalion during the First World War and was killed in action in France on September 2, 1918, one of the tragic deaths that occurred in the final months of fighting [44]

Following Elliott’s death the club inaugurated the annual Ken Elliott Memorial Race, with riders competing for a trophy donated by the club president, “Mick” Hamilton. The race consisted of a 10 mile handicap that was to be run each year as the club’s first race of the season on the nearest Saturday to May 2, the date that Elliott fell in action. The first edition took place on Saturday May 4, 1942. J. McDougall took the honour, completing the 10 mile course on the Cranbourne road in 28 minutes, 15 seconds. Fittingly it was Ken’s brother, Max, who achieved the fastest time in 26 minutes, 30 seconds. [45].

Winners of the Ken Elliott Memorial Race
1942-1948

1942 – J. McDougall
1943 – A. Saunders
1944 – L. Brereton
1945 – A. Marsham
1946 – A. Marsham
1947 – T. Matthews
1948 – G. Koffeyberg

The 'podium' of the 1948 Ken Elliott Memorial Race (Source: The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 5, 1948)

The ‘podium’ of the 1948 Ken Elliott Memorial Race (Source: The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 5, 1948)

On November 17, 1943, Flight-Sergeant Louis James Muschialli died when his Wellington bomber crashed in the Cape Bourgaroun area. Lou had been a successful cyclist for the Coburg Cycling Club, and his younger brothers, Frank and Lawrie, were both members of the Dandenong Professional Cycling Club [46]. And earlier that year in its April 21st report on the farewell party given for Stan Nelson, The Dandenong Journal briefly commented that the third Nelson brother, Jack, was still missing after the Australian withdrawal from Timor in February of that year [47]

At the time of the report Jack Nelson’s fate was unknown. He may have been killed in action, but equally may well have been one of the nearly 140,000 Allied military personnel taken prisoner by the Japanese. This was indeed the case, but sadly Jack died at Ambon on June 4, 1945, from severe malnutrition after suffering three years as a prisoner of war [48]. The news must have come as a sad blow to his brothers and to his parents, John and Alberta Nelson. One can imagine that like many people across Australia they lived in the hope that would see their son alive and well and were among the many who contributed to and raised funds for prisoners of war.  They would no doubt have been aware that the Dandenong cycling club were active in raising funds to provide relief to soldiers, sailors, and airmen who languished in prisoner of war camps. The club organised its own fund, organising dances and social events, with proceeds raised on the night being donated to the Red Cross. At her 18th birthday celebrations Miss Dorothy Jeffs, the sister of Noel Jeffs, asked guests not to buy her presents, but to donate to the club’s prisoner of war fund instead, raising £3, 12 shillings for the cause [49].

While true that the war affected peoples lives on many levels, it is also true that it appears to have had little to no effect on the sport of cycling in Victoria, Melbourne, or even Dandenong. From 1939 to 1945 clubs throughout the Melbourne area continued with their typical racing calendars, competed on the track outside the road race season, organised inter-club meetings, participated in the sports events on annual holidays, and enjoyed the social events arranged and hosted by their committees. In all it seems that 1939 to 1945 was business as usual for the cycling fraternity, though there is an impression that war service among the 18-35 year age range left younger riders with a greater opportunity to advance more quickly as they filled the gap left by stronger and more experienced riders.

The sense of continuity in the world of club cycling continues into the post-war years. The Dandenong Cycling Club’s officials change, there are new names in the winners lists, but the round of 5, 10, 15, 18, 20. 25, 33, and 50 mile races are the same, the handicaps, the scratch men and the limit men are still in place, and the ladies committee remains largely anonymous. A few events stand out. On March 9, 1946, Hubert Opperman, the “Human Motor” and unrivalled star of Australian Cycling made a much anticipated appearance at the Dandenong show ground for the “footrunning and cycling carnival” organized by the Dandenong Cycle Club in aid of the hospital. The event raised £73 and the crowd witnessed “Oppy” exhibit his pace-riding behind the rollers of Bob Finlay, covering 5 miles at 30 mph [50]. Opperman had been present at the club in 1930, when he attended a club meeting accompanied by W. “Snowy” Hunter. On that occasion Opperman had offered the club his support and a slide lecture on the Tour de France [51].  Given that he had announced his intention to turn amateur earlier that year one can imagine the Dandenong Cycling Club were hoping that he just might do them the honour of joining them [52]. There were connections with the club after all, and other members of the extended Opperman family, Glen and P. Opperman, were members of the club from at least 1946 and 1948 respectively [53]. In May 1948 Glen came third in the Ken Elliott Memorial Race, and achieved the double of being both first and fastest in the club’s handicapped 33 mile event [54].

Another rider also comes to the fore in the late 1940’s. Bill Kirkham first appears as a junior in 1944 gaining successes on the track and on the road [55]. By 1948 he was 20 years old, worked as a pastry cook, and had been riding on the track with the professionals for four and a half years, achieving success there and on the road as well. On December 11 he lined up with the rest of the field to take part in the 42nd edition of the Austral Wheel Race, a race that is still going strong today and is the oldest track race in the world that is still running. Coached by Richard “Fatty” Lamb, a previous winner of the Austral and twice winner of Warrnambol to Melbourne, Kirkham was well prepared and in form. After winning his heat he showed ability and tactical awareness in the final by timing his sprint on the last lap to perfection, taking the lead and holding it to the finish line in the face of stiff competition from Norm Bates and J. Fisher [56].

Bill Kirkham at the Austral Wheel Race (The Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 - 1954), Wednesday 15 December 1948)

Bill Kirkham at the 1948 Austral Wheel Race (The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 15, 1948)

Victory in the Austral neatly bookends a 30 period in the life of the Dandenong Cycle Club with wins by Kirkhams’ of different generations. Whether Malcolm, Don, and Henry were related to Bill Kirkham is difficult to ascertain, but its not unreasonable to think that the several club members of that name who appear in racing results from 1908 to 1948 came from the same extended family. The history of the club in these thirty years reflects that of many racing clubs in the Melbourne area, and indeed throughout the world. Club life revolved around the annual round of races, the grind of training, and the joys of winning, interspersed with social occasions and, for some, the routine of administration and management. These experiences are equally as common to clubs today as they were in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps the major differences for modern cyclists are the improved roads, the advances in cycling technology and design, and the active participation of women in cycling, as opposed to providing a supporting role to their male relatives and friends. The Dandenong Cycle Club no longer exists, nor to best of knowledge, is there a club active in what is now a suburb of Melbourne rather than a township in its own right. One hopes that this is not a permanent situation, and that at some point in the not too distant feature another generation of Kirkham’s, Elliott’s, and Franklin’s will ride in the old club colours of mauve and blue.

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Author’s note:

1948 may seem a curious choice of year on which to end. The Dandenong Cycle Club was still in existence and there is more to tell. Unfortunately I am limited to available sources and while I would love to be the recipient of a hefty research grant that would allow me to spend a few months digging into archives in Melbourne and elsewhere, the fact is I’m reliant on the archival collections made available online. This means I have been entirely dependent on the digitised newspaper collections made available through the National Library of Australia’s fantastic Trove site.

Unfortunately, as good as it, Trove hasn’t yet digitised everything. Newspaper archives that mention the club end in 1954 along with the last digitised copies of The Dandenong Journal. And while catalogue records exist, the issues from 1949 to 1952 are not yet available. As noted above any given year in the club’s life followed a similar pattern with any one year being largely representative of the whole. This, together with the unavailability of material post-1948 led me to choose that year as the one I would close on.

There are, inevitably, gaps in the research and further questions to be answered. The almost complete absence of any direct mention of the club in the local press between its first race in 1908 and 1927 is curious. Why this is so is something I cannot answer, but it would be interesting to find out more should further evidence come to light.

The demise of the club in 1939 is also shrouded in mystery. As briefly noted upon, both Hamilton and Elliott, the president and secretary of the new Dandenong Professional Cycling Club in 1941, were vice-Presidents of the Spring Vale Cycling Club in 1940, the year before Dandenong was reformed as a professional club. It’s not difficult to imagine a hidden tale of personal and inter-club rivalries and the tensions between amateur and professional racing being at the heart of the matter.

I have alluded to known and possible family connections; Malcolm, Duncan ‘Don’, and Henry Kirkham were brothers, as were Ken, Frank and Max Elliott. Their father, as I mentioned, is in all probability the W. or W. H. Elliott who appears as the club secretary for many years. We also see A., W., and Mrs W. Franklin, the latter presumably the wife of Mr W.. Again, it would be satisfying to determine the family connections between riders of the same surname in the same and different generations.

Finally, should anyone have the patience and inclination to do so, it would be possible to write up a fairly comprehensive record of each rider’s palmares from the racing reports and news that appear in the Melbourne area press of the day.

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Endnotes:

† I’m unable to confirm on what date the 25-mile Open Road Race referred to in the photograph took place, or by which club it was organized. Judging by the different jerseys on display, and as an ‘open’ race would imply, the cyclists in this photograph were from several clubs and it is unknown if any were from the Dandenong Cycle Club. According to a later added note written in pen, Don Kirkham appears standing behind the man seated to the left in the foreground.

[1] “Cycling notes,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), July 8, 1908, 2.
[2] “Cycling,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), September 23, 1908, 3.
[3] “Road racing,” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), June 23, 1913, 5.
[4] “Fire Brigade sports, Dandenong,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), April 4, 1912, 3; “Bicycle events,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), April 11, 1912, 3.
[5] “Cycling,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), June 27, 1912, 3.
[6] South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), May 16, 1912, 2; “Annual ball,” The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), October 10, 1935, 2.
[7] “The Dunlop road race,” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), October 21, 1911, 27, 28; “Warrnambool road race. First rider disqualified,” The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), October 19, 1911, 7.
[8] “Revival of Warrnambool Road Race,” porting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), August 16, 1922, 13 ; “The “Warrnambool” great cycling race,” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Saturday 14 October 1922, 26;
[9] “Dunlop Road Race” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), October 21, 1922, 24.
[10] “”Dandenong U.F.S. Sports,” South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic.), January 30, 1913, 5.
[11] “The Oakleigh Carnival”, Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian (Vic.), April 28 1917, 3.
[12] “Country sports: Dandenong”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), February 4, 1924, 7.
[13] “Cycling: Dandenong Club”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927), May 5, 1927, 6.
[14] “Cycling: Dandenong Club”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 19, 1927, 5.
[15] “Dandenong Club”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), June 2, 1927, 3.
[16] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), June 16, 1927, 6.
[17] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), July 28, 1927, 5.
[18] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), August 11, 1927, 4.
[19] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 29, 1927, 3.
[20] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), November 10, 1927, 6.
[21] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 29, 1927, 5.
[22] “Dandenong Council”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 1, 1927, 3.
[22] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 31, 1928, 4.
[23] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 13, 1937, 6; “Annual ball,” The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), October 10, 1935, 2; “Annual ball,” The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), July 2, 1936, 2.
[24] “Dandenong hospital”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 17, 1931, 2.
[25] “1000 amateurs on the road”, Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), June 13, 1936, 5.
[26] “Dandenong cycling club”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 17, 1936, 5; “Cycling: Dandenong to Wonthaggi”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), October 5, 1936, 14.
[27] “Cycling”, The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), August 16, 1910, 10.
[28] “Kirkham memorial”, Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), August 5, 1931, 11; “First win: Fraser’s fifty miler”, Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), August 19, 1931.
[29] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 13, 1938, 6.
[30] “Donations allotted”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), November 1, 1939.
[31] “Professional cycling this year”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), January 10, 1940, 16.
[32] “Cycling enthusiasts note!”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), January 22 1941, 9.
[33] “N. Jeffs wins new cycle club’s first race off scratch”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), January 22 1941, 16.
[34] “J. Miller repeats cycling success”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 28, 1941, 8.
[35] “N. Jeffs wins 20 mile championship”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 10, 1941, 5.
[36] “New rider wins president’s cup”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 23, 1941, 4; “Matthews wins 15-mile bike race”,  The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), October 1, 1941, 4.
[37] “50-mile road race to J. Miller”,  The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), August 20, 1941, 4; “J. Miller wins 20-mile road race”,  The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 14, 1941, 10; “20-mile road race to E. Himbeck”,  The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), June 11, 1941, 5.
[38] “Cyclists welcome home Spr. Richards”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 9, 1942, 6; “L. Nelson wins 33-mile road race”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), July 23, 1942, 12.
[39] “Cyclists farewell to Les Nelson”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), July 15, 1942, 4; “Cycling handicap race”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), June 22, 1938, 4; “Local boy farewelled”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 21, 1943, 3.
[40] “D.F.C. awarded to former Dandenong cyclist”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 13, 1944, 1; “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 29, 1932, 6.
[41] “”Dandenong’s first war fatality”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 21, 1941, 1; see also Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “Elliott, Kenneth William”, CWCG, http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2096612/ELLIOTT,%20KENNETH%20WILLIAM.
[42] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 27, 1938, 4; “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 14, 1938, 6.
[43] “Track races”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), February 21, 1940, 21; “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 15, 1940, 13.
[44] Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “Kirkham, Malcolm”, http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/288774/KIRKHAM,%20MALCOLM;
[45]”Road cycling season opens”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 6, 1942, 10; “Saunders wins Ken Elliott memorial race”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 5, 1943, 2.
[46] “Flt./Sgt Lou Muschialli killed in Wellington bomber crash”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 8, 1943, 8.
[47] “Local boy farewelled”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 21, 1943.
[48] “Popular Berwick and Hallam Valley boy died on Ambon”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), October 17, 1945, 12; Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “Nelson, John Henry”, http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2815858/NELSON,%20JOHN%20HENRY
[49] “Cycling Club helps prisoner of war fund”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), November 12, 1941, 14; “Dandenong cyclists raise another £10 for prisoner of war fund”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), January 21, 1942, 4; “Birthday party aids prisoner of war fund”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 17, 1941, 16.
[50] “Splendid sports meeting by cycling club”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), March 13, 1946, 14.
[51] “Cycling”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), May 29, 1930, 4.
[52] Bruce Andrew, “Opperman to turn Amateur”, Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), January 9, 1946, 1.
[53] “25-miler to A. Marsham”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), July 31, 1946, 2; “Cycling: Opperman’s cousin wins”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), April 28, 1948, 9.
[54] “G. Opperman first and fastest in 33-mile race”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), June 2, 1948, 12.
[55] “Bill Kirkham & L. Brereton win on cycling track”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), January 12, 1944, 8; “W. Kirkham wins B grade title”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), September 13, 1944, 12.
[56] “Fatty Lambs help to Austral winner,” Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic.), December 15, 1948, 9; “Young Dandenong cyclist wins world famous £100 Austral”, The Dandenong Journal (Vic.), December 15, 1948.

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6 comments on “Thirty Years of Australian Club Racing: The Dandenong Cycle Club, 1908-1948

  1. Brendan Edwards
    March 2, 2016

    Can’t say enough about the detail & research that you put into your pieces Aaron. Keep up the good work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • aaroncripps
      March 2, 2016

      Thanks Brendan. About 40 hours of research and writing went into this and I’m pleased with the results.

      Like

  2. roberthorvat
    March 2, 2016

    Wonderful article Aaron. To think that Dandenong is only twenty minutes away and I am oblivious to such amazing local cycling history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • aaroncripps
      March 2, 2016

      Cheers Robert. I didn’t realise you were so close to Dandenong. Really enjoyed writing this one and following the process from an off-the-cuff idea having read a few articles on Brendan’s blog “The Dandenong Ranges” to discovering a good story thanks to the brilliant Trove service from National Library of Australia.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. David
    December 23, 2016

    My late father was L Brereton

    Like

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