Up in the well-to-do Adelaide Hills, the teacups were rattling one weekend in 1947.
“A less-likely venue for motorcycle racing is hard to image”. These are the words of Doug Voss, keen student of the sport, excellent amateur photographer and a spectator at the one and only motorcycle race meeting held on the streets of Crafers in the Adelaide Hills in 1947.
Doug continues, “My bikie pals and I were astounded when we heard of the plans to stage this event. Crafers is a well-to-do middle class town in the best part of the Adelaide Hills. The course was hilly, fast and to us looked dangerous. Also it was being held on the Ides of March (the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC)! The Atujara Club managed to get the OK from the authorities by sponsoring the Mothers & Babies Health Association. In the end, our fears were groundless – all riders survived!”
Often referred to as the gateway to the Adelaide Hills, Crafers is one of the oldest towns in the region. Adelaide’s highest peak, Mount Lofty Summit (710 metres), is a three minute drive from Crafers with a Visitor Information Centre and cafe at its peak. Other Crafers attractions include the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, which has an extensive collection of deciduous trees, rhododendrons and a fern gully, and Cleland Wildlife Park. The nearby market gardens and vineyards of Piccadilly and Summertown provide an ideal route for a scenic drive, with the picturesque Mount Lofty Golf Course nearby. Crafers’ first building was the Sawyers Hotel (also known as The Tiers), built by David Crafer in 1839 – just three years after South Australia was settled. Ironically, Crafer was granted the licence for his new pub on the Ides of March – March 15, 1839 – for a fee of £100. The gathering place of ‘tiersmen’ (timber cutters) who worked the Stringy Bark forests that covered the hills, the pub was a popular haunt for the colony’s cattle thieves, sly grog merchants and bushrangers, who took refuge in the relative isolation of the Hills.
A village quickly grew around the pub which was little more than a bush hut with a thatched roof and a mud floor. By 1840 it had become the Norfolk Hotel (named after Crafer’s birthplace in England), Stringy Bark Forest, Mt Barker Road and was attracting a rather unsavoury clientele made up of ex-convicts, thieves, loggers and ex-sailors. In 1843 the licence was transferred to Richard Hawkins, who changed the title to Crafers Inn, while the district of Stringy Bark Forest was renamed Crafers in honour of the pioneer of the area. David Crafer founded the S.A. Agricultural and Horticultural Association and his name was honoured by them for many years afterwards with an annual luncheon at The Crafers Inn, which remains a popular watering hole to this day.
108 years to the day after the pub was licenced, racing motorcycles were tearing around behind the hotel about 150 metres from the main road. But it was not a victory for the sport that had been achieved overnight. Even in 1947, the residents of the area valued their peace and quiet, so it took some fancy footwork by the members of the Atujara Motorcycle Club (Inc.) to convince the burghers of the value of shattering the mountain air with open megaphones. The ploy was achieved by nominating a local charity, the Mothers and Babies Health Association (Crafers Branch) as the beneficiary for (any) profits from the meeting, and this served to assuage fears of mayhem and carnage.
The course itself was a pocket hankerchief affair run in clockwise direction. It is difficult to visualise the course today because of the advent of the South Eastern Freeway which lopped off the northern end of the track. However Alan Wallis remembers the location well, as he explains, “At the time the main road was in fact the main road to Melbourne. The “pits” were on Waverly Ridge Road and the start was also here and riders made their way clockwise downhill towards the main road but did a right hand turn at the paddock behind the Crafers Hotel and went uphill to meet up with the Ayres Hill Road junction with Waverley Ridge Road. The road behind the hotel was an unsealed track and like many such roads in the area had no name at the time. It was hastily shaped and sealed by the Council for the event with a penetration bitumen surface. At Ayres Hill Road the riders turned right and returned slightly uphill to the start line. Part of the road down to the hotel is still there but cut off by the realigned Waverley Ridge Road as the freeway works removed the paddock and road behind the hotel.
“The course for the ‘Crafers Miniature T.T.’ was not far from where I lived at what is now Crafers West and I rode my push bike over to see it. The organizer was Jim Pritchard who was the Chief Engineer at Pope Products at the time and convinced my father that I should serve an apprenticeship in fitting and turning in order to become a practical draughtsman, and then arranged my indentures for a 5 year apprenticeship at the company.” As well as organising the meeting, Pritchard must have talked his employer into a degree of sponsorship, because the official program for the meeting carried a full-page advertisement for Pope sprinkler systems.”
What looked on paper to be a fairly abrupt series of right hand corners was in fact made more interesting by some fairly dramatic changes in elevation, and the extreme narrowness of the road surface – a challenge for solos and much more so for sidecars.
Under patronage from the Auto Cycle Council of Australia (ACCA), a twelve-event programme was scheduled, with practice sessions beginning at 10am. In deference to the confined nature of the course, the supplementary regulations carried the stipulation, “Riders will pass on right with the exception of the last lap, when he has received checkered (sic) flag he will pass any competitor in advance of him between finishing line and Hell Bend on the left.”
The late Keith Hamilton was a competitor at the Crafers TT, and recorded his thoughts in his memoirs. “The Crafers Road Race was a ‘Miniature TT’ if there ever was one! In their quest for public roads that could be easily closed off without public disruption, someone discovered a small block of land on the side of the hill, behind the Crafers Hotel in the Adelaide Hills, a rough measurement suggested about half a mile (I kilometre) around. The circuit was ridden clockwise, the start/finish line was on a short straight that would have been lucky to measure 100 metres, the pits were on a very small vacant area on the outside of the circuit next to the Start line. From the Start it was only a few meters into about a 100 degree turn into a rough down hill side street, getting steeper as it dived down into the lowest part of the circuit, where a shocking narrow right hander with a hedge and drop off on the outside, headed you up the steepest and roughest section to the highest point of the circuit, and the short stretch of part of the main bitumen road, which was the only real straight, braking hard around a turn and right on to the finishing line and the right hander into the side street, and the rough downhill section once more.
“Looking back, it all sounds pretty crazy, but life was different in those days, and the race day was fine, actually quite hot, but shading trees lined most of the circuit above the level of the road and on the main spectator area on the smooth sealed straight. The roads here were carved out of the side of the hills, with thick hedges in places, and generally speaking, speeds were not high, even on the short straight sections.
“I only had two rides in the program, OHC Velocette mounted of course, in the 350 class, as I remember it, they were all scratch races, four or five laps, with a Second and First to take home, I was a pretty happy rider, but not so the side car boys! Their first race was a disaster, with the road barely one outfit wide on the rough sections, the sealed straight was the only place that they had a chance to race, and they didn’t even make it that far in the first race! Their practice session brought loud howls of protest, but eventually they lined up to race, four of them as I recall, and off they went into a mad fight to be first into the side street, where it became a mad mix up down the hill into the lowest corner, which was for them really the lowest point in their day, as they all finished up locked together, and down off the track, and into the thick hedge – blackberry bushes as I remember!
“One of the riders was on a brand new Norton, sporting the then-new ‘Roadholder’ telescopic forks, and I well remember his outburst when the outfits were finally hauled back into the pit area, his Norton with bent fork tubes and its share of scratched paintwork, but the meeting went on, with token awards to the sidecar boys, and most riders voted it a great day.”
Perhaps due to the narrow track, the normal (for the day) push start was replaced by clutch starts for all races, including sidecars. Racing was due to start at 2pm following the practice sessions and a lunch break, but a series of delays due to minor accidents saw most of the races shortened from their original distance.
The most successful competitor on the day was sidecar star “Doc” Davis (with passenger G.Plenty) who won all three starts including the handicap from the back mark on a 500 Triumph. Davis’ performance was all the more remarkable given that he had only one eye. Davis’ closest challenger was John McCormack (500 BSA) , whose passenger used the alias of “Percie” – a common practice when racing motorcycles was seen as decidedly infra-dig by many employers.
With the programme already running late, a further setback occurred in the first Sidecar Scratch race when “Tige” Symons, enjoying a brief turn at the front of the field, took the downhill corner behind the hotel rather too bravely, pitching his outfit over the sandbags and down the embankment into a large blackberry bush. Unable to avoid the melee, Davis joined the carnage at the bottom of the bank, followed seconds later by Jack Prime’s Velocette and two other outfits. It took some time to untangle the wreckage, but all took the restart; Prime with both hands heavily bandaged. This time Davis scooted clear of the field early to record a comfortable win.
There was more drama in the very next race, the 500cc and Over A Grade Scratch, when Charlie Walker on his brand new £400 Manx Norton had his front wheel taken out at the hairpin by Murray Fleetwood’s Red Hunter Ariel. Walker was treated by ambulance crews for injuries to his left elbow and with the forks on his Norton twisted, took no further part in the day. The race was won by Laurie Boulter with Myers second.
The solo races were divided between A and B grade classes, the main events being the All Powers A Grade, 500cc and Over A Grade, Up to 350 cc A Grade and the Invitation Scratch. Jack Williams (500 Rudge) chalked up wins in the first two races, with Les Diener taking the 350 A Grade on his Velocette. In the day’s final race, the Invitation Scratch Race over ten laps, Williams and Boulter –also Rudge mounted – stage an entertaining contest for the lead which was resolved in Boulter’s favour, with Diener’s 350 some distance back. Spectators went home well satisfied with their day’s entertainment, which included a high number of accidents, fortunately none of a serious nature. But the Crafers TT was never repeated, and today even the local Historical Society has scant knowledge of the event.
In later years, the South Eastern Freeway sliced off a section of the course on Main Road. As Alan Wallis says, “The only pieces of road that may have formed the circuit that are still in place are a very short piece of the old Waverley Ridge Road from the roundabout at the top of Ayres Hill Road, Waverley Street that is a dead end against the extension of Waverley Ridge Road, and Hawthorn Street that is part of the old track behind the hotel that was sealed for the event but I believe have been significantly reformed. Waverley Ridge Road is still a narrow two-lane road except for where it has been widened to allow passing lanes near the old starting grid. Further down the hill, the width has been increased for parallel parking bay to cater for people who use the bus to reach the city. The pits were on the side of the road in between roadside trees. I still remember the original landscape before the freeway earthworks removed most of the hill behind the hotel to provide the exit from the freeway to the Crafers township via the bridge. The Main road through Crafers is still approximately as it was before the freeway and young people find it hard to believe that this was the main road to Melbourne. Whereas there may have been one or two houses inside the triangle formed by the old race circuit, it now has many. It is remarkable that these narrow stretches of tarmac were considered suitable for high-speed motorcycle racing, 66 years ago.”
Story: Jim Scaysbrook with assistance from Alan Wallis and Doug Voss • Photos: Howard Loveder, Doug Voss, Elena Voss.