Off the track Motocross legends – King of the Cross – Bob Couzens

Off the track Motocross legends – King of the Cross – Bob Couzens

Motocross Promoter Bob Couzens, King of the Cross

Bob Couzens at riders meeting in Southern Cross
Motocross Promoter Bob Couzens - Black and White Portrait

Photos:  [Left] Southern Cross Motorcycle Club co-founder Bob Couzens addressing the riders at the a riders meeting for the King of the Cross at Carnicelli Park, Southern Cross; [Centre] Every August during the 1970s to 1980s, thousands of fans would watch the event; and Couzens, owner of the local Railway Tavern (By Peter Kitchingman)

Bob Couzens, our first “off-the-track motocross legend”

Motocross promoter Bob Couzens, who co-founded the Southern Cross Motorcycle Club, was the brains trust and energy behind the King of the Cross motocross spectacular in the 1970s and 1980s.

The tiny mining town in Southern Cross, which was 370 kms east of Perth in Western Australia, only had a population of around 900 people during that period. And on one weekend in August each year this figure would reach up to 5,000. The club still exists and this year will host its 50th Anniversary.

Reverend Couzens, as he was nicknamed by race commentator Con Migro, is a well-loved colorful character and the first to be inducted into the new AMX History – “off-the-track motocross legend”, for non-riders who made a big contribution to the sport.

In the history of the sport, the King of the Cross will go down as one of greatest ever motocross events staged in Australia – it was the “Bathurst” of motocross.

The King of the Cross became an annual pilgrimage for motorcycling enthusiasts with thousands of riders and spectators converging on the remote gold mining site – similar to the Bathurst motorcar race. But instead of competing to be the King of the Mountain, riders were vying to be the King of the Cross and win a bar of gold, which in some years was valued up to $5,000 (around $10,000 in today’s gold prices).

King of the Cross promoter Bob Couzens holding the gold bar with flag marshall Lou Fanchi
Southern Cross - King of the-Cross-behind-the-scenes

Photos: [Left] King of the Cross promoter Bob Couzens holding the gold bar for the winning rider with flag marshall Lou Fanchi ; and [Right] The  event became the “Bathurst” of motocross  with thousands of people making the event an annual pilgrimage  to the remote mining town (By Peter Kitchingman)

Cousins & his merry men create an iconic event

Southern Cross King of the Cross large crowd
King of the Cross History - Southern Cross - Gunter in front of big crowd

Couzens was the driving force behind the event’s huge success.  He was the club secretary, King of the Cross event manager and clerk of course on race days.  Over the years, the owner of the Railway Tavern in Southern Cross and his family, friends and supporters, put in tireless efforts to ensure the event was a big success.

Together with WA motocross legend Richie Kings who also lived in Southern Cross, Couzens decided to build the circuit in the early 1970s.  As the land was leased by the Frasers Gold mining company, which was held by Eric Carnicelli, they named the motocross circuit Carnicelli Park.

Richie looked after the circuit, and Bob – with support from Motorcycle dealer “the late Clem Nunn” –orchestrated the staging of the first King of the Cross in August 1975.

From the beginning, the club had a vision of establishing an event of National significance – an event that would draw nationwide attention to Western Australia – and in particular, Southern Cross.  To achieve this, they put up big prizemoney and funded the travel costs for the Nation’s top Motocross riders through sponsorship. And the formula worked with the event becoming bigger each year.

Because the club only had around 30 members, the King of the Cross succeeded as it became a true community event – led by Bob Couzens – with support from the Kalgoorlie Motorcycle Club, motorcycling officials, sponsors and the media.

Photos: [Top] Thousands of spectators  came to watch the Nation’s leading riders at the King of the Cross; and [Right] Two-time  King of the Cross History Anthony Gunter (NSW)  thrilling  the big crowd with a  one-handed wheelstand (By Peter Kitchingman)

Reverend Bob delivering his sermon to the riders

The early years were dominated by local heroes Ritchie Kings and three-times winner Graeme Smythe. But from then onwards, the Nation’s professional factory riders took out the remaining King of the Cross events, including Anthony Gunter, Stephen Gall, Jeff Leisk and other Australian Champions.

Over the years the event also attracted many International riders, including Jimmy Aird from Scotland (five-times Scottish champion) and two famous American riders who made Australia home in the 1980s – the late Marty Moates and Jimmy Ellis. 

Reigning two-times World Sidecarcross Champion Emil Bollhalder (Switzerland) and German Sidecarcross Champion Josef Brockausen also contest the events in 1984 and 1985, respectively.

Eccentric in his appearance on race days, Bob would dress in a different costume, including one occasion where he wore an Arab head dress. Bob said that he did this to make a point to the riders to take care and that he was the only clown in attendance. 

He also had a favourite saying to the riders at the Riders Meeting before the racing got under way – “When the flag drops the bullshit stops”.

When Bob Couzens stepped down from his official positions with the club in the mid-eighties, the event slowly but noticeably declined until the King of the Cross during that era ended in 1989.  

The club, however, is still going strong in both motocross and enduros and this year (2023) celebrates its 50th Anniversary, a remarkable achievement for a remote country town.

Photos: [Top]  Reverend Bob delivering his sermon to the riders before the 1985 King Of The Cross at Southern Cross, with American legend Jimmy Ellis in the bottom lef-hand-corner; and [Bottom] Three-times King of the Cross Graeme Smythe dicing with Jim Aird from Scotland. Couzens and the late Clem Nunn flew to England to sign him up for the 1979 Way WA special anniversary event (By Peter Kitchingman).

King Of The Cross 1985 - Sermon On The Mound Bob Couzens with Jimmy Ellis
1979 King of the Cross - Graeme Smythe and Jim Aird clash in mid air before crashing

King of the Cross video library

Documentary – History of the King of the Cross

1979 King of the Cross

1980 King of the Cross

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