Swan River leap on a motorbike Colin Fitzgerald

Swan River leap on a motorbike Colin Fitzgerald

Fitzy's motorbike jump over the Swan River

1979 Swan River motorcycle jump attempts - Colin Fitzgerald

Photo:  In January 1979, Colin ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald jumped the Swan River in Perth (WA) on a motorbike attempting to break a world record, along with Trish Price who attempted to break her own world record  for a woman, by jumping 20 cars on a motorbike; Channel 9 video production of  Fitzy’s jump over the river (By courtesy Colin Fitzgerald) .

Motocross rider turned stuntman 'Fitzy' attempts a world record jump over the Swan River

On Saturday, 27 January 1979, one of Western Australia’s leading motocross riders – turned stuntman – Colin Fitzgerald attempted to break the World ramp jump record on a motorcycle – across the banks of the Swan River at Lilac Hill, near Guildford.

During ‘Way ‘79’ (WA’s 150-year celebration) ‘Fitzy’ as he is known to his mates, attempted the world ramp jump record of 184 feet aboard a brand new 1978/79 Suzuki RM400N over the Australia Day long weekend.

Fitzy’s attempt was unique, as he planned to leap from a parked semi-trailer and land on the banks of the river, where other attempts were usually from ramp to ramp. If successful, he would increase the record at the time to 218 feet.

Thousands of people crowded the banks of the Swan River to witness Fitzy’s jump. The day was filled with other entertainment including 19-year-old Trish Price attempting to break her own record by a woman to jump 16 cars on a bike, which she achieved the year before at the Claremont Showgrounds.

Greg Rodda would attempt to cross the Swan River under water on a trials bike with the exhaust pipe and carburetor intake extended above the water level. And another stuntman Andy Markwell from South Australia planned to blow himself up with dynamite while he lay inside a coffin.

Colin Fitzgerald just missed landing on the bank of the Swan River falling 1-2 meters short, crashing into the water without major injury. Despite the meticulous planning and calculations by university experts, the ramp setting was not exact and the bike left the ramp about halfway up, sending Fitzy and his Suzuki too high into the air.

Like Fitzy, Trish Price also came mighty close to successfully breaking the new world record of jumping 20 cars by a woman.  Trish clipped the last car, but managed to stay on the bike. 

But after hitting a small bump on the landing area, she veered off the track into the spectators and crashed at a low speed into a parked television van. She too was not seriously injured, only cutting her lip and bruising her leg. And according to her manager Peter West of Suicide Incorporated at the rime, the record would be made official despite clipping the last car.

Rodda’s attempt to ride under water across the Swan River failed when his machine stalled, but Andy Markwell walked away unscathed from his daredevil stunt.

About Colin 'Fitzy' Fitzgerald

Story contributed by Wayne Fanderlinden

Colin Fitzgerald – known as ‘Fitzy’ to his mates – was born on 23 September 1953 and grew up in the North West of Western Australia before moving to Perth and going to Wesley College in South Perth.

Fitzy became a well-known WA Motocross rider when he appeared on the local racing scene in the early 1970s. He rode for the Trail & Enduro Motorcycle Club and started racing motocross on a Honda 250cc bike, moving to Suzuki for the 1974 season – riding both a TM 400 a TM 125.

It didn’t take long for Fitzy to reach the front of the big fields that were racing during that period and his success on the track saw him move rapidly up through the grades.

In 1975 he was given a sponsored ride on the Drake Motorcycles 125 Zundapp, previously ridden by Australian Champion and Swedish expatriate Hans Applegren who raced in WA, before moving east.

Colin Fitzgerald – WA motocross rider turned stuntman

Colin Fitzgerald - WA motocross rider turned stuntman

Creating off-road motorcycle history

In addition to motocross, Fitzy was an avid adventurer and a year earlier, in 1974, he joined two other riders – Andy Bowman and Paul Allardyce – to become the first motorcyclists to ride the famous Canning Stock Route in WA’s rugged north.  Bowman was also a motocross rider and Speedway sidecar passenger for Graeme Harris.

The Canning Stock Route is a track that runs from Wiluna to Halls Creek in the Kimberley region. With a total distance of around 1,850 km (1,150 miles) it is the longest historic stock route in the world. It was an extremely dangerous and challenging ride aboard Yamaha Ag 175 bikes with minimal supplies, but they made it with support from an aircraft flown by pilot John Fitzgerald and assisted by Philip Schubert!

Not as dangerous as it was back in the 1970s, the Canning Stock Route is now a popular but challenging four-wheel drive trek typically taking 10 to 20 days to complete. A few adventurers have since traversed the track on foot, by bicycle, and in two-wheel drive vehicles.

There are two small settlements on the track where fuel and other supplies may be obtained; Kunawarritji approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) north of Wiluna and Billiluna 173 kilometres (107 mi) south of Halls Creek.

Map of Canning stock route ridden by Colin Fitzgerald
Colin Fitzgerald riding the Canning stock route in 1974

In 1974 Fitzy was part of  the first motorcyclists to ride the  Canning Stock Route in WA’s North West. Video: Gaynor – 1974 Canning Stock Route motorcyclists

From motocross racing to jumping the Swan River

1979 Swan River - Colin Fitzgerald jumping it on a motorbike
Way 79 Logo - Western Australian 150 Year Anniversary Special

Fitzy’s Swan River Leap was part of the Way 79 Western Australian 150-Year Anniversary Celebration

After Fitzy ended his motocross career a few years later, his thirst for motorcycles, adventure and bravery led him to becoming a full-time stunt rider.  At the time, US stuntman Evel Knievel was generating worldwide interest jumping motorcycles over trucks, buses, the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and other crazy stunts.

Motorcycle stunt riders began emerging around the world and drawing huge crowds to watch their shows, with WA’s own Evel Knievel ‘Fearless Fitzy’ headlining some pretty big and exciting events at the Claremont Showgrounds, Heirisson Island and other renowned Perth venues.

Following a year of extensive planning, fearless Fitzy attempted to jump a motorcycle across the Swan River at a location known as Lilac Hill near Guildford.  This was set for January of 1979, the year of Western Australia’s 150th anniversary and one of the first of many big events for the State.

At a distance of 218 feet (over 66 metres) from bank to bank, this would be a world record attempt. He had previously jumped 150 feet (almost 46 metres), a mean feat on a 1978 motorcycle. Mounted on a brand new 1978/79 Suzuki RM400N and ably assisted by young Freedom Wheels mechanic Brett Sawyer, Fitzy used a 40-foot semi-trailer for his take off ramp and opted for no landing ramp.

Recent long jump attempts around the world at that time had resulted in some riders landing short and into the face of their own landing ramp, with dire consequences. Fitzy decided to land on the riverbank as a better option.

Thousands of people flocked to Lilac Hill to watch this show, but despite all the planning and calculations by university experts, the semi-trailer ramp did not perform as planned and the bike actually became airborne about halfway up, sending Fitzy and his Suzuki much higher than calculated.

Consequently, Fitzy just fell short of the full distance and he crash landed into the river – about three meters short of the landing area. Fortunately, Fitzy was not badly injured and was pulled out of the water to walk away with assistance from officials and on-lookers.

The jump was featured as a Channel 9 TV special and now forms an integral part of WA motor cycling history.

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