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Australian Motocross History

Australian Motocross History

Australian Motocross Championships history

1953 to today

Motocross - How the sport began

Motocross is one of the most popular forms of motorcycling in the world and has been around now for almost a century.

Fans can thank the British. For it was some crazy Englishmen who invented the sport in the 1920s.

It all started on 29 March 1924 when a group of clubmen in Camberley, Surrey became bored with trials.

They cut out the gymkhana section of its classic Southern Scott Trial and concentrated on the timed trial section. 

The race would be over the roughest and toughest ground available and the winner would be the rider who recorded the fastest times over two heats.

It was a punishing occasion with no less than 80 riders assembling for it, with almost half retiring. 

But a great new sport was born – Scrambling, as it was called in those days.

The sport quickly became popular and within just a few years of its creation, spread across the world and down under to Australia.

The Australian Story

According to newspaper reports, the first organised scramble in Australia was held at Waverley in Victoria, in 1926, organised by the Victorian A.J.S. Motorcycle Club.

However, the first ever large-scale scramble in Australia took place in Perth on 17 June 1928 at the Rope Works circuit in Mosman Park.

The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Club hosted the Harley Scramble between 1928 and 1964 at that circuit, with breaks during the war years.

This event was originated by Aub Rose, one of Australia’s earliest Isle of Man contestants. 

During his stay in England in 1927, Herb witnessed scrambles and bought the idea back to Western Australia.

Riders rode heavy bikes (like 1000cc Harley Davidsons and 500cc BSAs) with suspension being non-existent.  

The circuits were longer – like an enduro – with the first event finishing at Billy Goat Farm on the banks of the Swan River.  

The ascents were so steep that gangs of helpers were stationed at the top, armed with ropes and grappling hooks, to haul stricken riders to the top if they failed mid-climb.

During its heyday in the 1960s, crowds of up to 20,000 people would attend the Harley Scramble.

With the sport expanding to Europe, the new name ‘Motocross’ was given – formed by combining the French word for motorcycle “motocyclette” or moto for short with “cross country”.

The first Motocross of Nations team event was held in 1947 between England and Belgium.

In Australia, the sport came of age in the mid-fifties after World War II when our first National Championships were held in Korweinguboora, Victoria in 1953.  

During the late fifties many Australian riders travelled abroad to race motocross in Europe – the first being Les Sheehan from Victoria – who rode for the AJS Matchless factory team.  

In 1960, Tim Gibbes from New South Wales became the first Australian to win a European Grand Prix – in Poland.

Scrambling derived from reliability trials in the 1920s

Motocross (originally Scrambling) derived from reliability trials in the 1920s

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Tim Gibbes - 500cc International Challenge winner at the 1960 European motocross Grand Prix in Czechoslovakia

Tim Gibbes – Australia’s first  European motocross Grand Prix winner in Czechoslovakia in 1960

1920s Harley Scramble

The first large-scale scramble in Australia took place in Perth on 17 June 1928 at the Rope Works circuit.

Harley Scramble The Rope Works Mosman Park WA

The Harley Scramble was held at the Rope Works between 1928-64 with the only breaks during the war years.

AMXH Australian Motocross Champions List - Poster - 350cc Class - Peter Nicol

Peter Nicol won the Harley Scramble a record five times between 1951 and 1957 on a 350cc B.S.A. machine.

Harley Scramble The Rope Works Mosman Park WA - crowds in the 1960s

During its heyday in the 1960s, crowds of up to 20,000 people would attend the Harley Scramble.

The first Australian Championships

Just a year after the first European Motocross Championship was held in 1952, Australia held its first National Championships the following year in the small town of Korweinguboora, in the Wombat State Forest near Daylesford in Victoria.  

The championships have been held ever since, except for 2020 due to the world-wide COVID pandemic.

From the beginning the Australian Motocross Championships were held over one weekend – hosted in a different state each year. 

In the early years titles were held for the 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc, All Powers (Unlimited), and sidecars (500cc and 1000cc classes).

In those days the bikes were road bikes, including 1000cc Harley Davidsons, with the only modification being the tyres. Suspension was practically non-existent in the 1930s, with minimal movement from the front girder forks and rigid rear ends being standard.

The sport was known as ‘Scrambles’ then, the circuits were big, and riders would cover over 50 kilometers for each class over two legs. 

But over the years the bikes were tailor made for the sport, becoming lighter, faster and featuring proper suspension to absorb the bumps on a motocross circuit.  Also, the length of the two motos was reduced 20 minutes plus a lap.

The original format for the Australian Championships was largely maintained through to the 1980s, with the 350cc and Unlimited classes eventually being phased out in 1969 and 1980, respectively.

In 1991, multiple rounds were introduced and scattered throughout the winter season across various states.

Ken Rumble at the 1953 Australian Championships in Korweinguboora, Victoria

Ken Rumble at the inaugural Australian Championships at Korweinguboora (VIC) in 1953

1956 - Peter Nicol, WA on his way to victory on a BSA in the 350cc class at the Australian Scramble Championships at Moorebank, Sydney on 27 May 1956

The 1956  event at Moorebank were the first “true”  Championships with official teams from each State.

Australian Motocross Champion Ray Fisher

In 1968 Ray Fisher was the first  rider to win on a Japanese 2-stroke bike and last to win on a British 4-stroke.

Gary Flood - four-times Australian Champion in Tasmania in 1969

In 1969 in Tasmania, Gary Flood became the first rider to win all Championship classes.

Changes at the turn of the century

At the turn of the century, with the introduction of the lightweight 4-stroke machines, the Championship classes were completely revamped aligning with the World Grand Prix formula – replacing the ‘cc’ classes with ‘MX’ classes.

In the MXGP class, riders of any age could compete on 250cc to 450cc machines, while the MX2 class has an age restriction and combines only 125 and 250cc machines.

And in 2006, the first Australian Motocross Championships for women were introduced.

 
2017 Australian women's championships - 1 Maddy Brown, 2 Jessic Moore and 3 Tori Dare

2017 Australian women’s championships – 1 Maddy Brown, 2 Jessica Moore and 3 Tori Dare

1992 Motocross Des Nations - Rob Herring Great Britain Honda 250

1992 Motocross of Nations at Manjimup in Western Australia.

World Motocross of Nations down under

The sport of motocross has continued to grow across Australia.

In 1992, on September 5-6, Australia hosted the World Motocross of Nations teams event at Manjimup in Western Australia. 

This was the first time ever that the event had been staged outside of Europe.

And the following year, Australia hosted the World 125cc Motocross Grand Prix at the same venue.

Then on 19 March 2000, a round of the Australian 500cc Championships was held at Broadford in Victoria.

Due to the success of that event, Broadford also held a World 125, 250 and 500cc Championship round in 2001.

 

Australian motocross legends

As early as the 1950’s Australians have been competitive on the world stage.  Tim Gibbes, who was born in New South Wales but grew up in South Australia, forged an 8-year professional motocross career in Great Britain, Europe and the USA.

Gibbes was the first Australian to win a European Motocross Grand Prix, winning the Czechoslovakian round on 22 May 1960 and the Polish round a week later.  Tim also won two International meetings and the Sussex Motocross Grand National in England.  

On 14 October 1963, an Australian motocross team beat the British in a test match at Pembury, near Brands Hatch.  

The winning Australian team included:  Charlie West (WA), Kelvin Franks (SA), Bob Walpole (VIC), Ray East (NSW), Ray Fisher (VIC), Jack Pringle (NSW) and Tim Gibbes (NSW) – See photo Tim Gibbes and Charlie West below.

Since that time , these four riders also forged successful international careers in both motocross and supercross:

  • Jeff Leisk, Western Australia (1986-1989)
  • Chad Reed, New South Wales (1998-2020)
  • The late Andrew McFarlane, Queensland (2000-2010), and
  • Brett Metcalfe,  (2001…).

Their performances helped focus international attention on Australian motocross talent, paving the way for more Australian motorcyclists to compete in both Europe and the United States.

Charlie West (WA) at a 1963 British Scramble with Tim Gibbes (NZ)

Australians Tim Gibbes (left) and Charlie West (WA) at the British test match in  Pembury, England in 1963.

Australian Motocross Champion Jeff Leisk

In 1989 Jeff Leisk (WA) was the Runner-up 500cc World Motocross Champion in his first full season.

World AMA Australian Supercross Champion

Chad Reed  (NSW) – Two-times World Supercross Champion and R-up World 250ccc MX Champion in 2001.

Andrew McFarlane - Racing and headshot

The late Andrew McFarlane (QLD) was the runner-up World MX2 Champion in 2005.

Australian motocross history videos

1971 Australian Championships
(Clarendon, South Australia)

1978 Australian Championships
(Broadford,
Victoria)

1981 Australian Championships
(Symmons Plains, Tasmania)

1982 Australian Championships
(Toowoomba, Queensland)

1985 Australian Championships
(Noble Falls, Western Australia)

1992 World Motocross of Nations
(Manjimup, Western Australia)

World 500cc Motocross Grand Prix
(Broadford, Victoria)

2016 Australian Championships
(Final round Shepparton)

2017 Australian Championships
(MX Store Inside the Nationals)

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Australian Motocross History