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Race Across the Great Divide

 

'Bathurst. There was no weekend like it. The soothing exhilaration of the clear mountain air on the run into town, bikes everywhere. Faded leather, denim, greatcoats, wax-cotton, road-weary Rossi boots, swags, and number plates from afar as WA. Police checkpoints confiscate sawn-off shotties, knives, knuckle-dusters, swords and the odd cannon. The mandatory stop off at the bottleshop before heading up

the hill, wild nights, chilly mornings, the smell of 276 camp fires, freshly cooked bacon and durries; gathering firewood in empty beer cartons, the smouldering car or bike in the Bull Ring. The remnants of crashed bikes lay scattered at the makeshift drag strip near Reid Park, as a blanket of mist elevates the hungover sea of dishevelled humanity to an Austral Asgard.

 

Down in the paddock the waft of Castrol R fills the air, wailing two-strokes break the dawn silence. Last minute tweaks and checks, the smell of anticipation, the smell of fear. Riders squeeze into leather sheaths, don helmets and clench gloves. Run ’n’ bump, throw a leg over, slip the clutch to the pit gates. Helpers clean gravelled tyres as officials bark orders and track conditions above the incredible din. It’s a cue for the sore heads to gather at the cabled spectator fences lining the circuit, the low morning light hitting their puffy faces and squinting, blood-shot eyes. The sting of fifty C-graders heading up Mountain Straight signals the start of first practice for the best weekend of the year. This was Bathurst in the 1970s.

Mount Panorama is action on an entirely new level. A visual and aural overload, the sheer incongruity of it all. Bikes flash down Con-rod Straight at warp speed, wheel standing over the last two humps. From pit straight you watch riders disappear over the hump on Mountain Straight at 250km/h without the faintest audible trace of a redlining engine. Roaring out of The Cutting, they crest spectacularly at Reid Park before disappearing down Sulman Park at 180km/h.

 

At McPhillamy, the shriek of the new four-cylinder TZ700s and the howl of the big-bore bangers stun as they plunge over Skyline, the lash of the chain as they blip down a few gears for The Esses. Dump a knee into The Dipper, wait thirty seconds, and they explode into view at the orchard on Con-rod Straight.

The rewards for these leather-clad warriors are meagre, the risks enormous. You wonder why the hell they do it. It’s so right, yet so wrong.

The discord jars beautifully against the cool mountain quiet.'

Hideo Kanaya, Bathurst 1978
Warren Willing, Bathurst 1978
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