Shirley Duncan & Wendy Law

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Two Wheels to Adventure.  The first women to cycle across the Nullarbor

In 1946 two Melbourne girls made the journey of a lifetime and touched the heart & souls of Australia in a time when it needed it the most. It was post World War II and Australia was suffering from depression & desperately needed a hero to give them hope.  Australia found not one but two in Wendy Law (19 y.o) & Shirley Duncan (21 y.o).  These young women planned on spending 6 months touring around Australia, but underestimated how much fun they would have.  Their adventure kept on rolling for  four years until they rolled back into Melbourne in April 1949.

We have a love of travel and thirst for adventure.  Travelling the country by bike is much more interesting, seeing the country first hand, meeting local people and gathering experiences” – Shirley Duncan

The journey

Before their epic adventure begun, Wendy & Shirley were already experienced cyclists.  The girls had travelled extensively around Victoria to Adelaide and also toured Tasmania in order to prepare themselves for the journey to come. Peter’s ice-cream offered them a unique sponsorship of unlimited ice-cream for the duration of their trip.  Peter’s gave them a letter which they could take to any distributor entitling the distributor to bill Peter’s directly for any ice-cream the girls would eat.  You can pretty much guess what their staple diet for the journey was.

Malvernstar also sponsored the journey providing their bikes and servicing along the way.  The girls had nothing in the way of money and to help fund the trip so they took on a job selling magazine subscriptions to fund their trip.

They also took on odd jobs throughout the trip with each odd job becoming an adventure in itself.

The girls Aussie adventure became legend and Wendy & Shirley became mini-celebrities with their trip receiving much publicity.  They would be interviewed by local newspapers.  Do radio interviews, and do talks for schools, churches and community organisations.  Their journey was put in the national spotlight when their trip was featured on the Movietone News, which was played all around the country at the movie theatres (see You tube clip below).  Their success helped them along the way as they used their fame to help them meet many lifetime friends along the way.   Ordinary Aussie’s welcomed the girls into their hearts and their homes.  The girls did not need to buy a meal for the first 2 & a half years.  Now that’s a testimony to the great Aussie spirit!

Touring on 2 wheels gave the girls a first hand view of what the country had to offer.  Wendy & Shirley went rock climbing, shooting, caving, skiing, and were even taught how to fly a plane at one stage.  They were in no hurry to end their adventure, so it took them a year to make it up to Brisbane.

This is where both of the girls fell in love.

Not with a smelly hairy Swagman, but with a 6 month old cattle dog, who they found at the “Happy Dog”, where they bought a small six month old blue cattle-dog who they named Peter in honour of their sponsorship with ice-cream company Peter’s.  Peter was to remain with the girls for the remainder of their journey and travelled with the girls in a cardboard box, flimsily tied to the front of one of their bikes.

The girls continued on their way and spent some time in Darwin before heading south to Adelaide where they caught up with family.  They spent a fair bit of time there before setting off for arguably the hardest part of their journey.   The thought of being the first female cyclists to ride across the Nullarbor Desert.  They worked hard to save up £15 passage across to Perth where the plan was to cycle back to Melbourne.

The Nullarbor

Between us and Perth lay a five-hundred mile desert known as the Nullarbor Plain.  Flat, empty and treeless.  With a fairly good road we knew that we could ride it“.

Back in the late 40’s the road across the Nullarbor was little more than a goat track, and a challenge to drive a motor vehicle across.   It was definately n0t a road designed with cyclists in mind.  “The road ran straight ahead in an unwavering line, growing thinner and thinner.  Although it looked flat, we seemed to be pushing a continual incline, to the horizon“.  The going was hard and although the girls grew weary, they were unable to take proper rest breaks along the way as there were no trees with which they could lean their bicycles.

The bikes were so heavily laden that if one fell over it took two of us to lift it, so if we lain them both down we could never have got them up again, except by untying all of the luggage.  So we rested standing up holding the bikes“.

There were sections which left them pushing through mud & gunk. The Nullarbor Desert tested the girls physically and mentally.  At times they even feared for their survival “we would become so worked up by all these tragic possibilities we almost cried.  Almost devoid of vegetation.  We had no idea of judging how far we had ridden.  Then there were the nights.  On the odd night where they weren’t able to make it to a station and had to sleep under the stars they experienced a new type of cold; “I was colder than I have been in my life.  Whoever said “the sands of the desert grow cold” knew what he was talking about”.

The Nullarbor was an ordeal and they were relieved when it was over.  “By the time we reached Colon we had ‘had’ the Nullarbor and hardships and loneliness.  All we wanted was to get back to civilization and to home“.  Although when asked by a reporter asked if they were sorry that they attempted it?  They replied;

“Good heavens, no.  Now it’s over and we are very glad we did it.  We can look back and laugh about this for the rest of our lives“.

Two Wheels to Adventure

Between 1946 and 1948 Wendy & Shirley travelled over 18,000 km’s around Australia.  Shirley Duncan published a book on their adventures in 1957 which she named “Two Wheels to Adventure”.  Their ability to always see the best in life was truly remarkable, and we can all learn from their ambitious spirits and the way they managed to laugh off some of their bad experiences.

Gympie was a cyclist’s nightmare.  Never did I see such ghastly hills!  Some of the streets looked almost perpendicular.  In Proserpine the road was so ghastly that Peter in his box was being shaken to jelly, so we decided to let him run alongside us.  He had grown almost too big for the box anyway”.

All great journeys must come to an end, and when the dynamic duo reached home they received a mighty reception in Melbourne.

A huge crowd gathered in front of the Melbourne Post Office to welcome them home.  Wendy & Shirley rode into a sea of family and friends and well wishers.  The media was on hand with cameras flashing and newspaper men on hand to interview the returning heroes. The radio was also on hand and 3AW broadcasted the event.

As we stand here beneath the big clock in the heart of Melbourne it gives me a great thrill to welcome back these two adventurous young ladies after the bicycle trip of-how far was it, girls? – eleven thousand miles.” – 3AW

The experience

Wendy & Shirley were best of friends and shared a tale of adventure and made their dream a reality.  “whenever we disagreed about anything – which was seldom, as our tastes were astonishingly similar – we settled it by tossing a coin, which Wendy always seemed to win”.  Their journey was an experience which took them to some truly remarkable places, and they met some wonderful people along the way “we might have been in danger of starving to death on our budget of five schillings per day.  People seldom allowed us to buy a meal.  I cannot over-praise the generous hospitable folk we met on our tour.”

Their journey was shared with Peter.  They say that a dog is “a man’s best friend”, but Peter was the girl’s.  “Peter thoroughly enjoyed this new experience, bounding far ahead of the bicycles, then looking back to make sure we were following.  We hated to see Peter grow up.  He was the cutest pupply in the world and we wanted him to never change.  Each day was a new adventure, and whenever we loaded up our bicycles, he jumped joyfully around us“.


We can look back in hind site, and marvel at what Wendy & Shirley achieved under extraordinary circumstances.  They cycled through much isolation and there were numerous times when they ran out of food & water.   The bikes that they used weighed in excess of 30 – 40 kg’s with their packs, and their bikes had neither brakes nor gears.  They laughed at how they would roll down a hill and then walk up another.

Their ride was a success, despite the fact that they encountered a number of potentially dangerous circumstances.  On a ride in the forests towards Hobart (Tasmania) for instance they found themselves riding straight into a bushfire “On either side of the road trees blazed, shooting out sparks.  Darkness turned the bushfire into a spectacular fireworks display”.

It was common for the girls to laugh off any danger.

Wendy & Shirley posing with Australian cycling legend Ernie Old

Sadly their trip was also marred by two attacks.  The first attack took place near Mount Kosciuszko and thankfully neither were injured. In the second attack Shirley Duncan was sleeping in a Church Hall in Darwin.  She was woken in the middle of the night. She recalled: “Peter our dog was barking like mad’ and she was confronted by a man who grabbed her around the throat.  Shirley screamed and he said, “Shut up or I’ll kill you!”. Shirley’s screams & her dog’s barking woke the minister who came to her aide saving her.

The police recommended we bought a little revolver,” Ms Duncan said. “But we were more afraid of it than anyone else. We practised shooting gum trees.”

Much to Ms Duncan’s disgust, the man was fined £10 for unlawful entry but only £5 for molesting her.

Shirley Duncan & Wendy Law

Wendy & Shirley’s tale of adventure is a tale which should inspire all of us to get out on our bikes and to live the dream…….


  • Two wheels to adventure : through Australia by bicycle / by Shirley Duncan, Publisher:       London : George G. Harrap, 1957

For those interested in reading more about this story, Wendy Law published “With Bags and Swags: Around Australia in the Forties” in 2008 and you can still order a copy of this book online.

Ernie Old: a cycling legend

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Ernie Old
(1874– 1962)

Ernie Old had an amazing story to tell.  Aged in his 70’s they wouldn’t let him race bikes.  Ernie tried to enlist to fight in World War II and was told that he was too old.  Wanting to prove that age held no barriers.  Ernie challenged himself to ride from Melbourne to every state capital.  He accomplished this amazing feat before his 76th birthday, and became a celebrity.  He continually challenged himself to do more and more epic rides.  Over the next 10 years he continued to explore all around Australia.  Making his last marathon ride from Melbourne to Bendigo in 1960.  Aged 86.

Ernie is one of the pioneers of Australian cycling.  And proved that travelling the vast spaces of Australia by bike was possible and enjoyable at any age.

Ernie Old, age 84, cheered by crowds at the end of a marathon bicycle ride, 1961 (NAA: A1200, L38704)

The early years

Ernie Old was born in Blackwood (Victoria) in 1874.  At an early age fell in love with cycling and would race any chance he got.  At the age of 28 Ernie enlisted to join the Boer War in South Africa in February 1902.  His service lasted just three months before the war ended.  Ernie survived the war without seeing any action.  And was delighted to be home.

Ernie and his brother (Boer War)


In December 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War I.  Ernie enlisted to join the great war.  Where he joined the 13th Light Horse Regiment.  He was sent to Gallipoli.  One of the Wars most bloody battles on 4 September 1915 where he was stationed on the front.  Ernie reflected; “I had a good look over no man’s land.  The scene was strangely lifeless, no sign of moving at all.  Here and there huddled forms of poor soldiers from either side who had fallen there”.

No one was able to retrieve the bodies of the dead.  “Anything moving out in no man’s land at once came under deadly fire”.  Ernie was lucky to survive numerous near death experiences.  “If you raised your head above the sand bags your ‘expectation of life’ would be about 1 ½ minutes.  I got used to the close and deadly hiss as the bullets passed overhead”.

Ernie survived Gallipoli where over 100,000 from both sides perished during the bloody battle.  Gallipoli was lost and the Allies retreated and Ernie evacuated with the rest of the Allies.  After a brief spell of rest Ernie was sent to France to fight.  Ernie was severely wounded on November 14th 1916 at Flers.  This was a pivotal battle against the German 1st Army.  Where Tanks were introduced for the first time. Ernie was evacuated and spent over a year at various hospitals recuperating.

The return home

Ernie arrived home and found a large number of friends very glad to see him safely home.  He reflected that “There are no words which could tell how absolutely lovely it was to come home safely back out of the senseless turmoil of the war years and find my family all well” – Ernie Old

Whilst none of us could possibly imagine the horrors that Ernie endured.  You have to respect his priorities upon returning home: “I found to great joy that my wounds did not trouble me so much in cycling as in walking.  I soon cycled quite a lot, and was soon back in reasonably good form” – Ernie Old

Once a cyclist, always a cyclist.

World War 2

With the outbreak of World War 2.  Having valuable war experience Ernie put his hand up to enlist to fight in World War 2.  At 65 years of age was told he was too old to fight. He wasn’t happy.  Ernie wasn’t allowed to fight in the war but helped in other ways.  His experience as a blacksmith landed him a job on munitions work.  In a Government ordnance Factory at Maribyrnong.  Ernie would help develop the weapons to fight the Axis. He was as fit as a fiddle and wasn’t happy that people considered him too old.  Ernie felt that he had a point to prove that age was no barrier to maintaining a high level of fitness.

I had in mind for some years the project of taking a cycle ride to Sydney and back.  Having stood up to the long rides so well that I had no doubt that I could average 160km for long periods.  I felt sure that by riding a good part of each night I could do this, as I had never in all my life been so exhausted that I had to stop” – Ernie Old

The start of something big

At age 72.  Ernie Old completed his ride from Melbourne to Sydney return a in little under seven days.  He proved that age held no barrier when you set your mind to a dream.  His ride received much publicity, and he gave numerous interviews.  This was just the beginning and became famous for his amazing cycling adventures. Between 1945 and 1952. Ernie completed eight marathon bike rides around Australia.  Across some very rough & dangerous countryside.  Back in the late 1940’s.  Australia was a much different place than it is today.  Much of Australia was isolated.  There was large distances to travel in-between towns which also made his journey perilous at times.

Malvern Star advertisment

The Nullarbor Desert

Ernie almost perished on his journey across the Nullarbor Desert.  He hit a bad stretch of road.

many sharp flints cut through my tyres and tubes several times per day.  I had a busy time fixing them.  This delayed me so much that I was on the road for four days and nights without seeing anyone at all.  Having lost so much time to repairing tyres that I had to ride late at night.  I lost so much time that I pass Balledonia station in the dark without seeing it.  To add to my troubles I ran out of food and had to ride nearly 320km to Noresman with nothing at all to eat, and only billy tea with one tin of condensed milk and some sugar to drink.  Two long days against a strong wind with no solid food whatever.  Luckily I had plenty of water” – Ernie Old

Life of the bike

Ernie Old spent 10 years exploring much of Australia.  For years he was told what he couldn’t do.  He was told that he was too old.  Ernie showed the world what he could by riding all the way up to the ripe age of 86.  With his last big ride from Melbourne to Bendigo in 1960. Ernie gave up much leaving friends and family for long periods at a time. Luckily he didn’t have any regrets.  He had the time of his life.

“One man asked. ‘don’t you get lonely on all these long rides all by yourself?”.  “Oh, no” I replied.  “There is always something interesting to see. After my ride I was at liberty to go home and join my own family, which I was very glad to do.  I had not seemed to be really absent while away, as news of my progress came cross the air at frequent intervals assuring people at home that all was well” – Ernie Old

Ernie Old passed away on 11 August 1962 in his home at Murrumbeena, Melbourne.  He was buried in the New Cheltenham cemetery.

If you ever faced with a barrier which stops you from achieving a goal.  Remember that good ole Ernie Old has put you to shame.  You should take a leaf out of his book that you’re never too old to chase a dream.

Here is but a short list of just some of the amazing adventures that Ernie did:

    1. A 1,828 km return journey from Melbourne to Sydney in nine days
    2. A 1,831 km return journey from Melbourne to Adelaide in eight days (1946)
    3. In 1946 Ernie rode 412 km in 24 hours to raise funds for the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne
    4. A 4,025 km return journey to Brisbane in twenty-three days in 1947
    5. Ernie rode 9,650 km in 56 days, through Adelaide on the way to Darwin, then returning to Melbourne via Mount Isa, Brisbane and Sydney in 1947
    6. A 7,250 km return journey from Melbourne to Perth in 1948
    7. Ernie published his Autobiography“By Bread Alone” (Melbourne, 1950).
    8. In 1951-52 Ernie rode 9,650 km in 102 days. He first rode to Fremantle and back, and then continued to Sydney via Canberra and then back to Melbourne
    9. Ernie completed an outback ride in 1957. At the young age of 83 climbed Ayers Rock (Uluru)
    10. In 1959 Ernie cycled across Tasmania
By Bread Alone


Ernie Old Image State Library of Victoria

Billie Samuel

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Billie Samuel departing Sydney to Melbourne. Photo: Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales

Billie Samuel

We all love a good epic, but epics aren’t what they used to be like! Modern technology has made it easier and more comfortable to get you from “A” to “B” on two wheels. Today we take a trip down Memory Lane to remember a twenty three year old Melbourne waitress.  Who, in March 1934, planned to ride from Melbourne to Sydney in record time. The rider was Billie Samuel.  She was only a little girl, standing 4 foot 11 inches and weighing just under 45 kg.  What is most remarkable about this story was the fact that she wasn’t even a bike rider.  She had only learned to ride a bicycle a few months before the attempt.

Melbourne to Sydney

Billie set off from Melbourne’s General Post Office at 6:00 am on May 22nd 1934.  After having a heated discussion with some Melbourne girl pals, regarding the merits of women athletes.  Billie decided to do something epic.  Her aim was to cover the distance in less than three days.  Seven hours and thirty-two minutes.  Elsa Barbour had set this time riding from Sydney to Melbourne and Billie was determined to beat this time.  Billie would be riding solo.  So to prove that she had covered the distance, she had to get a logbook checked off at post offices along the way. You may have heard the saying “if it’s not on ‘Strava’ then it didn’t happen!”.  Things were done very differently 80 odd years ago!

Billie Samuel at Martin Place, Sydney. Photo: Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales

On the first day Billie arrived exhausted in Wangaratta at 8:40 pm. The day had not gone too well due to a fall which left her with some a bit worse for the wear.  The next day she left early and crossed the state line into New South Wales.  Another fall at Albury damaged her bike & she was forced to make emergency repairs.  Her day didn’t get any better.  The roads ahead revealed miserable conditions which slowed her greatly.  And forced Billie to continue riding through the night.

It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to ride at night through the countryside in 1934.  Billie would have been riding over dodgy roads.  In the pitch black of night.  With a lot more wildlife than what we experience today.

The bravery this girl showed is quite commendable.

Billie pulled the pin at 2:00 am and decided to take a short nap in the middle of nowhere. Without the benefit of an alarm to wake her. She slept much longer than planned.  And when she was back on the road she did not reach Gundagai until 8:45 am. Billy was twelve hours behind schedule at that stage.

376 km lay between her and Sydney but she still had hopes of making up the time. Unfortunately fate was against her.  Headwinds slowed her down on the Breadalbane Plains and the riding never got any easier.

At 11:07 pm on Friday 25th May.  Billie Samuel made it to the General Post Office in Martin Place in Sydney.  Billie was met by her father and a group of supporters.  The journey took her three days, seventeen hours & two minutes.

Billie was the first women to ever ride from Melbourne to Sydney.  When asked whether she’d do it again.

I’ll do it again if anyone thinks my spirit is shaken”. – BS

Billie Samuel departing Sydney to Melbourne. Photo: Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales

Sydney to Melbourne

Still determined to beat Elsa Barbours record.  Billie planned a return ride back to Melbourne from Sydney in the cold of winter.  She left at 10:00 am on Wednesday 4th July 1934 on a three speed Malvern Star bike with a toy Koala pinned to the front of her bike for luck.  Heavy rain marred the opening day.  But with favorable winds was able to keep several hours ahead of schedule.  Suffering a fall whilst descending Razorback Mountain this ride was far from easy.  Mechanicals, and suffering a crash on a dodgy stretch of road near Albury.  Forcing her to dismount and carry her bike through ankle deep mud.  Billie Samuel endured all sorts of hell getting back to Melbourne.

In grand fashion Billie rode back into Melbourne at 11:27 am on the third day. The journey took her an amazing three days, one hour and twenty minutes.  Breaking Barbour’s record by six hours and twelve minutes.  Over 3,000 people were at hand to witness the occasion.  And Billie was overcome with emotion and reportedly burst into tears.


Billies record stood for three years.  It was smashed in September 1937 by Joyce Barry who completed the journey in two days, two hours and forty-seven minutes.  But her story is one for the legends.

When you next head out for your next epic.  And you think you’re doing it tough then remember this story of this 4”11 inch fighter.

Source: https://cyclehistory.wordpress.com/2015/02…

Author:  Aaron Cripps

Belgrave the Dandenong’s first town

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The Dandeong Ranges are one of Melbourne’s most popular areas to ride.  They are home to some of the greatest climbing that metropolitan Melbourne has to offer.  The ranges consist of rolling hills.  Steeply weathered valleys and gullies covered in thick temperate rainforest (mainly tall Mountain Ash) and dense ferny undergrowth.

The Dandenong’s were first settled way back in 1851 in what is now known as Belgrave.  Originally the area was known as “Monbulk” and wasn’t known as “Belgrave” until around 1903.  The name was named after Mount Belgrave.  This was an 1870’s house built by an early settler family.  The Bensons which was named in reference with Belgrave chapel in Leeds, England.

Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The population really grew after a narrow-gauge Railway was open in the area in 1900.  This was built to help farmers transport their good to markets in Melbourne. This Railway played an essential part in the growth of the area.  This would one day become one of the Dandenong’s most popular attractions; Puffing Billy.

As cycling goes, Belgrave boasts one of the Dandenong’s most challenging climbs in Terry’s Avenue.  One of the original residents of Belgrave was Mr Terry. Who owned a lot of land which was known as Terry’s Hill. He sub-divided it into one and a half acre blocks which were sold for £15 each. A road was put through here which was later to be known as Terry’s Avenue.  There are two separate climbs on Terry’s Avenue, and with gradients peaking at around 20% in gradient.  Either climb could be considered amongst the Dandenong’s toughest climbs.

Terry’s has been used as the Queen climb in the Climbing Cyclists Dirty Dozen series in the Dandenong’s.

Distance: 3.2 km
Average Gradient: 8%
Elevation gain: 258 metres


View looking down Terry’s Avenue: Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

Belgrave is the gateway to the Southern part of the Dandenong’s, and has been central to climbing in the Dandenong’s.  The town is a popular rest stop for cyclists.  With its many Cafes & a Bakeries which are very popular amongst cyclists and tourists.

Belgrave Cycling Club 1930’s

Puffing Billy

Puffing Billy is an icon of the Dandenong’s.  Cyclists on the weekend may be lucky to see Puffing Billy along the many numerous rail crossings between Belgrave and Gembrook.  Its whistle can be heard from miles away.  Its a familiar sound to riding in the Dandenong’s on the weekends.  Puffing Billy is a narrow-gauge heritage Railway.  The train stopped running in 1953 after a landslide blocked the line between Selby and Menzies Creek.  And it was formally closed in 1954.  Thankfully it was kept in operation through the efforts of volunteers of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.

Image courtesy of Long Zheng; Flickr

The train was re-opened on 28 July 1962 as a tourist railway.  Today the railway operates daily (except for Christmas).  Puffing Billy offers trips up to 24 km with original Steam Engines.  It is operated with some of the railway practices from the Victorian Railways 1900 to 1930 era.  Such as using conductors to check your tickets when you board the trains.

Thirty Years of Australian Club Racing:

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The Dandenong Cycle Club, 1908 – 1948

1912, Before the start of the 25 Miles Open Road Race, Dandenong Road Oakleigh opposite the Brick Works (Source: State Library of Victoria) †

Author:  Aaron Cripps

Wednesday July 8, 1908, outside Garnar’s on the Cranbourne Road, Melbourne, at 3:23 p.m., and Mr R. West sets off on his bicycle as the limit man in the day’s race. A 10 mile route that would take the entrants 5 miles towards Cranbourne before they turned round to complete the return leg. Of the twelve who had entered only nine started on the day, perhaps due to the bad weather and the poor state of the roads after heavy rains. Behind West at staggered intervals based on their handicap were W. Morris, M. Anderson, P. Green, H. Kirkham, T. Lucy. V. W. Sime, M . Kirkham, and J. Gamble.

About 25 minutes after West had started, the race official, Mr Lewis, saw Gamble and Morris come back into view, the former having punctured and Morris having failed to go the distance. At 4 p.m. M. Kirkham crossed the finish line in first place. His brother H. Kirkham, coming in second 5 minutes later, and third place going to Green after a contested race to the line with Lucy, 2 minutes behind H. Kirkham. From surviving records we can identify the Kirkham brothers as Malcolm (born 1885) and Henry (born 1889), the eldest and youngest of three sons born to William Edward and Margaret Kirkham, of Lyndhurst, Victoria [1].

The first race

These scant details, reported in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal the following week.  Appear to be the first recorded race of the Dandenong Cycle Club, and the first of three that were to be run in 1908 on a points basis; the overall winner being the rider who had accumulated the most points over the series. Whether it was the first ever race of the Dandenong Cycle Club, or the first of that year is unclear.

No record of the formation of the club appears to exist, at least in the newspaper archives available in the digitised newspaper collection available through the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. The article does, however, describe the event as “The first race of the Dandenong Cycle Club”. Given that other clubs in the Melbourne area are reported as actively racing from much earlier in the year it seems likely that the July 8 race was the first ever to be run by the newly formed Dandenong Cycle Club.


This article was published by Aaron Cripps on his blog; Cycling History.  To read the full article click on the following link:

The history of cycling blog is full of passion, intrigue, drama, and tragedy, of technical innovation and of human interest. There are many great stories, some well known, others less so, some perhaps forgotten. Cycling History bring some of these stories to life in a magical way.

Blog:                       https://cyclehistory.wordpress.com/

You can Aaron at: historyofcycling@gmail.com

The Dandenong Cycle Club
Competitors in the 1911 Warrnambool to Melbourne entering Camperdown. (Source: National Library of Australia)


Charlie Hammond

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“All those moments will be lost in time….. like tears in rain”

– Rutger Hauer: Blade Runner

When I discovered this photo I was drawn to know more about it.  It depicts an image of Berwick which is much different to how life looks there today.  I love the idea that you could be free to ride where there are no roads, and create your own adventure.  Was cycling just a means of getting around, or did this chap share the same enjoyment & passion that we experience today?  This photo was taken by Charlie Hammond, an Englishman, who was born in 1870, and emigrated to Australia.  He was an eccentric traveller, famous artist & photographer who fell in love with & moved to Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges in 1913, where he spent the remaining years of his life.

(images taken from Charlie Hammond’s Sketch Book, 1980)

Charlie’s artwork became famous and helped to promote the Dandenong Ranges, which at the time was already one of Melbourne’s most popular tourist destinations.  Chalie was a keen cyclist and a member of one of Melbourne’s original cycling groups the “Fernside Bicycle Club”.  They were famous for their blue uniforms and knee breeches! What they wore was very much different to what we wear today!  Above are some of the paintings he did which depicts cycling from a bygone era, and thankfully those Penny Farthings are just a thing of the past.

I tried to find out more about Charlies interests in cycling.  There wasn’t much written, but I did find this story that Charilie told to The Mountain District Free Press on October 4th, 1946:

It was on Hospital Sunday, October 29, 1889 that I had a ride to Ferntree Gully that I shall never forget. I had just landed back from Melbourne after two years at sea and in England. Brother Bert (artist) proposed a ride to the Gully to celebrate the occasion.

It was a glorious morning, not a cloud in the sky as we started off from Melbourne on our horses. Nearing Glen Waverley clouds began to cover the sky, then down came the rain. My thin summer suit was soaked through in a few minutes. We sheltered at the old Mountain View Hotel until the rain eased off, then rode on.

When we neared old Dan Foster’s homestead on the Burwood Road the rain started again, so we made a dash for his stables and rested until the rain stopped. Then hoping that was the last squall, we rode on towards the Gully. When we were nearing the Club Hotel at Lower Ferntree Gully a terrible storm broke over us. It must have been a cloud burst.

In a few minutes the Burwood Road was flooded. In the low parts the water was up to the horses’ girths. It rained for the rest of the day. We returned home by way of the Oakleigh Road with the rain and icy cold gale blowing in our faces all the way. On the Dandenong Road we passed the Fernside Bicycle Club, who had been for a run to the Gully. There were a few high-wheelers among them, but they had to walk as the gale blew them off as soon as they tried to mount. We arrived home half-frozen.

Below is an selfie that Charlie drew depicting his ride.

Charles & Bert pass the Fernside Bicyle Club 1889 (image taken from Charlie Hammond’s Sketch Book, 1980)

We have all experienced horror stories on our bikes.  It is good to look back in time and appreciate that if you think you’ve done it hard, then most likely someone has done it harder.  His story should give us an appreciation for all the things that we take for granted today, especially having a bakery in virtually every town along the way.  Its good to know that cycling has been popular in and around the Dandenong’s for well over a century.  There’s a rich history that you add to every time you head to the hills & experience the Dandenong Ranges.

About Charlie

Charlie was born in London, England in 1870.  His parents came from wealthy merchant families. His father, Rowland was a drunkard and a gambler who often abused his wife Emma and the children when he was drunk. Eventually, Emma’s wealthy brothers arranged for Rowland to go to Australia.

By 1887, Charlie had sailed to Melbourne where he joined up with his brother Bert. Charlie and Bert started an art and photography studio in Melbourne, supplementing their income with farm work in both Australia and New Zealand at various times.  Charlie moved to the Dandenong Ranges in 1913 and built a house with his own hands in Tecoma.  He named it Winscombe, and this would be the place that he called home for the remainder of his life.

Charlie had no children, and after his death, his art fell into the hands of various people, mostly friends and employees.

A special thanks to Kae Lewis who put together a Website on the life and times of Charlie Hammond.

Website:                     http://charliehammond.org/story.html


Cycling down the Eiffel tower

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Perre Labric, cycling down the Eiffel Tower. (French National Library via Europeana)

In 1923, in post World War I France, the nation was recovering from the great War.  Journalist Pierre Labric for reasons that are unknown decided to ride his bicycle down the stairs from Level 1 of the Eiffel Tower (there are three levels),while also heavily populated with people.  At the time Pierre Labric was a journalist who went on to became a popular French Organist, Composer and Pedagogue and also became Montmartre’s mayor.  Whilst dangerous, Pierre’s antics brought much joy to the city.

Unfortunately I’m being the bearer of bad news. If you’re considering adding riding down the Eiffel tower stairs to your bucket list the French government made it illegal.  We can always dream though.

image courtesy French National Library via Europeana

The Eiffel tower

The Eiffel tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris is 324 meters in height which is about the same height as an 81-storey building.  The tower was built in 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair which was set to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution.  The tower was named after its engineer Gustave Eiffel who’s company built the tower. The Eiffel Tower is a global icon and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.  The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground and is the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.


Perre Labric, cycling down the Eiffel Tower. (French National Library via Europeana)


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