I haven’t met either of my grandfathers. My mothers father ran out when she was four. I saw him briefly as a teenager from a car. He was a drummer and was married to my Jazz singing grandma. During parties he used to pinch my mum til she cried so my Grandma would have to leave the spotlight to attend to her. I have no desire to meet a douchebag like that, so even though I am pretty sure he is alive, I don’t want to meet him.
My other grandfather was apparently the polar opposite. He was the love of my beautiful Nana’s life. He died in 1962 a week before my fathers first birthday and when my Aunty was around four. My Nan would have been in her early to mid twenties and was suddenly a widow with two children. I just can’t imagine what she went through.
I have always longed to know everything about him. When I was twelve I found him in the book “Australian Motorcycle Heroes” in the school library. I was so incredibly shocked as my father is the spitting image of him. I didn’t even have to look at the name – it was obvious that he was my grandfather (though I sometimes thought they cheated and took photos of my dad and said they were him…thats how similar they are!)
My grandfather was one of Australias best and most famous motorcyclists in the late 50’s and early 60’s before he died during a race on the Isle of Man. He won Hondas first championship race. He would win races in both the junior and senior divisions on the same day (when he was just starting out). After he died there was even an annual memorial race on Phillip Island. When he passed away his friend Gary Hocking immediately retired from racing. The racing community rallied around my nan and with their support she purchased the house she still lives in today.
In January my great grandfather (my nans dad) passed away. After the funeral I suggested we all have dinner at my nans place (we being my brother & my cousin, my uncles & aunty and my father – who I hadn’t spoken to in over eight years). During the course of the evening my Nan decided it was time to sort out all his awards and trophies and sashes and vases between us all. So my Aunt & I started photographing and cataloguing everything before we decided who got what. During the process though things changed dramatically. So many items were in poor condition and needed immediate restoration if they were to survive. All of a sudden we weren’t clamouring for our favourite pieces. We saw this amazing collection of family history and we wanted it to stay together, to be restored, to be displayed. Then the idea for a website emerged.
Since then my Aunt has been working tirelessly to figure out what races he entered, what places he got, what some of the more interesting awards were for and what bikes he rode. It has been so exciting for me to see new photos pop up (ones I had never seen) and information on this man that I have been fascinated with since I was a girl. I love that I can share this history with my daughters. My Aunt has started emailing us frequently when new information arises or when and article has been written about him. Recently she emailed a link to a video of him winning a race on Phillip Island. I was so excited to share the video with my daughters. We sat around and giggled at how slow the bikes seemed to go. The girls found the black and white footage and the fact that it had no sound extremely interesting (and went straight to the conclusion that colour and sound hadn’t yet been invented … but they also asked me recently how I coped without electricity when I was young….yup, they really think I am that old!). I felt such a sense of pride watching him at the end. But even more fascinating was the way he held himself, the way he moved, his gestures – all reminded me so much of my father.
I have always wanted to know so much about him, but struggle to ask my nana. I don’t want to upset her. She is also quite a private person and, being a hopeless romantic, I want to know the details. Why she fell in love with him? When did they get engaged? How long did they date? I know they had a “longish” engagement of 15 months (I think) and I know she felt that this was particularly long…why did she feel it was too long? Because she was desperate to live with him? Was she worried she would get pregnant? Or was she being a good catholic girl and waiting…and that’s why it was too long? How do you ask your Nana questions like that? I usually have very little boundaries when it comes to stuff like this and will discuss anything with anyone and will usually be the first to ask what is considered “inappropriate” questions. But when it comes to my beautiful wonderful Nana – I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I am absolutely loving this family history project (which has led me to the above photo which I just adore and really want to get it enlarged and framed for home) and really hope that it will get a bit more personal soon. I just have to know more!