Scrambles in the ’50s

I WAS doing some research on the history of Australian motocross the other day and found out the very first Australian Scrambles Championship was held way back in 1953, making this season the 60th anniversary of the Australian Motocross Championships.

I thought it as good a time as any to take a look at those early days. On November 14, 1953, at a place called Korweinguboora just north of Melbourne, the Ballarat Motorcycle Club hosted the first ever Australian Scrambles Championship on a track that crossed two shallow creeks and thanks to rain leading up to the event the track was tough going with quagmires of mud coupled with choking dust greeting the riders.
Ken Rumble dominated the day by winning the 125cc and 250cc championships on his BSA then switched to his Matchless to take the Unlimited Solo championship before scoring a close second to AJS mounted John Burrows in the 350cc class.

Rumble turned up to Sheidow Park in South Australia on August the 8th in 1954 keen as mustard to win all four classes armed with a 125cc BSA and the mighty 250cc BSA Bantam but the competition had stepped up in speed so the Victorian star had to settle for the 125cc and 350cc championships while Ray Wall won the 250cc class from Terry Medlow and Rumble. Charlie May took his AJS to a hard fourth win in the unlimited class ahead of George Lipp and Chris Lowater.

On July the 3rd, 1955, the Australian Scramble Championships were held in Western Australia at a place called Mosman Park where the 2.5 mile track was marked out through a limestone quarry with each class contesting a 10 lap race in the morning and a 14 lap race in the afternoon.
That is a 25 mile race followed by a 35 mile race and if you were running more than one class you would be jumping off one bike and straight to the starting line for the next. And considering how tough the course was and the fact that most of these bikes had very little suspension these guys must have been unbelievably fit.

In front of 20,000 spectators (you read right) John Rock won the 250cc class from John Shaw while Peter Nicol fought hard to take the 350cc class from Les Jesser. Ron Edwards won the 500cc class from Bill Watson and Eric Kosonen then backed it up (literally) with a second to Peter Nicol in the Unlimited class. History was made in 1956 when the championship made it’s way to the Moorebank Army Camp near Sydney on the 27th of May when channel nine did their very first outside broadcast for a sporting event.

In front of a huge crowd and the TV audience Victorian rider George Bailey managed to win the 125cc class from Mal Williams and Ian Heggart then backed it up with a win in the 250cc class ahead of Blair Harley and Williams. Bailey was actually winning the 350cc final until his ‘Matchy’ failed handing the win to Peter Nicol who just beat home Damien Christie and Don Russel then in the 500cc class Bailey bounced back to win the championship ahead of the super-fast Charlie West and Charlie Scaysbrook.

In the unlimited race there was a titanic battle between the in-form riders of the day with Peter Nicol, Charlie West, Don Russell and George Bailey all battling hard for the win but poor old Charlie hit a wall (physically) half way through the last race so West went on to take the win from Nicol and Russell. July 14th, 1957 marked the first time the Aussie titles came to Queensland and the super-fast Holt Park circuit out near Amberly (west of Ipswich) hosted the event with riders reaching 70 miles per hour down the main straight.
Ken Richards drove up from Victoria and made the most of his little BSA’s speed to take the 125cc championship ahead of Ray Dole and ‘local gun’ Chris Berendes while in the 350cc class another local Clarrie Stewart put his Matchless to good use to win the title from Kevin Cox and Western Australian Peter Nicol who drove all the way across the Nullabor for the event.

George Bailey defended his 250cc title ahead of Blair Hartley and John Astley on one of the first Puch 250s in Australia then Bailey managed to win one of the titles he didn’t win the year in the Unlimited class on his Triumph ahead of Nicol and Stewart. OK, so far the Australian Scramble Championship has been to Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland so the obvious choice for 1958 was Tasmania.

It was the Evansdale Club at Launceston that hosted the event on May the 18th and the locals were rapt when Alan Lee won the 125cc class from Ken Richards and George Rowling (all on BSA), then another local Alan Atkins took his Puch to the 250cc title ahead of Alan Lee and Peter Groucott. Charlie West and Alan Nicol committed to the trip from Western Australia and they took out first and second in the 350cc class from South Aussie Jim Silvy (again all on BSA) then Silvy jumped on his Matchless to win the 500cc title from Queenslander Clarrie Stewart and Bobby Haythorpe after Charlie West and Alan Nicol took each other out in the final moto.
Charlie West bounced back to win the unlimited class from John Burrows and Jim Silvy now back on the BSA.
You notice that almost everyone is riding at least two, three or four classes, these guys were animals.

The last Australian Scramble Championship held in the 50s returned to Adelaide and the face of scrambles changed with a Maico and a Greeves entering the list of machinery but still is was the BSA riders who won the 125cc class with Stan Jones beating the more fancied and local favourite Jim Silvy for the title.
Maico rider Alan Nicol won the 250cc title from Ron Shand on the Greeves with Harry Miller getting the final podium position on his Triumph then future stars Roy East and Ray Fisher battled hard for the 350cc title with East getting the nod over Fisher and Ken Almond.
Fisher bounced back to win the 500cc title from John Mitchell and Les Fisher (no relation) before a titanic battle ensued in the unlimited class with multi champion Charlie West narrowly beating Fisher and East for the championship.

So there it is, our heritage, the early days of our sport. Can you imagine the long drive in cars that are now collector’s items across endless dirt roads to race motorcycles that would had been far from desirable in comparison to what we are riding today?

Imagine the stories that could be told.
These men were pioneers and without them motocross wouldn’t be what it is today.


  1. Re the Australian Champs at Moorbank army camp it was not a 125 capacity, it was 175cc I do not know why? Stan Macintosh & I were having success with the Bantam, Stan was the owner tuner. We went very well in the morning practice & Stan decided to miss the after noon practice & we went to visit friends of his, we did not get back to our tent until 2 am! I had very little sleep & was tired, I had the lead at the start &
    a corner just after the start was down hill approach to a blind corner, the ground after this corner was firm in the practice but was now very loose and sandy. I nearly crashed and lost places, worked my way up tp 3rd but tired and could not catch up, If we had practiced in the afternoon I would have known about the change conditions! We won many races in the future & 2 Victorian 125 Championships.

  2. Rode against many of these guys in the late 50s and none could beat Charlie West on his 500 Gold Star.
    Does anybody know the make of Peter Groucotts bike? It was a NIAYCHI (name it and you can have it)

  3. My father, Percy Polwarth of Ballarat rode his AJS at koweingiebora with Alf Bessermeres, Alan Lewis. All I can remember is my mum wouldn’t let them in the car to come home so they rode their mud covered bikes back to Ballarat. Don’t think any of them actually finished.

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