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27 Sep 2015

How I started the Bathurst Bike Riot of 1980

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Well it wasn’t me alone. Grub had a lot to do with it. I collected him and the bass player from Littlewing at their place in Five Dock. We loaded their stage gear into my production truck, a Ford F350, and we drove the three hours out west over the mountains to Bathurst.

It was the beginning of my ‘PA for Hire’ business – and almost the end!

It was Easter Saturday April 5, 1980 (corrected from previous version) and we were headed to Mount Panorama, where the annual bike races had been held since 1932 – with a few war years off in between. In recent years the weekend had started to become a bit of a confrontation between the riders and the police, who had built a compound up the mountain to better base their control over the hoard.

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Grub was a convivial guy, and the trip was easy. We got there around 4pm and set up on a square cement slab beside a brick fast food store that dished up chips and chicko rolls. It closed soon after we arrived. I got Grub and his mate to help me stack the ACT Concert W, 4560 and horn PA on each side of the stage, then parked the truck about 15m off to one side. I would mix from in the pantech, to avoid weather and crowd.

My new concert wedges were lined up along in front of the mike stands.

Suddenly a commotion erupted from the stage, which was really only a concrete pad at ground level. Seriously bad words were flying towards Grub, who was standing looking crestfallen. He had forgotten to load his traps case in Sydney. We had no cymbal stands, kick pedal, drum seat or hi hat stand! These were essential for a rockin’ boogie band.

A posse of riders were assembled by Damian, the head-shed from the MRA (Motorbike Rider’s Association) who ran the races. They took off for town to try to round up some traps. They returned after 50 minutes, unable to bribe, swindle, hire or steal some traps. An emergency meeting decided that Grub would charter a light aircraft and fly to Sydney. A Harley roared off to the airport with Grub on the back.

Years later I was learning to fly at Bathurst Airport and I mentioned this to Jerry Trevor-Jones, the senior instructor. He chuckled and remembered charging the hapless Grub a pretty penny for the instrument rated night flight to Bankstown and return.

Meanwhile things were getting a trifle unruly up on the mountain. The riders had grown bored with the regular donuts and wheelies, farkling around on their bikes. They were now into serious beer ingestion, standing around the stage and yelling for music. I hit ‘play’ on the cassette player and Little River Band rent the air. ‘Poofta music, play some fuckin’ Doors!’ they yelled out.

I heard them.

Damian ran up with ‘The Best Of The Doors’, I threw it on and hit play. Half an hour later, it ran out. ‘More!’ they yelled, I turned it over. Every time it ran out, I flipped it and turned it up. Several hours of this, the riders were by now pissing where they stood. Damian addressed them through my PA. ‘Youse know this band gear is worth some coin, so don’t piss on it”.

I was very grateful.

A rider lobbed a rock into the police compound.

More followed.

The riot squad kitted up inside their barricade, and ran out in a flying V formation, scattering the riders. A few got some batten whacks on, one across the snout. The police retreated, and the mob fired up. They started lobbing everything they could find over the fence.

Things got bad.

They started kicking down the brick cafe wall!

Soon large lumps of masonry were flying into the compound with some frozen Chicko Rolls as well. The chocolates were all consumed. The tea urn sailed over the wall too.

The Police came out again, more rolling melees were happening, punches and kicks were flying, blood was shed. The channel 7 news car was rolled over and set alight. More police poured up the mountain. The access road was shut.

At the stage, it was close to ground zero. Crap was flying, dust was billowing. The Doors were playing at 120db. Eight Par Cans lit the stage. Around 50 bikers remained, drinking and getting down to the tape. It was freaking cold.

Suddenly through the dust, cold haze and the chaos, lit by flashing blue police lights, a vision appeared. Grub staggered towards the stage, traps aloft on his shoulders, jeans ripped from the barbed wire fences he’d scaled on his run from the bottom of the mountain through the paddocks to the stage. It was like the beach scene from Chariots of Fire, minus the beach and the sprinting.

Covered in prickles, exhausted from the journey, he stumbled onto the drum carpet and assembled his kit.

The band counted in the first song, and once that boogie hit the air the riot stopped.

The riders had a rockin’ good time, the band were not permitted a break, and many hours later they finally managed to end the gig, around 3am.

I packed up and drove into the sunrise, relieved to get out of there.

* Thanks to Mark ‘Chops’ Lambourn for the memories. He was there, albeit rolling around on the ground with Damien’s hot girlfriend behind the truck. He doesn’t remember her name. He is lucky to have survived.

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