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Richard Penny's Motorbike

By Bill Burch (1961)

Late in 2012, I began a quest for the full story of the motorbike – a 125cc BSA Bantam- I bought from Richard Penny at Wilkes during changeover in January 1961.

   Thanks to several former Wilkes explorers, the tale has expanded to include the exploits of at least three motorbikes taken to Wilkes over the years.   Some of these stories have been told in more detail in past editions of the ANARE Club journal “Aurora”[bracketed references], but I thought readers might enjoy some of the anecdotes that have come to light.   There may even be someone who has the definitive evidence for what finally happened to Rich Penny’s bike.

It all began when Richard asked John “Snow” Williams in 1959 at Wilkes if he could arrange for a bike to be shipped down for him to use in his second year there travelling to and from his beloved penguin rookery.   Through a friend in Melbourne, Snow obliged and the machine duly arrived on the Magga Dan.  Richard, by all accounts used it regularly to trundle around the low moraine to the big rookery.

I paid £25 to Richard and enjoyed a great year on it after improving traction, via Jock McGhee’s advice of putting 50mm brass gutter bolts through the tyres. [Aurora June 1994 vol 13 #4, page 21].   Its major outing was to S2 on what was supposed to be a weekend “jolly” by the four Bills; Budd, Hogan, Saunders and Burch.   We travelled in a Weasel towing the little wooden caravan “Aneata” (see separate page and story) with me on the bike acting as scout for finding the fuel drums marking the route.

   At changeover, I sold it on to “Pancho” Evans in 1962 for £10, and he reported having a good year with it before it was handed over to the 1963 Medico Ken Hicks for two cases of “Carlsberg” [Aurora September 1991 vol 11 #1, page 29].   By now it had been painted a bright red, the engine ‘hotted up’, and Fred Spence tells the story about 2-stroke engines being known to run in reverse. It seems Steve Grimsley in attempting to do a wheel-stand, gunned the engine to high revs, dropped the clutch and roared backwards up a snow bank[Aurora December 1991 vol 11 #2, page 18].  This is where bike


 #2 enters the story as Fred proudly writes that he had bought down his own far superior machine a “Royal Enfield Silver Bullet”.  Graeme “Chompers” Currie notes “There were 2 bikes in ‘63 when I was there and I remember one day we rode out to Nellie Island ...Or almost there on 2 bikes.”

 I can only presume Fred Spence left his machine behind, because in 1964, Neil Simmons added to the 2 wheeled transport at Wilkes by bringing down a Vespa Motor Scooter.  He also took over the Lee Enfield bike from John McKenzie.   Had Fred Spence renounced ownership during the year?    Neil writes “I used the Vespa on the trip to Nellie Island, because it was lighter than the Enfield, but more importantly easier to ditch in case of breaking through the sea ice….  We stopped at the edge of the new sea ice which wasn’t covered with snow.   I used a screwdriver to check the new ice and broke through to seawater with a few blows.   This is when we made the decision not to proceed any further and made a quick “U” turn and headed back to the station.  Better dry than sorry.   The Vespa returned with me to Australia at the end of 1964 and I used it for a few more years”.   Neil’s comment about being dry was prescient; as Mark Forecast tells it.   “One bike that did drop through the sea ice was a BSA Bantam, 125cc. It belonged to Scruffie [Shennan] and Tony Warriner, who took it down to Wilkes in 1965. I can confirm this because I dropped it in Newcombe Bay half way across to Repstat (Replacement Station to become the first “Casey”  station) with the fresh bread run.    I survived, the bike sank ”.  This is confirmed by Scruffie who adds “Neither I nor Hooby [Tony Warriner] ever got to ride on it before it sank.  I remember you coming into the workshop wringing wet to announce that the bike didn’t pass the swimming test.  You had ridden it quite often between Wilkes and Repstat until then”.  The 1965 crew were adamant there was no other BSA Bantam motorbike at Wilkes in 1965.  So the only conclusion to be drawn is that the Richard Penny Bantam was spirited over to Repstat and kept there for the year by the construction crew.  The photo Allen McLaren sent me seems to show the now yellow painted Lee Enfield towing a sled load of explorers over to Repstat.   

This fits with Noel Barrett’s recollection: “We had a BSA Bantam bike in ’66. It had straw stuffed into theback wheel as there was no inner tube; football stops screwed to provide grip.   The red motorbike was the only one at Wilkes in 1966. It spent most of its time at Repstat and was there when we arrived as far as I remember. The Go-cart with the “Aerial” Engine was also there and in our “Great Race” with 2 teams of dogs against motorbike, go-cart and various other machinery which included a funny machine that went sideways all the time”.  

 So by now it looks like the Lee Enfield’s engine had been built into a “go-cart”, as Darryn Schneider has a photo of what is clearly a heavier frame than a Bantam, but known locally as “Rich Penny’s bike”, hanging in the original Casey workshop.  But Darryn’s photo shows a frame in its original black livery; not yellow.  Is there yet another motorbike to identify?    Nothing further on the Bantam has come to light, but Keith Godfrey, who visited Casey on a round trip in 1991, photographed an “engineless” motorbike leaning up against the rock holding the “Casey Opening” plaque [Aurora, June 1991, vol10 #4, page 16] and folklore had it as the original Wilkes bike.   But its not a Bantam.   Presumably it’s the Lee Enfield brought South originally by Fred Spence.   So the fate of the “Richard Penny Motorbike” remains a mystery, and Darryn might have identified yet another motorbike to have gone South!   Ron Hann has just come up with yet another bike at Wilkes, this time 1967. “There was another motor bike at Wilkes in 1967!!!  Met man Ralph Hodges took his Bridgestone down for the year only. (Beginning of the Japanese invasion)  To the best of my recollection, it was a very light weight 2 stroke of approx 80 - 100 cc. It went quite well until the engine sump that formed part of the main frame broke, after which Ralph did most of his travelling on the old Onan powered Skidoo.”


Finally here’s another shot of the original bike straddled by Richard Penny taken by Keith Jones.


Thanks to all the following who supplied stories and/or photographs for this page: Darryn Schneider, John Boyd, Graeme “Chompers” Currie, Keith Godfrey, Neil Simmons, Ken (Scruffie) Shennan, Ros Shennan, Mark Forecast, Noel Barratt, Allen McLaren, Ron Hann and Steve Grimsley.