Monday, April 15, 2024

Maldon’s motorbike mystery solved

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Thanks go to Maldon resident Barry Murfett, who read last week’s article in the [Tarrangower] Times about a postcard (c. 1907) which pictures an early motorbike. Barry put the [Tarrangower] Times in touch with Greg Smith, the owner of an antique motorbike which is almost certainly the machine pictured on the old postcard.

Greg, who lives near Bendigo, has owned the motorbike since 2003 and he was intrigued to see that the bike in the early postcard was painted with the word ‘Tarrangower’. “My reference books on early Australian motorbikes call this the ‘Maldon’,” Greg said. “And that’s the name that my bike carries today.”

The [Tarrangower] Times visited Greg and wife Denise to photograph the bike and was thrilled to find that here is a couple who have a vintage car comfortably ensconced in their living area! It’s a beautiful, immaculate Schacht – an American car built in 1909 that was owned by Gerald Buckley of Buckley & Nunn fame for 50 years.  

A little of the motorbike’s background story, thanks to Greg who has done quite a bit of preliminary research: attached to the bike is a brass plaque which states that it was built by W. Mead of Maldon. Mr W. Mead set up his business in the old Warnocks building in 1898, selling a grab bag of products – everything from bicycles, sewing machines and pianos to seeds, plants and books. 

In 1906, the [Tarrangower] Times wrote about “…a set of parts of a ‘Tarrangower’ motor bicycle which will next week be built into a complete machine (the first in this district).” 

A month later, the [Tarrangower] Times breathlessly announced that Mr Mead’s motor cycle had been completed and taken out for a trial run. “It runs very smoothly and appears to be far superior to any motor we have yet seen here,” the [Tarrangower] Times wrote.  

The following month, the [Tarrangower] Times reported that Mr Col McArthur bought the ‘Tarrangower’ and had been having a fine old time riding it around the area.

The brass plaque on the bike.
Photo: Tarrangower Times

Fast forward to 1910, and W. Mead was still in business, advertising that he had been appointed local agent for a motor company supplying cars and motorbikes with prices ranging from 275 pounds to an eye-watering 1,350 pounds. And W. Mead was something of a multitasker – in the same paper, he advertised his services as a tax agent.  

According to Greg, there were many motor bikes being built in country towns at the time that the ‘Tarrangower’ bike was created. “They were mainly made from parts that came from England and Europe,” he said.  “For instance, the ‘Tarrangower’ was made from a B.S.A. frame from England, and a Minerva motor that was manufactured in Belgium.”

Greg describes the ‘Tarrangower’ (or is that the ‘Maldon’?!) as basically a motorised push bike. With no gear box and clutch, the bike basically has only one speed, with pedals to help start it. 

What about brakes? “It now has brakes, but originally there weren’t any,” Greg said. “There wasn’t much traffic on the road back in the early days, so there wasn’t as much need for brakes!”

The longest journey that Greg has undertaken on the bike was a trip from Sydney to Melbourne. “It was a re-enactment of the 1905 Dunlop reliability trials and it took five days,” he said. Member of an antique bike club, Greg is going on a more sedate ride next weekend, across to Llanelly and back. 

Greg was thrilled to see the postcard reproduced in the [Tarrangower] Times. “It wasn’t just that I found out that the name of the bike was actually the ‘Tarrangower’ and not the ‘Maldon’,” he said. “It also confirmed that the handlebars on the bike are identical to the original ones.”

The postcard throws up a further question for Greg. “Who is the man in the hat?” he asked. “Is it Col McArthur, the first owner of the bike?”

Greg is quite certain that there was only ever one ‘Tarrangower’ motor bike ever made by W. Mead, and that is the bike that he has in his possession.  

But will he change the name painted on his bike – from ‘Maldon’ back to ‘Tarrangower’? “I might leave that job to the next owner,” he said.

Tarrangower Times 1 March 2024

This article appeared in the Tarrangower Times, 1 March 2024.

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