Almanac Poetry: Uncle Bert and the 1909 Warrnambool to Melbourne Cycling Race


Cyclists and officials, road racing event, Millicent, in the south-east of South Australia, mid-1920s. Cycling was very popular in the town in the earlier years of the twentieth century. Fardie and Bert in the poem below were both Millicent cyclists. (Sourced from the collection of the late Jack Golding.)


Uncle Bert and the 1909 Warrnambool to Melbourne* Cycling Race


Uncle Bert and my great-grandfather, Fardie,
rode in the 1909
Warrnambool to Melbourne wheel race.
Near Stony Rises, less than half-way through
the 160-mile journey,
Uncle Bert hit a fox terrier
and went arse over proverbial.
My grandfather, Fardie’s son,
told me this yarn and recalled
how Bert was picking pebbles
out of his knees for the following week.
What happened to the errant dog
remained unsaid.


(*Note: in 1895, the first year of this famous event, the race was from Melbourne to Warrnambool. However, from 1896–1938 the race started in Warrnambool and ended in Melbourne. From 1939, it was back to the Melbourne to Warrnambool direction.)

Acknowledgement: this poem previously appeared in my fourth poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, Ginninderra Press, 2020.


Millicent Cycling Club members, 1935. My great-uncle, Jack Golding, is second from left. Jack was the son of Fardie and nephew of Bert. The photo is by Glen Jordon, who stood in front of Sam Lock’s saddlery shop to take the photograph. (This bit of info is for Millicent locals!)


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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose. He laments the extinction of Cascade Pale Ale and Kiwi Lager.


  1. Unbelievable effort on crappy bikes, terrible roads, and fox terriers.

    How long did the race take them Kevin?

    This is a race that’s under estimated in Australia’s sporting history I reckon.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Dips. I believe you’re right in terms of the importance of this wonderful sporting event. It’s right up there as an Australian classic – beginning in 1895, the race is actually the second oldest one-day cycling event in the world, after one of the famous French events. My father rode in it a few times, too, as well as the relatives mentioned in the poem, who were on Mum’s side of the family.

    The fastest time for the 1909 race was a surprisingly swift (then) race record of 7 hours 12 minutes 51 seconds – there must have been a howling tail wind that day! Back in 1895, the quickest time was just under eleven hours. Moving ahead in time, the legendary dual Olympic gold medallist Russell Mockridge did the race in the super swift 5 hours 47 minutes and 5 seconds, while fast forward to 1990, where another Olympic gold medallist, Dean Woods, completed the course in a f#cking low -flying 5 hours 12 minutes 26 seconds! Of course, all sorts of conditions affect the times, some of which you mention in your response.

    From 1995, the race has been a graded scratch event, not the handicap it was for so long.

  3. Interesting historical yarn, KD.
    The Melbourne-Warrnambool race is sadly under-appreciated.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Smokie.

    And maybe the event is to some extent an old-fashioned classic sporting event – but it is a classic one nevertheless.

  5. On the old Saturday morning Turf Talk panel shows there would always be debate about a favourite drawn wide. Then someone would say it doesn’t matter because there was a 600 metre run to the first turn. One of the panellists (Jack Styring??? – JTH) had a regular response “you’d always prefer to draw one – even in the Melbourne to Warrnambool bike race”.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Love it!

    Classic stuff, PB.

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