Kevin Cass retraces Arthur Grady's circumnavigation of Australia
Seventy years on, the first circumnavigation of Australia by a powered vehicle has been retraced by an
motorcycle identical to the original.
The rattling crack of an open-piped exhaust split the lazy air of a sunny autumn morning. The motorcycle
swung into view, bearing down the main street of the Australian country town, its progress made more regal
by the rider’s stance. Large footrests and wide, luxurious handlebars contrasted with a small purposeful
motor and well proportioned running gear to cut a dash among the more mundane road users. The ancient
bike wheeled to a halt outside the largest building in the town. a towering, stone mill built last century. Its
rider climbed off the flat-tank bike. He seemed to be a man on a mission. He was.
Wollongong historic enthusiast Kevin Cass spent the Australian winter following in the wheeltracks of
Arthur Grady, the self reliant adventurer who rode a 350 cc Douglas twin from Perth across the top of
Australia to Brisbane and back through the state capitals in 1924-25 becoming the first person to
circumnavigate the country by motorised transport.
Cass left Wollongong on May 19 and a week later arrived at Adelaide’s Birdwood Mill motor museum via
Melbourne. He then headed across the Nullarbor and was back home ten weeks after leaving it.
His 1924 CW Douglas is almost identical to Grady’s right down to the unusual two- stroke exhaust pipes
fitted, which give a distinctive staccato bark.
Grady’s exploits, a publicity stunt organised by the West Australian Douglas agent Armstrong, achieved
worldwide recognition for the reliability of the new chain drive bike.
After completing the lap of Australia, Grady was immortalised by a small, pen and-ink-illustrated book
produced by the factory. It included an introduction by the editor of The Motor Cycle. Part of it read: “Very
few can appreciate fully the magnitude of the achievement, the dangers encountered, and the difficulties
overcome, for in this modern world of ours it is hard to realise that parts of an island continent like Austalia
remain unexplored and so out of touch with civilisation that failure of the explorer’s mount would mean
certain death.” But if anyone was up to the task it was Grady. A 25 year-old motorcycle racer toughened by
years of combat as a teenager in Word War 1. Grady was described in the book as “A tall good looking chap,
with auburn hair, and to quote an Australian newspaper— ‘Enough to make the average girl envious -he is a
typical British character’.
Grady travelled alone, without any support. His swag consisted of an army oilskin ground sheet and
mosquito net, bound tightly to the front forks. A toothbrush was carried in his pocket.
Enough fuel was held on the rear carrier to supplement the one-and-a-half gallon petrol tank. An extra
gallon of oil was carried to supply the prodigious thirst of the total-loss, plunger-pump oil system. An
ammunition box mounted on top of the carrier contained essential spares and a tyre-mending kit.
Grady also carried a medical outfit and basic army hard rations. Perhaps the most vital item was a two
gallon waterbag, the bare minimum for crossing such arid countryside.
Just four days after a rousing send-off from Perth in October, 1924, Grady literally ran out of roads and had
to use his wits and a compass to follow little-used bullock tracks. Not an experienced bushman, he soon
realised the enormity of his undertaking, especially with the north-west of the continent in drought.
He had fitted oversize Bates tyres to his wheels and they soon became invisible, so covered were they with
three-pronged seeds from the area’s spiky grass. However, in 8000 miles the tyres never suffered a
As he headed north-east into the edge of the Simpson desert, the station homesteads were 80 miles apart.
In one district he travelled 14 hours a day without changng out of low gear.
It was tough country. One station bunkhouse he dossed down in had the beds suspended by chains from
the roof.”Snakes are very numerous and when I wake at night I can hear them crawling about on the floor,”
the owner told him.
Station owners often gave Grady vague instructions, such as “Ride across the paddock until you reach the
fence, then turn right”. Often the fence would be a morning’s travelling. In a flat landscape where the outline
of a sheep on the horizon took on the proportions of a buffalo or a clump of bushes resembled a vital hillock,
it was inevitable that Grady would get lost.
Perhaps the worst incident was when he spent a day retracing his steps and found his waterbag had
sprung a leak, emptying its precious contents.
“Everything was hushed and awfully still” he wrote. “I would reflect a little faintheartedly on my journey,
solitary and melancholy, in that vast, rugged interior. Mile after mile of dreadful riding — it seemed to be
maddening.” Grady was also racing against time, for although he had run out of water, the weather was
shaping up for a major rain He wrote later: “When the big wet sets in, all human affairs come to a
standstill.The country is one great bog where neither man nor horse may travel.”
Eventually he abandoned the bike, tying his mosquito net on the end of a stick as a marker, and set off on
foot to follow a dry creekbed. Darkness and rain stopped even this effort and he sought refuge under
scrubby bushes from a two-hour deluge. He had been lost for two days.
In the dawn light he returned to his bike. started it up and stumbled over the faint marks of a buggy track.
Miraculously, he was safe. But he had suffered the privations that still exist for outback travellers, and there
are many motorcycle tourists on big (often rented) Japanese single-cylinder dirt- bikes who have lost their
bearings in the outback.
Now a new problem faced Grady. How to cross the swollen creeks.
“Collecting a few handfuls of grass I stuffed them tightly into the exhaust pipes and, with a piece of fat, kept
for lubricating the chains, greased the carburettor and magneto and plugged up the end of the carburettor
with a piece of greasy cloth. Then smearing grease over the petrol tank cap. I cautiously started across. In
mid-stream the handlebars were just visible.” Once over the plugs were withdrawn and the grand little
machine started up with a healthy roar.On another occasion he found it easier to cross a major riverbed by
dismantling the bike, carrying the engine across, then the rolling chassis, and reassembling it. He also
experienced fuel problems. At one point in the journey across the continent petrol was available at the
astronomical price of 10 shillings a gallon! On one occasion he rode 73 miles using kerosene (paraffin) in
place of petrol.
His oil supply dried up once, and he made do with a home-brew of six bottles of medicinal castor oil, half a
gallon of beef dripping (always semi-liquid in the summer heat) and two pints of windmill oil.
“I made it myself and any motorcyclist is free to use my recipe.” he wrote later.
One station Grady crossed was 14.000 square miles. Loneliness was not a problem as he befriended some
Aboriginals, who taught him how to harvest the desolate landscape for edible plants and berries.
But perhaps the most bizarre incident was when he met a bullock wagon team whose driver seemed to
have a knowledge of motorcycles. It transpired the man had a belt-drive Douglas strapped under the wagon
between the axles. When an incredulous Grady asked why, the bullock master said: “When I get 15 miles
from a pub I get on the Douglas and ride ahead. This gives me an extra two days drinking time before my
Aboriginal offsider arrives with the wagon.”
By the time Grady struck Brisbane the worst of his trip was over, despite the fact he was only halfway
home. He received civic receptions in the state capitals of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
The journey home across the Nullabor from Adelaide was still a daunting experience, but Grady made light
of it saying it is a known road and has been travelled many times by motorists and motorcyclists. The
Douglas purred along contentedly day by day until on the 14th of March 1925 “I had the great pleasure of
riding down the streets of my native town of Fremantle and the Douglas registered the last beat after billions
of beats, in front of the town hall which I had left five months and 14 days before.
The great journey is finished and I am quietly satisfied with the honour of being the first to do it.
To the Douglas and Bates tyres I cannot give too much honour. Not one spare part was used on the
machine, which never once failed me and the Bates tyres never once punctured.”
The Douglas was eventually returned to England and put on display but what happened to it after that is
Grady was later offered a large sum of money to repeat the trip on an lndian but declined. He later raced
speedway motorcycles and continued riding motorcycles until the late 1970s. He died a few years later.
RECAPTURING THE MOMENT - 1995
KEVIN Cass, of Wollongong, started from the opposite side of the country to Grady, not that it matters
much. He completed the journey in ten weeks, a couple less than he had given himself for the trip. He had
the help of a support truck for about half the trip — he parted company with his on-road assistance at
Broome, in north-west WA, completing the second-half of the journey by himself.
But Cass, a former Grand Prix racer on the Continental and English circuits in the 1960s, wasn’t out to set
“I’m doing it for the whole movement of historic motorcycling,” he said when he was in Adelaide. “I want to
break down the barriers between the clubs in various states and celebrate a piece of motorcycling history.”
Cass built up an almost exact replica of the original CW model Grady used. The only differences were
practical changes to allow the bike to remain safe in today’s frenetic traffic. The fuel tank was widened for
greater capacity, some bearings were replaced with modern designs, the 26-inch wheels were swapped for
19s, an air cleaner protected the engine, which used Australian-made conrods and pistons. Changes were
made to the oiling system for improved reliability, and, having sponsorship from Penrite Oils, Cass had no
fear of running out of the liquid gold.
Cass made it around the country without any major dramas, but he was nearly stopped with mechanical
failure at Mt Isa. 200 km before Mt Isa, at Camoowheal, he felt the engine’s vibration suddenly increase and
noticed a drop in power. It turned out to be a failing main bearing, which he repaired in Mt Isa with the
assistance of the local vintage car club. He says, in fact, that he spent many of the nights he was away
staying with people from the various vintage motorcycle and car clubs around Australia. and sends his
thanks out to all who assisted him.
In 1924, Arthur Grady of Fremantle, Western Australia, made the first motorcycle circuit of Australia on a Douglas in five and a half months. Neil Bromilow of the VMCCWA also replicated this on a 1922 678cc Martinsyde, from 2 June to 5 July 1984 covering over 15,985 km.
Arthur Grady arrives back in Perth
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