Profile - George Kevin Kerr # 319
|Known all his life as Kevin as the extended family contained four more “Georges”,|
Kevin was born on 9th March 1937, in Perth, the third of four children born to Eileen
and Harry Kerr. The family managed a dairy farm in Belmont, which in those days
was quite rural, with dairy farms, piggeries and racing stables. The farm chaff cutter
was powered by a cut-up Harley-Davidson J model which was attached to the shed
wall. Harley restorers, eat your heart out! Until age fourteen, Kevin was “horse
mad”. His words. He’d do any task around so long as the reward was to ride a horse,
and in this pursuit, he herded 125 cows from the Kewdale area to Belmont each
weekend. Aged ten, he was enjoying swimming at Springs, a local riverside venue.
Obviously a quite fearless kid, he perched on an adult’s shoulders whilst the adult
dived into the river, the sandy bottom of which was closer than anticipated. A very
sore and suffering Kevin retired home to bed, more on this later.
The dairy cattle were fed periodically on very nutritious used hops obtained from the
Swan Brewery on Mounts Bay Road, and Kevin has very funny memories of one
batch of hops that were more wet with beer than usual, and weren’t quite so
innocuous as expected. Result – a herd of drunk cows all competing for the available
fence posts to lean on to remain upright!
Kevin enjoyed school and the mandatory sports of football and swimming; he
attended Belmont-Rivervale, then Subiaco Senior State School and finally Forrest
High. The slog on a push bike from Rivervale to Subiaco and home again didn’t
impress him too much though! School buses had yet to be invented.
Aged 14, school finished and Kevin was pleased to become an apprentice fitter and
turner with Alma Engineering. Aged 16 saw the next milestone – the purchase of a
B.S.A. Bantam in boxes; stripped to the last nut and bolt. This Kevin built up over a
full winter to road race specifications, learning as he went, largely from books. The
result bore witness to his emerging talents – the bike went like a rocket and surprised
quite a few down at the salt flats in Mandurah, then an unofficial track. The original
Belmont race course, which was situated on the opposite side of the river from it’s
current location was close to home but the constabulary chased the ace turner off with
a few harsh words. So unfair!
National Service called when Kevin was eighteen, and he was very fortunate to be
one of only two selected to go to Sydney with the Air Force as an acting air frame
fitter, a very good choice by the military. He also played in the bugle band having
inherited musical ability from his family. Eileen was a concert pianist and Harry
played cornet. His time in the R.A.A.F. was “some of the best 154 days he ever had”.
Returning home Kevin resumed work in the same engineering shop. On his arrival
in Australia Vic Richardson, who had a Harley-Davidson, worked at Alma
Engineering. Friendship grew, as did Kevin’s desire for a motor cycle, so when the
pair were told of a W.L.A looking for a good home, a deal was done.
Canterbury Court was a popular dance venue. Attending one night in the spring of
1957 Kevin met a very appealing young lady, Barbara Anthony. During the evening
Barbara agreed that Kevin should take her home but an obstacle arose; the mate Kevin
had gone to the dance with had met a girl who would only allow herself to be taken
home if her friend went along also, so Kevin had already been elected her partner.
Loyalty to his mate saw Kevin most reluctantly tell Barbara he was forced to go to
plan B, but the lady had made a very nice impression, and a bit of detective work saw
Kevin arrive on her doorstep a day or so later. So pleased was Barbara that whilst
talking to Kevin she put away dishes which hadn’t been washed! Barbara was a
senior Girl Guide, a Ranger, and went to Melbourne for the National Jamboree.
Kevin and a mate had driven to Melbourne independently; Kevin and Barbara spent
an enjoyable time together there.
Barbara’s parents wouldn’t allow their daughter to marry until she turned twenty
one, and also insisted she and future husband Kevin have a house before tying the
knot. Both requirements met and they became Mr & Mrs Kerr in September 1961,
moving into the house in which they still live.
Kevin’s enthusiasm for bikes grew. The W.L.A. sold, three of the same model, but
“bush hacks”, filled his shed.
He joined The Harley Club, which was well organised. Kevin joined as a capable
motorcyclist but soon realised during inter-club events that really talented riders –
Charlie Lawson gets a mention here – made him (and others like him) feel somewhat
inadequate. The clubs recognised this lack of experience in newer members, and set
up a course where good riders could pass on some of their knowledge, a great scheme.
Ultimately, Kevin was appointed Club Captain.
He rode a W.L.A. in club runs before progressing to scrambles, initially on a
Yamaha Twin. Next came a James 197cc with a Ray Tillbrook 250cc head and barrel
which ran on alcohol. Trying very hard at the Rockingham scrambles, Kevin
managed to get all crossed up over a jump and landed on Peter Groucott’s handlebars.
Peter had a damaged foot at the time and said “If you’ve buggered my foot, I’ll kill
you!”. A major prang in Northam Motocross broke Kevin’s left leg seriously enough
to require five and a half months in plaster, and ended his career as a competitive
rider, also providing he and Barbara with the unpleasant taste of financial hardship.
Their children, Scott and Alison joined the world in 1963 and 1965 respectively, and
Scott eventually became a quite respected rider both in sidecars and solo motocross.
He’d retired from competitive riding, but Kevin’s talents weren’t lost though; he
then turned his attention to helping other riders, and numerous top class competitors
owe at least part of their success to this help. The list includes Colin Metcher, 500
Matchless, in Speedway stock bikes, Dud McKean 500 Jawa solo, Tom McQuade and
the Joyce brothers in sidecars, Wayne Cover’s speedcar, the sprint car of Bob
Kinnear, and for Bruce Davis, who was a very able road race sidecar pilot, Kevin built
a revolutionary outfit with hub centre steering. This major project, most
unfortunately, was destroyed in a massive crash and never reached it’s obvious
B.M.X. and Sidecar B.M.X. became very popular and Kevin and Barbara’s son
Scott showed promise, which was realised on a Kerr-built machine, which
combination produced two Australian and five West Australian championships. This
in turn produced demand for replicas of the light and strong winning machine, which
Kevin duly built and sent all over Australia.
Short circuit racing, using mostly modified road bikes was run at the Forrestfield
Hot Rod Track to fill the time between Hot Rod events but when the bikes were there
the spectators turned up in droves. Ray Long was a very able rider so Kevin designed
and built a race bike around a 500 Gold Star engine. The critics had a field day – tube
diameter too small, too light, won’t last and so on. First day out at Mandurah short
circuit and Ray was T-boned by Stan Read so back on the trailer it went. But, in 1969
Kevin’s design skill was vindicated. Against all the Hagon and Elstar mounted hot
shots from the East Coast, Ray Long won both the 350 and 500 National Title and
Bob O’Leary won the Unlimited, on Kerr machines, along the way setting both fastest
laps and race times. The bike collected five Australian titles that year.
Forrestfield became an early victim of urban sprawl and was closed due to noise and
dust complaints. The Slow Learning Children’s group promoted that venue and were
major losers in the closure.
Multiple World Speedway champion Ove Fundin put in some hot laps on a Kerr at
Claremont, and despite not being used to having gears and brakes put in some very
fast times, afterwards heaping praise on the bike.
Suddenly everyone wanted a Kerr. Kevin’s shed became a nightly hive of action as
he and a crew of helpers built ten bikes in the year. Barbara gave wonderful support
but the hours became too much, with orders arriving regularly from the East Coast, as
well as local demand. Time to get serious, or give it away. July 1970, and Kerr
Engineering commenced business in Star Street Carlisle, where it still operates. For a
year building bikes was the main activity, but gradually general engineering took
precedence. A run of a hundred quick action Kerr twist grips nicknamed “The
Switch” was happily snapped up by racers, and several of these throttles adorn club
machines still. Kevin sold the business after thirty years, to one of his apprentices.
Kevin very much valued time with his family and with Scott and Alison aged eight
and seven, bought a Land Rover and joined the Land Rover Club. Their first major
trip was over the Canning Stock Route, then it was off to the East with its snowfields
and big cities; a wonderful time of life for the Kerrs. The 4 x 4 fleet grew to two.
This gave the carrying capacity to allow motorcycles to accompany them so Peter
Stocker and John Boyd went to Mount Beadall on the Gunbarrel Highway for the
opening of the Len Beadall Memorial.
Five further bike – 4 x 4 trips followed, each of around two thousand kilometres and
left the Kerrs with delightful memories. One such concerns Vic Richardson, who
managed to cook steak with the plastic packing still attached to the underside. Was
Vic just dodging being nominated cook in future?
Japanese tourists on motor bikes all regarded Rawlinna, on the Trans line, as a very
special place. Apparently, many years ago one such rider was given assistance there,
way beyond what he expected and the word quickly spread amongst Japanese riders.
By the time the Kerrs were thereabouts, Rawlinna hardly existed, with just one family
living there, so disappointment awaited those expecting a thriving community.
Once, well out in desert, Kerrs found a back pack and a motorcycle type bag.
Worried, they spread out as far as possible but found no sign of bike or rider. Much
later, eight bikes and a late model Land Cruiser arrived, the Cruiser having become
bogged and the bikes having back-tracked to assist. The cold drinks offered by the
Kerr family to this very under-equipped crew didn’t touch the sides!
Another trip, they met a Japanese rider, on a 250cc machine, who’s mate, on a 650,
had broken down. The 250 wouldn’t tow the bigger bike (Murphy’s Law works OK
in the desert too why couldn’t the 250 have the problem) so Mr 250 would ride on a
kilometre, park the bike and then walk back to help push the bigger bike, and then do
it all over again. And again…And again…... They were very glad to see the Kerr
family! Particularly as Kevin was able to get the stricken bike going.
2002, Kevin was reversing his 4 x 4 up the driveway. Unable to see gull wing doors
open on a service vehicle, the Unimog came to a crashing halt, trapping itself and it’s
frightened occupant. At hospital Kevin was diagnosed with a broken neck and had to
immediately sign several documents as there was a very real danger he’d seize up any
moment. The doctor also asked “When did you last break your neck?” Kevin assured
him he’d not done so but the doctor informed him he most certainly had. How close a
call was that diving accident, all those years ago?
Around 1964 Kevin figured it was time he did more for himself so he bought and
restored, with Bruce Williams, the HarleyW.L.A. he still rides. He joined the
V.M.C.C. then also, and has been an active member ever since. He’s still working
hard on several projects – his Toyota Coaster motor home, a 1923 V-twin A.J.S., a
1927 Ace four cylinder, a 650 Yamaha – B.S.A. A10 special and a 250 Ossa trail
bike. The latter is very smart but Ossa spare parts are only sold by the local agent for
hen’s teeth. Result – Kevin has made from scratch the complete front brake lever,
and has rebuilt the back sprocket, a dished aluminium alloy item with “Ossa” stamped
on. Both jobs are well worth a look, they’re beautiful. Currently he’s repairing his
faithful W.L.A. which ran a big end on the recent Albany rally.
With so many projects in hand Kevin regrets he’s not able to ride in Club events as
often as he’s like, but, hey you can’t do everything!
“Dashing” Dud McKean was a rider of exceptional natural ability who always gave
110% and was much liked and respected by Kevin. Dud had never ridden a
motorcycle when he and some mates visited Melbourne Speedway. “Looks fun. I
could do that!” said Dud. “Oh yeah, sure you could!” said his mates and managed to
set up a ride for Dud. To their collective amazement, he went fast and loved it, and
regularly featured in Speedway results.
A ride in Short Circuit at Forrestfield became available and Dud was keen, but short
circuit is not an oval. Dud had never ridden on the road or turned right so on his first
right hand corner he fell off badly, ending the day in hospital.
He talked his way out of hospital, ostensibly to go home but in reality to ride in a
meeting which Dud considered important. He rode his usual “take no prisoners” style
but at race end he became unconscious with pain the returned to hospital. A truly
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