by Charlie Lawson

In 1938 when I was 10 years of age, my father Wally took my brother Frank and myself 400 miles (680 kms) to Lake Perkolilli for SPEED CARNIVAL week.

Our transport was a 1936 Chevrolet truck fitted with 900 x 20 single rear wheels. The roads were often ‘rutted’ following rain storms, and the thinking at the time was that single rear wheels were a better choice than duals. On the tray section of the truck was placed a Furphy Cast Iron water tank containing 100 gallons of water, two 44 gallon drums of Super Plume petrol, some tents and old railway tarpaulins and shearers mattresses.

Also on board, was a cast iron Dutch oven for cooking purposes, six rabbit traps — food, beer etc. There was Primus Stoves and hurricane lamps, shovels, axes and rakes - all items required for camping in the bush.

As I was doing my schooling by correspondence course, I was told by my teacher to keep a Journal of the trip for inspection, and my Mother still had the exercise book 60 years later.

I am over 80 years of age now, but still remember awakening in the morning to the smell of bacon frying, hot camp oven bread, tea with condensed milk etc.

My Dad had a friend named Ron Duke who had a Chicago model special twin cam Harley Davidson racer. It lapped at 102 mph (l7Okph) on the 2 mile circuit. The Lake Perkolli surface was a red silicon base (hard and flat) and the race circuit was marked with steel bore casing rods, protruding 4 feet high above the surface.

Every 100 yards the bore rods were painted with Kalsomine, a powder based paint, easy to transport, and to apply. Very effective for marking needs, in colours cream or white, just slap it on any surface, be it wood or steel, then leave it alone — and it would dry very quickly.

Arriving in Kalgoorlie, it was like another world. The streets were about fifty yards wide - car and bikes as we had never seen before. Ford models ‘T’ and ‘A’ and Chevs etc. Even bikes tied on right and left running boards of cars, and tins of petrol (filled) for the trip. Generally this enabled most vehicles to run about 120 miles on a full fuel tank.

There were Lagondas, racing Sunbeams, Auburns, and other makes of cars we had never seen previously. Most of the cars had no body from behind the front seat — just a canvas ‘tacked’ to the top of seat and sloping to a piece of wood fixed across the lower back of the chassis. No mudguards or windscreens were used.

All races were rolling starts. W.A. rider Aubrey Melrose usually got good starts on his Brough Superior. Some of the bikes, mainly Indians and Harleys had special carburettors with NO slides, butterflies or float bowl. Just an adjustable jet. This enabled the rider to ride ‘flat out’ or slow using a wire from the magneto to a piece of hacksaw blade, which when pressed to the handlebar, gave the rider control of the engine speed. Very highly technical ! ! !!!

Each night Frank and I would ‘set’ our rabbit traps. Later we sold the (dressed) rabbits for 1/6d each.

Three W.A. riders had raced in England in 1929, and had purchased three Denley model OHC AJS bikes. They got the formula for racing fuel SHELL ‘A’, Acetone, Castro! ‘R’—2 tins of Kiwi boot polish, Nitro benzine, some purple dye etc. These bikes were definitely faster than genuine benzine fuel, but it was half the price !!!! 

Here is an indication of some of the speeds achieved.

Ron Duke 1000cc Chicago Harley 102 mph

Harry Baker 1000cc Brough Superior 101

Laurie Metcalf 500cc AJS OHC 100

Ron Jewell 500cc Douglas TOM 93

Bill Dunne 500cc Rudge 100

Ken Marshall 500cc Levis D 88

Alistair McCrae 500cc Levis D 92

Len Stewart 500cc Excelsior Manxman 93

N. Cherrington 250cc Excelsior Manxman 68

Doug Booth 500cc Norton OHC 94

In 1948 there was a terrific storm, 11 inches (250m1) rain overnight, which washed silt and mud on to the racing circuit surface. Racing never re-commenced post World War 2. (1944)

Lake Perkolilli can still be defined by the steel bore rods marking the circuit. These were cut off by the scrap metal dealers over the many years since racing finished.


Lake Perkolilli
Located 35 km north-east of Kalgoorlie near Kanowna in Western Australia, Lake Perkolilli was the sight of a race track marked out by steel bore casings on a dry lake bed. It was used every year from 1924 to 1937 (except the years 1932 and 1933). A "Grand Prix" variation of the two mile circular track was also used, with sandbag chicanes denoting the extra track. It was used for motorcycle racing before 1924.

Car racing at lake Perkolilli 1928

Pics of motorcycles at lake Perkolilli would be welcome!

Sunday Times 13 September 1925





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