By Melissa Walsh Photos Gary Sissons
Deb Graham has fond memories of the Harley Club, having grown up with a father who raced motorbikes and parents who were heavily involved with the club. To this day, the smell of the pine trees reminds her of the fun times they shared as a family travelling down to the club house every school holidays.
“We lived up in town but would drive down to the club for holidays all the time,” recalls Deb, who, ironically, has made her home on the peninsula since 1987. “The first photos of me when I am a few months old are in the Harley Club or on the Balnarring beach. I still have photos on the beach from 1950 when my older sister, Heather, was about two, and mum and dad brought her down to the club. I think that was the first time they started coming down here. Mum and dad were always into the bikes. Mum used to ride in the side car before they got their first car. I even heard rumors that when they were building the club house, beams were brought down on the side cars.”
Deb recalls days when lots of families would come down to the club, and there were fun times for everyone.
“We went there all of the January holidays and in those days the women slept in the bedroom and the men slept out in the hallway on stretchers so married couples would go for a drive if they wanted to get together,” she says with a laugh. “We were like an extended family, and mum and dad’s best friends would holiday down there. One of my memories was the big dining room in the late 50’s. There was a big central table where everyone would get together and drink and play cards, but in the corner of the dining room families had their own tables. The women in the 1950s and ’60s would have a big competition between who could set up the nicest table.”
Deb spent the first 14 years of her life holidaying there, climbing the pine trees that bordered the property, climbing the big hedge and playing on the beach.
“They were wonderful times and we always looked forward to going to the Harley Club and our holidays there,” said Deb, who remembers her dad’s racing number as being 39. “My brother, sister and parents would go off every Sunday to race meetings and my job was to wash dad’s number at the end of the race. Mum would pack a lovely lunch and park next to the other mums while we all watched the races.”
It was 1977 when tragedy struck for the family, when Deb’s brother was killed in a motorbike race but Deb says she still has fond memories of her family’s time at the club.
“We stopped in the mid-70s after my brother died but started going back eventually as my sister-in-law and her three children would go down there. We all wanted to be together and soon I was also taking my own children so a second generation was able to experience these family times.”
For Deb and her family, it was a chance to create more precious memories and she laughingly says it became like their private holiday home.
“Going back as an adult it had lots of memories. It was a great way of keeping the family connected. All my nieces and nephews would set their tents up in the backyard. We had our Christmas dinners there and my sister even met her husband there when he was camping with his family. I will never forget the smell of those pine trees which brought all the memories of the Harley Club back to me as soon as we moved down here.”
These days the Harley Club is a magnificent private family home but the sign “Harley House” still hangs above the gate.
Photos Courtesy of Balnarring and District Historical Society
The Harley Davidson Motor Cycle Club in Victoria was formed in 1924.
In the early 1900s and particularly during World War I the motor bike had developed into a powerful and versatile form of transport. After the war it was an effective and affordable vehicle, especially when coupled with a sidecar which could transport more than one person, or be used for work purposes.
The club members would race at Balnarring Beach and then meet at the Cheerio Tearooms but the local council prohibited beach racing around 1930. So the club members then used local members, Bob and Frank Myers’ property for racing. In 1926 Milledge Bros. Pty Ltd of Elizabeth St Melbourne purchased two lots of land from the Balnarring Beach Estate for the use of the Harley Club. Milledge Bros. were the importers of Harley Davidsons at the time. Club rooms were built on this land and were opened in December 1928. From 1930 until the mid-1950’s Mr. K.J. Rattray Wood of East Brunswick was listed as the owner of the land and he rented it to the Harley Club.The Club House was a centre where members could come at weekends for both social and sporting events. It was also where the club’s trophies and photographs were displayed. In the early days monthly dances were held and the club’s annual dinner dance was the social event of the motorcycle world. There were games on the beach, and each Christmas a children’s Christmas party was always held at the club house. Santa, of course, arrived on a motorcycle. The club was very lucky with its officials and members with business experience. It remained financially successful over the years and large amounts of money were raised for charity.
The period after the second world war brought considerable change. The car became the family vehicle – replacing the motor cycle. The Harley Club continued to be a holiday place although the number of families using the club facilities gradually fell away during the 1960s. The high cypress hedge that screened the property still stands but the original club house is now a private home.