On Sunday my brother Michael and I went to the Rowley Park Speedway reunion. Now this might seem like an unlikely place to go for a genealogist however my Dad’s cousin, Don Willison, raced motorbikes there and at other tracks in South Australia and nationally. We had a wonderful time at the reunion talking to several of Don’s mates and co-riders who were very pleased that we were so interested in Don and his career.
Don was born in 1926 in Gawler, South Australia. I don’t know exactly when he began racing however I have found newspaper articles dating back to 1948. He won sidecar championships and also rode solo as well as having a foray into stock cars, winning a Stock Car Title in 1968. Rowley Park Speedway opened in 1949 so I think it’s safe to say that Don was there from the start.
A replica of Don’s JAP bike
One of the stories I heard was that Don bought the original of the above bike from Jimmy Davies (USA) later that same night that Jimmy beat him on it. Apparently it was important to buy a bike and take possession of it straight away so that no changes could be made to it. Don wanted to own the exact bike which had beaten him.
Built from a bike and collection of parts that have been in a collection for many years, reputed to have belonged to past racing legends Jimmy Davies and Don Willison. From Youtube
In the video the sidecar has been removed for testing. When the video gets to 1:43 you can see Don and Jimmy’s names on the bike.
It seemed that everyone had a nickname, Sprazza, Chook, Eagle Beak, Tubby and more and Don’s nickname was “Willo”. Saturday must have been hangover day because there was plenty of drinking after racing on Friday nights and well into Saturday morning at Rowley Park. Don had several bikes and a number of men who rode them for him – Bruce Kelly, Ron Wakefield, Vin Ryan, Stan Smith, Len Bowes, Mal West, Alain Thain and Morrie McMillan are the ones we were told about.
Left to right – unknown, Tommy Davies, Don Willison, Joe “Tubby” Francis, and Malcolm Bunny
I’ve had a digital copy of this photo for some time now but never knew who the others in it were until Sunday. Ian Parrish and Stan Smith were very helpful in identifying them. There was some discussion as to the location of the photo which was taken either at Park Tce, Bowden or at Port Adelaide. Mr Parrish told us that he believed this photo was taken the day the motorbike was delivered to Don. The photo proved a very useful tool in engaging people in conversation and I would recommend it to anyone going to meet new people to take along an item to ask about.
We also found out about two of Don’s living relatives his younger sisters who we will now be able to contact!! This may even lead to further contacts! Woohoo I’m doing my genealogy happy dance!