Rowley Park Speedway Reunion 2014

2014-09-21 15.11.08

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

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.


Don Willison


Left to right - unknown, Tommy Davies, Don Willison, Joe "Tubby" Francis, and Malcolm Bunny

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!

WWII Pay Records

I went to the National Archives Adelaide office today to view some records I had ordered.  The WWII pay records of my uncle William Henry Willison didn’t yield much information but the records of my grandfather William Burnett Willison did.  My grandfather died before I was born so I know very little about him.  I have his WWI record which has been digitised but not his WWII record so I was very interested to look through his pay records.


overseas service nil

Overseas Service Nil


Things I found out today

  • he didn’t serve overseas in WWII
  • he was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant
  • he was a conductor to ammunition trains
  • the trips for which I found records were mainly from the mid north of South Australia to New South Wales
  • my Grandfather’s signature is a lot like my Dad’s
  • he received a war gratuity which paid off the mortgage on the family home
  • the family lived at 163 Port Rd, Brompton, South Australia (a suburb of Adelaide)
  • the trip from Gladstone, South Australia to Outer Harbour, South Australia took two days on the ammunition train
  • Nanny had to fill out a form every six months to receive Dependant’s Allowance
  • Allowance reduced when Auntie Dawn turned 16yrs.


Conductor on ammunition trains

Conductor On Ammunition Train From Port Augusta, South Australia to Bogan Gate Army Base, New South Wales


I felt a little emotional reading these records today but I’m not sure exactly why.  It gave me some insight into my Grandfather but not much.  He had a dangerous job and must have been a responsible man, so I’m proud of his efforts in both world wars.  Maybe it was seeing my Auntie and Uncle’s names in print and the reminder that Dad is the only one left now………..


Terowie, South Australia To Broken Hill, New South Wales

Terowie, South Australia To Broken Hill, New South Wales


I got some background information from this website which others might find useful – Introduction To Military Units and Ranks,%20History%20and%20Terminology%20of%20the%20ADF.pdf


Sorry I haven’t written much of late.  I’m helping my daughter prepare for motherhood, my first grandchild is due in October.  Also I haven’t been well which doesn’t help for clear thinking blog writing.

Here are some photos of my Dad’s cousin’s property at Modbury Heights, South Australia.  The land has been saved from housing development but the house had to be taken down because it was unsafe and it would have cost the council too much to restore it.


De-constructing the house

De-constructing the house


De-constructing the house

De-constructing the house


De-constructing the house

De-constructing the house


De-constructing the house

De-constructing the house

Here are the previous posts I’ve written about this;

Using Small Clues To Find More Information

William Willison Service Record

William Burnett Willison's Enlistment Form

On my grandfather, William Burnett Willison’s, enlistment papers for World War I is the question –

Do you now belong to, or have you ever served in, His Majesty’s army, the marines, the Militia, the Militia Reserve, the Territorial Force, Royal Navy or Colonial Forces?

His answer – “23rd Barossa L.H. 3yrs still serving. Salisbury R.C. 2yrs.

In the rest of his service record it shows that he was in the 9th Light Horse Regiment, 22nd Reinforcement so it’s logical to assume that 23rd Barossa L.H. means 23rd Barossa Light Horse.  By looking on the Australian Light Horse Studies website I found that there was a Militia unit the 23rd Barossa Light Horse and that B Squadron covered the Salisbury/Para Hills area where William was living.

23rd Barossa Light Horse Badge

23rd Barossa Light Horse

Salisbury R.C. stands for Salisbury Rifle Club.  I discovered this when I found many newspaper reports of John Reid Willison, William’s brother’s, involvement with the club.

So William was already proficient with horses and guns before enlisting.

John Reid Willison rifle shooting

John Reid Willison Rifle Shooting 1915


I went to the Len Beadell Library in Salisbury yesterday which has a good little local history room.  There I found a Salisbury Rifle Club scoring notebook which contained the following entry:

Salisbury Rifle Club scoring notebook

Salisbury Rifle Club Scoring Notebook c1920s

The last entry on the page is for A. Willison – Andrew Alexander Willison, John and William’s younger brother.  There was also a photo of the Salisbury Rifle Club with John Reid Willison in it however I can’t reproduce the photo here without permission from the library.  John was also in the Salisbury Mounted Infantry but I have been unable to find any other records of this unit.

Salisbury Rifle Club newspaper clipping

Salisbury Rifle Club 1984

 The Salisbury Rifle Club can trace its beginnings back to the Munno Para East Mounted Rifles.

I wonder how the Light Horse and the Rifle Clubs worked as I’ve said above, William listed both in his previous military service, was one for the horsemanship and one for the shooting or did they both do similar things?  Does anyone know any more about these groups?


P.S.  I just found this link on the Australian Light Horse Studies website too.

2986 Acting Corporal William Burnett WILLISON, a 31 year old Farmer from Parra Hills, South Australia. He enlisted on 6 June 1916; and at the conclusion of the war Returned to Australia, 25 September 1919.