August 2012

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Hubert Opperman & Bruce Small

Word: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Hubert Opperman was a telegram delivery boy. At the beginning of the 1921 racing season, he joined a suburban cycling club and entered a distance race. It was hot and dusty on the unmade country roads but the 17 year old was gritty and tenacious. He kept pace with the experienced riders, the scratch men, and finished in third place.

The prize was a spanking new Malvern Star. Waiting at the finish line was the bike’s manufacturer, Bruce Small. Small had left school at 14 to become a printer’s devil, then a commercial traveller. Now 24, he had just sunk his life savings into the fledgling bicycle business. So far, Malvern Star was only producing 12 bikes a week but Small had a keen eye for publicity and he immediately recognised the commercial potential of the clean-cut young Oppy.

“He sold me on himself,” recalled Opperman, “at a most opportune moment in my life.” The two young men promptly forged a bond that was to make one of them rich and the other famous.

Riding for Malvern Star, Opperman won the Australian road title four times. In 1928, eager to test himself against the pedal-pushers of Europe, he joined the small Australasian team for the Tour de France. He finished 18th, then went on to win the Bol d’Or endurance event, riding 17 hours without dismounting, cheered on by a crowd of 50,000. He was met at home with a hero’s welcome. Other victories and world records soon followed.

More than just a sponsor, the energetic Small was Oppy’s manager, trainer, tactician, moral mainstay and investment adviser. At the height of the Depression, his protégé was as much a national symbol as Bradman and Phar Lap. In 1936, Allied Bruce Small Ltd went public. Eventually, there would be six Malvern Star factories and a thousand dealerships.

The war marked the end of Opperman’s sporting career. He joined the RAAF and rose to flight lieutenant, then joined the Liberal Party and rose to Minister for Transport. Small, meanwhile, made a gazillion by turning banana plantations into Florida-style canal estates. Running on the slogan ‘Think Big, Vote Small’, he was elected mayor of the Gold Coast in 1967 and put boosterism into bikinis by inventing meter maids.

Oppy continued cycling until he was 90 and died on an exercise bike in a retirement village with “No Cycling” signs. A stalwart of the solo euphonium, Small is commemorated by a smallish statue in Elkhorn Avenue, Surfers Paradise.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

August 2012

August 2012

From the front page

Australian carnage

The Coalition killed Holden six years ago

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

A gap too far

Despite fine words in response to the latest Closing the Gap report, the PM insists that politicians know best when it comes to the question of recognition

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Planting hope

A community gardening program is bringing hope to asylum seekers

Image [detail] of Agency, by William Gibson

Days of future passed: William Gibson’s ‘Agency’

The cyberpunk pioneer’s latest novel continues his examination of the present from the perspective of a post-apocalyptic future


In This Issue

Small Fry

The story of a people smuggler

'The Sapphires' by Wayne Blair (director), In national release from 9 August

'The Sapphires' by Wayne Blair (director)

A young boy in Dalworth Children's Home at Seaforth, NSW, in the 1920s. Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW. Photograph: Sam Hood

The Forgotten Ones

Half a million lost childhoods

'The Office: A Hardworking History' by Gideon Haigh, Miegunyah Press; $45.00

'The Office: A Hardworking History' by Gideon Haigh


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

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Despite fine words in response to the latest Closing the Gap report, the PM insists that politicians know best when it comes to the question of recognition

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Wildlife’s whispered traces: ‘Extinction Studies’

Lucienne Rickard’s durational art performance at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery reckons with extinct species

Image of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull

Turnbull’s legacy costs

The former PM’s promise to legislate a religious freedom bill has ensured the culture wars rage on

Image from ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’

Party of three: ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’

Australian comedian Josh Thomas brings his unique brand of comedy to the classic American sitcom format


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