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

Coalition comedy hour

The PM’s “victory” on energy didn’t last a week

Image of Peter Temple

Remembering Peter Temple

The acclaimed Australian crime writer had a deep appreciation for the folly of things

The death doula

Annie Whitlocke is helping to break the silence around grief and dying

Alt right on the night

One of the extreme right’s greatest harms may turn out to be opportunity cost


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


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Peter Dutton’s leadership ambitions

A reminder of why the minister’s recent dog-whistling should be of concern

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‘Sharp Objects’ blurs the edges

The cruel complexities of women’s lives propel this Amy Adams-led thriller


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