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High Country hyperbole | Columns | Gassit Garage

Was George Parsons performing a prank or a publicity stunt?

The truth may never be known as to the cause of George Parsons’ attendance at the official opening ceremony of the Mt Donna Buang Bridle Track. Nor much at all about George himself, except that by many accounts he was a bit of a larrikin with too much time on his hands.

Only 80km north-east of Melbourne, where the Victorian Alps tumble into Gippsland, the 1250m Mt Donna Buang had long been a source of Mountain Ash and Myrtle Beech. Now the best had been logged and, in the late summer of 1912, the government had anteed up 400 quid to provide public access to the summit.

With a grade of 1 in 14,
the 21km track was realistically only suited for hikers and horses; it was so steep the need to prohibit motor vehicles was never considered. But one keen rider, Parsons, saw the opportunity to be the first, and quite possibly the only, motorcyclist to conquer the mountain.

It was reported at the time that George’s escapade was an act of carefree spontaneity. But there’s nothing spontaneous about the photograph. This image was not taken with a mate’s box brownie. This is the work of a pro. And it was taken before George had accumulated a single skerrick of mud; the bike hasn’t turned a wheel.

The bike is a Motosacoche – Swiss for motor in a sack – a 2.5hp, 290cc, two-stroke, belt-driven moped. Motosacoche was a manufacturer of portable motorcycle engines and this was the firm’s first attempt to build an entire machine. An example of which George just happened to have a pristine example.

George reported that the ascent was a “stop-start affair” – not surprising given an average gradient of seven per cent – and that the bike offered “ease of manipulation”. At a reported weight of only 50kg, the Motosacoche was light enough for George to carry for much of the climb.

After unrecorded hours of struggle, George reached the summit. Alas, there is no evidence, the photographer having no doubt headed to the Warburton pub.

We don’t know for sure that the mere thought of the descent scared George witless. Or, as one wag suggested, George had sobered up. Or possibly that, having fulfilled his obligation of getting the Motosacoche to the summit, he was under no obligation to further risk life and limb.

George descended by means of a “thrilling” ride on one of the seven cable-operated tramways used by the loggers.

The advertising for Motosacoche was aimed at “gentlefolk” who wished to avoid “oily dirt, noise and gymnastics”. Exactly how Parsons’ exploit matched these claims is left to the imagination. But the caption for this wonderful image reads “Mr. Geo. Parsons ascends Mt. Donna Buang on a 2½ h.p. Motosacoche, and demonstrates its hill-climbing powers and reliability.” Hyperbole?
You decide.

We may never have heard of George again if it were not for a group of bibulous motorcyclists touring Tasmania in 1913 where the lads indulged in a singalong at the pub. The splendidly named Mr Oleogene D Berry sang a ditty entitled Charlie Kissed His Poppy in the Cornfield – Oh What Will the Harvest Be? He was followed by a Mr Evans, who gave his listeners There’s Something in the Seaside Air with such moving effect that they began to wonder if there wasn’t something in the Tassie cider as well. A Mr Linblade then recited She Loved Him For The Danger Had Passed, and was asked to regale them with it a second time, but he was too overcome with emotion and cider to respond.

Then Parsons rendered his unfavourably known Laughing Song. This was seemingly the only blemish in an otherwise excellent evening and he thoroughly deserved the howling-down bestowed on him by his listeners as they emerged from their comatose state.

All of which is strong evidence that the adventure ride has been with us ever since the second motorcycle was produced.

By Peter Whitaker