Phil Aynsley was a passionate bloke who will be remembered for far more than his stunning motorcycle photography
In senior high school, Phil Aynsley was a slightly nerdy science whiz and model aircraft maker with the ambition to be an air-traffic controller. Then he spent $850 to buy a silver Ducati Desmo 250. School mates gathered around it five deep. Instant street cred.
Aynsley’s eyesight put paid to his career first hope, but his love of Ducatis and good design eventually took him around the world photographing motorcycles and self-publishing two coffee-table photo books.
Phil had ongoing heart trouble in later life and died in Perth on 22 September, aged 68. He was travelling Australia in a motorhome and had plans to do another pictorial book, this time on landscapes.
A few months before his passing, Aynsley had been in Italy photographing bikes in museums and private collections when he suffered a heart attack while sleeping. His defibrillator saved him on that occasion, but he wasn’t allowed to drive for a month, so he flew home. Anxious to be back on the road, he flew to WA to collect his motorhome but then required more medical evacuation flights and was hospitalised in Perth.
Between school and his later globe-trotting, Aynsley had worked in mines at Weipa (FNQ) and the Pilbara (he liked hot weather), become a camera technician rising to state service manager for Canon, worked as a magazine photographer for 22 years at Federal Publishing Company shooting everything from motorcycles to home interiors, and spent hours most nights devouring science-fiction novels.
Lifelong friend Russ Kendrick told Aynsley’s memorial service the one thing he could not do with his café-racer-style Ducati 250, 450RT and 750SS nicknamed Shadow Fax was take girls out, due to lack of a pillion seat, so he let Russ ride the bikes and borrowed Russ’s cars. He scraped one on a fence post as he left Russ’s driveway for a date.
Russ also recalled freighting the Ducati 450RT and regular slabs of his favourite Sydney beer. To Weipa. Phil went to the trouble of converting the 750SS to right-foot gear change, because Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200-winning Ducati was configured that way. He joined the newly formed Ducati Owners Club of NSW in 1977, becoming involved in photographing club race days, the club newsletter and a 1979 club ride of a dozen machines across the Nullabor, a journey that earned Phil notoriety for developing a boil on his butt. It required lancing at Kalgoorlie Hospital.
In 2002 he crashed a friend’s Hailwood Replica Ducati in the Hunter Valley, sustaining a spinal injury that forced him to abandon riding sportsbikes.
Younger brother Steve Aynsley said Phil had a photographic memory (no pun). He lived in the Hornsby area and cared for his widowed mother Betty.
Steve’s children Nick, Jordan and Jossie recalled a fabulous uncle who played cricket and video games with them, owned a vast record collection, doubled them on his Ducatis, brought back wonderful gifts from his travels and held extensive family slide nights.
Jordan’s stand-out Uncle Phil story was the time he was taken along on a bike shoot at Wisemans Ferry.
Phil was waiting for the desired afternoon light when his nephew began screaming and tearing off his clothes. He was standing on a bull ant nest… Phil missed his perfect shot that day.
Steve Ansley said his elder brother did what he loved doing almost until the end. Others mentioned his adventurous spirit and attitude of no risk, no story.
As well as photography, just some of Phil Aynsley’s loves were the Australian outback, gourmet cooking, travel, the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, ancient cities like Barcelona and watching Valentino Rossi race over the years.
One of his work colleagues from House & Garden magazine said Aynsley’s lesson to all was do what you love, do it really well, share it with everyone and don’t be afraid to move into different areas.
Words Don Cox + Photography PA archive