HAVING A YARN WITH SIMMO

I catch up with Peter Simpson at the Ultimate Boxing Academy gym, where he’s just finished putting 20 or so panting athletes and budding boxers of varying shapes and sizes through their paces.

He is, he explains, just helping out a mate – the owner- who is overseas at the moment, but the repartee with which he engages everybody indicates that he’s a natural for this job.

When I mentioned to someone that I was going to have a yarn with him, I was warned to give myself plenty of time. “The bastard’s got the gift of the gab ! ”

It was the usual greeting : “G’day Pete”. “Good thanks! Yourself ? (He doesn’t wait for you to ask how he’s going). Then proffers a handshake, even though you’ve only seen him a day or so prior !

As you’ve guessed it, Pete’s a friendly bloke and, yes, he can spin a yarn, especially if the subject is sport. His specialty is cycling. He can recall bikies from ages back and not only give you a resume’ of the races they won and the place-getters, but even tells you what gear-ratio the winner was using !

At various stages in his 58 year-old life he has been a concreter, advertising rep, meat-worker, plumbing and sports goods salesman, barman, textile and factory worker, undertaker and, now, cycle mechanic/salesman.

Firstly, I ask him how his dad, Bert, is going. “Good, he’s 87 now and still pretty alert”.

Bert was in the British Merchant Navy, when his boat sailed into Melbourne. He’d served a couple of years during and after the war, but decided that Australia was a good place to be. He jumped ship.

There was a warrant out for his arrest and he had to lie low. A good boxer, he fought as a middle-weight under the alias of Bert Sims. “From what I’m told, he handled himself alright. He reckoned that, if the crowd enjoyed one of his fights, he’d make more money from what they threw into the ring than what his purse was.”

He married his sweetheart, Dot, and settled in Wangaratta. Years later, he was having a beer at the Railway Hotel with his regular drinking companion, the late local police chief, Sid Wright, who joked that he knew Bert was a wanted man, but ‘…if I arrested you I’d have no bugger to drink with ! ”

There was an amnesty granted in 1976, so Bert was officially in the clear, although he’d long ago stopped worrying about it . He and Dot returned to England for a visit in 1980, for the first time.

Pete can thank his uncle, Charlie Larkins for his cycling obsession. Charlie persuaded him to ride in some amateur races, which were organised by the late Pat Toohey. It was a time when cycling was on the rise in Wangaratta and was the prelude to a host of champions arriving on the scene.

He showed gradual improvement. A move to Bendigo, the home of his future wife Di, saw him competing against some of the guns of the bike game. Competition was intense and he was grateful for any little morsel of success that came his way.

But his most memorable sporting moment came in 1980, in his old home town, when he returned to ride in the Carnival.

He was in pretty good form at the time and liked his chances, even though the cream of the nation’s track riders usually converged on Wangaratta.

And after he had qualified for the Wheelrace Final, he was pleased to see that two of the main fancies, ex-national champion and previous winner, Laurie Venn and Olympian Phil Sawyer, had been ridden out in their heats.

For a local lad who had done a paper-round as a boy, to earn enough money to purchase his first race-bike, this was the culmination of a dream. He had idolised the greats who had waged war on the dirt track over the years, such as the legendary Sid Patterson, Gordon Johnson, Keith Oliver, Barry Waddell, Chris Salisbury and the New South Welshman, Bob Whetters, to name a few.

Come the bell lap he was sitting second wheel to the veteran J.J.Stewart and was fully aware that back marker, David Allen would be making a charge. He was riding the race of his life, and, spurred on by the cheering of the near-record crowd of over 10,000, found something extra as he hit the home straight.

In a dramatic finish, he held on to beat the fast-finishing Eric Bishop and Alan Rackstraw and collect the $1,850 prize-money, which was a handy wedding present, as he and Di married the next week.

He was wading out into the Tasman Sea, on the central New South Wales Coast, thinking sweet-nothings a few days later, when he was caught in a rip and saw his life unfold before him.

Fortunately, he survived and was able to add this to his repertoire of tales.

Track-racing was Pete’s specialty, but he decided to have a crack at the ‘Warrnambool’ one year. He knew he would be tested by the distance and the weather, but picked up 5 sprint prizes, before eventually pulling the pin at Colac.

He staged a couple of come-backs, never able to resist the lure of climbing back in the saddle. And when he took out his first Wangaratta club championship, after 17 years, he thought it was as good a way as any to crown his career.

Since then he’s played a hand in just about everything involved in cycling. He went on 10 Sun Tours, as a manager, masseur, driver, handyman….you name it.

He was involved with the big-name riders at close quarters – their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies – and gathered a heap of anecdotes, which he loves to re-tell.

He drove the van on the High Country Charity ride last year, a testing 500km journey over 4 days, which heads up Mount Hotham, Falls Creek and goes as far as Omeo.

You can imagine that the 50-odd riders are just about knackered after a long day, as they settle down for a quiet beer around a campfire. “Simmo” provided the entertainment with his host of cycling stories, most of them true, some R-rated, some incriminating.

He’s having a crack at riding the course this year and is pretty sure he’ll be fit enough to last the distance. As expected, he’s excited about it.

His son Ben and Tate both played footy with the Magpies. Ben has spent the last 8 years in Doha and has played in the AFL Middle East competition with some success. He represented Quatar in Gaelic football and has been employed in the field of Sports Talent I.D.

Ben’s adventurous motor-bike charity ride from Doha, through Turkey,Greece and Albania, ended up in Italy and is another of the hundred and one stories in the memory bank of the inimitable “Simmo”.

 

 

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