It takes you about 15 minutes in front of the mirror to get your duck’s-arse hairstyle right so it’s a shame you then have to put your pudding-basin helmet on. You slide into your leather jacket and walk out to your caféd ’55 T100. On the way out your father asks again if you’ve been looking for work. If he knew how addictive your bike was and how much mischief you were getting up to with your ton-up mates, he wouldn’t bother enquiring. There’ll be plenty of time for work when you get older.
Down at the Ace Café the crowd is spilling out the doors and the noise of shouting and engines is combining to terrify passing drivers in their meek Morris Minors. Inside, something unusual is happening: a priest, the Reverend William Shergold, is handing out invitations to a service specifically for ‘bike boys’ the following night. It’s London in 1962.
The service was so well attended it made the national papers (“Ton-up kids in church”) and led Shergold and another priest, Graham Hullett, to tie the bikers up with the already existing ‘59 Club’, a church-run youth group. The rockers quickly took over and the 59 Club grew into the biggest bike club in the world.
The rocker sub-culture was an early protest against the ‘straight’ world and was regularly associated with trouble. Father Hullett saw it differently. “These were the same kind of lads who would have been flying Spitfires or bombers in defence of their country 20 years earlier. They had a different way of life but were just as good as the rest of mankind.”
Another emerging sub-culture, the mods, didn’t share this view. They saw the rockers as old-fashioned, thick-headed and dirty. Fights between these groups in the mid-’60s, often centred in the seaside town of Brighton, sparking a moral panic in England that was fanned by tabloid media. Other youth sub-cultures eventually emerged (including the hippie movement) which finally took some of the focus off the rockers and even their connection with bikes was dissipated by the emergence of US-style patch clubs.
The rockers didn’t die out, though – they simply went underground.
Fast-forward 40 years to Brighton Beach in Melbourne and trouble is brewing again. This time the rockers are the Australian arm of the 59 Club and the mods a combination of local scooter clubs led by the feared Melbourne Crusaders.
The 1964 violence is replaced by a good-natured tug-of-war followed by a combined ride to Custom Lane for a bikes, bands and brotherhood session. This the fourth event of its type and, given the original Club became a registered charity in 1965, there’s a strong emphasis on fundraising as well as fun. The first Melbourne clash between the mods and rockers raised $3500 for the club’s preferred charity, OzChild, and the event this year raised an impressive $6500.
Now an annual occasion, the Brighton clash and after-party are about as much fun as you can have on two wheels. The tug-of-war is seriously contested and, while won for each of the four years by the rockers, there is invariably a rumble in the sand afterwards where the mods take their revenge.
Just as startling to watch is the women’s event afterwards. Again, this tends to be dominated by the rockers but the mods give it a redhot go. The cultural differences between mods and rockers favours the rockers in physical combat but, skin-tight suits notwithstanding, the mods seem to get bigger every year. Perhaps 2013 will be the breakthrough.
With 400-plus bikes attending this year and around 550 people at the after-party, the traditional Custom Lane venue will need to change as it can no longer contain the crowd. The ‘fight’ will continue at Brighton beach.
The ‘rocker’ movement had a quiet period during the ’70s and ’80s but there was a revival in the ’90s based on a recognition of the quality of the lifestyle. The music never died and original members of the 59 Club drifted to all parts of the globe, retaining their affection for the bikes and the freedom the lifestyle provided.
There are now recognised chapters of the club in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as in Chicago, Los Angeles and Texas in the USA.
The Australian chapter grew out of the Victorian town of Healesville in 2005. Father Graham Hullet attributed the success of the original club to its lack of rules and one of the original Australian members, Shadow, says the Aussie chapter has grown for the same reason.
“People sometimes think from its past that we’re a Christian motorcycle club but there’s no church agenda. We’re loyal to the bikes, music and fashion of the ’60s but we’re mostly loyal to fun and freedom. Rockers forever!”
Another prominent member, Drifter, agrees.
“We’re about having fun with like-minded people. We’re big on socialising and low on politics. We like to carry on the traditions of the British rocker clubs – riding bikes and hanging out with our mates.”
You don’t have to own a Triumph Bonneville to become involved. The mix of bikes among the 350-odd members in Australia range from the Brit classics to Japanese bikes, although the style is mainly classic, café and streetfighter.
The biggest grouping of the 59 Club is in Victoria. Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 7.00pm at the Maroondah Club on the corner of Mt Dandenong Road and Dublin Road in Ringwood. Less formal gatherings are also held and include 10.00am sessions at Monroe’s Café on the Maroondah Highway in Healesville.
The club also has a substantial presence in Queensland and Western Australia.
‘Father Bill’ (Reverend William Shergold) says he felt like a martyr when he first braved the den of iniquity that was the Ace Café in 1962. He was attempting to engage with disenfranchised youth and deliver a 2000-year-old message. When his church was packed with ‘leather men’ and motorcycles the following night, he didn’t see dangerous, lawbreaking bikers.
“Instead, in my address that night, I compared the motorcyclist to the knights of old,” he said. “I suggested we should try to uphold the same ideals of courage, courtesy and chivalry.”
There isn’t much ‘courtesy’ evident in the annual clash between the 59 Club and the mods today – the sledging is military-strength – but there’s plenty of courage and chivalry. As the old Meatloaf song goes, “two out of three ain’t bad”.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MODS AND ROCKERS
The rockers considered mods to be weedy, effeminate snobs and mods saw rockers as out-of-touch, oafish and grubby.
The rocker subculture was centred around motorcycling and the proponents’ appearances reflected that. Rockers generally wore protective clothing such as black leather jackets and motorcycle boots. The common rocker hairstyle was a pompadour which was associated with 1950s’ rock and roll – the rockers’ music genre of choice.
The mod subculture was centred around fashion and music, and many mods rode scooters. Mods wore suits and other clean-cut outfits, and preferred 1960s’ music genres such as soul, rhythm and blues, ska and beat music.
FIND OUT MORE:
* Fifty Nine Club (Australia): www.the59club.org.au
* Melbourne Crusaders Club: www.melbournecrusaders.org
* International: www.the59club.org.uk
* OzChild: www.ozchild.org.au