Red Dust revival sparks massive vote of vintage cars and motorcycles at Lake Percolilli

One of Australia’s oldest racing circuits has been brought back to life after more than a century as a playground for pioneers in Western Australia’s gold mining region.

About 150 vintage cars and motorcycles from across the country raced the hard clay surfaces of Percolilli Lake on the outskirts of the historic gold mining city of Kalgoorlie Boulder.

The Red Dust revival drew hundreds of spectators as classic car enthusiasts reenacted the races held there before World War II.

Russell Platts, who flew the checkered flag for much of the race, was one of the race’s marshals and said he had the best seat in the house.

“We can smell the action here, it’s so close, I love it,” he said.

“We’re right on the start and finish line, nice and close, and this is definitely the best seat.”

Russell Platts says he has the best view of the action.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

Organiser Graeme Cocks said a team of volunteers had spent months planning the event.

He said the interest from all over the country was overwhelming.

“Over the three-year holiday we have people building cars all over Australia – from Tasmania to Queensland to Darwin – and this time we have three times as many cars as here,” Mr Cox said .

“There’s a huge shortage of spare parts right now because everyone’s running out.”

A man stands next to a vintage car, holding a helmet and goggles.
Organiser Graeme Cocks said 105 classic cars and 40 motorcycles had registered for the Red Dust revival.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

“Very nostalgic”

Between 1914 and 1939, before quality roads were built, speed records were set on the lake’s hard, smooth surface.

But World War II ended the legendary game as fuel and men became scarce.

Two vintage race cars and drivers side by side on the starting line.
Cars line up on the starting line at Lake Perkollilli.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

The most determined to head west for the event was Johnno Everett, who lives in suburban Sydney.

He drove nearly 4,000 kilometers across the Nullarbor River in his 1928 Model A Ford.

Most people tow their vehicles or put them on trucks.

Joke traffic signs pointing to other famous race tracks around the world.
A sign on Lake Perkollilli points to other famous race tracks around the world. (ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

Kevin Boardman is at the last event of 2019 and again from Goulburn, NSW.

“It’s very nostalgic,” he said, leaning on the tires of his 1914 Model T Ford Roadster.

“The problem is this game is very unique in the day it takes place.

“It’s the oldest racecourse in Australia, exactly the same as it was in 1914.”

A black and white photo of a man sitting in a car surrounded by people.
Racers and crowds at the Perkollilli Lake clay slab track near Kalgoorlie in 1928.(Provided by: Museum of Western Australia)

home repair car

Matt Harrington is a fish out of the water in the dust of Lake Perkollilli.

The RC submarine pilot from Perth has spent the past year rebuilding a 1930 Ford Model A with his kids.

“My 13-year-old twins are very interested in it,” he said.

“We think it’s a good thing to be together as a family; keep them off social media [and] All online bullying and everything.

“We sat in the shed, turned on the radio, and built a car together.

A father and son at a classic car event.
Matt Harrington and his 13-year-old son Tom built the car with them.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

“We bought it as a rolling chassis, then with the help of Tom and his twin sister Sarah, we put the engine together, got parts from all over Australia, and now we’re competing.”

The classic car reached a top speed of 82 km/h in early runs on the 3 km circuit. Other drivers clocked speeds well above 160 km/h.

“It may sound unpleasant, but it’s horrible outside,” Mr Harrington said.

A man drives a vintage car on a race track.
John Lakeland drives a 1938 Triumph sedan that has been converted into a sports car body.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

Body made of oil drums

While most of the cars at the event have had better years, they are built to last.

Classic car collector John Lakeland has effectively two cars in one.

Seven years ago, he bought a 1938 Triumph Dolomite sedan and combined it with the body of a pre-war sports car that had been parked in a friend’s shed for decades.

Even in such an impressive field of classic cars, the Triumph’s rustic body stands out for the fact that it’s made from old oil drums.

“We painstakingly used old parts from that era to make it. So the car basically looks like it just came out of the barn,” Mr Lakeland said.

A man in dirty work clothes is standing next to a vintage car.
Melbourne’s John Lakeland was consistently victorious in the 1938 Red Dust Revival. (ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

“The car is still running fine. I had it 650,000 miles (1 million km) when I bought it, now we’ve probably done 670,000 miles (1.1 million km) and it’s still going strong.”

A member of the UK-based Pre-1940 Triumph Motor Club, Mr. Lakeland owned more than 30 Triumph cars in his lifetime.

His current collection consists of six.

“I currently have more pre-war victories than anyone in the world,” he said.

“They are absolutely beautiful cars, polished to N degrees, but this car [the 1938 Triumph] More attention than a polished car.

A vintage car races on a muddy track.
The hard clay surface of Lake Perkollilli is one of Australia’s oldest race tracks. (ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

“If I drive to an event or a service station, people will drool over it and talk about it.

“And if I drive the shiny one, they’ll like it, but they won’t pay attention to it like this one, it looks like it’s been knocked over.”

Embrace the 1920s theme

While most spectators have their eyes on the track, not everyone is there for the race, but to relive the fashion of a bygone era.

A group of four women were spotted walking their dogs in 1920s-themed clothing as they headed to a trackside tent to drink champagne.

A group of four women dressed in 1920s fashion.
Heather Mettam (from left), Ray Yates, Erna Gazeley and Jenny Fuller greet the event in 1920s fashion.(ABC Gold Mine: Jarrod Lucas)

“I don’t think we’ve seen the game yet,” joked Jenny Fuller.

“Absolutely The Great Gatsby—that’s the theme,” Erna Gazeley said of the group’s outfits.

“I think we’ve all seen downtown Abbey, and that helps, too,” Reyates said.

This proves that the 1920s did indeed reappear in Western Australia’s goldfields.


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