Published on December 12th, 2014 | by Island Mick
LIFE ON A ROCK – LIVING ON PHILLIP ISLAND
With the Phillip Island MotoGP round just finished, I thought I’d share what life is like as a resident of The Island, as a motorcyclist and a race fan.
I moved here with my wife, Mel, and two kids on November 6th 2004. I clearly remember the date because for a week before we moved here I had gone to Tasmania with seven mates on our bikes, leaving Mel to pack house while looking after Olivia, 4, and Alex, 2. She said she’d never let me forget that, hence my vivid memory of the date. We rapidly approach our tenth year as residents. Another twenty and we’ll be locals, I’m told.
Having grown till age twenty in rural Victoria, I had to escape the hustle and bustle of Melbourne suburban life. Mel suggested the Island for a variety of reasons. As an already long term race fan and visitor I was gobsmacked at the suggestion and couldn’t believe I’d never thought ‘Hey, we could live there’. We made it happen. My job transferred me there, Mel studied for a Diploma of Education and started work at the local private school the same year our youngest began primary schooling. She currently serves as the head of the English faculty, a constant source of pride and wonder to me, to be honest. I still hate Shakespeare though…
The Penguin Parade is the second most-visited tourist destination in Victoria and boasts a million visitors a year, so it’s not a dead-end town on a dead- end street. Far from it, because the track is in almost constant use also, especially so since Lindsay Fox took control of it. Daily life during the warmer months will see me traveling the main road to various work locations passing trailer-loads of track bikes, vintage race cars, race team trucks and occasionally international stars in their hire cars who have come to test pre-, post- or mid-season. Local Hartwell or Preston MCRC meets, the Island Classic, WSBK, MotoGP, ASBK are just the main bike race meetings I can think of, then there’s the Keith Code Cornering School days, car race meetings (hack…spit) and the driver education days held regularly at the circuit – topped off with thousands of people wandering the Visitor Centre and Go Karts. It’s not a sleepy hollow. The Island would be a lesser place without the circuit and the local economy would surely suffer.
The vibe of the place pre motorcycle race weekends is electric. Full on ‘party mode’ is engaged. Bikes start rolling in a week to ten days pre-event and then you start to notice the almost ever-present sound of motorcycles. I love it. People are smiling, the locals are happy and the majority of the Island is stoked to know that there are fifty thousand people about to descend on their Island and there’ll be fuck-all trouble, lots of laughs and cash thrown round aplenty! Flip that around to a car racing weekend, like the V8 Stupidcar rounds that visit here. A good mate of mine runs a cafe and he wears a black T-shirt that states in white lettering ‘WHY DO THEY CALL IT TOURIST SEASON IF WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO SHOOT THEM?’ every V8 weekend and says loud and proud, and has done so with a restaurant full of FPV and HRT wearing numpties, that he’d rather five thousand bike race fans through his shop than five V8 fans. The difference is remarkable. The myth of the hairy scary biker does not hold any weight on the Island, the stink of the car-race fan is noted and acknowledged. The 180 degree vibe is palpable: whereas shopkeepers are welcoming for the bike fans, they are wary of the race-car fans. Windows will, and do, get smashed when the redneck pencil-dick Holden and Ford turds are here; that shit just does not get thought of most GP or WSBK weekends.
My house is located only two-and-a-half kilometres from the track and the prevalent south-west winds regularly carry the sound of track activity into my back yard. This is a boon, and being close enough to the track that I can tune in to the trackside commentary on 87.6FM and listen live was a bonus recently when Daniel Falzon won his first title but I was stuck at home working on the bike… all the while tuned in and listening to the commentators go nuts as ‘FALZON TAKES THE LEAD!’
Gap Road, locally known as Scab Alley, runs from the estate I live in, Wimbledon Heights, all the way to the cliff top above Bass Strait and is the place to be when the GP lads come here for testing – you can get a free look, hence the term ‘Scab Alley’. I’ve heard the GP/WSBK bikes testing, with the right wind behind them, at Newhaven, which is the little town just on the Island side of the bridge, and have even just noted their noise in Wonthaggi, approximately thirty minute’s drive away. Hearing this usually means finishing work, heading home, grabbing a couple of beers and jumping on the bike for the short trundle down to meet the other free-loading locals all lined up along the fence watching the world’s best testing; a great way to finish the days toil.
Heh, Fox put shade cloth along that section of fence when he first took over. Luckily most blokes I know who ride, also carry pocket knives/Leatherman multi tools etc… that shade cloth proved to be an expensive exercise in futility.
My job takes me many places on the Island and I’ve seen things here that I wouldn’t have seen were it not for my work. I observe a lot, but one stand out is the amount of houses that have bikes parked under the carport, or in the lounge room. The Island seems to have a high percentage of riders living upon it, and luckily I have got to know quite a few of them. Ironically, the Island itself is not much to write home about in regards to great riding, (unless you’re doing a track day of course!), but the roads in them thar hills as you approach Phillip island are chock a block full of decent twisties. It’s not difficult to get from here to Melbourne and barely touch a main highway/freeway. That’s about all I’ll say on that, other than if you do get the chance to discover those roads, shut the fuck up about it! Some of the older local blokes tell me of days past where they would finish work and head out to the track, get a key off the old owner and cut laps for a few hours. Oh, I wish! The old Phillip Island Motorcycle Club rooms are apparently still standing amongst the ti-trees at Gate One, and I have seen what looks to be an old tin shed in there…what stories that could tell!
Its not all shits and giggles, I guess. There are local issues that need attention, namely the lack of a hospital, a local council that takes a phenomenal amount in rates and spends it elsewhere and the one road on/off scenario. The population grows from approx 9,000 to 70,000 over the peak period of Christmas and some GP’s, there have been record crowds here for the races over time and all I can say is if you are going to flip your bike or overdose, have your ambulance situation sorted because you will be transported elsewhere, and by chopper if it’s serious.
As time moves along, I have noticed the relaxed atmosphere changing somewhat. The population has nearly doubled in the ten years we’ve been here, the faces are changing and some of the attitudes as well. It’s still good living here and we have no regrets, though the girls are now 12 and 14 and their wants and needs are different and will present issues for Mel and me to deal with. I’ve never been one to get pissed off at the invasive nature of tourists and really enjoy the fact that I live in a beautiful part of the world that has lots to offer and caters to many of my and my family’s interests. It has one of the world’s truly great race tracks; and I can fish, swim, shoot, ride and generally live a pretty well-balanced life style while my kids are educated and grow in a healthy environment. Best of all, several weekends of the year I know I am going to be visited by the best motley bunch of psychopathic motorcycling hoodlums I am proud to call mates.
Unfortunately, even the MotoGP atmosphere has changed dramatically and that can be directly traced back to the Battle Of Cowes, GP 1999, when word had spread among the illegal street-car drag communities of Dandenong and Frankston that the police presence, usually eight cops on duty till 2am, was happy to turn a blind eye to the shenanigans that we bike race fans were up to. They fucked it for everyone, basically, and so since then the heavy-handed and over-policed approach has seen the demise of sipping a beer outside a ‘designated zone’, the pole removed from the car park outside the original and now long gone burnt-out Isle of Wight Hotel and the general bonhomie of bike riders from around the country congregating and having a good time, trouble and hassle free. Gone are the days of the local cop asking the young GSXR600 mounted amateur stunt rider doing street-long rolling burnouts up the main drag to go to the local bike shop and get free second-hand tyres fitted so he may continue; a sensible request as it kept everyone entertained and enthralled. Gone too, the bands on the landscaped wall outside the Isle of Wight where young ladies would be encouraged to expose their often woeful tits to the massed throng.
Welcome instead to a family-friendly event, which as a father of young children I was happy to embrace from one perspective, but sad to see people being fined $100 for walking the street with an open alcohol package. It never was family unfriendly as crowds of motorcyclists are so respectful of the fact that women and children might be within earshot anyway. I guess the Vic coppers didn’t want to see a repeat of the Bathurst Easter Races, but it was never going to happen, never had happened, the cops conducted themselves as humans, and the risk of it happening only was realised when the fucking car drivers came down.
I must admit to a sense of excitement pre-GP that is only matched by a dose of the blues post-GP, seeing everyone roll in with their various tales of woe and thrills from the pilgrimage they’ve made from out-of-state is a buzz for me. Bear hug greetings and back-slapping, knowing that my favourite people have arrived safely and are keen to pick up where we left off last time we broke bread, has me anxious and sleepless like a kid on Xmas Eve. Then you all go home and part of me rues this, another part embraces the time to wind down and recover… and then it’s back to carving out a living surrounded by my other favourite people, my local mates I ride and watch the GP telecast with, or camp, hunt and fish with.
For people who wanted to see their kids grow up in a place with fresh air and sunshine away from the smog of a big city, I reckon Mel and I made an excellent decision and I have no regrets at moving to Phillip Island. Even if we move elsewhere in the future, I will always be a face in that trackside crowd come those large motorcycle race weekends.