My late mother would have a wry chuckle about AusCycling's demand that a fence be installed around the perimeter of the Latrobe bike track.
Back when she was 11, mum and her sisters were sitting in the row of seats along the back straight at Latrobe on Boxing Day 1930 when a ghastly thing happened.
During his warm-up ride, the champion cyclist of the time, W. K. (Bill) Moritz, swung to the top of the track and cleared his nostrils, spraying mum and her sisters with nasal mucus. Mum often laughed about the day she was caught in the line of Moritz's fire.
In our family, Boxing Day at Latrobe was a pilgrimage, far more important than the day that preceded it. Every Christmas our presents were new clothes to wear to Latrobe. Early on the morning of Boxing Day, dad would take the mattress off my bed and throw it on the back of the ute for my older brother and sister and I to lay on. Mum cut ham sandwiches and packed a Thermos, and the family's annual ritual was underway. We didn't miss a Latrobe for nearly three decades.
On Boxing Day in the 1960s the dawdle from our home at Longford to Latrobe could take all of two hours. The goat track euphemistically called Bass Highway was packed with holidaymakers and a broken-down caravan or pea viner inevitably slowed the snarl to a grinding halt. Dad didn't help our progress, having to stop the ute for refreshment at the Carrick, Hagley and Elizabeth Town pubs, where he appeased us with raspberry lemonade. All the way, my brother and I raved about the likely contenders for the Latrobe wheelrace which, at the time, was the most important event in our lives. Once inside the gate, we would buy a program and fill in the coupon to pick who we thought would be the placegetters in the Latrobe wheel. The prize for the competition was a ladies wristlet watch, donated by the local jeweller. My brother and I picked the winner four times, only to lose each year in a 'draw from the hat' against others who had chosen the winner. Mum never did get that wristlet watch.
Nor did my brother Graham fulfill his dream to win the time-honoured Latrobe Wheel, even though he came within a whisker. Latrobe's big two-miler was the race every cyclist wanted to win - it had an ability to change lives.
Sheffield's Frank Atkins was just 16 when he hit the lead on the final bend of the 1963 wheelrace. The roar of the thousands in the crowd was incredible, but another youngster, Graeme Gilmore, came from the clouds to pip him on the post. Gilmore would become a champion, the best track rider in Europe. Lion-hearted Frankie finished second at Latrobe on three occasions, the third in 1973 behind a man of freakish talent, Danny Clark.
By that stage I was 17 and had graduated from the back of dad's ute to a place in the press box, reporting for The Examiner on the Coastal carnivals. How bloody lucky was I, getting paid to do what I would have given anything to do.
I've been privileged to report on 10 Olympic Games and more than 20 Melbourne Cups and the AFL grand finals, but the most thrilling sporting event I've witnessed was Clark's 1977 Burnie wheelrace. I often google that classic just to hear 'Tiger' Dowling's breathless commentary.
Burnie's day-night carnival had a unique atmosphere, but the Latrobe wheel had a folklore akin to the Melbourne Cup. Latrobe's history dates back to the days when men rode their bikes a hundred miles on dirt roads just to take part, and first prize money was equal to a year's wages. Legends were forged at Latrobe - local heroes like V.L. 'Baggy' Redpath and D.A. 'Gus' Clarke, Tasmanian icons such as Mac Sloane, Graeme Gilmore and father-and-son Ron and Michael Grenda. And there were international drawcards, Oscar Plattner, Urs Freuler and the globe-trotting 'Oppy' raced here in the 1930s. The greatest showman was Sid Patterson - he was to cycling what Phar Lap was to the Melbourne Cup.
'Patto' was involved in Latrobe's most sensational crash. He and fellow scratchman Graeme Gilmore were rounding the field with three quarters of a lap to go in a Latrobe wheel final when a frontmarker clipped a wheel, bringing down all but four riders. The larger-than-life 'Patto' flew through the air and landed in the arms of a lady who was sitting in the row of seats where my mother had sat back in 1930. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries to riders or spectators. Indeed, 'Patto' and Gilmore finished second and third in the five-mile scratch race two hours later.
Looking at the layout of the Latrobe track, it's understandable that an interstate official conducting an assessment would argue that cyclists and spectators should have better protection. If the majority of cyclists want a perimeter fence, then it should be built. If they want field sizes to be restricted, that should happen. But I'd ask the question whether to erect a temporary fence on the grass bank might create a greater risk. However, if the riders want a perimeter fence, then surely the cost is not prohibitive.
There is a balance between safety and practicality that sportspeople navigate every day. Footballers run with the flight of ball backwards into packs, jockeys balance precariously aboard a tonne of fractious thoroughbred, and surfers go into the water unconcerned by what predators may await. AusCycling's board members would be well aware that the nation's only cycling gold medal at last month's Olympic Games came in an event where a 27-year-old man did crazy tricks mid-air on a BMX bicycle. Logan Martin and his team-mates have taken more risks and endured more serious injuries in the past couple of years than Latrobe has had in 125 years of carnivals. The issue should be canvassed with the riders and a solution found quickly, before AusCycling's assessment effectively ends an event that is integral to Tasmania's sporting culture.
Since the halcyon days of the 1960s, the carnivals on the Coast have lost some of their lustre and crowds have declined, but the series is still important, something the state should be proud of. Track cycling, foot running and woodchopping have endured through changing times, and Latrobe should not be allowed to fold. Sport is Tasmania's beating heart, as evidenced by the passionate campaign for the state to have its rightful place in Australian football. People of the North-West Coast value their sporting heritage, as evidenced by the statue of the peerless Darrel Baldock at Latrobe.
Just as the powerbrokers of Australian football owe Tasmania a team, the board of AusCycling should commit to working with the Latrobe club and the cyclists to find the right solution. The issue of a fence and the size of fields should not be allowed to wipe out a wonderful tradition that has entertained and inspired for more than a century.