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GEORGE MORRISON - The Mate From Ballarat
31/08/1912 – 10/11/2002
George Morrison had a lot in common with Harry Hinton - the same trade, similar business interests, the same entree into motorcycle sport and, because they were born in 1911-1912, the same interruption in the prime of their racing careers - World War II.
Morrison and Hinton were fine riders and memorable characters. During 1949 they travelled together in Europe, and generally amazed people on the Isle of Man and across Europe.
Morrison and Hinton staged a dead-heat in a race at Gedinne in Belgium. It was George''''s idea. He told Harry that if they played smart, they could both collect first prize money. "We still had a lot of fun, and the result gave us good drawing power” George said.
George Morrison was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1912 and completed an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic with the Vacuum (Mobil) Oil Company. He caught the racing bug in 1932-1933, while on assignment for Vacuum in Adelaide, South Australia. George helped a local motorcycle dealer prepare test machines for beach racing. He couldn''''t afford to road-race, because a gallon of methanol racing fuel cost the equivalent of a week’s pay, so he bought a Douglas motorcycle in 1934 and, went grass-track racing. After winning a few races, George bought a Velocette 250 and switched to scrambles racing, winning 46 events.
Morrison moved to Ballarat, Victoria, in 1936 and opened a motorcycle dealership. The first road races held in Victoria after the war were at Victoria Park, Ballarat. Here Morrison became friends with visiting Sydney rider Harry Hinton. George was not ed for the 1949 Australian Isle of Man team, but his international performances that summer soon made a mockery of that non-ion. In 1949 George travelled as a private entrant.
Morrison and Hinton created an immediate impression on the Isle of Man. Other riders pussyfooted over the first-gear jump at Ballaugh Bridge and through the right-hand corner that follows. Harry and George took the jump with a rush, sending both wheels well off the ground, and almost brushed the wall with their handlebars as they took the right-hander. "They all thought I was mad” George said. He finished 27th in the 350 TT. In the 500 TT he won plaudits for his riding and his tenacity. "Halfway around the Isle of Man course there''''s a village called Kirk Michael. The corner coming into the town is a long, sweeping bend, which we could take at about 90 mph. On the outside of the corner, was a footpath, about three feet wide, then a low stonewall. During the races people would sit along the wall.
"British roads have low-melting point tar, so it won''''t crack during the winter. The temperature that day was up around 90 on the old scale, and so, unknown to me, the tar started to melt.
"The first time through Kirk Michael, my bike started to creep across the road. I couldn’t work out why. The next thing the bike hit the gutter on the outside of the corner and bounced up onto the footpath. Fortunately, the footpath was concrete, so I had some grip. I didn’t back off! There were about 40 spectators sitting along the top of the wall, with their legs dangling in front.
"When I took off down the footpath, the blokes and ladies just flopped backwards over the wall to miss my handlebars. There were legs and bloomers everywhere. I rode the footpath until I was lined up for the next corner, then aimed back into the middle of the road and waved back to say thanks for getting their legs out of the way. The Poms thought I was Superman to do that and not back off!”
Morrison moved into top-six contention in the next six laps. He was duelling with New Zealander Sid Jensen (Triumph). But George’s Norton was literally falling apart underneath him, the frame broken in five places. Eight kilometres from the finish, the float bowl of his carburettor vibrated off the bike. He pushed and coasted the last 8 km and still finished 31st.
Morrison returned to the Isle of Man in 1950 as a ed Australian team member. Norton hired Morrison and Hinton for the TT, as members of the "B-team", with Londoner Harold Daniell. Morrison pushed home 64th in the 350 TT, after his drive chain broke, and finished 11th, one place behind Hinton, in the 500 TT.
Morrison opened his 1950 European season by winning a 500 international race at Zaandvoort. He followed that up with 14th place in the Belgian 350 GP. McPherson was eighth and Hinton 11th. Morrison made an indifferent start in the Dutch 350 TT. He was running about 20th and trying to improve his position when he crashed. The injuries sustained finished his season prematurely.
Morrison then headed home to Australia, via America. "While I was in San Francisco, I met a bloke who’d read about my exploits in Europe and wanted to sponsor me. In 1952 this bloke paid my expenses to go back to America and ride his Manx Norton at Daytona, where the track was half beach and half road.
"But the Yanks were cunning. The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) wanted an American to win Daytona on a Harley-Davidson or an Indian. They said I would have to do a Novice race and a Junior race before I could have an Expert licence and ride at Daytona. I won a Novice race at Stockton, California and a Junior race at Dodge City, Kansas. But my three-month entry visa ran out before the Daytona race:” he lamented.
Compared with many later Australian travellers they were almost gentlemen racers. They lived in hotels. If Harry or George had a breakdown during practice, the other would lend him his machine to ensure he qualified. You have to be good mates to lend someone your bike at the expense of your own practice time on a new circuit.
Both Harry and George were in their late thirties and both mechanically gifted, They needed to be, because the Manx Norton “Garden Gate” frames broke as fast as Hinton, Morrison and the staff back in Bracebridge Street could repair them. The rule of thumb was that if the machine stopped vibrating, then the frame had broken.
Norton was so impressed with the pair’s efforts it offered them works machines (a 350 for Hinton and a 500 for Morrison) for the second-biggest motorcycle race in the British Isles, the Ulster Grand Prix.
Australian Motorcycle Heroes 1949 – 1989
Don Wilcox & Wil Hagon
Angus & Robertson
ISBN 0 207 16207 7
Information sent by Tony Morrison – 2004
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