| A Brief History |
Tom O’Connor was born on the 3rd April 1899 at Calabash Creek, Murringo (Marengo) NSW. The eldest of 7 children of Thomas and Winifred O’Connor. His siblings were James, Edward, Catherine, Honoria, Leo and Elizabeth.
Tom left school aged 11 after an altercation with the Murringo Central school teacher, Mr O’Reilly, ( the father of test cricketer Bill O’Reilly). He never returned to school and worked as a labourer on the Main Roads, a boot maker . butcher, Cycle shop proprietor and finally as a ganger on Wollongong City Council. He retired from that organisation in 1965 and continued as a bike repairer for Bray’s Auto Spares in Central Road Unanderra until 1971.
Family history tells us that Tom was in business with his brother James in Binalong in boot making and later as butchers until 1921 or 1922. Tom kept a journal from the age of 11 listing all his cycling race results from 1911-1918 and Jim O’Connor has the original ledger (see insert below). Tom also was well-known as a rugby league player , playing for Marengo, Young, Griffith, Western Suburbs (Sydney) and Harden-Murrumburrah.
Tom married Lucy Remington at Young in 1920 and they had 4 children by the end of 1926. These children were Elsie, John, Douglas and Jean. Tom & his family left the Young district in 1925 and he played football for Western Suburbs whilst working as a butcher in Campbelltown in 1926. Tom then left Campbelltown and his family and played football for the Griffith Black & Whites and was also employed as a butcher. There he met Alice Muriel Harris in late 1927 and left his wife Lucy and 4 children. This was a most distressing period for everyone involved in this story and ultimately Lucy was granted a divorce in 1934 (correspondence between Lucy and Tom show a heart-breaking and devastating period for so many people).
Tom and Alice had 10 children with their first born, Thomas, born in 1928 and the last , Dan, born in April 1950. The children in order of appearance are:
Thomas, Patricia, Jean, James, Lesley, Kenneth, Helen, Lesley, Janice, Carole & Daniel.
Tom’s love affair with cycling had never abated in all those years. He is reputed to have won over 700 races and he last raced in Wollongong in 1961 with the Western Suburbs Cycle Club. A number of Tom’s trophies survive from those times including the Cowra Wheel race in January 1918, the Weethalee Wheel race in 1936 and third place in the Goulburn to Sydney in 1938. He was the Secretary of the Griffith Cycle Club form 1935 until 1939 and had several meeting with Sir Hubert Opperman in that period as part of coaching clinics held in the country regions. He coached a number of very good cyclists in Griffith from 1932-1939.
Tom met Sir Hubert Opperman on a number of occasions and the letter below attests to the love and passion for cycling that Tom generated. Tom last met Sir Hubert at Alf Overton’s testimonial, held at Western Suburbs Leagues Club in 1978 and they renewed the friendship over a meal and a beer.
The O’Connors left Griffith in early 1940 after the tragic drowning death of the infant son Lesley (“Ken”) and they moved to Paddington, Sydney where Tom and the children continued their involvement in cycling and joined the Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club and were members there until 1949. A story appeared in the SMH (1946) about Tom and his children and highlights the depth of cycling that Tom had experienced.
Both Tom(jnr) and Jim were NSW representatives as schoolboys and juniors. Tom did not race after he finished his butchers apprenticeship and I often wonder how good he could have been. Jim also retired from cycling at the age of 22 and had so much potential that would never be realised. Both boys however had very successful lives outside the sport.
Tom (snr), Tom (jnr), Pat, Jean and Jim at Randwick-Botany 1946
In 1949 Tom took his son Jim and Alf Overton to Wollongong to start up a bike shop before bringing the rest of the family down in 1952. Tom rented a premises and set up a bike shop on the corner of Victoria and Keira St staying a year before moving to a brick building on the Princes Highway Figtree (on the bend just 50 metres from the current Figtree Hotel).
The business venture was not a success and Tom, Jim and Alf then sought work in other fields ( Wollongong Council, Australian Fertilisers, Kemira Colliery to name a few).
All 3 joined the South Coast Cycling Club circa 1950 and were members until 1962 when Tom was the catalyst for the formation of the Western Suburbs Cycling Club. WSCC has had a number of rebirths since 1962 including Berkeley Cycling Club and Illawarra Cycle Club.
McCabe Park was the only track /velodrome on the South Coast prior to it being shut down circa 1963?? Tom and a dedicated committee of the newly formed WSCC organised track racing at a number of venues including McMahon’s trotting track (500 metres from the current Unanderra velodrome), Albion Park Showground, Dapto and Bulli Showgrounds and a number of meetings at Nowra Showground.
McMahon’s trotting track (aerial views) in 1961 and the site in 2014 at Unanderra
Around 1964 Tom and the WSCC track committee and volunteers with the aid of Australian Iron & Steel, Wollongong City Council , State & Federal politicians and Western Suburbs Leagues Club finally won approval for the construction of the Unanderra velodrome. It is still used for club and interclub competitions and has undergone a number of upgrades over that period of time. The construction was completed with significant input in terms of a band of dedicated volunteers , fund raising and community support.
Tom retired from competitive cycling aged 65 but continued in various capacities as secretary, president and committee member for a number of years. He was made a Life member of the League of NSW Wheelmen in 1977.
It is a wonderful achievement that through Tom’s drive and passion for cycling that this velodrome has seen World & Olympic Champions, District, State & National Champions compete on a regular basis. Indeed Tom’s sons (Jim & Danny) and one daughter (Lesley), grandson (Luke), great grand- son (Josh Wall the Australian Junior Pursuit Champion) and great grand – daughters (Isobel & Eliza) have competed and won races on this track. How many families could boast of such a feat!
Tom and Alice had another 2 lady cyclists, Pat (Massina) and Jean (Watton). Pat was the NSW ladies track champion in 1948 and represented NSW at the Australian Championships in Victoria. Jean won a number of ladies open races including the Speedwell Cup in 1947.
Pat’s husband, Ray Massina, was also an accomplished cyclist and finished 3rd in A-grade in the Melbourne to Albury Classic in the early 1950.
Terry Wall wrote an excellent story on Alf Overton for the Illawarra Cycle Club in 2018 (see link at the end of the article).
As noted below. Alf tells of the influence that Tom had on his cycling career and life in general and I have attached the following quote from Terry’s article that rings true to me.
“What about the Unanderra velodrome, do you know how that all started?
You would have to ask Jimmy O’Connor about that. It was his father Tom who started the velodrome. You know if it wasn’t for Tom, the velodrome would never have happened. They should call it the ‘Tom O’Connor velodrome’”.
The first race meeting at Unanderra velodrome featured a hot rod as the motor paced vehicle. Imagine that today!
Tom O’Connor Griffith Cycling Club Champion 1936.
Tom O’Connor in a match race against his son-in-law Ray Massina at Darlington Point 1938
Terry Wall’s Story about Alf Overton:
By Dan O’Connor