With thousands of motorcycling enthusiasts from around Australia converging on Strathalbyn on October 27 to celebrate Kenny Blake’s 73rd birthday – 37 years after being killed racing his 500cc motorbike – it is obvious he was special.
Indeed, he was, an 11-time Australian champion, a record breaker, and they say an all-round great bloke brought up in Strathalbyn. So good that for 37 years motorcycling devotees have met for lunch at the New Boundary Hotel in Hoddle St, East Melbourne to celebrate his life on the day he died, June 9, 1981.
The festival in his honour from October 26-28, starti9ng with a must-attend $75 per-head dinner, tells us a lot of people ‘loved him to bits’ as the saying goes, and that is exactly what a memorial in his honour is being made from, thousands of bits of metal intricately placed together by renowned Goolwa artist James Stewart.
There are bits of chain, spanners, cogs, nuts ‘n bolts, and nails – even an aircraft engine part – among the scraps James used to recreate Blake’s Suzuki RG 500 two-stroke motorbike, and when completed there will be a sculpture of Blake on it – helmet included – all tilted to capture a classic racing pose.
Stewart began the project in July, and his typical attention to detail to capture the finer details, especially then bike, are obvious. Remarkably, he has so far achieved this excellence without full use of his left arm because of an injury.
The bi-annual festival and memorial is about ‘bringing Kenny home’, the marvellous ambition of Marylou Nees, who since first planning this event was forced to close her classic motorcycling shop in an old garage at Strathalbyn due to family reasons.
Fulfilling this dream has taken an incredible amount of work and support of many including Alexandrina Council and generous sponsors led by Strathalbyn’s SA Plasterboard, plus Phoenix Motorcycle Club, Kenny Blake Foundation, Garage Motorcycles, Shannons Insurance, Littlehampton Bricks and the Strathalbyn & Lakes Tourist Association.
Celebratory occasions like these also present the emotion surrounding the sadness and perhaps anger from the accident. Kenny was killed during the 500cc TT, regarded by many as the world’s most famous motorcycling race. Some say it’s for ‘mad men’ as they tear through normal country roads of the Isle of Man up to a record lap speed of 217.989 km/h. Incredibly, 258 riders have been killed here since 1911 including another five Australians.
Kenny was delayed on the start line with a fuelling problem that had forced him into last position on the grid. In the fifth lap of a six lap race, he was holding in eighth position after passing 103 riders, and when his bike aquaplaned he slid, hitting a concrete post killing him instantly.
The festival, put together by amazing volunteers, is a celebration of his life and is long overdue.
It will feature custom motorcycles and selected new bikes from retailers and exhibitors. Every element of this unique event has been hand-picked by the organisers with the exhibited bikes ‘invitational’ and selected from the era that Kenny Blake raced.
On the Saturday from 10.30am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm there will be special rides with only 40 riders a time ($20 per bike) following the roads where Kenny honed his skills, from Strathalbyn to Paris Creek, then Meadows onto Macclesfield and back to Strathalbyn.
Classic memorabilia from Kenny’s era will be on display at the Strathalbyn Showgrounds Hall both days from 10am-4pm.
Come the Sunday, there will be a special breakfast around 10.30am put on by the Robin Hood Hotel in front of the historic Strathfield Motors in High Street. It will be followed by the unveiling of James’ sculpture by a great South Australian, Governor Hieu Van Le, who may give the ‘starting orders’ at 11am for another special ride open to the public.
As per normal, the Strathalbyn community and local businesses have embraced this festival. Most probably did not have the chance to meet Kenny, but his legend lives on. In more ways than one, that’s the ‘nuts ‘n bolts’ of a wonderful occasion and James Stewart’s amazing work.
For more information on the festival, including details on the special rides and memorabilia, visit the festival site: