Port Kembla billy carts reborn


Laurie Byrne won’t be behind the wheel when more than 100 billy carts race down Port Kembla this Saturday, but he aims to be front and centre cheering on his son and grandson.

The 86-year-old from Fairy Meadow drove his billy cart, the Webb Special, to victory down Wentworth Street in the first Port Kembla billy cart race in 1941 but his plans to roll again in the reincarnated version have been dashed by illness.

Instead, son Tony Byrne and grandson, talented surfer Parrish Byrne, will  fly the flag for  the Byrne family, racing in a new laminated ply and fibreglass billy cart, the Raven, in the open senior and industrial divisions. The Raven is inspired by the Latin motto – we came, we saw, we conquered. 

The bird is also linked to the name Byrne.

‘‘I’d like to see my car in action and God willing, I think I will ... I think we’ve got a pretty fast car,’’ Laurie said.

Unlike the 2012 Port Kembla Billy Cart Derby which goes on times, the first Port Kembla event was all about who got over the line first.

Laurie proudly recalls winning the Church Street, Wollongong, derby in 1940 and  a win at  the first Port Kembla event in 1941.

‘‘You can’t believe – when you’re on the ramp and you look down and see all the faces. Then bang, the race is on. It’s a wonderful feeling,’’ he said.

‘‘Parrish said to me, ‘Grandad I’m a bit scared’ – he’s ridden 12-metre high waves in Hawaii.’’

Laurie said he was 13 when he and brother Jim decided to enter the Wollongong race. 

Materials in the war years were hard to come by: ‘‘We had an old pram in the backyard and we cut that up and we cut the shape of the car out of an old door and we nailed sheet iron round and round.’’

 The Cyclop pneumatic wheels were donated by Keith Webb’s cycle store.

The 2012 derby has attracted 115 entries in six divisions. Junior races start at 8am and there will be amusement rides for children. Train services to Port Kembla will link with bus services.

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