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Invergargill & The Munro Legacy

My name is Bill Axten and I live now in Fremantle Western Australia but come originally from South London. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Mike and Sybil De Bidaph during the short time that they too lived in W.A. This was a long time ago but, I’m happy to say, we have kept in touch and I have lodged with them several times over the years. I will not confuse matters, but there have been some almost weird coincidences that have cemented our ties – nothing untoward you must understand, but if you wrote them into a fictional plot people would think that you were overdoing it! They are my good friends.
Because of Mike, although not a rider myself, (an unfortunate incident whilst serving in BAOR with a REME workshop when I thought I’d take a “DonR’ course put me off), I have developed an interest in the Indian story and have a small collection of books and model bikes.
My offer to put together some words  about a recent holiday that my wife and I had in New Zealand and our encounter with the famous record breaking Indian machine having been taken up……please read on :
Hiring a Toyota Carolla at the old railway station in Greymouth in New Zealand’s South Island we drove off down the west coast and, days later, after some excitement negotiating icy mountain passes and hairpin bends, we arrived at Invercargill right down the bottom of the South Island.
On the way we experienced the magic of both Doubtful sound and the more famous Milford Sound which were reached after creeping around snowy alpine passes and driving through long tunnels that had been laboriously dug through the mountain rock with the primitive technology of years ago - and one of these tunnels is kilometres long! We were there at the end of the season and were told that at its height the number of tour coaches can make things quite awkward.
Hired mobile homes are to be seen everywhere in NZ, and in the sort of weather we encountered these tall vehicles can be blown over: this happened at one of the passes ahead of us and caused a long delay whilst vehicles and several trees were removed and the roads cleared. The winds can be very fierce!
Eventually we got to Invercargill and booked into an attractive caravan park on the outskirts that also offered comfortable chalet accommodation – these places are plentiful in NZ and, again stressing the end-of-season time that we were there, usually there are vacancies. Different story in summer.
Invercargill ( once delightfully termed “the arse end of the world” by one of the touring “Rolling Stones”) is in fact a most pleasant town , with a huge centrally located park the lushness of which compares favourably with any in Europe , and I’ve seen a few. Near the southern entrance to this park is found an impressive bronze statue of Burt Monro aboard his  torpedo- shaped machine.

Burt Munro


We discovered the large store that is home to the actual Monro Indian quite by accident as we were out walking about the town. A poster on a corner of large single-story building stated that the “World’s Fastest Indian” was on display therein. I thought of Mike immediately: I just had to go in and my wife Susan was almost as keen as I was. It being first and foremost a store, entrance was free.
The “E.Hayes Collection” is quite something! Motorbikes. vans, cars, and transport of all description and vintages are on show dispersed amongst the merchandise, and some of the exhibits are, frankly, quite eccentric! I recommend a look at the very good website that they have put together -–along with those of the several other comprehensive transport collections to be found in the town, mostly in Tay Street. Indians, I am pleased to relate, abound.
Whilst almost all of the exhibits in the collection stand in the open and are touchable, the WFI is unfortunately, but understandably, encased behind glass along with another favourite Monro machine, a Velocette. We stood there looking in awe at the stripped down bike , thinking of the film made to honour both it and Burt Monro who, we were informed , sold the machine and various other bits and pieces associated with the successful record attempt to the father of the present shop owner. Burt was determined that his Indian would remain in Invercargill.
We collected a few store brochures, bought a couple of WFI fridge magnets, some presents for our grandchildren, and took plenty of photos of the impressive collection. If you care to treat yourselves to a holiday in far off NZ and take in the E.Hayes collection in Invercargill as a part of it…go for it, but not in the height of the season! NZ treats its visitors very well and the general standards and charges hold up well too. I must stress however that the later part of the season is the time to go: you get some rain, snow if you tackle the passes and glaciers BUT, you’ll miss the crowded roads and should have no problems getting accommodation. The huge lakes and alpine scenery of NZ are sights to behold and the folks are friendly.
Greetings to all you club members……safe biking 

Bill Axten




Indian Motocycles - you can't wear them out                                  Indian Motocycles - built to last  
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