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Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me…

11-30-2013_112Australia Two 060I’ve talked quite a lot on the show, and on these pages, about the excellence that was Warwick Farm – about Jim Clark learning to fly over at Bankstown aerodrome, just up the road, and about how he and Graham Hill used to land their Cessnas on the Farm’s polo field before jumping into their Tasman Lotus.  The Farm was the epitome of those two simple words –  “motor racing”.  It was a case study in slick organization (courtesy of Geoffrey Sykes);  it was a circuit that combined fast corners with slow, rhythmic esses with a double-apexed, negative-cambered left-hander; and it was all about green grass, fluttering flags, a hot Australian sun and the smell of high-octane fuel.  Give me the Farm and you’ll give me my lifeblood.

There was another Australian circuit, though, that also stood proud.  You drove on past the Farm into the Blue Mountains to Katoomba – to a word and to a place full of folklore and mystique, not to mention gum trees, the scent of eucalyptus, a mist in the autumn mornings and a campsite that stood just the other side of the track, mere yards from crisply-revving Lotus 23Bs and Brabham Formula Juniors.  Catalina Park it was called (because a Catalina flying boat used to be moored in the lake nearby) – and it had that ring to it.  You  heard “Santa Catalina is awaiting for me..” on your transistor radio and, just like that, Catalina Park, Katoomba, achieved pre-eminent status in your perception.  There was The Farm.  There was Catalina.  And then there was the rest of the world…

It is no more.  It was no more a couple of decades ago. Why? I don’t know – any more than I know why they are knocking down the housing blocks they built near me in London as recently as 1996. Progress! Times are a’changing! Out with the old! Bigger is better! Never mind the waste!

Yeah, well, not for me, thanks very much.  I don’t care what they have in mind for Catalina Park in the future.  Nothing will be as good as what we had: drivers in light blue overalls gliding their gleaming charges.  The freshness of the mornings.  The stirring of the crowd up there in the bush as they lapped in the midday sun.

Here are a few negscans of what it was like – and some more recent photos of Catalina today.  For full effect we’d need sound and smell…and, yes, maybe that theme tune. Alas, these pics are all I have.  Together with the memories, of course.Catalina_01Australia Two 06511-30-2013_120Australia Two 064

Captions, from top: Leo Geoghegan (Ford Cortina Lotus) and Brian Foley (Morris Cooper S) out-drag one another away from the line; Ian Geoghegan’s Total Team Mustang leads the similar cars of Norm Beechey (Neptune Racing) and Bob Jane; Formula Vees pour into Craven-A corner; below: Leo Geoghegan finesses the ex-Jim Clark Lotus 39 (now fitted with Repco V8 engine) between the Catalina sleepers Images: Paul Hobson and the Peter Windsor CollectionCatalina_LeoGeog

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2 thoughts on “Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me…

  1. I took that great writer and designer, Paul Cockburn, there after a road test back when i was MOTOR editor. there is something overwhelmingly evocative about the rotting carcasses of long-dead racetracks. I made a pilgrimage of as many of the Queensland Grand Prix tracks as I could, picking up Leyburn, Lowood, Surfers Paradise, Southport and, while it was still defunct, Lakeside.
    I used to surprise people on road tests in oddball parts of the country by declaring “the Australian Grand Prix was held here in 19XX, and pointing out where the control tower stood and where the pits were. Lobethal in South Australia was a favourite, and so was legging out the original Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit (nothing at all like the swooping, scenic loveliness of today’s track. Then there are names Europeans will have never heard, like Nuriootpa and Narrogin, and others that may ring a bell, like Mount Panorama (but with a dirt surface).
    There are other oddball bits, too, that Grand Prix followers may not know, including that the 1985 GP in Adelaide might have been the first AGP in the F1 calendar, but it was actually the 50th AGP. And that Michael Schumacher shares his most AGP-wins status (four, incidentally) with the far lesser known Lex Davison.

  2. Peter Bakalor on said:

    I used to live in Richmond NSW, and used to hitch hike from there to Catalina (and Bathurst) until I persuaded my folks to buy a car “for their convenience” of course. That made getting there easier. Loved Catalina Park, and for me it will always be part of what motor racing means to me – along with the Farm and Bathurst.

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