Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me…
I’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.
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 Collection