Wednesday, May 21, 2014


A contribution by Cycling Victoria's History & Heritage Committee Member, Ray Bowles.

FINNIGAN’S 1898 AUSTRAL WIN
.… and The Birth of Malvern Star  


Heats for the highly prized two mile handicap at the MCG began with some controversy.   Both the backmarkers and the press were expressing great concern about the quality of the frontmarkers out on such big starts. The press commented ; 
“It was remarkable to see how some of the men who have almost qualified themselves to ride alongside a hearse, suddenly brightened up and did wonders.”   
Only heat winners and some fastest seconds qualified for the final and in slightly unusual form, many frontmarkers had agreed to work together to ensure the elimination of the better opponents behind them.


Tom Finnigan, born in Gisborne, only in his third season of racing at 26 years of age, was one such marked as generously handicapped on 220 yards.   He won the fifth of the eleven heats easily, by a margin of five lengths, although he only had one double win at Sale previously to his credit.
Betting on the event, legal, but beyond the control of the League of Victorian Wheelmen, had an unpredictable influence on the conduct of the heats evidenced by the sea of torn and discarded tickets littering the betting enclosure.
There were 30,000 spectators at the final including His Excellency the Governor and Lady Brassey who were great cycling fans.   The Argus newspaper was very enthusiastic about the day with comments made ; “The meeting was one of the most pleasant that had yet been held by the Melbourne Bicycle Club”  and …  “the best day ever known … fast and brilliant."





In the final, the backmarker was W.C Jackson on 40 yards and out front was A.W. Bennett on the arguably excessive 300 yards.   The frontmarkers worked fairly cooperatively again but bunches variously formed and disintegrated during the eight laps on the grass track.   There also appeared to be a little bit of outside assistance happening as whistle signals were being blown from the spectator area, apparently telling certain riders to go faster or wait.
Finnigan was said to be one of the recipients of those signals but he did much of the front running over the last few laps and led from the bell for his narrow win by half a length.   His winning time was 4 min. 30.8 secs.   Second was W. Middleton 190 yards and third G.C. Macgibbon 230 yards.


The win was worth a huge 240 Gold Sovereigns and with that, Finnigan set up his own bike shop in Malvern and in 1903 began building and selling his own brand bikes which he named Malvern Star.   That successful business and name was sold to Bruce Small in 1920 who greatly expanded it including the racing aspect, notably supporting Hubert Opperman and Sid Patterson.   The Australian foursome who won the Olympic Teams Pursuit gold in Los Angeles in 1984, rode on Malvern Stars and the iconic name remains evident in racing today.
The descendent Finnigan family still conduct a bicycle shop today in suburban High Street Northcote.


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