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Sir Hubert Opperman (Oppy)

 

As we prepare to enter the 21st century it is appropriate that cyclists of all variety pause and reflect on the achievements of the people who by dedication and perseverance, took up the cause of the wheel and turned a pleasant pastime into a great World and Olympic sport.

 

From its beginning in the latter part of the 19th century as a means of transportation, the bicycle spawned a sport that has now spread its tentacles throughout the World. This sport expressing itself in the most grueling of contests has blazoned the name of Australia across the pages of the World's sporting press for almost a century.

 

No one has promoted Australian Cycling more than its Doyen, the Great Australian, Sir Hubert Opperman, M.B.E., O.B.E., K.C.S.j., Champion racing cyclist, R.A.A.F. Officer, successful Politician and Diplomat.

 

Like most eminent and contemporary Australians, Hubert Opperman is essentially a man of the people who commenced his distinguished career as a newspaper copy boy with a burning desire to become a Champion of the wheel.

 

In an incredible 21-year-old career as a professional racing cyclist, Oppy, as he was colloquially known, won all manner of competitive cycling events including the Blue Riband for fastest time three times in the famous Warrnambool to Melbourne Classic, and, twice winning from scratch, and three times being the fastest rider in the prestigious Goulburn to Sydney Classic.

 

Oppy receiving trophy.GIF (87877 bytes)He won the Australian Road Championship in 1924, 1926, 1927 and 1929.

 

Hubert Opperman, became the World's greatest endurance cyclist when he defeated the cream of European endurance riders in the 1931 Non Stop Paris-Brest-Paris ( 726 miles, 1166 kilometres ) breaking all previous records over the distance.

 

After that great victory the French idolised him. The 'Petit Parisian' said after the event, 'Opperman's endurance, which is inversely proportional to his size and stature, brought him victory', while 'Le journal' referred to him as 'a marvelous dynamo of human energy'. Most of the French journals came very near to outright adulation.

 

oppy standing photo.GIF (544529 bytes)Back in 1930, at the Melbourne Motordrome, 'Oppy' rode 100 miles behind pace in 90 minutes and 38 seconds. After a career studded with success at home, and abroad, Opperman went out from his sport in a blaze of glory, when aged 36 years, he either broke, or established numerous State, National and World records in an incredible 24 hours of continuous unpaced, cycling on the old Sydney Velodrome.

 

The World was at war, and 'Oppy' joined the R.A.A.F. where he rose to commissioned rank whilst serving his country.

 

In the post-war years 'Oppy' stood for the Liberal Party in the Victorian electorate of Corio, which he won and held for 17 years under Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies. Oppy served with great distinction as Chief Government Whip and later was elected to Cabinet both as Minister for Shipping and Transport, and as Minister for Immigration. In 1967 he was appointed as Australia's first High Commissioner to Malta.

 

Opperman_Freemantle_to_Sydney.GIF (393729 bytes)As a politician 'Oppy' was just as successful as he was as a racing cyclists, as demonstrated by his rise to Ambassadorial level in Government. Sir Hubert Opperman, born  in Australia, by a union of direct German migrant stock is typical of the average Australian of his era. He retired from Public Life in 1972 and settled in his beloved Melbourne, which hosted so many of his great cycling and life feats. Under pressure from friends, both sporting and political , despite reluctance, he became his own biographer in 1973. It was published as 'Pedals, Politics and People' in 1977.

 

Opperman_on_Trainer_on_ship.GIF (137403 bytes)The action of Sir Hubert Opperman happened more than half a century ago and was headline stuff in the World's press at the time. Opperman received recognition for his achievements and his superlative record in sport and life can not be ignored.

 

It is important that present day cyclists know of the deeds of the Champions of the past, for without that knowledge inspiration is absent.

 

In this short profile I recall the deeds of a man of humble origins who made the most of the opportunities that confronted him. Through determination and dedication he built the gift of a sporting talent into something tangible enough to permit him to scale his own 'Everest' in his Native Land.

 

Opperman mixed record setting and breaking among his achievements.  Here are some of his major performances.

 

Australian Unpaced Road Records:    
1000 Miles Opperman (1938)  63 hr 37 min 30 sec.
12 Hour Opperman (1939)  264 miles.
24 Hour  Opperman (1939)  506 miles 396 yards.
Capital to Capital:    
Sydney to Melbourne  Opperman (1929) 39 hr 42 min.
Brisbane to Sydney  Opperman (1936) 47 hr 10 min.
Perth to Adelaide Opperman ( 1937 ) 09 days 06 hr 01 min.
Perth to Melbourne  Opperman ( 1937), 11 days 04 hr 05 min.
Perth to Sydney Opperman ( 1937 ) 13 days 09 hr 22 min.
Melbourne to Sydney Opperman (1938) 37 hr 06 min.
Adelaide-Melb-Sydney Opperman ( 1938) 02 days 18 hr 16 min.
Track Records:    
5 Miles ( paced ) 1926 04 min 42 s
10 Miles ( paced )  1926 09 min 32 s
100 Miles ( unpaced)  1926  04 hr 22 min 39 s
100 Miles ( paced ) 1930  01 hr 39 min 38 s
1000 Miles ( paced )  1932 28 hr 55 min
One Hour ( paced ) 1930   59 miles 629 yards
24 Hours ( paced )  1932  865 miles
24 Hours (unpaced)  1940  489 miles 596 yards
Abroad:    
Paris - Presse Road Race  1931 First place.
Paris - Brest - Paris 1931  726 miles non stop
French Bol d'Or - Tandem - Paced  1928  First place - 565 miles in 24 hours
     

 

Lands End to John O'Groats in Britain (then 889 miles).  British cycling authorities decided to recognise unpaced rides between these two points as official records in 1897. C.J. Maher, of Wellington, broke the standard 5 days 18 hours and 48 minutes. In 1908 G.A. Olley registered 3 days 5 hours and 20 minutes. In 1934 Hubert Opperman reduced the record time to 2 days 6 hours and 33 minutes