UNLOCKING THE PAST: Looking back at the time Australian Tour de France rider Hubert Opperman visited Cessnock

BRAND AMBASSADOR: After winning a Malvern Star bike as a 17-year-old, Hubert Opperman had a decades-long with the company.

BRAND AMBASSADOR: After winning a Malvern Star bike as a 17-year-old, Hubert Opperman had a decades-long with the company.

With the Tour de France having just been run for another year, it's fascinating to know that there is a long Australian connection with the race.

Hubert Ferdinand Opperman, known to his fans as 'Oppy', was a much-loved Australian cyclist of the 1920s and 1930s, whose amazing achievements on two wheels gave him star status amongst his legions of fans. He first competed in the Tour de France in 1928, being one of only 39 riders to finish the demanding event out of the 169 who set off from the starting line.

Oppy's first taste of cycling success was in 1921 when as a 17-year-old he placed third in a gruelling 160-kilometre race. His prize was a new Malvern Star bike worth a princely £10, significant because it began an association with that company which would last for decades.

Oppy went on to win hundreds of races in Australia, the UK and Europe, breaking world records over and over again. In 1932 he cycled 1000 kms in 24 hours at the Melbourne Motordrome, broke five British cycling records in 1934 and two years later cycled 651 miles from Brisbane to Sydney in 47 hours 10 minutes.

Hubert Opperman

Hubert Opperman

In 1936 Hubert Opperman undertook a tour along the east coast to meet his legions of fans and deliver lectures about cycling and luckily for us he took a detour through the Hunter Valley. Local cycle shop and Malvern Star distributor, CCC Motor Works, took full advantage of his much-anticipated visit. Pictures of Opperman adorned their store and they made a tantalising promise - if locals dropped off their autograph books they would guarantee that Oppy would sign them.

On June 18, 1936 Opperman and his wife Mavys drove from Maitland to the top of Neath Hill. Here he left his car, got on his bike and accompanied by over 100 local cyclists rode into Cessnock. Upon arrival he was given a civic reception by the Mayor, Alderman George Lowe.

During the day he spoke to hundreds of students from local schools on the health benefits of cycling and later appeared at the Empire Theatre thrilling the audience with stories of his world famous rides. In the evening he was the guest of honour at a Cessnock Business Mens' Club dinner at the Northumberland Hotel.

Oppy made time to get across to Kurri Kurri where he addressed a large group in the Royal Theatre, urging the children present to lead good, moral and sober lives as they needed to not just be good athletes, but good citizens. Oppy particularly focused on the boys, telling them to "go in for clean sport" - presumably cycling!

Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library. Contact her on kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au

Hubert Opperman and a woman on a tandem bike. Picture: Sam Hood, State Library of NSW

Hubert Opperman and a woman on a tandem bike. Picture: Sam Hood, State Library of NSW

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