Lake Perkolilli on the Goldfields of Western Australia was once the most remote motor racing circuit in the world. Motoring enthusiasts recently brought it roaring back to life.
Story + Photos Des Lewis
For a moment you can hear the rustle of the gentle breeze through the mulga scrub. But you’re not absorbed by the calm of the bush on a hot day; you’re waiting in the shade with anticipation. A red haze surrounds you and the fine dust covers everything, so you wipe your glasses to get a better view.
You see a long, dark cloud on the far side, spiralling behind the low saltbush. It gradually draws closer and you can see the car, small in the distance, and hear the distinctive growl of an old V8 propelling the machine towards you. Within moments the car comes into full view. The driver’s face is caked in red dirt as he wrestles the old warhorse around the bend, tail drifting on the smooth clay.
The car regains its composure as it straightens and hurtles past. And the vortex of dust again envelops you. The hairs on the nape of your neck tingle as you realise you have stepped way back in time.
This is just as it was almost a century ago. It is the Red Dust Revival, held on the dry claypan of Lake Perkolilli, which lays claim to having been the most remote race circuit in the world and one of Australia’s oldest. Held in September 2019, the Revival paid homage to our early motor racing pioneers and their feats at this remote place in the eastern Goldfields of Western Australia.
Ninety-one-year-old Bill Watson, who lived in Kalgoorlie until his twenties, is camped alongside the track with his wife Mary. No expensive Winnebago for them. Just a mattress in their van, a Primus and couple of camp chairs; similar to the early days at Perkolilli.
“I first came to this place in the late ’30s,” Bill says. “I was just a kid, but I remember how it was. There were lots of firsts at Perkolilli and it was pretty famous. At that time, Ossie Cranston was the one to beat in his flathead Ford V8, which was fairly new and breaking records. Then you had the motorcycles, which were always fast and exciting. And planes would fly in and land in the centre of the circuit.
“I can remember a motorcycle racer came off and badly hurt himself. Harry ‘Cannonball’ Baker, a legend himself on the track, had flown a biplane in and flew the injured rider off to hospital. And yeah, it was all pretty exciting.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #129
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2020