Chris Fraser boasts a fascinating resume, stretching from the owner of an iconic pub to owner of an outlawed motorcycle.
If there’s a checklist of all the archetypal things that define Broken Hill, Chris Fraser has ticked off every item – mines, pubs, cars, and bikes. While he sees it all as fairly typical, there are probably very few people out there who’ve spent 30 years building a replica of an outlawed motorcycle.
Chris Fraser started professional speedway racing in 1976, and gained considerable acclaim as a ‘sidecar star’, winning three Australian Championships and seven state titles before retiring in 1996. Not long after that he had the opportunity to manage the iconic Silverton Hotel with his partner Joanne, although he wasn’t initially convinced it was such a good idea.
“I said: ‘No way, I don’t want to manage a pub. I like drinking beer and that’s going to bugger up a good pastime for me,’” Chris says. In retrospect, though, he’s glad his arm was twisted; he reckons his time there was the best 10 years of his life.
The Silverton Hotel is the only pub in a town of 37 people, 25km beyond Broken Hill. Even if you’ve never been there, you would recognise it almost instantly. This classic outback pub has featured in many well-loved Australian films, including Mad Max 2, Razorback, A Town Like Alice and Dirty Deeds, as well as countless television commercials – there were “two or three a week” during the hotel’s heyday, according to Chris, with “everything from German chewing gum to Polish beer”.
After his run at Silverton, Chris joined with a group of friends to take over the Tydvil Hotel – one of Broken Hill’s popular watering holes. That group includes legendary Australian cricketer, and now national coach, Darren ‘Boof’ Lehmann.
But as a former national champion, it’s not surprising that Chris still remains fiercely dedicated to the world of speedway and motorcycle racing, so much so that he’s recently completed an epic project over 30 years in the making.
The Yamaha TZ750 flat-tracker is the bike on which American motorcycle legend Kenny Roberts won the 1975 Indianapolis Mile dirt track race, and it’s literally one of a kind. Built by Roberts’ boss, Australian Kel Carruthers, it houses a Yamaha TZ750 two-stroke road-racing engine inside the frame of a dirt bike. For those in the know, this is quite simply a beast – 140 horsepower in a bike half the weight of a Harley Davidson.
However, it was made infamous by Roberts himself, who insisted that the bike be banned from the sport after racing it only once. “He took it to the Supreme Court to change the rule book to outlaw the bike,” Chris says.
Compelled by the story, Chris spent the past three decades tracking down the parts to build a replica. It took him 10 years to find an engine, and a further 20 to locate the components and build the bike to the exact specifications. “The challenge is in assembling something of great beauty, over such a long time – something that is faithful to the original, but is not really designed to be raced.”
Completed earlier this year, the bike made its debut in a demonstration at Gillman Speedway in March, with Australia dirt track champion Nic Waters on the back.
Of course, after spending so much of his life deep in the restoration, it was only right that Chris gave the bike a real Broken Hill test run. “I went down the lane, slowly at first, and then I turned around to my son and said: ‘Let’s give it a whirl.’” And just like Kenny Roberts some 30 years earlier, Chris then retired the bike. “I turned around, came back in, parked it and said: ‘That’s it, I’ve had my ride. I’m not riding it anymore.’”