Saturday 15 Oct 2016 marks the third anniversary of Mirboo North’s Blessing of the Bikes, an event that started quite modestly and grew beyond anyone’s expectations (most certainly the expectations of Marcel and Sabine the originators). The Blessing of the Bikes had a somewhat rocky start, with a small but vocal number in the community vehemently trying to stop it, especially the later events but, with the support of the motorcycle community (with a vow to come to town en masse regardless), these petty objectors were quickly put in their place. You could understand objections if such an event were likely to be troublesome, but the riding community is anything but a problem, any more than were thousands of heavy metal music fans in Tarwin Lower. And this year with the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) sponsoring the event, I’d say that the nail has truly been put into the coffin of those protests.
The day started quietly as it always does and we were once again blessed with good weather for the event. Inline 4 Cafe was fairly quiet at 8:00 am, except for a few early arrivals and the volunteers preparing the BBQ for the inevitable onslaught. The main street was very quiet, but it wouldn’t take long before that changed. By 9:00 am, bikes were rolling in from all directions, given that you can come into Mirboo North from ostensibly five different ways, all of which are a fantastic ride (even drive) for anyone that likes hills and curves. For some reason the main street wasn’t closed off for traffic, and I don’t know why as it’s so easy to bypass the main street if required, so as bikes rolled in, it wasn’t the easiest time for cars and trucks coming through.
Mirboo North has always been a thoroughfare and stopover for many tourists, especially the motorcycle fraternity, and this year’s Blessing of the Bikes focussed on Motorcycle Safety and Awareness, and there was a special United 4 All Ride organised by the Gippsland Motorcycle Club and Inline 4 Cafe to remember those fellow riders that have lost their lives while riding. The United 4 All Ride started at Officer and, from what I was told, was five kilometres long when it got moving. One of the things that I wanted to capture was this column of bikes coming into town and so I positioned myself at a spot that would give me a good view. But, frustratingly, when the bikes started to roll in, there seemed to be more cars on the road than bikes. All the bikes were in more or less discrete groups and there were cars in front and behind all of them, so getting a great shot was impossible.
When you note that the population of Mirboo North is around 2500 and 5000 or so motorcyclists and all the others roll into town, it really does make the place somewhat busy. The guesstimate today was that the numbers were somewhere in the order of 5000 bikes. I don’t doubt that at all, as this year the bikes had to spread out from one end of the town to the other, as well as side areas, as there simply wasn’t room for all on the main street. There is no doubt that this year’s event was much bigger than last year’s, by a significant number. And I think many of the local traders finally took advantage of the massive crowds by opening from morning until the event finished.
As the main street filled up and more riders rolled in, every available space was being taken up to park the bikes. I hadn’t even realised that the furthest end of town was filling up and, when I went there, was simply amazed at the numbers already there and still coming in. Some noted that this was the biggest gathering of motorcycles anywhere in Australia, except for the numbers that turn up to the likes of the MotoGP. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true, as the numbers were truly staggering this year, with the roads and paths filled to bursting. Surprisingly, I only heard of one complaint (there always has to be at least one) and considering that this event happens just once a year, and for not much more than half a day, I can’t see how anyone can complain, but there’s always one.
Just a short video of the bikes and crowds at the 3rd Annual Blessing of the Bikes on the main street of Mirboo North.
As things began to settle, the main stage woke up for some music and then followed a number of talks by past and present motorcycle champions, and others. Motorcycle Legend John Woodley gave a potted history of his experiences on the racing track, with anecdotes of his trials and tribulations with his racing bikes and his racing days. Isle of Man Legend in the making, David ‘Davo’ Johnson, gave some insights to his experiences racing on the Isle of Man, as well as recent injuries sustained. Local MP Danny O’Brien was also present, for whom significant kudos should be given for organising the TAC sponsorship and supporting the Blessing of the Bikes. But the main focus of this year’s Blessing of the Bikes was to remember, reflect on and never forget or become complacent of the dangers that motorcycle riding presents. Marcel from Inline 4 Cafe spoke of the sadness and impact that unnecessary deaths have on family and friends, supported by Doug Fryer (Victorian Assistant Police Commissioner), Senior Constable Allan Piening, Pastor John Robertson and the most Reverend John McMahon.
This year’s Blessing of the Bikes was quite an amazing event. From something that was just an idea with no great expectations (as Marcel thought), it’s become a major feature in the Victorian, and perhaps Australian, motorcycling yearbook. As the racing season begins next week, many of those who came to Mirboo North this weekend will likely be at Phillip Island for the first race of the season. I didn’t get to find out how many, if any, came from interstate for this event, but I did have a great time talking to a number of riders about their motorcycles, as well as life in general.