A happy ending - John's Story

motorbike

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Melbourne University held a 'Prosh' every two or three years. The 'Prosh' was a procession of floats and crazy students down the centre of Swanston Street in August at the end of second term. Each uni faculty designed a theme for the procession, which took about an hour before crossing Princes Bridge and celebrating in the Alexandra Gardens. Amazing, these days, to think of the massive disruption to Swanston St and cross street traffic that would have ensued, simply for shoppers and lunchtime office workers to be bombarded with flour bombs from the engineering students on impossibly unsafe mechanical conveyances.

Our Commerce faculty decided it would have a look-alike Queen and Duke of Edinburgh wave regally to the crowds from the back of an open Land Rover. The royal couple was preceded by a ‘cop’ motorbike outrider. The cop was me. I rented a policeman’s uniform, complete with helmet and accurate copy of the police badge on the helmet, from a fancy-wear hire shop in Bridge Rd, Richmond, just around the corner from Hoddle St.

After the Alexandra Garden revelries I motored north along Hoddle St to approach Bridge Rd. Even then the traffic was heavy late on the Friday afternoon. The Triumph motorbike that I had borrowed was still coughing and spluttering from its overheating while crawling down Swanston St earlier in the day.

There was a cop on point duty at the Bridge Rd intersection. As the columns of vehicles approached up the hill the policeman turned his back to us and waved at the oncoming Hoddle St traffic to stop at Bridge Rd. The phalanx I was part of slowed in anticipation of the constable about to turn around and wave us to stop. “Damn!” I thought, “this might prove expensive…”  I was driving an unregistered motorbike with no plate on either the front or rear wheel, the bike was unroadworthy because the brakes were faulty and I had no licence to drive motorbikes. I might also have been over the alcohol limit, if they had one in those days, but without instruments to test blood alcohol levels the tests were to walk a straight line and to find your name in the telephone book in less than a minute.

I was in the outside lane, signaling with my outstretched arm that I intended to turn right into Bridge Rd (there were no turning indicators on bikes then). As the policeman raised his hand to stop our vehicles he looked a bit more closely at me as I approached. To everyone’s surprise, he then waved the northbound traffic to continue to move on quickly, glanced over his shoulder to ensure that all the southbound traffic had indeed stopped, and then gave me a generously large wave and a brotherly smile to indicate that I could proceed unimpeded through the intersection.

I had to laugh as I spluttered through, hugely embarrassed, waving my thanks and thinking, “These policemen really are nice people!”