June of the outback
By Sally-Anne Fowler: In 1941, at 15 years of age June Parker was already engaging and unconventional. Her entry into society did not involve debutante dresses and society balls. Even from an early age June was an enthralling and believable storyteller, only lying about her age so as to join the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA). She did this not for rebellion or attention seeking, but only in an attempt to assist her country and the war effort.
World War II pressed on, and labour shortages within the farming sector of Australia instigated the formation of the AWLA. June accompanied many other Auxiliary members who were employed to perform such duties as fruit and vegetable production, and animal husbandry. To be eligible to enlist, women had to be between the ages of 18 and 50 and be British subjects or immigrants from Allied nations. The majority of women originated from city areas as they were not eligible to enlist if they were already a farmer, a rural employee, or a relative of a land holder.
Her father, Councillor and Mayor of Ringwood, Victoria, H.E. Parker, was a great inspiration, encouraging her to live her dreams and follow her heart. June was born into a maternal line of intuitives, and raised by women whose passionate beliefs were spiritualism, metaphysics, tarot cards and clairvoyance. Her Grandmother was always taking in the homeless and mothers and babies who had nowhere to go. So June’s psyche was ingrained with compassion, empathy and the importance of helping others in need.
June fell in love with the rural lifestyle she experienced whilst with the AWLA, and after the war decided to stick to outdoor life. She lived on a cattle station, and took up smoking so that she would be entitled to take a ‘smoko’ with the boys, and developed an ambition not only to bring cattle from the Northern Territory to Adelaide, but also to own her own sheep station.
However, at 21, June’s immediate dream was to ride and explore Australia on a motorcycle. So that is what she did!
June purchased her motorcycle when her father refused her the use of the family car and she wanted to be independent. With only one hour’s teaching before obtaining her licence, she clocked 4000 miles within a year on her B.S.A, and even though June had four brothers and two sisters, they never borrowed her motorcycle.
June was the embodiment of the determination of young women who graciously and eagerly filled the shoes of the men who had been sent to war. It was a time of great realisation where women who had formerly sat in the culturally expected background rose to many occasions.
After the War, June’s spirit of adventure led her to advertise for a female motorcycle riding companion to tour and explore Victoria. Her charitable spirit inspired her concept of raising funds for the Returned Services League (R.S.L) whilst on tour. Patriotic work was nothing new to June as she had been involved in voluntary Red Cross work for some years.
June Parker had the “gift of the gab” and had “an amazing knack of engaging people and getting them swept up in whatever was interesting her at the time.” (“A Life Fully Lived”- Lesley Antonoff)
Miss Pat Hansford (21) was the selected woman who answered June’s call, she became June’s travelling companion also riding her own motorcycle. Pat was accomplished in her own right. She spent the wartime years with the Department of Aircraft Production, where she introduced a device which doubled the output of a duplicating machine. Pat was inspired and determined to become an authoress and had previously written children’s stories which were published in Australian and American magazines and papers.
So, June and Pat set off from Elizabeth Street, Melbourne on their charitable tour of Victoria, raising funds for the Middle Park RSL, in aid of its Memorial Hall and Free Kindergarten Building Fund. Handsome prizes in the Building Fund Appeal included a modern home valued at £4,000, a Dodge sedan and luxury caravan and a Dodge utility.
June rode a B.S.A 250 and Pat a B.S.A 125. The women were very proud of their motorcycles reporting that they had had no trouble with the machines since they started their journey. Their only disappointment was on arrival in Cobram, their bikes were not as “spick and span” as they had been earlier on their journey, but that, was due to heavy rain and bad roads. When they departed Cobram their machines were as bright as pins. It is reported that the BSA 250 motorcycle was Australian built and was being tested in general running. It is unknown how June acquired the BSA (Australian produced) test bike.
“Women need not be out of any fun in motorcycle clubs if they ride their own machines. Formerly they stayed behind and merely acted in their social sphere. There is nothing wrong with women riding motorcycles provided they do not get machines which are too heavy for them to handle. There is no difference between a woman riding a motorcycle and a pedal bicycle. Women have more sense than the boys, and are not inclined to show off like the men do. Women generally are also more considerate to other people, and that applies to the road as well”. (Unknown newspaper interview April 1949)
Each town brought a new experience.
Arriving in Rochester (near Echuca), well after midnight, they had no place to camp. June and Pat found the Rochester showgrounds and set up camp under a large pepper tree near the pavilions and sale yards. Waking up to bright sunshine several hours later, they were rather startled to find themselves surrounded by a crowd of people, in the midst of a pig sale. June and Pat hurriedly adjourned to a less crowded area, followed by the curious glances of the auctioneers and farmers.
Unfortunately, their opinion of Echuca as a nice town was considerably lowered following the theft of a number of articles from their motorcycles which were parked outside the local Astoria Café. Flags, pumps, goggles and pennants were stolen while June and Pat were having supper.
Even after these events the two determined women were not phased.
“People are wonderful. Anyone else with a motorbike will always stop and do anything to help you. We have met a lot of nice people and are looking forward to meeting more”.
Later in life June relayed to her daughter, Lesley, that when she wanted men to buy tickets from her she would ensure she was always sitting down and would look up slowly at them through her eyelashes. She said “they always bought more that way”!
Sleeping under haystacks, in stables, and a disused bake house shared with a horse for company, the two women generally “roughed it”, but both regarded it as “good fun”. “One evening they could not find somewhere to sleep and decided to spend the night in an abandoned barn. They awoke in a panic to the sound of heavy breathing just outside their window. They lay awake all night clutching each other and as dawn broke they peeped out to find they were surrounded by a herd of cows”.(“A Life Fully Lived” – Lesley Antonoff)
Sketchy details in newspapers reported that Pat Hansford was injured in a car collision in July of 1949. Battered and bruised she was laid up in hospital for one month. Due to the mishap, Pat was compelled to withdraw from the tour.
June continued on alone, successfully completing the fund-raising tour and satisfying the dream she had originally envisaged.
In November 1949, the BSA 250 test bike was returned and June’s next pride and joy came in the form of a Triumph Tiger 100.
June had earned her stripes! Her months of charitable touring earned her the respect of the most revered names in Australian motorcycling of the time. Applauded and invited, June attended Scrambling at Castlemaine Vic., Road racing at Ballarat and Flinders Naval Base Vic., Mud battling at Gladstone Park Vic., Grass track racing at Warragul, and Airstrip racing at Valleyfield Tas. Her and her club comrade’s bikes were nervously hoisted in nets onto the Ferry to Tasmania to attend the Valleyfield races. Faces at the race included legendary Australian racers such as Ken Kavanagh and Ray Owens.
Hugh Antonoff unexpectedly came into June’s life when on a slippery road she lost control and crashed her Triumph Tiger. Dragging it to a nearby location, she apparently “threw it” at a man who was innocently standing by, saying “mind my bike, I’m late for work, I’ll come back and get it later.” She said “I kind of liked him and we just stuck together from that point on”.
June’s adventures with motorcycling were realised.
” It’s the open spaces, they’re beaut. And there’s a special clan among motorcyclists. They all want to help me.” (The Sun1, Oct 6 1949)
June Antonoff ( nee Parker). Adventuress. Vale – 2006
The above story was donated by Sally-Anne Fowles, author of Fast Women which is available in print at the Fast Women website www.fastwomen.com.au