31 March 2023

How Classic Motorcycling kicked-started swap meet

| John Thistleton
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swap meet crowd

People look over tables of bric-a-brac at Goulburn Rotary Swap Meet at the Recreation Ground. Photo: Bill Young.

The first swap meet among car owners occurred during World War II in England, when people with surplus parts swapped them with other people to overcome a nationwide shortage.

Recalling that history, Bill Young of Goulburn said money did not change hands, and he recounts the first swap meet in Goulburn, more than 30 years ago, when it evolved into a consistent money-spinner in the succeeding years.

Teaching automotive engineering at Goulburn TAFE, Bill belonged to Goulburn Mulwaree Rotary Club and recalls a fellow member and fuel distributor Gordon White suggesting a swap meet.

“None of us knew what a swap meet was,” Bill said. “Credit where it is due, Gordon was the first to suggest a swap meet.”

One of Bill’s motor maintenance students at TAFE was Dr Alan Hazelton (best known for founding Goulburn’s blood bank), who introduced his son, classic motorbike enthusiast Steve, to the Rotarians.

Jumping at the chance to help, Steve asked for a site in return for half-page advertisements in his Australasian magazine Classic Motorcycling and helped spread the word in successive publications leading up to the inaugural event. The nationwide publicity gave organisers a flying start.

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The Rotarians rallied, with Ted Bladwell installed as swap meet chairman, Justin Hawkins taking charge of catering and Bill becoming the coordinator. He travelled to other meets to gather information and compiled detailed manuals on the nuts and bolts of organising an event and checklists for each aspect.

Breaking onto the NSW swap meet calendar meant holding the first Goulburn meet in winter, but luckily Rotary was offered huge empty wool stores in Lansdowne Street.

“It was a great success,” Bill said. “I cannot remember exact amounts, but we took in a lot of money. Justin did a wonderful job catering, right down to the last half loaf of bread.”

In the second year of the swap meet, a dump of snow had settled overnight on Goulburn, yet when Bill travelled in the icy 4:30 am darkness to check on the venue, he found people camping in tents and sleeping in their trucks to ensure the best early start.

A year later, organisers had to start afresh at the Goulburn Recreation Ground because a glut of wool meant the large building in Lansdowne Street was needed to store wool bales.

The veterans of past swap meets are still welcome at the Recreation Ground as the event progresses, according to Deputy Mayor Steve Ruddell, who heads up the latest team of Rotarians organising the 33rd Goulburn Rotary Swap Meet this Sunday, 2 April.

“They still come out there, we have to draw on their wisdom to make sure that information doesn’t get lost when we are setting up as well,” he said.

While car parts are the main swap meet driver, bric-a-brac has become another worthwhile aspect.

“It’s not just for blokes anymore, there is a fair bit of stuff for the ladies out there as well,” Steve said.

This year the organisers have more areas for site holders.

“We have probably picked up another 30 or 40 sites from reallocating a few areas,” he said.

More than half of all sites have been booked and organisers expect a last-minute rush will take up the remaining spots.

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Rural fire brigades, and Quota and CWA clubs, are among the community partners who will help at the gates, barbecues and food stalls.

Barbecues will begin on Saturday at lunch time for the site holders setting up and will resume early on Sunday morning for breakfast and throughout the day.

As the swap meet’s popularity grows, so do the crowds, which can exceed 5000 people. Vehicle control has become crucial to avoid traffic snarls along Braidwood Road.

“We are using the same traffic control plan as the Goulburn Show did, which worked very well,” Steve said.

“Everyone comes in off Gate 8 on Bungonia Road rather than clogging up Braidwood Road. Parking will be behind the trotting track and this makes it easier to get vehicles off the road.

“We’re operating five pedestrian gates around the whole area.”

Proceeds from the event, one of Rotary’s biggest fundraisers along with the annual book fair, are distributed among many charities and community projects.

  • Goulburn Rotary Swap Meet, Recreation Ground, vehicle entry via Bungonia Road. Gates open at 7 am on Sunday.

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