Reginald Gordon “Phil” Garlick



I was listening to ABC local radio one evening. I live in the ACT but it was coming from Sydney throughout NSW and ACT.

I never listen to local ABC in the evening but do so in the morning and often during the day. It happened to be on in the car as I was coming home from a Ulysses meeting (so there’s a motorcycle link, if tenuous). I turned on the AM radio when I got home because of an interview about Australian soldiers fighting in the Russian civil war in 1919. That interested me.

Phil Garlick in his Alvis with the Lucky Devil CupThe following program featured a regular guest who was an expert on the meaning of obscure words and expressions. That was also of interest, so I stayed tuned. One of his callers remembered her Dad referring to people as “Phil Garlick” but didn’t know why. Neither did the word expert or the compere. In fact, neither had any idea who Phil Garlick was. But I did – vaguely.

I knew he was a racing car driver of many years ago. More to the point, I knew my dad had been his mechanic. I also knew he had some notoriety for his exploits at the old, steeply banked Maroubra racing circuit, where he was killed during a race. I had an old newspaper article on him folded up in a bible from my school days.

I rang in to offer my contribution as I hurriedly dug out the 1957 Daily Mirror article. My initial knowledge, particularly coupled with being the son of Garlick’s mechanic, was enough for the producer to want me on air. While waiting on hold, I managed to read enough of the article to guess at the likely significance of calling someone ‘Phil Garlick’.

Reginald Gordon (Phil) Garlick, the article started, was a quiet enough man until he got behind the wheel of a racing car. Then he became the complete extrovert.

At speeds up to 100mph, Garlick would fling his super charged Alvis from the flat up the steep walls of the bank till the edges of his tyres hit the dangerous sand at the bank’s lip. “It was enough to bring a gasp of horror to the most harden racing enthusiast.”

Phil Garlick, according to the article, “took risks few other drivers would attempt. They all came off. Except one.”

I guess the caller’s dad, by calling someone ‘Phil Garlick’ was suggesting they were a high risk-taker, perhaps excessively so.

Garlick and team, incl my dadGarlick’s death on the track on 8 January 1927, as his car hurtled over the lip, sounded the death-knell of Maroubra, which had already taken the lives of several car drivers and motorcyclists. Today it lies buried under a public housing estate.

The oral history in the family has been that the mechanic rode with the driver, but Dad was late on Phil Garlick’s fateful day and missed the start of the race. I think that story is likely a fiction. I haven’t seen any photos to suggest the mechanic rode with the driver; and certainly didn't in the model of car Garlick was driving when he was killed. I don’t even know if Dad was present when Garlick crashed to his death.

In the photo of Garlick in his car with his team, Dad is the guy with dark hair standing right behind the steering wheel. The newspaper clipping from which this photo was taken looks like it was early 1930s, although the photo itself, of course, would have been taken prior to 1927. The caption reads "R.G.Garlick in his supercharged Alvis being presented with the Lucky Devil Cup, which he won three years in succession."

Here's a treat for the racing enthusiast: a site that tells you about the old Maroubra Maroubra Track

RC 6 May 2010

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