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Arthur, Harold Frank Milton (1908–1972)

by Graham Howard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Harold Frank Milton Arthur, by Sam Hood, 1932

Harold Frank Milton Arthur, by Sam Hood, 1932

State Library of New South Wales [with Bill Prior, right]

Harold Frank Milton Arthur (1908-1972), motorcycle rider and speedway promoter, was born on 12 December 1908 at Lismore, New South Wales, sixth child of native-born parents, John Mathew Arthur, farmer, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Livingstone. The family moved to Crows Nest, Queensland, where Frank was brought up on a dairy-farm. He had already shown ability as a motorcycle racer when sporting entrepreneur A. J. Hunting opened 'the world's first' quarter-mile (0.4 km) speedway in the arena of the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in 1926. Arthur raced there and, with Vic Huxley and Billy Lamont, soon became one of the three top riders in Australia.

Sydney's Speedway Royal (later Royale) opened at the Showground shortly after Brisbane's; others followed quickly, and by 1927 the boom had spread to England. Hunting organized a group of established Australian riders, including Arthur, to race in England in 1928 where Arthur had a successful and lucrative season (top riders won as much as £250 at a single meeting). Returning to Queensland, he married Edna Lyle Collier Irving on 21 December that year at the Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane.

On subsequent tours of England, while he continued his solo career, Arthur was always accompanied by at least one other Australian rider under contract. The winner of two British championships, he and Huxley dominated international speedway racing until 1932. Arthur was tall and thin, 'almost to the point of gauntness'; diffident, with somewhat stooping shoulders, he could be easily mistaken 'for a curate from a none-too-well-nourished East End parish'. He combined riding skills with business acumen: 'The last man in the world one would have thought to be a speedway rider', he was believed to be the most successful of them all in preserving his winnings.

Following the huge success of the Tests in England—where Arthur had captained four Australian teams (his four-man squad was known as 'Arthur's Tigers')—in 1933 he made an unsuccessful attempt to launch speedway racing in the United States of America. He retired next year. In partnership with Johnny Hoskins and Bert Pryor, he formed Empire Speedways Pty Ltd in Sydney and brought a British speedway team to race in the eastern States. To boost the four-wheel version of speedway, which had begun in England in 1932 and reached Australia in 1934, he introduced British midget-car drivers during the 1935-36 season. Mobilized in the Militia on 13 January 1941 and commissioned acting lieutenant next year, he served in Australia as a transport instructor until November 1945.

As a promoter, Arthur shaped Australian speedway's formative years and revived it after World War II when he imported two-wheel and four-wheel speedway stars, and resurrected the motorcycle Tests. His last major contribution to local speedway was his launch of stock-car racing at the Showground during the 1954-55 season. Involved in promoting the Brisbane Exhibition speedway from 1946 until 1969, he commuted from his home in Sydney. Arthur was also a successful racehorse-owner who joined several syndicates and was a prominent member of Tattersall's Club, Brisbane. Survived by his four daughters, he died of a coronary occlusion on 11 September 1972 at Dover Heights, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Stenner, Thrilling the Million (Lond, 1934)
  • W. J. Shepherd, Encyclopaedia of Australian Sport (Syd, 1980)
  • National Speed Sport, 12 Aug 1967
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 12 Aug 1972
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 11 Sept 1972, 8 Jan 1982, 18 Mar 1983
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 19 Oct 1979.

Citation details

Graham Howard, 'Arthur, Harold Frank Milton (1908–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arthur-harold-frank-milton-9388/text16495, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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