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Broadbent, George Robert (1863–1947)

by G. F. James

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

George Robert Broadbent (1863-1947), cyclist and map publisher, was born on 3 November 1863 at Ashby near Geelong, Victoria, son of George Adam Broadbent, Lancashire-born draper, and his wife Elizabeth, née Ruffhead. When the family moved to North Melbourne Broadbent attended the Errol Street school, followed his father's trade, and became an early cycling and cycle-racing enthusiast.

At various times Broadbent held most Victorian and Australian road records, and two of his performances on solid tyres—203 miles (327 km) in 24 hours on a penny farthing, and 100 miles (161 km) in 6 hours 20 minutes on a 'safety' bicycle—were never bettered. He established records for all distances between 130 and 220 miles (209 and 354 km), and for all times between 8 and 12 hours, at the Exhibition Grounds track in May 1894, and road records for 50 and 100 miles (80 and 161 km) in October 1896. The Australian Cyclist acknowledged him 'the finest road rider that Australia has ever produced'.

A foundation councillor of the League of Victorian Wheelmen in October 1893, Broadbent contested the first Warrnambool-Melbourne race in 1895, and was active in the Good Roads Movement. Next year he issued a road map of Victoria, 'prepared … after some sixteen years riding and touring in all parts of the Colony', which indicated general topography, distances, and roads classified as 'good', 'fair' or 'ridden with difficulty'. It was to become Victoria's standard map, and the basis of a continuous publishing programme by Broadbent's Official Road Guides Co.

He bought a steam-driven motor car in 1898, contributed regularly to the Argus and Australasian on both cycling and touring and, in December 1903, attended the meeting which established the (Royal) Automobile Club of Victoria. Broadbent became an active vice-president of the Good Roads Association of Victoria in November 1912 and was consulted regularly during the preparation of the country roads bill. That year he took over the Argus motoring column, wrote tirelessly on road improvements and maintenance, and became manager of the Automobile Club's new touring department in 1914. He was also an active member of the trust created in 1919 to establish the Great Ocean Road from Barwon Heads to Warrnambool. His name was entered in the R.A.C.V. Golden Book in May 1932 for outstanding services to motoring and road development. He retired in December 1937 and was one of fifteen surviving founders to be elected life-members of the R.A.C.V. in May 1947.

Broadbent had married Louisa Santy with Baptist forms at Richmond on 29 December 1887. When he died at his home at Hawthorn on 28 October 1947, three sons and six of his seven daughters survived him. His second son Robert Arthur, also an amateur and professional cycling champion, represented Australia at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924, succeeded him as tourist manager of the R.A.C.V. and, in 1963, established R. A. Broadbent-Tourist Publications. The youngest son Edward Albert had taken over Broadbent's Official Road Guides Co. in 1945.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, The Golden Jubilee 1903-1953 (Melb, 1953)
  • League of Victorian Wheelmen, Official Gazette, 7 Nov 1905, 7 July 1907
  • Australian Motorist, 1 Sept, 2 Nov 1914
  • Australian Cyclist, 7 Sept, 7 Dec 1893
  • Australian Wheel, Oct 1896, Jan 1897
  • Radiator, 15 Jan 1938, 12 Nov 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 27 Mar 1902
  • Argus (Melbourne, 21 Nov 1912, 20-22 Feb, 29 Apr 1919, 11 Oct 1930, 24 Aug 1946, 29 Oct 1947
  • Punch (Melbourne), 13 Oct 1921
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 29 Oct 1947
  • Geelong Advertiser, 15 Jan 1958.

Citation details

G. F. James, 'Broadbent, George Robert (1863–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broadbent-george-robert-5362/text9069, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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