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Gray, Edgar Lawrence ('Dunc') (1906–1996)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published online in 2020

Edgar Laurence ‘Dunc’ Gray (1906-1996), cyclist, was born on 17 July 1906 at Kingsdale, near Goulburn, New South Wales, fifth of six children of locally born parents Mark Gray, lime merchant, and his wife Emilie Frances Margaretta, née Edmunds. Educated at Bourke Street Primary and Goulburn High schools, Edgar studied carpentry and joinery at the Goulburn Trades School, then worked as a carpenter. Cycling to and from school, he developed a love for the sport. With his brother Ellis he joined the Goulburn Amateur Cycling Club and gradually began winning club events. Adopting the name ‘Dunc’ to avoid confusion with his brother on event programs, he won his first State title in 1925. He became Australia’s dominant amateur cyclist, winning twenty national titles between 1928 and 1939 in events ranging from the sprint and time trial to the 10-mile (16.1 km) race.

After a successful tour of New Zealand, Gray was selected for the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The Goulburn public raised the cost of his fare. In Amsterdam he finished third in the 1000-metre time trial, winning Australia’s first Olympic cycling medal. Despite speculation that he might turn professional, Gray remained an amateur. Late in 1930 he was suspended for infringing amateur rules relating to prizes, but this was overturned on appeal. He was selected for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles in the 1000-metre sprint and time trial. Weakened by influenza, he withdrew from the sprint bronze medal event to conserve energy for the time trial, which he won in a world record time of 1 minute 13 seconds. It was Australia’s first Olympic cycling gold medal. Returning to a hero’s welcome in Goulburn, he also received the Helms award as the outstanding Australian athlete of 1932.

Unable to find adequate local employment, Gray moved to Sydney in October 1932 to work for Bennett & Wood Ltd, selling Speedwell bicycles. The firm kept him on half-pay when he competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and he did business for them while overseas. Gray carried the Australian flag at the opening ceremony, but failed to win a medal in the 1000-metre sprint. He won gold medals at the British Empire Games in Manchester (1934) and Sydney (1938) before retiring in 1942. A highly popular figure in Australian cycling, he was ‘modest in victory, generous in defeat and scrupulously fair in his races and in life’ (Cripps 1996, 13).

A Methodist, Gray married Grace Taper, a telephonist, on 11 February 1941 at the Wesley Chapel, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. He later worked in Sydney as a car salesman, and in fibreglass manufacturing. In retirement he lived at Banora Point (1973–77), Wamberal (1977–80), and finally at Kiama. In old age he ‘epitomised the happy man, healthy, humorous and vibrant, and proud of his achievements’ (Howell and Howell 1988, 100).

In 1985 Gray was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and named a Legend of Australian Sport. Survived by his wife, two sons, and two daughters, he died on 30 August 1996 at Kiama, and was buried in the local cemetery. He had asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Australian Olympic Federation. The bike he rode at the 1932 Olympic Games is exhibited at the Dunc Gray Velodrome, which was built for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Cripps, Cecil. ‘A Marathon in the Saddle.’ Australian (Sydney, NSW), 6 September 1996, 13
  • FitzSimons, Peter. Everyone But Phar Lap: Face to Face with the Best of Australian Sport. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins, 1997
  • Howell, Reet and Max Howell. Aussie Gold: The Story of Australia at the Olympics. Albion, Qld.: Brooks Waterloo, 1988

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Gray, Edgar Lawrence ('Dunc') (1906–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gray-edgar-lawrence-dunc-17371/text29120, published online 2020, accessed online 1 December 2021.

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