AN ARTIST IN ALL THINGS – THE ALAN TOMKINS INTERVIEW

BARRY ASHENHURST INTERVIEWS HIS OLD NEIGHBOUR ALAN TOMKINS

At Opening Dps

You had a successful dealership in Blacktown during the 80s, Kawasaki West, but the business eventually crashed. And I rememeber, as we lived across the road from each other, that you’d worked so hard.

Yeah, it did, and we were neighbours then so you know how much work I put into that. Looking back on it, things happened that I had no control over. I’ll take 10 percent of the blame but I’m not taking all of it. The motorcycle industry is a leisure market. Motorcycles are a passion, not a necessity. It’s the same with guitars so, when things get tough, the first to go is the leisure market and that’s what happened. We opened Kawasaki West in 1983 and closed the doors at the end of ‘89.
We were selling dirt bikes of course, and we did a lot of road bike stuff as well, but I concentrated on the minibike scene because I figured they weren’t being serviced properly, the minibike fraternity, especially with motorcycle clothing for the kids. You couldn’t buy everything you needed in one dealership, you had to drive all over the place to get it.
The other thing was, if you get a young person on a brand, and you looked after them, they’ll be brand-loyal, which is exactly what happened. We had a good business, Rob Madden and myself. In the first year we had two new sign-written vehicles on lease and were able to pay all our set-up costs and so on, and we had a few thousand in the bank at the end of the first year.  We were doing alright.

At Inset 4
Al showing Eddie Warren’s bike as shot by this feature’s author, Barry Ashenhurst. The Tomkins and Ashenhursts lived across the road from each other for many years.

When did you realise that things were going bad?  That it was turning?

1987. Things started to slow down, to stop. We didn’t have too much help from the franchise either.

You mean Kawasaki?

Yeah. I still have friends at Kawasaki so I don’t want to get bitchy about it, but back then I had orders and deposits for a bunch of 80s and 125s, but got about 25 percent of the 80s I’d ordered.
I don’t know whether the local distributor came up with the right numbers when he ordered bikes for the following year. He didn’t order enough, I think that’s what happened. I had a lot of deposits to hand back in 1987, so I didn’t sell the bikes, I didn’t sell the parts for them and those customers were gone forever.
People who had come in to buy two or three bikes for their children bought one, or none. And we’d really put Kawasaki on the map in this country with their dirtbikes. We were selling a new KX60 by 1983, a real good thing with real suspension and a 6-speed gearbox, and that bike flew out the door. When we opened the dealership we couldn’t get enough of them. We ended up with a big team with some good riders, people like Clayton Chapman, Tyrone Madden, and of course we brought the American, Eddie Warren, out here.

At Main 1
Al (left) with Eddie Warren running the Kawasaki West livery

I remember the first time I saw Eddie ride. I thought, bloody hell, how does he go around corners that fast? I know he stills lives in Australia, how did you and Phil get him here in the first place?

When I was in Japan, in 1984 I think it was, I had the opportunity to go to a factory test day where Eddie was a factory test rider, and also riding on an American team. The only American rider I’d heard of was Jeff Ward. Anyway, it just so happened at the time that I was good friends with Phil Christensen, the promoter of the Supercross Masters series. Phil used to frequent the Texas Tavern when I was working there as a musician, and it came down to us, somehow or another, I can’t remember, that Eddie was sick of the hierarchy on the team. Phil approached him about coming out here to do the Series, so we got together with a few other people and made it happen.
I had a very good relationship with Eddie, very, very good, but I’m saddened a little that we don’t have any connection with him now.

DIRT ACTION tried to contact Eddie some time ago but he doesn’t seem keen on anything to do with bikes any more.

Yeah, I know. He looked good and talked right, and we tried to get him involved in announcing, but he didn’t want anything to do with it. Eddie was a nice guy but he was very selfish if things didn’t go his way, he could get quite angry with himself. But he was an exceptionally good rider and knew how a motorbike worked. He knew how to adjust things, the technical side of it, and was particularly good at supercross. So another era in motorcycle history came to an end.

It must have hurt like hell when the dealership closed, after all the work, driving from Harbord to Blacktown (an hour at best) every day. What did you do to make a buck after that?

Well, Phil Christensen was still running the Supercross Masters and he said, you know, why don’t you come with me and do some stuff with the supercross, which was very good of him. I told Phil that I knew how to do the merchandising, so why don’t I do that, and I’ll watch you do the floor directions at the same time. I ended up being the floor director.

At Main 2
Al was the guy running the floor during the biggest era of supercross in Australia

Which means you supervised everything that happened on or near the track? And you ran around in those funny chequered pants.

That’s right. I ended up working out the start routine,  because there were a few things that weren’t working. I could see what the problems were so I helped prevent all the false starts we were having. They were good times. Phil phoned me yesterday and we had a good yarn so we’re still good friends.

At Inset 7
Small tracks and packed stadiums. Al Tomkins and Kawasaki West were each large figures through this popualr SX period

I criticised Phil in DIRT ACTION for his lousy lighting on parts of the track. I liked Phil but often wondered if he cursed my name. Did that happen?

Not that I remember, but the lighting was up to the track builder, which was usually Trevor Brookes. He ordered the lights so I guess it was out of Phil’s hands. He couldn’t do anything about it.

Phil never told me that (laughs). And you’re still working aren’t you, helping run shows, but in another stadium, the one that gets a new name every week.

I’m still doing some music gigs too. I’ve been at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL Club with the same band once a month on a Thursday night and we’ve been there 19 years. The successful places still run live music, and as you say, I’m working at Qudos Bank Arena. I went there as a consultant doing various things before the roof went on, when it was called Sydney Superdome. It went from being the Sydney Superdome to Acer Arena to All Phones Arena and now it’s Qudos Bank Arena.

At Inset 6
Al has been making beautiful guitars and basses for a long time and a heap of famous players use them. Like Tom Hamilton from a little band called Aerosmith
Damien Ashenhurst
About Damien Ashenhurst 1717 Articles
Managing Editor of DIRT ACTION magazine. Damo doesn't like cheese or ISIS. Can often be found riding in mud because it's closest to the natural environment of a squid.