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Les Gibson, Mercy Place Colac

Mechanics tools with the words Great Depression, Victorian Wheatbelt, Industrial Accident,15 brothers and sisters, Apprenticeships Hot rods Stock car racing Aussie nicknames

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Born in Warracknabeal during the Depression, Leslie Gibson was one of 15 brothers and sisters. His dad Stan, worked at a blacksmiths until the family was forced to move to Melbourne for work. At 16, Les began an apprenticeship at W.J. Cain’s bakery. ‘I used to pedal my bike from St Albans to Yarraville hail, rain or shine and in the early hours of the morning,’ Les says.

However, an industrial accident ended his fledgling career. ‘I turned the machine off, saw all the blood, wrapped my hand up in my apron and I walked around to get someone to get a bandage. They couldn't find anything in the first aid box. They got fined, I believe, for not having it serviceable. They said, “You better go in and wake up Mr Cain, because he lived next door”.’ Half-asleep, Mr Cain told Les to put the kettle on but, once he’d taken a look at the injury, he changed his mind and they headed straight to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

‘Mr Cain had an old Packard, like Al Capone with the spare wheels on the back, anyhow a policeman on a motorbike said, “Where are you going in such a hurry?”.’ After Les showed him his injury, the officer gave them an escort to the hospital where Les gained the lifelong nickname Stumpy after a doctor amputated his damaged fingers. ‘It was five weeks before I could go back to work, and when I did go back, Mr Cain said, “Sorry there's nothing you can do here, we will have to give you the sack”.’

Les turned to driving trucks and, for fun, he would race stock cars and hot rods. ‘We used to have a ball at Tracey’s Speedway at Maribyrnong. We were the mechanics and after you finished racing, we would have to work on the car all night and then I’d tow it to Ballarat for the Buninyong Speedway. We used to win a lot of races.’

Reviewed 30 January 2024