Neale Perkins — Australia
Neale Perkins was born in the historical gold mining town of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia 6/8/1960.
He didn’t start riding motorcycles until he was about 14 and got his first “real” bike a YZ80B in 1976. In 1978, Neale bought a YZ125E brand new (still has it) and raced for about 18 months but being an apprentice he gave it up because he couldn’t afford it but had made it to B grade and was beating most of the A graders.
Evel Knievel was one of his heroes and Neale regarded him as the best because he was the one who started it all (even though he may not have been the first to actually jump). What he did on the behemoths of bikes was truly incredible. Another influence on him was Dale Buggins, but his favourite jumper was fellow Australian Johnny “Wonder” Fogwell. Neale was working in Melbourne as a Telecommunications Technician for Telecom Australia but always thought he could do that “stunt” thing so when he saw an ad that said “Wanted; young people for touring stunt show” in early 1980, Neale applied. The name of the show was “Australian Stunts Spectacular”.
The guy running the show was Graham Mathrick, who was the stunt coordinator and extra in all of the Paul Hogan (that’s not a knife) shows and had done many movies too. Neale was virtually the only bike guy that applied so he got the job. His audition was to do a jump and then a mono (From 1st gear all the way to 6th). Graham turned to the others and said “Anyone else do that?”, several hands went up. He then said “Anyone do it better?” all hands went down, Neale was it.
Even though Graham and his crew were very experienced in stunts, cars, crashes etc. no one knew anything about jumping, without crashing at least. Neale was using dirt mounds to practice as they didn’t have proper ramps at that time. Neale had to teach himself and had to learn monoing standing on the seat.
Evel Knievel had toured Australia several months before and Neale somehow ended up with Evel’s old ramps. Neale set them up and they were in sections of 8 x 4 foot and when assembled, were 16 foot long and 4 foot high but he had no idea how to setup the bike or attack the ramps as he was used to MX jumps. Consequently, the biggest jump Neale could manage was at that time was 50 feet. The bike would kick badly, land heavy, it wasn’t good and only weeks before they headed on tour. A guy called John Breiley was with them, he was an engineer by trade and asked what was the problem. Neale said he was used to jumps that had a naturally curved base. John said “What if we curve the base of the ramp and leave the top?” Neale said that would work.
They had a semi trailer for all the ramps, lighting towers etc, a generator truck, couple of flat beds and a ute to tow their caravans (trailers) and set off for Townsville, Queensland 2700 kms (About 1700 miles) at an average speed of 80kph (50mph) so she was a slow old trip.
Once arrived and setup, they built the new ramp and Neale did some testing. He went from 50 feet to 115 feet in just four jumps. He was feeling a lot more confident and the he curved lead up ramp worked like a treat. The first show went well, he jumped around the 125 foot mark (not measured) over 8 or 9 cars. He would start off with 6 and build up the number, but it was hard to sell as dangerous, as he was clearing the cars by such a big margin. Neale used to do the one over a ute (pick up) as it was driving along but hated it as it was their first ramp and it was not curved. Several monos, one handed, standing on the seat etc. and even though he was billed as the star, Neale was only a small part of the entire show. They did the usual car stunts, clowns, high wire acts etc. In interviews his boss would say Neale was only 16 or 17 even though he was nearly 20.
At one practice Ian Jamieson came up to Neale and asked why he “buttoned off” before the ramp. He told him it was to get the revs and his body positioned right. Ian said it sounded awful and Neale needed to power right up the ramp. Neale was green, Ian was a veteran stunt rider even back then so Neale trusted he knew what he was talking about. What he didn’t know he had never done a “jump” before, only crashes. Neale took his advice and hit the jump full noise in forth and just changed into 5th (approx 90 kph or 55 mph) and in doing so the knobby rear tyre gripped on the end of the ramp and proceeded to flip the bike.
Neale managed to stay with the bike (self preservation from MX days, always stay with the bike and let it take the hit) but by the time he landed the bike was past vertical therefore the rear suspension couldn’t function and simply bounced the bike back up into the air, his hands were ripped from the grips but somehow he managed to grab the crossbar. The bike landed again with him now lying on the tank and seat with feet dangling in the wind thus not being able to activate the brake pedal and a idiosyncrasy of his from racing was to back off the front brake to a point it was virtuously useless. So this meant Neale was hurtling towards a drain and fence at about 50mph with very little brakes. He hit the fence then fell into the drain. He was knocked out on impact but regained consciousness by the time his crew reached him but was severely winded. Apart from a split chin, cut finger, lots of bruising and a headache, he was alright. He had bent the forks severely and smashed some spokes out of the hub destroying the rim. After that he went back to “His” style of jumping. Luckily Neale had two identical bikes, YZ250F’s 1979 models. All he did to them was to wind the preload right up, everything else was how it came from the factory.
Neale had the next day off from training and his boss had a radio interview in which he told the story of his almost death. He said there wasn’t enough landing room even though there was plenty. It was his job to make sure of that. The next show they had people all the way down the main street, around the corner and up another side street. They had come to see Neale kill himself. There was only two gates in, after two hours they just let them in for free as we had to get ready for the show. Approximately 5,500 people showed up for the show. His boss had strung a truck tarp between two light poles where he crashed and packed it with foam mattress’. He told Neale to “sell it” if he felt good. In other words stop as close to the tarp as possible. A local car manufacturer had just released a new model the Commodore so it was arranged for him to jump one for each letter in the name, 10 of them. Neale cleared them easily and with his front brake as deadly as he proceeded to rev the engine, lock up the back brake snaking the rear wheel from side to side. When he thought he was close enough, he hit the front brakes and pulled up about 5 feet short. That was it from Neale for the show so he went “backstage” to sit out the show.
One of the car stunts they did (the dive bomber) used Neale’s ramp (two side by side) to cash into all the other cars they had crashed during the night. There was several cars lined up in front of the ramp but the crash car wouldn’t start so he was to jump again to fill in time. A trick of jumping without a landing ramp was to jump the bonnets (hoods) thus giving a little more leeway. These cars were lined up directly in front but there wasn’t many of them. The jump was perfect and he knew he could sell this one even better. He had the engine screaming, the rear wheel was full lock to full lock and at the right moment he hit the front brake and actually skidded into the tarp. The crowd were screaming, so he was told, thinking he was going to kill myself. The tarp sprung Neale out again then the crowd sighed and did that nervous laugh, again so he am told. He had no idea the length of that jump but at a guess he would say about 130-135 feet.
They did a few other shows at Bundaberg, Maryborough and then Ipswich. At Rockhampton his boss brought up the idea of a jump off against Dale Buggins and Johnny Fogwell. He started talks but that was as far as it got. The other shows were uneventful and Ipswich was where they did a lot of advertising both papers and TV. He did his jump and by this stage Neale was tapped in 5th changing to 6th just before the ramp to even it out. He used to have two safety guys where he would approximately land and he actually remember looking down on them looking up at Neale as he sailed past. It was his best to date in all aspects. He sold it to the audience, it was great.
The next day there was a definite impression where he landed so they decided to measure this one. 145 feet (approx 45 metres) Neale was stoked because the old world record, to the best of his knowledge, of 150 feet was broken by Dale Buggins not long before they went on tour (176 feet) So he felt a world record was within my grasp. Unfortunately, even though they had a enormous crowd at Ipswich, huge overheads, ripped off again by a promoter this time and a shady silent partner, meant they were broke and it was all over. Thus no world record attempt, no jump off with his heroes, just a long trip back home.
While back in Ballarat Dale Buggins came to town and Neale went to see him. He was good, not that he jumped all that far but he was a true showman where Neale was an amateur. Afterwards he wanted to talk to him but he was swamped so he ended up talking to his dad. He congratulated him on the show and told him what he had done and about his last jump. He said to Neale as far as he knew he had not heard of a longer jump on a 250cc, at night, without a landing ramp and that he should look into it. Neale said he had no way to verify it but it was nice to know he may have had a world record.
Neale went back to his job with Telecom, (Now Telstra) and he is still with them today, but he kept in touch with Graham and through him was a stunt double for Terry Serio in a movie called High Country. In it Neale did both bike and horse stunts. Graham said he had more work coming up so he had the best of both worlds. Full time job and stunting on the side. Unfortunately Graham had a huge falling out with Actors Equity (Union) and Neale didn’t think he ever did any film work again thus neither did Neale.
From the start of his “career” to the end was about 18 months and even though he lost money, knowing what he knows now he would still do it again. Not many people get to say they were a stuntman.
Special thanks to Neale Perkins for the biography and use of his photos.