Harold Durant, born in 1922, was one of five children born to Bob and Mary Durant. Mary’s sister May Hicks didn’t have children and Harold counted Aunty May as a second Mum. May won £600 in a newspaper crossword puzzle competition and bought Harold his first bike, a Swansea, with some of the proceeds.
Harold was a talented young rider and represented his school, Fremantle’s Christian Brothers College, in the 1935 State Schoolboy Championships. He started riding for Swansea in the 1935/36 season and in 1937 won the Swansea Consistency Trophy.
In his teens he worked for his brother’s South Fremantle butcher shop. Harold would load up his bike and make meat deliveries to seven local pubs on Saturday mornings. Track racing was a sport fraught with danger and his father pressured him to quit in case he injured himself and jeopardised his brother’s business. A job offer from Swansea Cycles enabled Harold to continue competition riding.
WWII interrupted his cycling; he was recruited as a commando in the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces and saw active duty overseas, spending his 21st birthday in New Guinea.
He met his first wife, Bettye, during the War and they married while he was on leave from duty. Les Baldwin had plans for Harold’s leave as well; he wanted him to visit the south-west to close the Bunbury store. Harold incorporated that trip with his honeymoon at the Rose Hotel Bunbury.
After the war Harold and Bettye rented a house in King William Street, Fremantle but they were keen to have a home of their own. In the postwar year you needed ‘numbers’ to build a house, numbers that Harold and Bettye didn’t have. They contemplated moving to Melbourne where he had connections before, once again, Les Baldwin, keen to keep Harold as manager, offered him a house in Florence St, Cottesloe. The Cottesloe Flour Mill manager was renting it but was transferred to Northam and the home was empty. The Durants lived there for 12 months rent free but insisted on buying the property to avoid being indebted to Swanseas. Ken Pettit arranged terms and Les sold Harold the property for £600.
Cycling in Fremantle was huge in the early years. The port was the big employer and everyone rode bicycles to work which was great for Swanseas. On his return to Fremantle at the end of the War, Harold resumed working for Swanseas as store manager, but things had changed; “Back in Fremantle no one was interested in racing and the cycling fraternity had dwindled”.
Harold also managed the WA Professional Track Team for two years which included taking the team to Devonport in 1955. His manager’s report details frustrations with the team’s racing machines going astray in transit in Adelaide and with Barry Waddell’s injury during practice, putting him out of contention before racing had commenced.
In the 1960’s Harold, concerned that Howard Baldwin’s two university aged boys, Chris and Noel, could assume management roles at Swansea and become an impediment to his advancement, resigned, taking over the nearby BP garage and Avis agency.
Harold’s most memorable Swansea? His own custom bike with inch pitch chain and distinctive paint work done by Swansea painter and signwriter Arthur Curtis. The two sides of the bike were sharply divided with one side being white and the other red.
Harold putting the Robina Joy Trophy (for winners of the Australian Professional Track Championships) in the 9 William St shop window ahead of the 1956 Fremantle contest. Image courtesy of Harold Durant