In the late 1940’s John McGrath, while an amateur at the Canterbury Club in Sydney, struck up a friendship with visiting WA State Champion Geoff Baker.
I got to know him really well and he said, “If you ever decide to come over to the West, let me know and I’ll fix you up at our place with mum and dad. I’d always wanted to come over here and have a look at it but it seemed so distant. It was like another world. People used to talk about WA as though it was another country. Even then in 1949 it was very isolated. I arrived after an eight day journey by ship on the Strathaird.
John stayed in Perth for two years, joining the Fremantle Amateur Cycling Club and was chosen for the WA State Team in 1951. In 1952 he returned home to ailing parents after competing in the Australian Titles in Goodwood, SA, again as part of the State Team.
He came back to Perth in 1960, this time crossing the country not by boat but by bike. Setting out on track singles (lightweight tubular racing tyres) he was obliged to make some changes to his touring setup en route;
Once you got past from Ceduna it 's all dirt. I had no idea what I was up against. By the time I got to Melbourne I had to get most of them repaired and by the time I got to Adelaide, they were going again. When I got to Ceduna I stopped at this bike shop for a bit of advice about how the roads were and he said, “You’re not going to ride on that?” “Yeah, why?” “You won’t get round the corner on that bike.” I said, “No?” He said, “No, not on those tyres; no way.” I said, “Well, what do you reckon?” He said, “You need a pair of heavy duty wheels to get through.” So I said, “OK.” He only had 26 inch wheels so that meant my brakes were no good, they wouldn’t fit the wheel and he said, “You don’t need brakes, it’s all flat.” It was nearly all flat except coming down to Eucla! There’s this great big hill - a joke! Straight down, no turns, straight down then flattens out and I thought, “Well one thing, we’re not going to run into a car.” So I just sat on it and let it go. That was the only hill in over a thousand miles.
John joined the Midland Cycling Club and began racing a variety of road and track events including the first 6 Day Race held at Lake Monger. He was sponsored by Swansea, initially riding his Bobby Jones (NSW) built frame repainted and badged as a Swansea. The steep track at Lake Monger demanded a frame that allowed better pedal clearance at low speeds, Swansea built him an appropriate frame finished in copper plate.
It was a wonderful experience. Once I rode one, really I didn’t want to ride another one; because for one thing I considered myself a bit old for it. They ride longer these days but, how old was I? 30, 33, something like that; and that would’ve been considered as 'getting on a bit’. The young ones, 19 or 20 year olds used to give you a bit of a serve. The Victorians controlled the race. It was a set-up, you know, and was really determined by Bill Long. He was the organiser and in charge of the event. If he said that a team was going to win tonight well, that was the way it went. It wasn’t what a lot of people thought.