RIP: Bobby Leisk (1935 – 2020)
Most people in the motorcycle industry know Jeff Leisk as Australia’s first genuinely successful motocross export; the WA-born “Flying Freckle” who became a two-time Mister Motocross winner, tasted racing success in both America and Europe, and then went on to have a distinguished career with the KTM Group in Australia. And most people who knew Jeff during that time also knew (or knew of) his father, Bob, who by all accounts was one of the world’s most passionate motorcyclists.
Sadly, Bob died back in late November. Despite the WA border closures and strict quarantine requirements for those coming from interstate, the Leisk clan finally managed to get together a few weeks later to pay tribute to Bob. What follows is the touching, heart-warming eulogy that Jeff Leisk shared with friends and family at that funeral service…
On behalf of my sisters, Sharon and Naomi, and my brother Mark, thank you for your attendance today to celebrate the life our beloved father Bob.
Today I am honored to share the story of our father’s life. Born on the 25th of November 1935 to Mable and John at 77 Hubble Street East, Fremantle, Robert (or “Bobby”, as most people affectionately call him) was the middle child to brothers Les and Jack. He grew up in an household where money was very scarce and his laborer father, John, struggled to put food on the table. Dad knew from a young age that he wanted a better life, and he did everything possible to get it … from diving for coins tossed into the Swan River by visiting American sailors to a paper round to bring some money into the household.
His real first job was with the Swan Broom Company in East Fremantle, but he soon realised plumbing would offer a better future and he gained employment with Shakespeare and Wrath as an apprentice. His plumbing career was put on hold when he joined the army in 1955. He was stationed at the Northam Barracks for three years, where he developed a close relationship with fellow soldier, John Fawcett.
It was during this time that his interest in riding and racing motorcycles was developing, and the lure of competing in an event in Kalgoorlie instead of staying on watch at the barracks was just too much to bear. So off to Kalgoorlie he went and his John Fawcett covered his watch duty.
Unfortunately for Dad, his performance at Kalgoorlie earned him some linage in the Sunday Times newspaper and when the Sargeant asked John as to the whereabouts of Private Leisk, John nervously replied he was in the toilet! Knowing private Leisk was not at the barracks on watch, the Sargeant quickly produced a paper clipping from the Sunday Times featuring Private Leisk in the results from the event in Kalgoorlie! That little misdemeanor – all for his love of racing motorcycles – cost him a seven-day stint in “confined barracks”. But knowing Dad and his immense lifelong passion for riding motorcycles, the seven days in CB would have been well worth it.
It was during his time in the army that Dad met his wife-to-be, our beloved mother, Helen. At the time, she was working as a nurse at Quairading Hospital. They married on the 6th of May 1960, and had their first of four children, Sharon, the following year. As a family, we grew accustomed to Dad’s serial house moving ways, which occurred so often that Mum was too afraid to unpack the many tea chests full with her belongings! Like his houses, Dad also liked to change his cars and motorcycles on a regular basis. This trend continued to the very end. There was always a bike or three in the garage!
After Dad’s time in the army he went into plumbing and went on to become WA’s “Preeminent Contractor”. He achieved many significant milestones during his lifelong career contracting on Perth’s largest buildings and complexes. He also pioneered work on the east coast of Australia and Asia, which was a first for a WA-based company. His last major contract, the Westin Hotel in Perth, was successfully completed last year at the age of 84!
Throughout Dad’s life, his extreme love of riding and racing motorcycles never went away. And although he had a brief stint racing cars at Wanneroo Raceway in the first HK Monaro brought into WA, he quickly decided to return to his beloved two-wheeled machines. Friday nights at Claremont Speedway played a big part in Dad’s life. The aroma of Methanol infused with Castrol R was in his system and he was hopelessly addicted for the rest of his life.
In the 1961/’62 season, he placed third in the State Solo title to Ken McKinlay from Scotland and winner Chum Taylor. Dad’s speedway racing career spanned from 1955 to 1968, and in the later years he also tried his hand at Motocross and Road Racing. He remained involved in speedway by sponsoring several riders including six-time WA Champion, Mick McKeon.
Dad’s beloved younger brother, Les, was also a very successful speedway rider, winning two state titles in the ’70s. He was heavily involved in Les’s racing, providing the funding and bikes for him to compete at the highest level. Sadly, Les passed away in 1982 in tragic circumstances. This was a devastating blow and he was deeply saddened by this event.
He was also involved in the embryonic stages of mini cycle racing in WA, with my brother, Mark, and myself competing in the very first competitive events to be held in the state. And in 1974, we competed in the first ever Australian Mini Cycle Championship in Pakenham, Victoria. These days it is normal to compete interstate from WA, but in 1974 it was a pretty big deal!
It was not long before motocross racing dominated the Leisk family members lives and I would be remiss not to mention that my sisters, Sharon and Naomi, took a back seat in the family due to our father’s deep passion for racing. Just like in his business career, he liked to win and would ensure we had the best bikes and preparation to do just that. The reality is Dad would do whatever it took to advance our motocross racing abilities, and in 1980 he packed up the entire family and rented a house in Southern California for three months so we could experience racing at the highest level. As young kids from Perth, we were privileged to live and breathe the Southern California lifestyle. It was truly was a thrilling time in our lives that is etched into our memories.
The racing scene is a social one and Dad certainly enjoyed that side of the sport. At many races he could be found around a fire enjoying a beer or two with his close mate, Clem Nunn, who was deeply involved in our racing activities. There was always a lot of banter and laughs to be had at someone else’s expense!
Another example of Dad’s passion for the sport was his involvement in supercross promotion with his friend, Kim Parsons – events at Fremantle Football Oval, the Burswood Dome and, incredibly, on the hallowed turf of Wembley Football Stadium in the UK. These successful events were high-profile and made a significant contribution to the sport, and he was immensely proud of these achievements.
In addition to motorcycles, Dad did have a passion for boating and over the years he owned many. Unfortunately his ability to pilot a boat was not a good as a motorcycle! No doubt a day on the water involved a few beers and maybe a few too many! After trip to Rottnest Island with some executives from a large WA-based building company (who he dropped off at the Claremont Jetty), he set out on his way down the Swan River to our home in Rossmoyne. By then it was dark and with the city lights in the distance as a form of navigation, he unfortunately failed to see Point Pelican in between and at high speed, he ran the Bertram 25 straight up the beach and cartwheeled off the flying bridge onto the deck below, breaking some ribs in the process. Engines revving at full throttle, props spinning in the sand, he managed to crawl back up onto the boat to kill the engines. You can only imagine what our mum, Helen, thought when he arrived home by taxi later that night with broken ribs covered in sand.
He lived a full life and never let obstacles stand in his way. And even in the last days before his passing – even when he was struggling to breathe – he was still riding his bike with an open-face helmet and an oxygen bottle on standby.
Dad, your fighting spirit was with you until the very end.
You fought a courageous battle with an unbeatable illness.
You were so brave.
You were our source of inspiration.
You were always there to support and guide us.
You taught us so much and your teachings gave us our freedom.
Thank you, Dad, for the wonderful life you gave us.
You are forever in our hearts and minds.