Being the daredevil passenger, leaning out of a motorcycle sidecar outfit at 160km/h, was not how dress-cutter Jean Kilpatrick saw her future when she left Melbourne with her racer boyfriend Ray Foster late in 1958.
Likewise, she never expected to venture behind the Iron Curtain during the darkest days of the Cold War or have to live on packet soup when funds were tight. But Jean’s willingness to “try anything” made her Australia’s first woman competitor in motorcycle Grand Prix racing.
She became part of the free-wheeling professional motorcycle racing scene known colloquially as the Continental Circus. This loose collection of riders, partners and helpers roamed Europe for five months each year, living out of vans and racing in different town every week.
One week these Australian adventurers might be treated to free hotel accommodation in Chemnitz, East Germany, the next camped in a paddock near Stuttgart and the week after that crossing a dangerous mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy.
“Ray went to England in 1958 to passenger for Lindsay Urquhart and I went too,” she said. “We couldn’t really afford to go to England, but when you’re young you do things anyway, if you want it badly enough.
“At the end of 1959, Lindsay came home and Ray decided he’d get a sidecar; it was cheaper and more convenient for me to be the passenger,” Jean said. “There was no need to pay, transport and feed a third person. He bought a Manx Norton, stuck a chair on it and we set off on the Continent.”
In December 2010, video producer Steven Levett recorded an interview with Jean Foster at her home in Melbourne. Jean was already battling cancer and passed away one year later. Steven has cut the accompanying video. – DC