Billie Samuels - 1934 Melbourne to Sydney
Close-up of Billie Samuels on the Malvern Star bike showing her koala bear mascot before leaving for Melbourne

Close-up of Billie Samuels on the Malvern Star bike showing her koala bear mascot before leaving for Melbourne

Here at La Velocita we love a good epic, but epics aren’t what they used to be like! Modern technology has made it easier and more comfortable to get you from A to B on two wheels.

Today we take a trip down Memory Lane to remember a 23 year old Melbourne waitress, Billie Samuels who in March 1934, planned to ride from Melbourne to Sydney in record time.

Words - Brendan Edwards     Images - State Library NSW

The rider was Billie Samuels, she stood 4 foot 11 inches and weighed just under 45kg.  What is most remarkable about this story was the fact that she wasn't a bike rider.  She had only learned to ride a bicycle a few months before the attempt.

Billie set off from Melbourne's General Post Office at 6:00am on May 22nd 1934.  Her aim was to cover the distance in less than three days, seven hours and thirty-two minutes.  Elsa Barbour had set this time riding from Sydney to Melbourne and Billie was determined to beat this time. 

Billie would be riding solo so to prove that she had covered the distance she had to get a logbook checked off at post offices along the way. You may have heard the saying “if it’s not on ‘Strava’ then it didn’t happen!” but things were done very differently 80 odd years ago!

Billie Samuels on a Malvern Star cycle leaving for Melbourne from Martin Place

Billie Samuels on a Malvern Star cycle leaving for Melbourne from Martin Place

On the first day Billie arrived exhausted in Wangaratta at 8:40pm. The day had not gone too well due to a fall which left her with some a bit worse for the wear.  The next day she left early and crossed the state line into New South Wales, however another fall at Albury damaged her bike and she was forced to make emergency repairs.  Her day didn’t get much better as the roads ahead revealed miserable conditions which slowed her greatly and forced Billie to continue riding through the night. 

It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to ride at night through the countryside in 1934.  Billie would have been riding over dodgy roads, in the pitch black of night and there would have been a lot more wildlife than what we experience today.  The bravery she showed is quite commendable.

Billie pulled the pin at 2:00am and decided to take a short nap in the middle of nowhere. Without the benefit of an alarm to wake her, she slept much longer than planned and when she was back on the road she did not reach Gundagai until 8:45am. Billy was twelve hours behind schedule at that stage.

376km lay between her and Sydney but she still had hopes of making up the time. Unfortunately fate was against her.  Headwinds slowed her down on the Breadalbane Plains and the riding never got any easier.

At 11:07pm on Friday 25th May, Billie Samuel made it to the General Post Office in Martin Place in Sydney where she was met by her father and a group of supporters.  The journey took her three days, seventeen hours and two minutes.

Billie was the first women to ever ride from Melbourne to Sydney.

Still determined to beat Elsa Barbours record she planned a return ride back to Melbourne from Sydney in the cold of winter and left at 10:00am on Wednesday 4th July 1934 on a three speed Malvern Start bike with a toy Koala pinned to the front of her bike for luck. 

Heavy rain marred the opening day, but with favourable winds was able to keep several hours ahead of schedule.  She suffered injury, mechanicals, and suffered a crash on a dodgy stretch of road near Albury, and was forced to dismount and carry her bike through ankle deep mud and endured all sorts of hell getting back to Melbourne.

In grand fashion Billie rode back into Melbourne at 11:27am on the third day. The journey took her an amazing three days, one hour and twenty minutes, breaking Barbour’s record by six hours and twelve minutes.  Over 3,000 people were at hand to witness the occasion and Billie was overcome with emotion and reportedly burst into tears.

Billies record stood for three years until it was smashed in September 1937 by Joyce Barry who completed the journey in two days, two hours and forty-seven minutes, but her story is one for the legends.

When you next head out for your next epic, and you think you’re doing it tough then remember this story of this 4”11 inch fighter.