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Ex-motorcycle despatch rider's helmet, worn by Keith Barry

Date: 1930-1951
Overall: 430 x 245 x 190 mm, 0.5 kg
Medium: Canvas, leather
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Keith Barry
Object Name: Helmet
Object No: 00001844

User Terms

    This ex-motorcycle despatch rider's helmet was worn by Australian engineer, designer, builder and driver, Keith Barry during his racing career.
    SignificanceThis helmet belonged to an important figure in Australian water speed racing history. It was worn by Keith Barry, who claimed the first world water speed record for Australia in the 91 cubic inch engine class division in the lightweight hydroplane FIREFLY II in 1950.
    HistoryKeith Barry, an engineer, designer, builder, driver and President of the Australian Power Boat Association, had raced boats from the early 1930s. He built his first boat SPITFIRE in 1938, to the then reasonably new three-point hydroplane design; when planing or racing at speed, it rested on three points only – one on each extreme edge on the sponsons, or winglike projections at either side of the front of the hull and the third at the propeller. Barry borrowed the superlight spruce and fabric construction from the aircraft industry, along with the names he bestowed on his boats. SPITFIRE, with its tiny ‘Barry special’ 61 cubic inch, two-cylinder motorcycle engine, held the Australian mile record for nine years, reaching a peak speed of 45.535 mph.

    Barry built his second hydroplane, FIREFLY, in 1947, fitting it with a 135 cubic inch surplus jeep engine, and was never defeated in three years of racing against more than 100 boats over various events. He also beat Ernie Nunn to the Lawson Shield. But, by the end of the decade of the Second World War, larger engines and newer boats were entering the competition and Barry decided it was time to rise to the challenge. His racing-car-driver friend Bill McLachlan offered Barry a 1936 MG TA engine from a smashed car, and Barry set about stripping and rebuilding the engine. Once he fitted it to FIREFLY, he easily beat his record in SPITFIRE at 57mph. Then Enid Nunn raced to 60 mph to take the Australian record, which spurred her uncle Ernie to apply for the 91 cubic inch record, set at 64.689 mph in California in 1941.

    At dawn on Saturday 14 January 1950, two rival teams revved their hydroplane engines on the quiet waters of Kogarah Bay, on the Georges River, southern Sydney, NSW, in front of hundreds of spectators and supporters. What brought them all out so early was the intense rivalry between two speed boat drivers in a race to claim the first world water speed record for Australia. It was the record in the 91 cubic inch engine class (the smallest class of engine), and was eagerly sought by two speed boating families: those of Keith Barry and Ernie Nunn. Barry had built his lightweight hydroplane, FIREFLY II, in less than two weeks, after hearing that rival Ernie Nunn, also a designer, builder and speed boat driver, had mounted a challenge for the record, then held by American Jack Cooper. Nunn’s boat DO was to be driven by his niece Enid Nunn – one of a small number of women in the sport – because she was lighter.

    Barry and friends, including water-ski champion Jack Murray, worked night and day for 11 days to build the little hydroplane FIREFLY II from plans drawn at Barry’s kitchen table. They installed the same 91 cubic inch engine and then trialled the 3.79 metre boat on the twelfth day, secretly reaching an average speed of 70mph – over two one-mile runs – beating the record speed.

    At 4.30am, Enid raced Ernie’s hydroplane DO to an average speed of 66.5 mph (106.07kph), becoming the first Australian to break a world record on the water. Success was fleeting. Forty minutes later, Barry lined up and took his new hydroplane FIREFLY II to 72.289 mph (115.66kph). Since both records were broken minutes apart, the Union International du Yachting Automobile awarded the world record to Keith Barry in his heroic, purpose-built hydroplane FIREFLY II. Barry also smashed six NSW and Australian records, including rival Ernie Nunn’s 114.73km/h record speed in the larger engine class - the 255 cubic inch engine capacity. Eleven months later, FIREFLY II extended the record to 78.006 mph with the lighter Bill McLachlan at the wheel.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Ex-motorcycle despatch rider's helmet, worn by Keith Barry

    Assigned title: Motorfiets ordonnans helm, gedragen door Keith Barry tijdens zijn boot racing carrière

    Assigned title: Versand-Fahrer Motorradhelm von Keith Barry, getragen whärend seinem Rennboot Karriere

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