Frank Gardner

The Making of the Man


Over the years, and particularly since Dad’s passing, there have been numerous articles written on his life. I am effectively intending to document what many of these articles have already covered. In addition, I will be posting these articles on the site for others to read. I am not a journalist or author, but rather represent his story through the eyes of a daughter who, particularly during his last 3 years, spent a great deal of time with him as he reflected on his life. Before I get into the bellow, I would like to add that right up until the morning of his death, he was still as sharp as a tack. I recall numerous occasions where, sitting at his bedside, I would be engaged in conversations with others assuming he was resting. I recall being mid conversation and Dad piping up to correct a date, someone’s name or a place that I or others had incorrectly represented. His retention was faultless right until the end. So, with this in mind, I will attempt to set the scene that resulted in his incredibly full life as accurately as possible.

He was born October 1st 1931 in the rural coastal town of Ulladulla, New South Wales. Many articles written over the years recorded his birth date as 1930; and it was Frank himself responsible for this inaccuracy. In order to secure a licence to race speedway in 1949, he had assumed his brother Jacks identity and subsequent year of birth. Thankfully Frank’s speedway career was short lived due to a clever steer from his uncle, Hope Bartlett, but more on that later

Prior to 1949, Frank’s early years were tough. As one of 8 children, he had grown up during the Depression. He lost his youngest brother Val when he was very young, the result of the 2 of them using a rope to swing over a creek, the rope breaking, and Val subsequently breaking his neck. This left Frank as the baby of the family. His Fathers untimely death happened shortly after, the result of a drunk driver. Again, Frank was present for the unfortunate event. On the family front, this left him and two brothers, Ron (later to be called Wayne) and Jack and four sisters, Sophie (later to be called Sue), Monica, Madge and Valetta.

Frank’s mother, Florence May Gardner, ruled with an iron fist and all members of the family were ordered to earn their keep. Frank was provided with sugar bags and told to head down to the Ulladulla seaway where he was tasked with catching lobsters and other seafood for the family meals. The living arrangements consisted of a tent and 1 double bed for all 7 children where they slept top to tail.


The trip to and from school was carried out on horseback with the 4 youngest riding the one “mangy beast” as Dad called it. As times got increasingly hard, Frank’s mother made the decision to place him, the youngest child, who would have the greatest chance of adoption, into care. Already determined to carve a better life for himself, Frank escaped the orphanage and ran away. In doing so, he sought out the one family member who he believed could offer him a better shot at life. His uncle, Hope Bartlett, ran a bus fleet operating out of Nowra. Hope had been a wealthy pastoralist in his day and was a local force to be reckoned with.

When I was a young girl (early 1980’s), I used to attend the nursing home where Hope stayed until his passing at age 92. Right up until his death, Hope would sit up in bed reading the white pages and informing Dad of who was dead or alive. I found him terrifying but Dad obviously adored him right until the end as regular visits to his nursing home in Mona Vale, NSW, were commonplace. My mother also recalls Hope as a tough character who, when she started dating Dad, ordered her to remain in the vehicle while Dad visited him at his home. Thankfully the relationship improved over the years as Mum became the vital link who would keep Hope informed of Dad’s achievements.

So, back to the story. Hope Falkner Bartlett, born 1892, was a success in his own right. Making his first mark as a factory rider on the then famous Zenith motorcycles in 1910, Hope made his mark on racing circuits and speedway with such cars as Bugattis and Sunbeams. His last appearance on a racing circuit was at Bathurst in 1951 where he claimed victory. While the appearance of the young Frank was initially of no appeal to then accomplished Hope, he did recognise that a young, fit and very eager young boy would likely be of use when it came to washing the buses and other odd jobs. He allowed Frank to stay with him on the proviso that he earned his keep. While washing the buses gave him a roof over his head, Frank wanted more and from age 14 began a career in the boxing ring with the end goal of one day affording a motor cycle. While boxing provided an income, his other passions included surf life saving and golf. Both pursuits he was equally talented in but neither would support his end goal of a foray into Motor Racing. Academically, Frank was also incredibly gifted and in a bid to support his desired motor sport career, he completed a diploma in Engineering and Metallurgy and was awarded Young Apprentice of the Year in NSW in 1948. Both Frank’s boxing and golf careers were to be short lived (although golf remained a passion throughout his life) with Hopes steer that he should focus on less “brain scrambling” pursuits and more profitable endeavours (of which Golf was not – at the time). In later years, Dad would often remark on the million dollar cheques handed out to the respective pro golfers and wonder what may have been. Thankfully, he never lamented too much on the past saying “the only thing you get when you look over your shoulder is a stiff neck”.

With Hopes guiding hand, and Frank’s in-built sense of “self preservation”, he abandoned the boxing ring for a career on speedway at the ripe age of 17 (although his licence read 18).

It is at this point that I am going to stop as I am hopeful that the webpage tells the rest of the story. The purpose of this precursor was to set the scene around the humble beginnings from which Frank came and which embedded in him a drive and determination to become the man he was. Throughout this website, I have attempted to chronicle Dad’s career, feature the cars he raced, the various circuits, article’s of the time and where possible, a few “quotable quote’s”. How do you capture a person’s life in one webpage and attempt to do it justice? The answer is with great difficulty. My guiding focus however has been to ensure that I have presented it in such a way that Dad would have supported. He did not believe in personal biographies, even at the end, and was selective with the media personalities he gave time too. I recall his mortification when my mother advised him that she had put him forward for the Order of Australia medal and he had been selected. He refused to attend the ceremony although I do believe, as time went on, that he was quite chuffed to be recognised for his contribution to Driver Education and Road Safety

Finally, I am concluding this “Making of the Man” section with the bellow 2 photos. The first is from my Wedding day in 2003 and then the 2nd was taken in 2008 at a dinner where CAMS recognised Dad's contribution to Motor Sport. Both were great events for Dad (although the 1st cost him a little more than the 2nd). Enjoy the site!