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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Burt Munro - Kiwi Legend

Fellow blogger Roger Fleming recently both staggered and delighted me by giving me an outstanding book on the life of New Zealander Burt Munro.  Rog mate, that was a real act of generosity - you're a star!  If there is actually someone on the planet who doesn't immediately recognise the name, Burt was immortalised in the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" and portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Front of the book

This book, running to nigh on 300 pages of A4 format high quality art paper is without doubt the definitive book on Burt Munro.  In fact it's bloody terrific (a technical term).  Roger Donaldson, the movie director was given access to all the Munro family memorabilia right from Burt's early days - Photos, letters, certificates - the whole 9 yards and they're all in the book.  In addition, he has included transcripts of interviews with a heap of Burt's fellow competitors at Bonneville, plus family friends, newspaper interviews and so on.

Offerings to the God of Speed - prototypes and failed components
in his shed

Pushing the boundaries!

One of Burt's Bonneville certificates

This isn't just an interesting and enjoyable coffee table book, it's far, far more than that on so many different levels.  It's an object lesson in what can be achieved with single-mindedness (bloody-mindedness more like!),  sheer persistence and hard work against all odds and scant resources; no matter in what sphere of endeavour.  It's an inspiration to us all and in fact, a number of successful Kiwis in all sorts of fields have cited Burt Munro as having inspired them to "have a go".

I'm English by birth although I've lived in NZ since 1975.  Looking from the outside in for a moment, people like Burt Munro and Sir Ed Hillary, the first man to scale Mt.Everest; typify for me the archetypal New Zealander - modest,  friendly, doesn't regard anything as impossible and still has the pioneering spirit of their forefathers.

The movie is an amalgamation of Burt's various visits to the salt, all of which you'll find in the book and much more besides.  It's interesting that when the movie was first shown in NZ, the appeal was far broader than just motorcycle fans.  It was pretty universal and the DVD is in an awful lot of homes over here AND watched repeatedly too.

If you're interested in getting a copy, here's the library code:  ISBN 978-1-86979-207-7.  There's also a 2hour DVD tucked in the back flap of the book covering all manner of things associated with Burt's life and the making of the movie.  Go on.....  you know you want one!!

Burt Munro - the icon

It's been said that Burt's record still stands as a mark of respect to his Bonneville legacy and that if anyone ever attempts to break it, that person can expect no assistance and will not be welcome at Bonneville.  Whether this is true or urban myth, I don't know.


  1. Nice. I have his biography "One Good Run" by Tim Hanna...and of course - the DVD!

    Go Burt!

  2. Thanks for sharing that Geoff, awesome stuff. "Worlds Fastest Indian" is one of my all-time favourite movies. Think I'll have to look for a copy of that book,

    Have a great weekend!

  3. Andrew!
    "One Good Run"is in Coro Library - excellent. And we have the DVD (of course!)

    Hi Anthony:
    No wories mate. You won't be disappointed with the book - it's a genuine cracker!

  4. I appreciate that he more or less went his own way and had the self sufficiency to back it up. There could be worse role models!

    Although the neighbors don't appreciate me when I water the lawn the way Burt watered his lemon tree.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, so was interested in reading about the book. I tried to order it just now on Amazon, but it appears to be out of stock with no news of when it might be available again. I will keep looking! In the meantime, I will keep peeing on my lemon tree....

  6. Dan:
    Our lemon tree is on a sloping bank. I don't use Burt's method for fear of slipping whilst in a compromising position. I fear that calling an ambulance to do running repairs so to speak wouldn't be a good look.....

    I've just done a quick web search and it's still available in quite a few places. If you have any difficulty, let me know and I'll take care of it.

  7. Mate, that book has certainly inspired me, your blog captures the essence of it we. I dont have a lemon tree but I am thinking of planting one.

  8. Rog,
    A lemon tree makes peeing outside at one of your summer BBQ's a socially acceptable activity :-)

  9. Loved the movie, I now need to read the book. Looks like a good one. I will have to order it.

  10. Oz:
    There are several Burt Munro books - the One Good Run book mentioned in the comments by Andrew is also worth getting but this one covers so much ground, it must be the definitive work.

  11. Geoff, do you know if it is it true that an engineering works in Invercargill has his Indian on display?

    cheers Jules

  12. Gidday Jules!
    Not an engineering works, E Hayes Hammer Hardware which is similar to a Mitre 10 hardware shop. The late Norm Hayes was a mate of Burt's and bought the V twin and the less-known Velocette. Still proudly on display today!

    Here's the link mate: http://www.ehayes.co.nz/burt-munro/

  13. Just watched the movie. Glad that Burt was a guy, otherwise it wouldn't have been so easy watering the tree the way he did. Certainly a genius in his way, and an interesting character.
    Hope you stay warm down there, I have heard there's a snow storm in Wellington. A snow storm? Really?

  14. @Sonja It's snowing where I am (Palmerston North). First time in the 20 years I've been here. Will post some pics on my blog later...

  15. Sonja:
    Trust you to bring that up!!! I'd say he was pretty hard to live with but undoubtedly, so are most "driven" characters.

    Not only Wellington, but Auckland this afternoon - not sure whether they've ever had snow before!!! Sunny in coromandel, despite Auckland only being 50 km away as the crow flies. However, it's a cold as charity!

  16. Brilliant! The Worlds Fastest Indian is one of my favorites.
    "You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime."
    Good guy.

  17. Thanks Mike! Yep, he was a good guy all right. He might have been a difficult old sod to deal with but you've got to admire his commitment!

  18. Better than the Worlds Fastest Indian movie is bonus on the DVD. It's the producer's original documentary about Burt Munro that was made in the early '70s when Burt was still running.

    Burt is still so revered by the Bonneville regulars that it's considered bad luck to try and break his record and some will go so far as refusing to help anyone who tries to break it.

  19. Hi Doug!
    I still haven't played the DVD but am looking forward to it.

    I wasn't sure whether he still held a record after all this time and certainly didn't know about the "taboo" surrounding him so thanks so much for that!

  20. Sir Anthony probably made ol' Burt a far more engaging character than his neighbours found him to be, tee hee - but what a bloke (love his lawn-'mowing' method)! Gotta love (from a distance!)those single-minded, totally obsessive types who don't give a toss what other ppl think of them. We could probably all learn a lot from Burt's approach to life - leaping into the abyss is good for the soul, I'm sure!

  21. Sue:
    I'm certain that you're right. For a number of years, I had an ex-UK SAS sergeant working for me. Probably the most innovative person I've ever met but his single-mindedness had me mending relationships and hurt feelings all over our company! As you say, best to love 'em at a distance if possible!

  22. This week sees the Burt Munro challenge here in Invercargill where thousands of motorbikes will poor through the normally sedate streets.

    For myself it is rather poignant as Burt was a friend of the family, my father having met him through the motorbike club. Vern Russels shop was a regular spot for Burt to hang out in, he never spoke quietly. Anthony Hopkins almost had his voice down pat, but not quite.

    I was very fortunate to hear Burt's tales first hand. I loved asking him of stuff, much to my mothers regret, he didn't know when to stop talking. I witnessed his driving, crinching as he came terribly close to the fence lining our drive. Yes is eyesight was really bad, and how he drove nobody knows.

    The movie is fictional in parts, but it is good regardless.

  23. Hi Donna - thanks for dropping by!
    Yep, a number of my friends will be attending. How wonderful that you've got a direct connection with a legend. The movie has clearly done a lot to popularise him as literally every day, the analytical program I use to analyse blog visits picks up searches for Burt.

  24. Another great story about Burt:

  25. Always good to hear another story about Burt - thanks for that! He's still honoured every year with the Burt Munro Challenge held in Invercargill (http://www.burtmunrochallenge.com/).

    Thanks for dropping by!