Robert Johns – Ulysses Club

Comments (0) Interviews

Robert Johns, President of the Mid North Coast Branch of the Ulysses Club, explains to Jo Atkins that growing older doesn’t mean you need to forgo adventure, companionship and good times. In fact, the Club’s motto is ‘grow old disgracefully’!

For those who don’t know, what exactly is the Ulysses Club?

The Ulysses Club is for older motorcyclists, the largest organisation of its kind in Australia; the current membership is in the order of 28,000. The club was formed in 1983 initially for riders over 50 years; however, junior members over 40 were later accepted. The club’s motto is ‘grow old disgracefully’.

The club name comes from a poem of the same title by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It tells how the great Greek hero Ulysses, now middle-aged and securely in charge of his kingdom of Ithaca, is getting bored with things around him and longs to go adventuring again with his shipmates of old. It describes very well indeed the sort of person who still has enough spark to go on riding into middle and later years.

The club has grown to over 120 branches, spread throughout Australia, and continues to grow. By joining the club, a member can choose to attend any branch, branch ride or function of their choice.

The aim of the club is to provide ways in which older motorcyclists can get together for companionship and mutual support – to show by example that motorcycling can be an enjoyable and practical activity for riders of all ages, and to draw the attention of public and private institutions to the needs and views of older riders.

Give us a bit of background about how the Ulysses Club came to exist in Port Macquarie.

The Mid North Coast branch of the Ulysses Club was established 21 years ago and has been active in the area ever since. The milestone 21st AGM was held on Sunday 20 June.

The Mid North Coast Branch originally covered a huge geographic area stretching from Forster through to Gloucester and Taree and up to Kempsey.

After establishment of additional branches to serve this area, the Mid North Coast Branch is now centred around the Hastings Local Government Area. This includes Port Macquarie, Kew, Kendall, Wauchope, Laurieton, Bonny Hills, Lake Cathie, Telegraph Point and outlying areas north of Taree/Wingham, south of Kempsey and extending west to Long Flat.

What is your position with the Club, and how long have you been a member?

I am the recently elected President of the branch. For me it is a pleasure to return to a position I have held before. I have been in the club since 1997 and am member number 12,115. Running the branch takes quite a lot of effort, so I rely on my committee for a lot of assistance.

The recently elected committee consists: of myself as President; Kevin O’Donoghue, Treasurer: Margot Russell, Secretary; Garry Campbell, Assistant Treasurer and Ride Coordinator; Gary Dowling, Publicity and Fundraising Coordinator; Susan Andrews, Webmaster; Chris Jackson, Welfare and Ride Coordinator; and Rowena Redding, Quartermaster. (Group photo above, left to right: Rowena Redding, Chris Jackson, Margot Russell, Garry Campbell, Robert Johns, Gary Dowling, Susan Andrews, Denis Paulin (visiting National President) and Kevin O’Donoghue.)

So, how did your interest in motorbikes begin and develop?

When I was 15 years old, I swapped my Go Kart for a Vespa scooter. I have been riding ever since; motorcycling gets in the blood. The best bike I ever had was a 350cc Royal Enfield; now I have a Yamaha FJR1300 touring bike complete with UHF two way radio, panniers and a camper trailer.

Where and how often does the club meet?

The Branch holds social meetings alternately at the Westport Club, Buller St, Port Macquarie, on the second Tuesday of odd months starting at 6pm for dinner followed by the social meeting at 7.30pm and at the Kendall Services and Citizens Club, 46 Graham St, Kendall, on the second Sunday of even months starting at 11am followed by lunch.

Further details of the date and time of the meetings is included in the Branch Club Meetings list at

In the Mid North Coast area, there are currently 202 members; 40% are located in Port Macquarie.

Your members must represent a fairly broad cross section of the public?

Yes, we have bus drivers, truckies, plumbers, builders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and of course retirees – a diverse and often eclectic group. A significant percentage of members are women, and a growing number of them ride their own bikes.

In June this year, we had 28,284 financial members, with a growth over the past 12 months of 2,921 members. Membership number 57,660 was issued on May 26, so quite a few people have been members over the years. We have members approaching 90 years of age, and our branch has several members in their 70s.

What type of activities does the club hold?

There are many opportunities for members to get together through our monthly social meetings, meet and greet events with other branches, Christmas in July weekends, annual Salvation Army Toy Runs at Christmas, the Breast Cancer Pink Ribbon rides, Ulysses AGMs in a different state each year, Odyssey three day weekends hosted by various branches and regular weekly branch rides.

Our branch is active in fundraising and contributes to the Ulysses Club Arthritis Research Foundation, which provides in excess of $80,000 per year to find a cure for arthritis.

We have the following sponsors supporting our branch: Healing Hands Massage Clinic, Big Ear Inc, Rock Motorcycles, Port Macquarie Motorcycles, Camden Haven Motorcycles, Mud & Tar Motorcycles and Barry Hewes Massage Therapy.

If any reader wishes to support our branch, they can contact Gary Dowling, our Publicity and Fundraising Coordinator, on 6585 5570.

What’s the most memorable or exciting ride the club has taken part in to date, and why was it so exciting?

The most memorable trip branch members have done was a trip to Rockingham 39 km South West of Perth in 2007. This Odyssey was attended by 14 of our branch members, who had the challenge of the large distances involved and the Nullarbor crossing. The camaraderie over the five weeks of the trip was exceptional.

A close second was the Tasmania AGM in 2006 at Ulverstone. Twenty branch members went on that ride and were overwhelmed by the welcome from the people of Ulverstone. It seemed every man, woman and child in the district were at the Grand Parade through town cheering the riders on. Many of the shop windows were decorated with motorcycles and their paraphernalia.

Motorbikes, good times, road trips … There must have been some fairly humorous things happening at times

Getting lost can be a problem, and it is usually taken as being entertaining. Despite the pre-ride briefing and the corner marking system we use to ensure the group of riders reach their destination, inevitably someone will turn when they should not. This happens most when we take off from the service centre at the Port Macquarie donut.

Riders entering the roundabout don’t always see where the rider in front has gone and the group temporarily splits up.

On a recent weekend away ride in June, 18 members and four visitors headed off from the donut led by Joan. The trip included a stop at the ‘Best Scones on the Coast’, then onto Gloucester for lunch and through to Clarence Town for the overnight stop at the Erringhi Hotel.

The entertainment at dinner time started off with a challenging trivia quiz focused on the Ulysses Club and motorcycles.

Margaret’s birthday was celebrated by a cake organised by Martine and the group, then moved to the bar to watch and participate in Karaoke – this was a absolute hoot, with Tess showing herself as a real party girl.

It was so unexpected, she kept our group and the locals entertained for hours.

What events are pencilled in on the Ulysses calendar over the next few months?

We have Sunday rides to the Lakes Way at Pacific Palms, Gingers Creek on the Oxley Highway, a trip to Stroud to meet up with the Manning Valley Branch, our next branch social meeting at The Westport Bowling Club, a ride to Smithtown, Long Flat and a Memorial Day service at Lake Cathie reserve. The Memorial Day service is held all over the country by every branch to remember those members who have ‘ridden on’.

We also have regular Tuesday rides organised on an ad hoc basis by one of our members, and we have our monthly coffee meet and greet at ‘Caramels at Cathie’ at Ocean Drive Lake Cathie on the third Saturday of the month at 9.30am.

The best way to keep tabs on these events is to look up the ride calendar on our web site at

What are some of the things members say they enjoy most about being a part of the club?

Most say they enjoy the opportunity to meet and forge lasting friendships with a diverse range of people. Local social events and the Annual General Meeting give members an opportunity to develop lifelong friendships. The camaraderie between members across the whole club is phenomenal, and anecdotal stories published in the Club Magazine ‘Riding On’ is testimony to the ‘family’ that the Ulysses Club has become. Travelling members are welcomed into homes and given all manner of assistance when away on rides.

For those who may be interested in joining the club, whom do they contact?

For information on how to join the club, call our Secretary, Margot Russell on (02) 6585 5564 or email her on

Thank you Robert.

Leave a Reply