‘Icons and Legions’ came about due to the lack of knowledge and recognition of those who dedicate their lives and contribute to the Australian biker culture.
Everyone knows the yanks, the likes of the Tuetuls (American Chopper), Jessie James and artist David Mann, but very few know of our own biker Icons. One of which I’d like to introduce is Rod “Bats” Bateman, a cartoonist who is to the Oz biker culture what well known Aussie cartoonist and creator of Ettamogah, Ken Maynard is to the Aussie yobo.
Much like Ken, Bats’ cartoons contain a host of fair dinkum Aussie characters, in particular bikers, placing them in situations and portraying them in a way that a broad cross section can relate to. Bats would have no problem with subject matter with one of his favorite haunts being the Sydney red light district of Kings Cross. You’ll often find Bats kicking back with fellow Icon and long time friend Randall “Animal” Nelson O.A.M. You can tell Bats’ work from others by his trademark ‘moon with circling bats’.
Bats was introduced to bikes at an early age by his father, he has fond memories of the old man and his old man’s best mate. After returning from a tour of duty in WW11 Bats’ old man and his mate took up riding. Bats reminisces about the time he asked his old man’s mate why he was wearing a bow tie with his leather jacket, the reason being – they were on their way to court. The last bike the old man owned was a 500cc Ariel single which ended up sitting in the garage due to the untimely death of his mate – the old man never rode again.
Bats kept up the tradition taking up bikes at 16, his first bike was a Triumph Thunderbird he bought in 1962. In its day the Thunderbird was used by the coppers and you could pick one up for £30-40 at a government auction. This particular bike ended up having an undignified end. One of Bats’ favorite haunts was the picturesque and historical La Perouse on Botany Bay’s foreshore. Saturday nights would be spent with the older crowd, drinking and yahooing on the beach. Bats was the youngest and like most young blokes thought he would show the older crowd how. He decided to lock up the brakes and power slide the bike on the rickety old wharf. The wharf was covered in moss and with no traction he sailed straight off the end of the wharf collecting a boat on its way to a watery grave where it stayed.
Bats went through years of British bikes and in 1969 he lashed out on a brand new Bonneville. It was on the Bonnie he had one of his most memorable incidents. He was pulled up by a copper only 50 yards from his home after a big day on the turps, he sat on his bike shaking his head with only one thought - he was fucked! The copper pulled in front of him parked his bike and approached Bats. After a brief conversation and the fact it was Christmas Eve, he was just 50 yards from home or whatever reason the copper let him off. After bidding farewell, the copper mounted his bike and went to take off. Bats thought the copper was going to head straight only to have him pull from the curb and make a u-turn. Unfortunately Bats had taken off too quickly and T-boned the copper. Bats ended up on his bum in the middle of the road laughing his head off. The copper did the unexpected, got to his feet pushed both bikes to the gutter, picked up the pissed as a mute Bats and walked him the 50 yards home to the Mrs. A week later Bats was in the lounge room with a couple of members from an outlaw club enjoying a few medicinals when there was a knock on the door. Bats peeped through the door and saw a strange bloke with a carton. Bats asked the bloke what he wanted, the bloke introduced himself as Constable Smith, the constable that helped him out and thought he might enjoy a drink to which Bats replied "leave the carton and fuck off!" Needless to say the copper left with carton in hand screaming insanities and telling all that heard he was not going to help any bastard again.
’69 was a good year for the Batman, it was the year he got himself his first Harley, a Walla with side-car. One of Bats tricks to impress the chicks was lifting the side-car in the air around corners, he reckoned it was a great way to get the girls to come around (you know what he means?). The trick worked until the time half tanked Bats was collected by a car, bounced off a park car then ending up upside down.
Bats had drawn all his life and would often doodle after a few cones. Bats is the first one to tell you he is a "Bongo Pilot" (pot smoker) and has been since the 60’s. One of the first to notice Bats’ talent was Johnny Mack, who at the time was Secretary for the Hells Angels, he asked if Bats could knock something up for him. Bats came up with a canvas with Johnny Mack and himself on bikes in front of a milk bar. Mack commissioned the picture in the late 60’s and true to the Batmans form it still hasn’t been completed. You can’t push a true artist! Bats is also a keen photographer, he is quick to show off his collage of topless and sometimes bottomless frame that takes pride and place on the garage wall. Bats has gone on to have his work featured in exhibitions, designed posters and flyers and even the headstone for his brothers, The Gazurgans. That’s right The Gazurgans, he tells me The Gazurgans aren’t a gang more a tribe! For the past 30 years Bats and the 40 members have partied on a property, a founding member purchased in Mudgee.
A country boy at heart, Bats has been known to get on his Bad Boy, hit the road and go country to nowhere in particular. Bats was on one such ride when he pulled into a rest area for a smoke break (Bongo style). No sooner had he sparked up when an elderly couple pulled up, the elderly male driver hopped out to stretch his legs. He came up to Bats and told him about the dream run he had up until this point, due to the wife being asleep over the last few towns. The old bloke then excused himself and went to wake the wife. He went to the passenger door and opened it only to have her fall out onto the gravel. Concerned for the old girl Bats ran to lend a hand only to find the reason the old girl wasn’t whining. The old girl was dead!
It’s easy to see where the Batman gets inspiration for his work. His life is anything but boring, even this interview wasn’t without drama. We decided to conduct the interview at the Maroubra Hotel on Maroubra Beach. Once we arrived we were greeted by a group of youths watching our every move.
We decided to park the Harleys at the door of the pub with the approval of the bouncers. It was after I dismounted my bike, a car load of blokes slowed down to sus us out and then another, it was then the bouncer told me the reason for the interest in Bats and myself. Apparently there was a misunderstanding between the local Bra boys and the Comancheros only a few days earlier. Don’t worry it was all good!
One more thing I would like to mention is the ‘Memorial Tree’. The Memorial Tree is in Darlinghurst Road Kings Cross, it is dedicated to the memory of bikers who have died by nailing plaques to the tree. Bats’ mate Animal is currently in a battle with a few wankers who are against the nailing of plaques to the tree. If in the Cross say hello to the boys and lend your support to continue the fight!
Dedicated to Animal and may there be many more Martians Bat