When Winnifred Wells was 11 years old, she stood tall in her mother’s kitchen and declared she wanted a motorcycle. That was in 1939, and it should be noted her father George was an ardent motorcyclist, despite his day job as owner of a furniture factory in Perth (GF Wells), and that Winnie was the third of his four daughters.  It took her 5 years to age up to a motorcycle license and buy a BSA 250, with which she upset the local motorcycle club by attempting to join their ranks.  She simply wanted to improve her riding skills after a spill, and thought more experienced riders might instruct her, but they balked at the prospect. That was ‘typical male chauvinism’ she said, but it didn’t deter her; not much did.  She pushed her way into their ranks, practiced scrambles riding on a Triumph 350, and soon realized she had a lot more gumption than her club mates.  For example, when she declared her intention in 1950 to ride solo across the south of Australia to Sydney (and back), she was roundly discouraged – certainly none of them had attempted it, and crossing the Nullarbor Plain alone on a motorcycle was considered suicidal.   The Nullarbor Plain, part of the Great Australian Bight, stretches for nearly 700 miles, with no water, few animals, and even fewer humans. It was described in 1865 as a “hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams.”  Still, her father George was encouraging; “Nothing short of a major breakdown will stop her accomplishing this trip.”

Plucky! Winifred Wells and her abbreviated riding kit for a 21-day ride across the Great Australian Bight, solo. [State Library of Western Australia]
Winnie’s plan was to ride a new 1950 Royal Enfield Bullet 350, but she didn’t have the ready cash, so approached the local dealer – Carlyle & Co – for sponsorship.  Owner Carl Cohen took a gamble on her plan, no doubt because she seemed determined, and was very attractive, and it would be great publicity for his agency.  He sponsored Winnie’s trip with the princely sum of £25, and sorted a financing plan for a new Bullet through IAG…who had to give her permission to take the bike across state borders.  She set out on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) 1950, and it was 105degrees in Perth.   Her riding kit was very simple, with two leather pannier bags and a canvas gym bag strapped to the Enfield’s carrier.  She wore a simple riding kit of a light zipped leather riding jacket, khaki jodhpurs, high boots, a scarf and sweater, and a peaked cap under which she tucked her hair.  She carried a single spare set of clothes, a groundsheet but no tent, and £25, which she reckoned would be enough for her planned 3-week round trip of 5504miles.  “I was full of myself, as you are at 22.”

After her original 5500 mile journey, Winnie was road-worn but shone like a star. [State Library of Western Australia]
She found accommodation her first night in the hamlet of Southern Cross, from which she entered the Nullarbor, and sleeping in the rough. She’d had a spill on loose gravel (the route was entirely unpaved) that day, and that first night was dismal.  Her third day was no better, as she crashed again; “I was haring down these terrible corrugations and had the biggest spill you could imagine, a full locker and high side that sent me sprawling.”  She found a small mining settlement, at which she was encouraged to ride right back to Perth, as she’d scraped up the side of her face, and bent her bike.  Local bush mechanics helped her straighten things out, and she carried on, reaching Sydney in ten days, where she spent the weekend taking in the sights.  Then she turned right back around and crossed the Nullarbor again, for a 21-day round trip.  Back in Perth, she was celebrated by the Lord Mayor, interviewed for the press, and presented with a silver trophy by the Australian Royal Enfield importers, at a ceremony on the local speedway track.

A silver vase was awarded by the Australian Royal Enfield importers to Winifred Wells after her successful solo journey. [State Library of Western Australia]
She was the first woman to ride solo across Australia, but that hadn’t cured her desire to break new boundaries.  A year after her first trip, she upped the ante, planning a ride around all of Australia.   At this point her father George stepped in, telling her “you’re not going alone.”  He was 59 years old, had once worked in the north of the country on the Kimberly Coast, and had experienced the issues with driving in the area, especially the Great Sandy Desert.  Another new Royal Enfield Bullet joined their équipe, which Winnie rode, while her father rode the original Bullet, saddled with the bulk of their luggage.   This time they set out northward from Perth, on Sep. 23 1952, in the hopes of missing the monsoon season, and the large number of heavy trucks expected to supply Australia’s nuclear weapons tests on Monte Bello.   The dirt roads were well packed and the going relatively easy, until they reached Pardoo Sands.  Winnie reckoned that was the most difficult part of the trip, as the Enfields weren’t powerful enough to fly over the sands, and they struggled mightily, paddling along with no traction or balance for 200 miles.   On the other hand, when the road was smooth, Winnie had a habit of crossing her legs atop the Enfield’s tank, and rolling along at 60mph; she reckoned the top speed reached on her Enfield was 78mph.

Winnie and George Wells on the start of their round-Australia journey on Royal Enfields in 1952. [Wikipedia]
As Winifred Wells was already famous from her first trip, their journey was slowed by obligatory press opportunities in every proper town they passed through. In Sydney, Winnie and George were celebrated with a street fair in front of George Bolton’s Royal Enfield showroom, and press stops and celebrations en route added 10 days to Winnie’s original 9-day journey between Sydney and Perth.  The entire journey took just over two months, and the pair reached Perth on Nov 26, 1952. They had averaged 300km/day for their 10,000 mile journey, their bikes sipped fuel at 90mpg, and while they had plenty of flat tires, their Enfields had no major breakdowns.  There were more celebrations at home in Perth, and Carl Cohen purchased Winnie’s first Enfield for display at his showrooms.  She kept the new Enfield as her daily rider, and while both bikes seem to be lost to history, Winnie’s story is evergreen, as are the photos of this plucky young woman.  At 23, she was 5’5″ and 110lbs, but made of strong stuff, with the heart of a lion.

Winifred Wells celebrated in Perth after her first journey at the local Royal Enfield dealer. [State Library of Western Australia]
Winifred Wells and her 1950 Royal Enfield Bullet would have been a perfect addition to our ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum!  Unfortunately, the whereabouts of both her Bullets is currently unknown, but we celebrate her remarkable story with these terrific photos from the State Library of Western Australia.

Winnie awarded a silver platter inscribed with a map of her round-Australia journey in 1952. [State Library of Western Australia]
[Thanks to the many articles used to source this information, including the UK Mirror, Old Bike Australasia, and especially the State Library of Western Australia]



Paul d’Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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