Finlay Brothers history site

Working at Finlay Brothers
Preserving the bicycle and
motorcycle heritage of
Finlay Brothers, Elizabeth St
Melbourne, 1900-1961.
Working at Finlay Brothers


First-class MAN wanted,
must be fully experienced
in rebuilding and trueing
forks, frames, & c.;
permanent job to right man;
Apply Factory Manager,

322 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne."1


for clerical work, typing not required.  Previous experience in bookkeeping essential.  Interesting position.  Renumeration according to experience.

316-320 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne."2


able to ride bicycle,
for our motocycle accessory

dept.; good wages,

316-20 Elizabeth St., Melbourne.
Tel. F9341."3

A job at Finlay's...?

Prominent within the motorcycle precinct of Melbourne, Finlay Brothers employed a large number of staff in the sales, repair, servicing and administrative areas of the business. Photographs from the 1930's onwards show workshop areas crowded with staff, in a company that had diversified from a single premises that manufactured and sold bicycles, to one occupying multiple inner city Melbourne shop sites, encompassing motorcycle, bicycle and car markets.

A gentleman who worked at Finlay Brothers from 1949 onwards was remembered by his family as being:

"...told about a job with good money at Finlay Bros. in Elizabeth St. (Victorian distributors for BSA motorcycles) … started as a spare parts salesman on the counter. He found out years later that a five pounds bonus (a week's wage) was given for recommending him as it was hard to get staff. Later … became Spares Division Manager..."5


As manager of the Spares Parts Division, this gentleman recalled that he had:

“…an office on the first floor next to Mr Alex’s.  This department not only included motor cycle spares, but industrial engines, motor mowers and automobiles including the infamous Goggomobile.  In 1953 a new Secretary was appointed for me whilst I was on a football tour, and when I came back she was ensconced in my office ... little did I know that 3 years later we would be married and this year [2012] celebrate 56 years together.  

…I continued working at Finlays until the takeovers by South Australian BSA agent J.N. Taylor…”6


A view of the c1930's Spare Parts Department
Adrian Crothers, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
The lady mentioned in the recollection above (as the “new secretary”), worked at Finlay Brothers in the Spare Parts Division from 1953 until 1956.  She recalled that:

“In 1953 a girlfriend (who was secretary to Mr. Alex Finlay at Finlay Bros) told me there was a job going there for a Secretary.  I said I saw the ad. in the paper but it was for a typist, but she assured me that it was Secretary to the Spare Parts Manager.  I applied and was interviewed by the Secretary of the company Mr. Fred Ulrick and so started without having met my future boss.  When he got back from his football trip there I was settled into his office where I did all the usual secretarial things like letters, filing, phone calls, making up spare parts lists etc.  For this job we had a Fordigraph machine (before Gestetners) which operated on methylated spirits and a shiny paper which had been typed on and produced 'carbon' copies.  Very smelly and sometimes messy.  [Spares Division Manager] knew every number and description for every part in stock. 

 I also did personal things for my boss like collect his dry cleaning and sometimes buy some item he wanted.  One of these caused me huge embarrassment when he asked me to get him a pair of boot laces - I went to the local bootmaker and duly arrived back with the purchase.  He put them in his shoes, and of course being 'boot laces' they were way too long so he tied great bows hanging over the sides of the shoes, and made a big show of walking round the office lifting his feet high and saying "It is good to have an efficient secretary".  I didn't understand his weird sense of humour and gave notice soon after several other such episodes, but after helping him buy, wrap and distribute Christmas presents to the children of all the staff of the local Motor Cycle houses (they had a committee which looked after this each year), I found him not to be so bad and withdrew my notice and continued to work there for the next 3 years ... after which we were married!”7

Finlay Brothers took on young apprentices in the motorcycle section of the business.  The biographical story of a World War II soldier described his starting at Finlay Brothers, and using this as a way to show trade experience when joining the army in 1941:

"...Well he had spent a few months as an apprentice motor mechanic at Finlay Bros, the BSA agents in Elizabeth Street Melbourne and had attended a few (very few) nights at The Melbourne Tech. learning filing and chiselling..."8

Commercial Photographic Company
Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria
Another gentleman employed first as an apprentice (from 1942), and later mechanic (until 1950), remembered beginning his employment aged only 14 years, and working with Finlay Brothers till the age of 21:

I do remember …A. D. [Finlay] quite well.  He used to insist that I did the minor services on his car a 39 Olds.  I guess I was a conscientious kid.  I only knew Alec and Bert after they were demobbed at wars end… I have only good memories of those years and left only to try something else. Mr Hill tried talking me into staying by saying that they had plans for me but the grass looked greener elsewhere..."9

For many of the Workshop staff and their families, motorcycles were an essential part of life outside of work at Finlay’s – for transport around Melbourne and recreational activities on weekends.  One of the mechanical staff who returned to work in the Finlay Brothers’ Workshop after World War II – having served as one of the “Rats of Tobruk” during his six years of military service - enjoyed many decades of involvement with motorcycles and travel.

His daughter wrote:

“He met my mother … who worked for Turner Brothers [a Swanston Street motorcycle firm] in Melbourne. He spotted her working downstairs in the office. It was love at first sight and their first date was to the cinema to see a cartoon of Mickey Mouse together with Dad driving his borrowed Mum’s car as he only had a motorcycle in those days. They married around the middle of the war, in a Registry Office in Melbourne and then honeymooned …for a week and then he went back to New Guinea [for military service].

…They spent many happy days riding the motorcycle together and even up until they were in their 70’s.  They went out together on the first turbo-charged bike imported into Australia.

…Dad had his own business for many years… - a Golden Fleece petrol station… in Gardenvale.  ...He was a mechanic and also sold some motorcycles.  He also raced bikes at Albert Park and went in a few car rallies. The Templestowe Hill climb I remember when I was a kid. He retired early and he and Mum travelled the world together…”10

A family member recalled her experiences of a holiday job at Finlay Brothers in the mid 1950’s:

“…As a teenager, I would work in Finlay Bros office for a week before Christmas in order to get some pocket money to buy Christmas presents.

I used to help … [Bert Finlay’s secretary], who I thought was the loveliest person in the office.  She was Dad’s secretary and she would give me jobs to do.  Lick envelopes, stamp the envelopes and post the mail.  I would also run messages around the building – across to the factory and down to the showroom.  I was very happy to be part of the place at that time.  I used to take a cut-lunch and join the rest of the office staff in the tiny Staff Room adjacent to the offices. 

At the end of the week I would very proudly arrive home with my pay – not sure but I think it was about ten pounds.  Probably I was vastly over paid!...”11


"SALESMAN to sell Motor-cycles and
Motor-Cycle and Cycle Accessories,
metropolitan and country.
Motor-cycle transport provided.
Permanent interesting position for capable young man. 

316-320 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne."4

Many thanks go to the people who have helped in the preparation of this page - your contributions have been greatly appreciated!


1.  The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), March 1, 1938, 13.

2.  The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), September 15, 1947, 34.

3.  The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), August 16, 1941, 14.

4.  The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), November 1, 1947, 29.

All other references for this article are held by the website administrator for reasons of personal privacy.

Working at Finlay Brothers