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Joan Richmond

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Joan Richmond and Mollie Shaw with the Riley they drove in the 1931 Australian Grand Prix.

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Joan Richmond c1930

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Joan Richmond with Elsie Wisdom - Joan is considered to be Australia's first ever professional racing driver (male or female).

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Joan Richmond: The Remarkable, Previously Untold Story from Melbourne to Monte Carlo and Beyond by Joan Richmond, David Price

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Mrs Gordon Simpson and the young racing driver Joan Richmond sitting in the latterís 1921 3-litre GP Ballot racer, July 1934.

Joan Richmond (1905–1999) was an Australian pioneer in motorsport who competed internationally in seven Monte Carlo rallies and two Le Mans 24 Hours races.

Joan Richmond was born in Cooma in 1905 and grew up in Victoria. She was educated at St Catherineís, Toorak, leaving at the end of 1923.

As a young woman she trained and rode her own racehorses. In 1932, however, Victoria banned women from being horse trainers,[2] which caused her to take up motor racing instead.[1] She had competed in car trials from 1926 onwards. In the 1931 Australian Grand Prix, held at Phillip Island, she finished fifth in a Riley Brooklands in the male-dominated field. After this success, she and two friends set out to drive three Riley Nine motorcars overland from Melbourne to Italy in order to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally. The trip took five months.

Travelling to England she accepted the opportunity to compete with Elsie Wisdom in the two-day 1,000 mile race at Brooklands. They won in a Riley Nine, at 84.41mph, taking 12 hours 23 minutes and 53 seconds to complete the distance.

In 1933 she bought a 1921 Ballot that had previously been raced by Malcolm Campbell, but its age and poor reliability gave her little success.

In the 1930s she was co-driver with Bill Bilney, to whom she became engaged in 1937.[5] Sadly, he was killed during a motor race at Donnington Park in July 1937.[6] She gave up motor racing following the outbreak of World War II and remained in England, where she worked in a de Havilland aircraft factory.

Richmond returned to Australia in 1946 and became an advocate for animal welfare.

In 1989 she wrote the introduction to David G. Styles' The Sporting Rileys: The Forgotten Champions. The book included details of her overland journey in the 1930s.

She died in 1999.

Richmond gave her collection of trophies, cups, photographs, letters and diaries to David Price, a friend who hoped to produce a biography. Included were number-plates from the Monte Carlo rally. When Price was unable to attract a publisher, he sold the collection at auction in Melbourne in 2007.[5] His book, Joan Richmond: The Remarkable, Previously Untold Story from Melbourne to Monte Carlo and Beyond, compiled from his research and taped interviews with his subject, was finally published in 2011.

The National Museum of Australia held an exhibition on Richmond in 2014.


Joan was an Australian race and rally driver. Born in 1905, she began her motoring adventures in trials and speed events in 1926, driving a Citroen. Early in her career, she was fifth in the 1931 Australian Grand Prix at Philip Island, driving an Austin Seven. She also drove a Riley 9 during her time on the Australian circuits.

Her first rally was Monte Carlo in 1932, again, driving a Riley. This was her first introduction to European motorsport, and she did not take the easy route in. Joan and some other competitors took Australia as their start point, and drove overland all the way to Monaco, for the start of the rally. She was 17th overall. Still in the Riley, she drove in the RAC Rally later in the year.

That year, Joan achieved considerable fame by winning the Brooklands 1000 Mile race with Elsie Wisdom. The duo were driving a Riley Brooklands, and lapped the circuit at 90 miles per hour. The BARC, the governing club, had only just permitted female teams to enter their events, and Joan and Elsie were the circuit’s first major female winners.

In 1933, Joan purchased a 3000cc Ballot from 1921, previously raced by Malcolm Campbell. Although she impressed onlookers with her handling of the car, it was unwieldy and unreliable, as well as being out of date, and she was not able to challenge for victories. Never one to take the easy way out, she persevered with the Ballot for two seasons, but did not achieve anything notable. It was sold in 1935. The Riley was retained for rallies, and gave Joan a thirteenth place in the Light Car class of the 1933 RAC Rally, navigated by Kay Petre.

Joan’s next car was a Triumph, which she used in a JCC relay event at Brooklands. Later in the year, she drove a Frazer Nash in a Ladies’ Mountain Handicap, and was second. In between, she made the trip to Le Mans with Eveline Gordon-Simpson, as part of the “Dancing Daughters” MG works team. Their car was a P-Type and they were 24th overall, the first “Daughters” car home.

In 1936, it was back to competing at Brooklands in the Triumph. She also entered the Tourist Trophy in Ireland with Francis Monkhouse, but did not get to drive their Aston Martin. As well as her circuit-based activities, she attacked the rally calendar with relish, tackling the Monte Carlo, RAC and Scottish rallies, as well as the Land’s End Trial. In the Triumph, she was third in class in Monte Carlo and won her class in the RAC.

The Triumph too was sold for the 1937 season, and Joan did some Brooklands events in an HRG. However, this car was not quite up to the fast-advancing standards of modern racing vehicles, and she was not terribly competitive. Back at Le Mans, she fared better, sharing Bill Bilney’s Ford Ten and finishing fourteenth. She and Bill were an item at the time, although the relationship was short-lived, as he was killed in an accident later in the year at Donington. Joan was his co-driver, in her own AC. Her involvement with motorsport continued, but on a lesser scale than before, up to 1939. She is recorded as a finisher in the 1938 Imperial Plate at Crystal Palace, driving a Frazer Nash. Throughout her career, she drove in trials and speed events, and in 1937, she teamed up with Robert Waddy to drive his twin-engined “Fuzzi” special. She was third in class at Shelsley Walsh, but could not catch Kay Petre for the Ladies’ Record.

During the war, Joan worked in aircraft manufacturing, like many of her contemporaries. After peace was restored, she did not return to motor racing, and settled once more in Australia, where she died in 1999.

Source: Speed Queens


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Joan Richmond

Joan Richmond collection

In 1932 champion race car driver Joan Richmond made history as the first Australian woman to win a major motor-racing title. She also achieved the first overland car journey from Australia to England and competed in the Monte Carlo Rally.

The historical records of Australian motor-racing are dominated by men such as Dick Johnson, Jack Brabham and Peter Brock. Despite her outstanding career and remarkable ambition, Joan Richmond remains an unfamiliar name to many people.

Starting point

Born in 1905 in Cooma, New South Wales, Joan Richmond grew up on a farm in rural Victoria. She showed a keen interest in horses, but her ambition to become a jockey was halted when women were banned from competing in horseracing.

Richmond’s love for motorsports was sparked in 1926, when she bought a Citroën and drove with her mother from Victoria to her brother’s property on the Queensland and Northern Territory border.

Richmond began to compete in local club-level motoring events such as hill-climbs and sprints, pursuing the thrill of racing and competition wherever she could. There were few sports which allowed women to compete alongside men, but local car clubs wanted to encourage membership as few people owned cars.

In 1931, Richmond competed in her first major event at the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. She placed fifth and began to garner a name for herself.

Monte Carlo Rally

Later in 1931, Richmond and four friends penned a letter to Victor Riley of Riley Motor Cars, seeking sponsorship for an overland journey from Australia to Europe, to compete in the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally. They were somewhat surprised when Riley agreed. He provided three cars for their expedition; The Bellbird, The Wattle Bird and The Kookaburra (or Jacko).

Setting out on 15 August 1931 from Melbourne, they drove via Sydney and Brisbane to the Northern Territory. From Darwin the cars were shipped to Singapore, driven through the Malay Peninsula, shipped to Calcutta, driven across India, shipped to Iraq, driven across the Middle East through Jerusalem to Cairo, before finally being shipped to Italy.

This journey is credited as the very first international overland tour to have begun in Australia. After this feat, Richmond successfully completed the Monte Carlo Rally, covering 1,100 miles (or 1,770km) in 52 hours.

Joan Richmond, 1931:

"Our cars have been officially Christened, poor little things, a beautiful bottle of champagne was smashed in front of their thirsty radiators."

The group mostly paid their own way, though Shell and Dunlop supplied fuel, oil and tyres. Riley was impressed with the publicity drummed up by the tour and Richmond’s growing reputation on the racing scene. He offered to sponsor her, enabling her to stay and compete in Europe.

Brooklands 1,000 Miles Race victory

In 1932, Richmond achieved her most extraordinary success, when she and her racing partner Elsie Wisdom took first place in the 1,000 Miles Race at Brooklands racing circuit in the United Kingdom — the only all-female racing team to compete in the event.

The first women to win a major motor-racing title, their success led to considerable media attention and enormous public acclaim. Richmond even received a telegram from American aviator Amelia Earheart, congratulating her on her Brooklands win. Richmond wrote in a letter to her mother:

"Isnít it all just too wonderful, even now I can hardly believe it. Do you realise we are the first women to win a long distance International race?"

Time in England

Richmond spent the following years in England and continued to participate in motor-racing events, including the Le Mans 24-Hour race and several more Monte Carlo rallies.

In England, Richmond met and fell in love with fellow motor-racer Maurice ‘Bill’ Bilney, and they were engaged to be married. In 1937 Bill was tragically killed when his car rolled during a 12-hour endurance race in which Richmond was his driving partner.

Despite this loss Richmond continued to compete until the outbreak of World War Two in 1939.

Return to Australia

Richmond returned to Australia in 1946. Although she competed in a few racing events, her profile wasn’t as renowned in Australian motor-racing circles as it had been in Europe and England.

In Australia, funding was limited and sponsorship was lacking and Richmond was forced to abandon her motor-racing career. She turned her focus towards animal welfare issues and worked in this field for the rest of her life. Joan Richmond died in 1999 in Melbourne.

Richmond made history in the sport of motor-racing, setting new records and breaking down barriers for women wanting to take part in competitive sports.

The Museum’s Joan Richmond collection consists of a one-piece racing suit, a pair of driving goggles, her 1932 Brooklands trophy, Monte Carlo Rally car number plates, personal journal, letters, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Source: National Museum Australia



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Joan Richmond

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Number plate from the car driven by Joan Richmond in the Monte Carlo Rally in early 1932. National Museum of Australia.

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Pair of driving goggles belonging to Joan Richmond during her racing career. National Museum of Australia

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First place trophy awarded to Joan Richmond and Elsie Wisdom for their win at the 1,000 Miles Race at Brooklands in 1932. National Museum of Australia

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Joan Richmond seated in her car with some of her racing trophies. National Museum of Australia



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