Shoot to thrill

Early exposure develops a life-long motor drive

HE’S a large figure in Australian motor sport, but chances are you’ve never heard of Paul Cross. Standing 188cm tall and built like a first-grade footballer – which he was, for 13 years – Cross has been slithering into the nooks and crannies of Australian racing circuits for 30 years, nabbing iconic photos.

Cross shot his first race in 1960, when he was 14. “I was already a motor racing enthusiast, and at 14 I went to Bathurst with my uncle,” he says. “I had a [Kodak] Box Brownie, but I stepped up for the October meeting with a Leica.”

From the first Warwick Farm International meeting in January 1961, Cross was selling shots to car magazines. But a burgeoning rugby league career was interfering with his race weekends.

“In those days, football was part-time. I worked for Repco during the day and trained at night, and when the weekends were available, I would go to a motor race meeting.

It did cost me some events, having to play football every weekend from late February to late September.”

A winger, he played first-grade for Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs in 1964-65, then joined Balmain for nine years before returning to Easts in 1975-76. “I played in the ’66 grand final, but unfortunately we were beaten in that game. It was a privilege to be able to play first-grade for so long.”

Photography fitted in with a career as national sales manager for appliance companies Pye, then Philips. Cross’s influence was evident in Pye’s sponsorship of the Ross Dunkerton Volvo 244 in the 1979 Repco Round-Australia Trial, and Peter Wherrett’s Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV in the 1976 Bathurst 1000.

Cross figures he hasn’t missed a Bathurst – or, from 1985, an Australian F1 Grand Prix – since. But both take equal second to his favourite circuit. “Warwick Farm was just an amazing circuit, to get around and photograph from almost any position, and to see all those international drivers come out every year,” says Cross of the long-gone circuit at the Sydney horse-racing track.

Cross will typically shoot up to 5000 frames over four days at Bathurst. “In the days of film, it wasn’t unusual to take 2000-2500, and you’d be editing them until two or three days after the event. Now, with digital, we take twice as many shots but you’re editing every night. So by the Sunday night you’ve finished your work.”

How often does he find a new angle at Bathurst? “Every time. Almost every year you learn a bit more about the circuit – and the circuit’s evolving as well, the safety fences – that forces you to work around it. It constantly makes you think.”

It’s all a far cry from the good old/bad old days of Warwick Farm, Sandown, Surfers Paradise and the other Tasman Series circuits, where Cross and his colleagues would almost have their toes on the kerbing as the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Cross’s personal hero and late friend, Jack Brabham, slithered by in their open-wheelers.

“When you look back at photos you took, and film of those events, it was a little bit dangerous – the things you could do, and did do. Now it’s perhaps a bit too safe, but you understand why when you see the accidents around the world.”

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

The 30-year affair

PAUL Cross photographs hundreds of cars every year, but only has eyes for one. “I bought my [1963] Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider 1600 in 1984 and it’s been a love affair ever since.

It’s one of the prettiest things Pininfarina designed, and it goes really well because there’s no anti-pollution crap on it.”