This dried raccoon paw was picked up as a travel souvenir in the Toronto area of Canada by Sydney motorcycling enthusiasts, George and Charis Schwarz, in the late 1960s during their journey around the world on a 1965 BMW motorcycle. During this time George celebrated his 32nd birthday in a warm room with a bath and chocolate cake, a rare luxury during the couple's adventurous ride. This unusual memento was kept for over 50 years.
While the Australian-born, Charis, was visiting Spain in 1964, fate intervened and she met the Swiss artist George. The soulmates knew that they would spend the rest of their lives together soon after meeting, with George exclaiming one evening while eating dinner at his house "this will be the first of many meals we share on this table". The pair purchased their new BMW motorcycle in Munich, Germany, which they used for two trips in the 1960s to ride across the world. They travelled to countries that were visited by few tourists including Syria, Iran, Costa Rica and Columbia. Their first trip around the world on 'DU', the bike's nickname, was to reach Ballarat, Victoria, to be married by Charis' father, a Baptist minister.
It was 'rough and ready' travelling. To save money they avoided toll roads, slept next to the bike or sought shelter in abandoned buildings, police compounds and were occasionally taken into people's homes. Sometimes they cooked and ate fresh roadkill found on the road.
Charis recounts their trip in her 2004 self-published book "Highlights of the Road: A Narrative" and all proceeds went towards establishing the Motorcycle Accident Rehabilitation Initiative (MARI) at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney. The initiative started in 2007 after the Schwarz' donated $30,000 to the hospital as they wanted to give something to the motorcycling community and to a mode of transport they loved and embraced for over 50 years despite never having an accident themselves. The hospital collaborated with three of its internal departments to offer post-accident help including insurance, mobility, legality and physical/emotional trauma.
This raccoon paw is part of a large collection of motorcycle clothing, equipment, mementoes, documents and maps which accompanied the generous donation of George and Charis's vintage 1965 BMW motorcycle in 2017. Collectively, it is not only a fascinating account of the couple's travels but documents an intense relationship two riders have had with a motorcycle over a lifetime which is rarely so well recorded.
Schwarz, Charis, 'Highlights of the Road: A Narrative', self-published, 2004, p.175.
Dr Wings Bike Force, (2014), What is MARI?, TECHmosis, Australia, viewed 4th September 2017, < http://www.motorcyclegear.com.au/mari.html >.
Motorcycle Council of NSW, (2017), About M.A.R.I, Motorcycle Council of NSW Inc., NSW, viewed 4th September 2017, < http://www.mccofnsw.org.au/a/352.html >.
Chloe Appleby, Museum Studies intern, under the supervision of Margaret Simpson, Curator, October 2017.