JEREMY Sims’ true blue tribute to The Wollongong Whiz is simply entitled Wayne, presumably to emphasise the champion motorcycle rider’s everyman roots.
Of course, it’s a choice that also reflects Gardner’s status in his country of birth — reinforced in the documentary by several references to another beloved, mono-monikered Australian, Kylie, who fortuitously launched her single I Should Be So Lucky the year he won the 1987 500cc Grand Prix.
Bringing a tear to the eye, and not only to those who knew him personally, is archival footage of a sea of fans chanting Gardner’s name after his victory at the inaugural 1989 Phillip Island Grand Prix.
Directed by Jeremy Sims, Wayne is snapshot of ’80s male culture; a tall-but-true story of a life lived at full tilt by a bloke with a singular vision and the audacity to deliver on it.
Backing him all the way is his childhood sweetheart Donna-Lee Kahlbetzer, who gives the impression of being just as fearless, in her own way. She’s a strong and vital character, from whom it would be nice to hear more — but that’s another film.
Sims does briefly touch upon the environment from whence Kahlbetzer sprung. When she reveals that before meeting the would-be world motorcycle champion she was more of a surfie chick, the filmmaker cuts to a classic shot from Bruce Beresford’s 1981 film of Puberty Blues in which one of the main characters is castigated for not watching her boyfriend catch a wave.
Sims also explores Gardner’s complex relationship with his father — they both acknowledge the latter’s difficulty in expressing his emotions, trackside — and the title character’s early, enthusiastic adoption of sports psychology. But it treads more carefully around the subject of male/female relations, in the vein of what happens on the circuit, stays on the circuit — apart from general allusions to groupies and a scene in which Gardner judges a bikini-clad beauty contest in Brazil.
Fleshing out the early years with animated sequences, Sims interweaves strong and abundant archival footage with a range of interviews — from family and childhood mates through to mechanics and fellow competitors.
Arch nemesis Eddie Lawson says he can’t remember why he was absent from the podium the year Gardner won (after humiliating him, 12 months earlier, when the roles were reversed, by pouring champagne over Gardner’s head).
Wayne charts Gardner’s extraordinary journey from the working-class steelworks town of Wollongong to a world title, Monaco, and finally Port Phillip.
And that feels like a very natural place for a Great Aussie hero story to call it quits.