I ‘ve a Feeling I’ve Being Here Before.

Robina, Queensland 20th July 2016

At the end of my last blog post I was jetting back to England. At the start of this one, a month later, I’m back in Australia and looking forward to moving forward.
But what of my time back in England? Family visits and celebrations. Catching up with friends and organising some new equipment to take back with me. The highlights?

P1080824

My wife is an Eric Clapton fan so guess which building this is.

The family celebrated my wife’s 60th birthday which, as well as a delightful party filled with old friends and a very appropriate cake, included a visit to the Globe Theatre to see Macbeth. This copy of the original Shakespearean building is a wonderful place, capturing the style and atmosphere of Elizabethan theatre-going, although without the raucous audience and rotten fruit. If you like Shakespeare and are ever in London, go there and enjoy being close to the stage along with the amazing acoustics. One tip though: take advantage of the cushion rental scheme. Those wooden bench seats are hard!

P1090052

The Globe Theatre.

I was delighted to visit Aileen and Steve, the Brit couple I met over in Western Australia. Touring in an Aussie camper convinced them to get one of their own and I caught up with them just before they headed off to Cornwall. Down in Malvern I visited old friends Rich and Sae. It was Sae’s family friends that made my visit to Japan so special.
I also caught up with Bill, a guy I’d met in India when we were both exploring the Himalaya in 2010 on Royal Enfields. (Read about it here, if you’re interested: Himalayan Adventure)
One of Bill’s passions is Morgan three wheel cars and he owns a 1934 model. Malvern is home to the Morgan factory and having recently moved to the town Bill quickly got himself a job as a factory tour guide. He didn’t need much persuading to offer me a private tour. Morgan is still a family owned business specialising in hand built sports cars. They’re not cheap, at up to £80,000, but each one is made to the unique specifications decided on by the buyer. Definitely not aimed at School Run Mummies, most customers are better off, financially secure, middle aged men.

P1080907

Bill’s 1934 Morgan.

P1080914

Today’s version.

Until recently the main models were the 4/4 and the 4 plus 4. But a few years ago the company was visited by ex CBI president Digby Jones, as part of the BBC Troubleshooters series. It was struggling, and he suggested they introduce a new model, along with outsourcing some of the more general manufacturing, as a way of reviving its fortunes. It’s probably hard to believe that going back to their roots was what turned the company round. Almost sixty years after the last ones were built, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, they reintroduced the Morgan Three Wheeler. No longer with a Matchless engine, it has an American S&S V-Twin engine mated to a Mazda gearbox. A tubular steel chassis and hand crafted aluminium bodywork mounted over a wooden framework completes the picture, along with all the safety requirements dictated by today’s regulations. Each car is built by one employee. Bill parked his 1934 model near to one of the new ones and the pedigree is clear to see. We’d driven from Bill’s house to the factory in his car and it’s quite an experience. A motorised soap box cart comes to mind. I have no doubt the new one is many times more sophisticated while still offering the same thrills. A tour through the workshops completed this fascinating visit. Thanks Bill!

P1080946

Handcrafted body ready to be fitted.

P1080934

Threewheelers in the making.

Eventually it was time to return ‘home’. And by that I mean getting back on the road. Travelling seems to be my natural state these days and I’m not referring to the twenty four hour plane journey back to Aus, something to be endured but rarely enjoyed. After a couple of days back with Elisabeth and Hans on the Gold Coast I was ready to roll again.
I rode up to Capalaba and stayed with Craig for a few days. I had some jobs to do on the bike, including an oil change, new clutch springs and upgrading some of the electrics. All of it pretty straight forward. I’d also bought some new panniers back with me. I liked the Ortlieb Moto Panniers I’d been using up to that point but the problem with them was that they had no abrasion resistance. You’re all familiar with my habit of throwing the bike down into the dirt. The bike stands up to that pretty well, not so the panniers. So I bought a pair of Adventure Spec Magadan Panniers, which claim to be able to handle this kind of abuse. They’re the ‘throw over’ type, which means they hang either side of the seat, resting against my pannier frames and are secured by Velcro straps that go across the rear of the bike. I don’t like this arrangement very much and I’d bought some webbing straps to attach to the back of the panniers so they could be attached directly to the frames. More convenient and more secure. I’d used the same arrangement on the Ortlieb panniers, to excellent effect. Find out all the info on them here: Magadan Panniers This was the last job to get done at Craig’s before I headed off towards western Queensland, away from the coastal towns and into the outback.

P1090070

This was where I longed to be.

I had in mind to visit Birdsville, a small and seemingly insignificant town about 1100kms inland from Brisbane. Why? Just because it’s there. It marks the last outpost before the Simpson Desert and about 3,000kms of nothing very much. It’s about as ‘outback’ as you can get. I was feeling jaded by cities, towns and the easy convenience that went with them. Like a dog straining at the leash, I was itching to get back to the wide open spaces, big skies and lonely roads that lie beyond Australia’s busy coastal fringes. Birdsville is something of an iconic destination anyway, simply because of its remoteness. At the beginning of July it hosts a rock festival, increasing the population of around 120 to over 7,000, and by a similar amount at the beginning of September when the town hosts the Birdsville horse races. Quirky and well worth a look-see.

P1090073

When they say ‘No Rabbits’ they mean it!

The ride would take about four days or so, depending on what there was to stop and see en route. So on a chilly Monday, at about 6am, I set off. I don’t normally leave that early but Craig had a plane to catch, out to his own lonely destination somewhere in Australia’s nowhere. The cold dawn gave way to the sunny uplands, once I’d cleared Ipswich and Toowoomba, leaving behind the urban snarl and the boring, chilly motorway. The riding was good and I was back among the hills, trees and wildlife. The town of Goondiwindi beckoned, with plans for brunch. As I came up one particular hill the bike started to slow down. I pulled into a convenient lay-by, where I checked the oil. I’d heard a bit of a tinkling noise from the engine. There was smoke coming off it and I noticed a small weep of oil coming from somewhere. The oil level was fine but the engine seemed to be hot. I took the opportunity to put my spare fuel in the tank, knowing that I would need it before I got to Goondiwindi anyway. Was this hesitancy caused by low fuel? Did that noise indicate some other problem? I’d heard it before a couple of times, when I was on my running-in rides. But the engine was running well so I assumed it was low fuel and carried on.

P1090067

One way of making a water tank blend in – sort of.

Well, I’m sure you can all guess that bad news, like a waking nightmare, was just around the corner – after a fashion. About 200kms further into the ride, and not too far from where I was planning to stop for the night, that horrible slowing down feeling came over the bike again and this time it definitely wasn’t fuel. My stomach sank like a plunging lift as I ground to a halt. The oil level was low and when I tried to start the engine it was seized. I stood at the side of the road, looking at the bike and wondering how much more of this I could take.
Despite being a long way from any town to my surprise I still had a phone signal. Google found me the number of a garage in the nearest town, St George. Just then a couple of guys in a Ute pulled up to see of I was OK. They said they’d be coming back in about an hour and would stop again if I was still there. I appreciated their offer. I was on a road to somewhere but it wasn’t a busy one and it was getting late. By the time they came back I’d managed to contact Maranoa Mechanicals and Brad, the owner, had driven the 100kms in his recovery truck and was just loading me up. I knew this would cost money but I really didn’t have a choice. Brad is a great guy and when we got to the town he stopped at each of the three hotels. I chose the Cobb and Co Hotel, a name with some history. This innovative company used to operate coaches out of Melbourne, carrying passengers, mail and supplies. Although the coaching company folded in 1929 the name lives on in various ways, including the hotels. An important part of the settlement of the remoter areas, their story can be read here: Cobb and Co. History
I arrived at the hotel thoroughly fed up but after a tasty meal, nice beer and a good sleep, I arose feeling a little more optimistic. I’d contacted Barry, at Byron Bay, who was happy to give me the use of his workshop once more and said if I could get to Brisbane, or nearby, he’d be able to pick me and the bike up. He’d also put up a post on ADV Rider, a bike traveller’s forum, describing my predicament. A few helpful replies had come in including news of an engine for sale in Sydney. I sincerely hoped my problem wasn’t quite that drastic.

P1090121

On the way back to Byron Bay.

Brad had mentioned that a damaged car had to be transported to Brisbane and I may be able to piggy back a ride. He checked out the details and then quoted me a fair price for taking me along too. Departure was at 7am next day. I also had to settle up the recovery cost too. As a member of the AA in Britain I knew I could get some level of reciprocal service from the local motoring club, the RAC Queensland in this case. When I rang them they wouldn’t help because I’d contacted a garage direct, rather than ringing them first. Brad is one of their agents and was having none of it. He got on the phone and they quickly agreed to cover half the cost. Like I said, Brad is a great guy. We spent some time talking about our experiences in our respective breakdown industries. (For those who aren’t aware, I spent over thirty years working for the AA.) I was very impressed by the quality of the business he runs. He takes on apprentices and delivers all kinds of training for his staff. A small town firm but with a serious approach to doing business.

Time to kill in St. George, so I went for a walk.

In the morning I met Will, one of the mechanics, and we were on the road soon after 7am. We arrived six hours later. Not bad time for a 500 plus kilometre journey, including two coffee stops. I learned much from Will during the drive. He answered all my questions about Aussie road rules, licence requirements and how businesses like Brads are run. He’s a young man with ambition and I reckon he’ll open a place of his own one day. He dropped me off by a café in the industrial park, where he was dropping off the car, and eventually Barry arrived to pick me up. Getting the bike back to his place was a great relief. Of course it had cost money, but it could have been a lot worse.

P1090130

Deja vu.

Next day I stripped down the top of the engine. I had feared camshaft damage; there was none. I was worried about severe damage to the cylinder barrel; all it had was some aluminium from the piston stuck to it. The piston, of course, was wrecked. I rang up Craig, the guy who’d re-bored the cylinder barrel last time and he said to get it to him and he’d take a look. Originally I was going to borrow one of Barry’s bikes and take it up there but it would have been over 300kms there and back, then the same to pick it up again. Common sense prevailed and I used the overnight courier service offered by the local Ducati dealer. I wouldn’t have saved any time by taking it there myself anyway.

Wrecked piston. But what about the cylinder?

Craig rang me next morning to deliver some welcome good news. No damage to the cylinder, it would just need honing to clean it out. He’d have the new piston and gaskets by the afternoon. I rang him later and everything was ready for me. I arranged to collect it next morning (Saturday) and the cost would be much less than I deserved to hope for. At last, some good news! We’d discussed the cause of the problem. I was keen (read desperate) for it not to happen again. When I rebuilt the engine the first time I’d put a picture of the old and new pistons on Facebook. One of my friends pointed out that the new one looked to have a higher compression ratio than the original (Thanks Gary). Craig agreed it was, and we discussed the implications and concluded I needed to increase the fuelling to compensate. This made sense and I was lucky to locate a bigger main jet for the carburettor at the local Suzuki main dealer. Higher compression equals more heat in the engine and this may account for extra oil usage.
There’s something to be said for running your business from home and having an understanding wife. On Saturday morning I rode up to Capalaba, and was able to collect my parts from Mrs Craig. I called in at the Suzuki dealer for the main jet and was back at Byron Bay about 2pm. By 8pm I had everything back together and my little girl was running sweetly once more. I finished the day in a great mood but mindful of the fact that nothing was proven yet.

P1090143

An excellent use for a nice old building.

Over the next couple of days I covered nearly 700kms of gentle riding, keeping a very close eye on oil level and using higher octane fuel. This seemed a good idea, especially during the running in period. Then I said goodbye and thanks to Barry and headed back inland, still keen to get to Birdsville. First stop was at Goondiwindi. On the way there I discovered I’d mounted the new pannier securing straps in such a way that they hung too low. How did I discover this? They scraped the ground when I was going round bends, is how!

I had a wet night on the campsite and wasn’t very cheered by the overcast sky that greeted me when I finally got up. But first I needed to sort out the panniers and I’d just finished altering the first one when a guy came over for a chat. Dave rents one of the units on the site and invited me over for a coffee. He has a caravan parked next to the unit, hooked up for power. He invited me to stay over for a night and it only took one look at that sky for me to say ‘Yes please.’ Chilly rain does not a happy rider make. So I moved everything over and carried on with my alterations. Meanwhile the heater in the caravan was busy drying out some of my wet gear. Dave told me his back story as the day and evening wore on. He’s a truckie but had an accident in Coles, one of the big supermarkets, when he slipped over on a wet floor. He’s suing them but has become unemployed as a result. His daughter lives with him having left her mother’s house over problems with her step-father. I’ll leave you to work that one out. His grandfather used to be secretary of the Auto Cycle Union, officiating at all the local race meetings. Dave had loads of photos to show me, of local riders and their bikes. They say nostalgia is a thing of the past, but I like it.

P1090169

Dave, a very nice fella.

Leaving Dave, with my grateful thanks, I carried on westwards, stopping at St George once more to call in on Brad. He was glad to see the bike running now and after some tea and chat, I carried on. The red roadside dirt told me I was back outback once more and the green of the grass beneath the low trees told me the ground was responding well to the recent rain. Kangaroos (a)bounded, the riding was steady, the engine felt and sounded sweet and all was well with my world. I bush camped by some rain filled ponds before continuing on towards my next overnight stop.

p1090182

The Cunnamulla Fella.

The town of Cunnumulla offered coffee and a visitor centre. It also presented a statue of the Cunnumulla Fellah. Aussie folk singer Slim Dusty sang about this young man, representative of the young lads who used to hit the bush trails, working their way around the cattle and sheep stations of the outback, before finding their way back home later in life. In many ways this still happens, although these days it’s mining and trade work rather than mustering and shearing. Even university graduates often follow a wandering path and it seems to be something of an Aussie rite of passage. At the VC I checked on the status of the roads I was planning to ride, worried that the unseasonal rain may have closed some of them. All good, was the news. I finished that day’s ride at a campsite in Thargomindah.

p1090191

How the wheel works.

Before I left I rode out to look at the town’s old hydro-electric plant. The town sits on top of the Great Artesian Basin, a 1.7 million square kilometre area of geothermal water (22% of Australia’s landmass). The early settlers drilled down over 850 metres to tap into it. As well as providing hot water, including for the town swimming pool, the pressure was great enough to power a small hydro-electric plant which supplied power to houses and street lights, although in the early days it only worked between 5.30 and 11pm. A Pelton Wheel drove two 110v DC generators, later replaced by diesel engines. The water comes out at around 80 degrees Celsius and some is stored in ponds while it cools down, so it also supplies the cold water too. A great bit of bush technology, simple and effective. These small outback towns invariably have some great stories to tell.

p1090192

And the generator the wheel drives.

When I tried to go down the road I’d originally planned to take I saw a sign saying it was closed. I debated about trying it anyway but decided to go the longer way round. At my lunchtime roadhouse stop I learned that the road had been badly damaged in May’s heavy rain storms so I’m glad I stayed sensible.

I’d now got into the habit of carrying plenty of water with me because I could never be sure of reaching anywhere. This far into the outback ‘anywhere’ just meant a roadhouse with campsite. That suited me just fine. But that morning’s delayed start meant another bush camp was called for.

p1090257

Good roads ahead. Well, open at least.

Sunday, bloody Sunday. What a day! By 11.30 that morning I’d reached Cameron Corner, a surreal but busy place. Its claim to fame is being the meeting point of three state borders: New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. I can’t imagine the good citizens of Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane getting too excited about it, but it intrigued me. There’s a couple of signs, a surveyor post and geo marker, some fences and vast amounts of sand. A poor memorial to a notable geographical location. But when you give it due consideration it’s only an accident of bureaucracy anyway. Settlers claiming the neatness of ownership. The land doesn’t care.

p1090221

Where the state borders meet.

Perhaps the most significant thing there is the Wild Dog Barrier Fence (formerly the Dingo Barrier Fence). First built as the Rabbit Proof Fence in the 1880s, having failed in that task it was later improved and extended to separate dingos from the cattle and sheep raising areas. Up until 1980 it was reckoned to be, at over 8,600 kilometres, the world’s longest fence, but has since been reduced to 5,600 kilometres. Even so, if there’s a longer one I’d love to know where it is and its purpose. There’s a sad but uplifting film named after the Rabbit Proof Fence, all about the Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation. Well worth seeing, if you get a chance. The area has designated national parks in it so there is plenty of information about flora, fauna and geology. Well, underwhelmed initially but I ended up impressed.

p1090235

Anti dingo and wild dog fence.

In the roadhouse I chatted to the woman who served my coffee. She told me they see about two hundred vehicles per day in the winter, although only about ten in the summer. It’s also a key stopping point for The Great Australian Ride, a popular trans-Australia dirt bike challenge which raises funds for charity (a common thing among Aussie bikers. Great Australian Ride). So maybe those city citizens care more than I imagined. She said their busiest time is at the New Year’s Eve Party, where people can celebrate the turn of the year three times, once in the different time zone of each state. Ah, now I’m beginning to see the attraction of this out of the way corner. In fact, the roadhouse itself lives a tri-state life, getting its postal address from Queensland, its supplies from New South Wales and its telephone services from South Australia.

p1090254

Some of the people who visit Cameron Corner.

With advice gleaned about the road ahead, I set off on the last 220kms of the day’s journey, aiming for Innamincka Roadhouse. Heavily corrugated track on the first section, as advised. Narrow and twisty on the next. The last 50kms was on a smooth, wide track, nicely graded and populated by more vehicles than I’d seen over the whole of the previous two days. That was both good and bad. By the time I was about 25kms from Innamincka I was hitting about 90kph, seduced by the smooth surface and, probably, the nearness of food and a shower. I was keeping over to the left to avoid the dust from other vehicles and going well until the bike suddenly went into a massive tank-slapper, flip-flopped from side to side and unceremoniously dumped me on the dirt – hard! I lay there for a moment, thoroughly winded, then took my crash helmet off and tried to get up. ‘Oh no you don’t’ said my body. So I obeyed its instructions and tried to get my breath back. I was winded, seeing double and feeling like Mohammed Ali had been using me as his punch bag. After about ten minutes a fourby pulled up and I was helped to my feet, then into the front seat. The guys picked the bike up and took me the rest of the way to the roadhouse, one of them riding the bike. By the time we got there my vision had changed from triple, to double, to merely blurred and I’d worked out where I was hurting the most, and where the least. I’ve been off the bike a few times now but this was easily the hardest landing I’d ‘enjoyed’. But things are never as bad as they seem. On all previous occasions the bike has been rideable afterwards and this time was no different. A small mercy to be grateful for.

img_0396

Ready to go into the helicopter.

Outback people are unfailingly wonderful, especially to someone in trouble. They know how close is the difference between coming up smelling of roses and sinking into the pit. Survival and disaster, if you will. In my case Nichelle and Geoff, who run the roadhouse, put into gear some well rehearsed processes to set up the next steps for someone in my predicament. We’d worked out I had damaged my left hand, right ribs and right collarbone. I wasn’t going to be riding any further and I needed medical attention. ‘Who you gonna call?’Not Ghostbusters, but the Flying Doctors. While we waited for them I was happy to be taken to a room where I could lie down. My blurred vision told me I definitely had some mild concussion. Even so, I managed to take off my riding gear and sort out my luggage so I would have all the essentials with me when I flew out. I wasn’t going to be seeing my bike for a fair few weeks. Nichelle said they would happily look after my bike and gear until I could get back to collect it. ‘This is by no means the first time we’ve done this,’ she said. Wonderful.

senex-helicopter

RFDS helicopter.

Concussion is a very funny condition and I wasn’t left alone at any time, just in case. Eventually a helicopter arrived, the professionals swung into action and my bag and I were loaded up. It was touch and go whether my bag could go with me because of the helicopter’s weight/fuel range ratio. I told them my bag weighed 15 kilos, calculations were done and I was allowed to take it. But it was a close call and if I’d weighed maybe ten kilos more, it would have been left behind. A worrying thought.

1121492-3x2-940x627

RFDS plane.

The helicopter took me to the nearest airport where I was transferred to a RFDS plane, arriving at Base Hospital, Broken Hill, about 11pm. There I was poked, prodded and x-rayed, with the diagnosis being: three broken metacarpals, one cracked rib and the inner joint of my collar bone swollen from being wrenched when I hit the ground. The effects of concussion had pretty much gone away and there was no neck damage, something the RFDS had been concerned about. So, not too bad. My hand was put in a cast and finally I was put in a room, given some food and drink then left to sleep.

p1090311

At least I had a finger and thumb free.

My status over the next few days: breathing – mostly OK; coughing – bloody painful; showering – needed help for that, plus a plastic bag to cover the cast; shaving – didn’t bother; sleeping – bloody uncomfortable, I hate lying on my back; everything else – manageable. So three days passed by, with me getting more mobile daily. I was in a room by myself, with a TV and shared facilities. Tasty meals turned up three times per day, with tea, coffee and biscuits in between. Apart from the regular checks on my vitals, it was a pretty peaceful time. But sadly the day came when I had to leave. As far as the doctor was concerned they were done with me. Where to next? I would struggle to look after myself. Not enough mobility yet to cook so lodgings and bought meals would prove expensive, especially over the expected healing time of six weeks. Fortunately I have friends around. The best choice, I thought, would be Bernard and Mary, whom I stayed with when I was in Melbourne. They’re retired so my presence wouldn’t be quite so inconvenient. When I rang them they immediately offered to put me up. All I had to do was book the two flights necessary to get me there. Easily done and on Thursday morning a taxi took me to the local airport, paid for by the hospital. Bernard was at the airport to pick me up. Before long I was settled in the spare room enjoying the relaxing warmth of friendship and care. All I had to do now was heal.

imag0651

This is where it happened, and where I’ll need to get back to when I’ve healed.

p1090286

Seen on the hospital wall.

p1090284

Also seen on the hospital wall.

Compression, Depression and Rejuvenation.

Katoomba, NSW. 12th May 2016

During my time at the hostel I’d messed about with my bike’s carburettor in an attempt to improve the running. Cleaned and adjusted, I hoped that things would be better. A tickover would be nice. Well, I got that, but only after a real struggle to get it running. After more messing about it started up and I left Sydney for Katoomba, up in the Blue Mountains. I’d booked a hostel for two nights and intended to do some walking. I was leaving behind the city and the sea and heading for the mountains and fresh air. At that time I had no idea how appropriate ‘blue’ would be.
I began to wonder If I’d ever get there! Although all was OK as I rode through Sydney’s traffic, when I was climbing the hills things were not so good. A definite lack of power made it slow going but I reached Katoomba in the end. But as I rode through the town to the hostel the bike wouldn’t tickover and became reluctant to start. By that time all I wanted to do was to get to my friend’s place at Byron Bay and throw it in a corner!
While in Alice Springs last year I’d met some walkers who’d been trekking one of the long distance routes in the mountains. Alison had given me her details, with an invite to explore some of the paths near where she lived. We arranged to meet next day and I planned to catch the train there, rather than use the bike. Apart from anything else, cross country walking wasn’t such a good idea in heavy riding boots.

P1080622

The Three Sisters, looking across to the blue of the mountains.

Meanwhile, with an afternoon to spare, I took a walk through the town out to Echo Point, a local beauty spot which has a view out across the valley and hills. Plenty of lush greenery and impressive cliffs. The viewpoint looked out across the Three Sisters, tall sandstone towers formed by erosion, and the quality of the light on the opposite hills clarified the origin of the name ‘Blue’. Lots of Chinese tourists too, all brightly clad and chattering, like visiting migratory birds. Most of them were, let’s say, not young and were taking things slowly. I went charging off in my usual manner but the steep steps soon had me huffing and puffing like an old steam train. I began to reach the conclusion I may be ‘not young’ either! But I enjoyed the exercise anyway and felt a little better prepared for whatever a seasoned hiker like Alison might throw at me.

P1080670

My walking companion, Alison.

Alison met me at the station, then took me to the local coffee shop were I met some of her friends. A mixture of keen cyclists and walkers, none of whom were young either. But like active retirees everywhere, they loved to live life to its fullest. I just hoped I could keep up.
The two of us set off, heading for Red Hand Caves. This is an ancient Aboriginal meeting place and has hundreds of hand prints all over the walls. She set a fairly fast pace, which suited me, and I had no problems keeping up. Perhaps I’m fitter than yesterday’s efforts led me to believe. We chatted happily about places we’d been and experiences we’d had. She’d travelled the hippy trail through India when she was younger, before marrying and bringing up two kids. A picnic is a nice thing to share and Alison had the foresight to pack sandwiches for us both. I was fascinated by a native tree we saw called an Angtheras. They shed their bark to leave smooth, brown trunks, with dimples on them where the bark had been attached. For some reason we couldn’t fathom, the trunk would be damp or even wet. One of them had water running down it from the top of the trunk. I’ve heard of water cress and water lilies, but water trees?

P1080655

Red Hand Cave.

So a very nice day of walking ended up back at the café for tea before I caught the train back to my hostel. I was fascinated by the carriages, which were double deck, with a kind of mezzanine area between them. I remember, from when I was at school, double deck carriages on trains that used to run through south east London.I wonder what happened to them?
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, I was neither of those things. A cliff top running race was being held that weekend and my hostel room was alive with late arrivers and early starters. My plan was to head straight for Byron Bay, ignoring the 700kms or so of explorable New South Wales coastline. So I got myself organised and loaded up my motorised camel, which promptly gave me the hump because it wouldn’t start. ‘The best laid schemes of mice, and men, gang aft agley.’ So said some smart alec Scotsman. I had to admit he was right. The battery ran flat before I could get it to start and the guy at the bike shop nearby, while giving me a jump start, said it seemed like there was no compression. But it ran eventually and I set off, mentally sticking two fingers up to Rabbie Burns. But after 40kms of rough running, Rabbie had his revenge. Doris stalled at a set of traffic lights, and would run no more. Bugger!
There was a servo by the lights so I pushed the bike onto the forecourt, got my tools out and started fiddling. Well, Rome might as well have been burning, for all the good it did. Carburettor stripped, cleaned and adjusted more times than I can count. Various passers by collared to assist with jump starts. Much coffee bought and drunk at the McDonalds attached to the servo. All to no avail. I got the bike started a couple of times but it never ran right. As suggested by the guy in Katoomba, there didn’t seem to be enough compression. In the end I had to admit that Doris had died.

P1080667

A calming scene from yesterday’s walk. Hoping it will make me feel better.

I rang up Barry, my friend at Byron Bay, who said he’d ring round some friends to see if anyone could help. I, reluctantly, rang my erstwhile walking companion Alison, to see if she knew of anywhere I could stay. I was close to the small town of Blaxland, along the Sydney to Katoomba main road. She lived in Glenbrook, not far away, and lifted my spirits hugely by offering to put me up for the night. She came to pick me up and next morning dropped me back at the bike. ‘A friend in need ….’. Thanks Alison for proving the truth of that saying.
After another failed attempt to get the bike running I set myself up in McDonalds for some breakfast and internet access. Barry had come back to me with various suggestions for transporting the bike and although one or two would have been quite cheap, they would have meant waiting around for a few days, or leaving the bike at the servo to be collected. Not practical really. So I decided to do it myself and researched the hiring of a van. The nearest big town is Penrith and after some phone calls and frustration, I decided to widen my search To Sydney. Syd came up trumps and I found Orana van hire, who were open long enough for me to get there on the train before they closed, earlier than normal because it was Sunday. Blaxland station was close by so a couple of hours later I was in their office making the arrangements. Because I was going to be covering a fair old distance – 1600kms all told, they did me a deal on the excess mileage costs and I set off to collect Doris. At last, a plan was in action, a solution under way and I felt a whole lot better.

P1080696

Helpful guys assist in loading up Doris.

Back at Blaxdale I persuaded a couple of guys to help me get the bike in the van, lashed it down and set off for Byron Bay, at about 17.30. At around 03.30 I reached Barry’s farm. I’d already let him know my ETA, so disturbed, but not perturbed, he welcomed me with a cup of tea. When I got up next day Barry had already unloaded the bike, fine fellow that he is, so I ate breakfast and left for Sydney. I wasn’t sure how I’d get back north but Barry suggested flying as it would be quite cheap. The alternative would be 800kms on a coach, which didn’t appeal too much.

An easy van journey back south. At least, it was until I reached Sydney, where I missed the turning off the inner city motorway and ended up crossing the harbour bridge – which has a toll. No choice then but to turn round and cross it again, feeling like one of those clockwork cars that never travel in a straight line. Another toll. It doesn’t cost much but the hire company would charge me a fee for paying it. I found my way back to the hire depot and, as arranged, left the van outside and the keys through the letter box. Then I got the train into the CBD, where I’d booked a hostel bed. Stages one and two of the recovery operation were complete.

P1080698

Loaded and ready to go. The 1600kms round trip begins.

I’d already decided to follow Barry’s advice and fly back. So next morning I went online and booked a midday flight with Tiger Air for $80. Cheaper flights meant an early start so it would do. I also rang the van hire company to check all was OK. I asked them if I could pay the tolls myself, to avoid their charges, and he directed me to the toll company website. They have a very useful facility where I was able to give my details, the van registration number and nominate the dates for which I wanted to pay the bridge and motorway tolls. Clearly aimed at vehicle hirers like me, it worked like a charm.
The plane landed at the Gold Coast airport so getting back to Byron Bay would have meant a coach ride. But Barry found a cheap hire car offer. He needed to go to Melbourne for a few days and was taking advantage of the scheme that hire companies often run, which is where you return a car to its home base for them and enjoy a $5 per day hire rate in the process. Barry had ridden his BMW1200GS to the airport, and also brought my riding gear, so all I needed to do was jump on his bike and ride it back. So, like gears all clicking into place, my three days as a human yo-yo had reached a satisfactory conclusion. It had cost over £500 all in all, but I was ready to suffer that because I now had the bike and myself where I needed to be, had achieved it quickly, and could get on with repairs. Once he’d arrived back with his hire car Barry made some room for me in his workshop and the strip down process began.

P1080701

On the bike stand, ready for the strip down.

Things went well. It’s a straightforward engine to work on and by teatime I had removed all the parts necessary in preparation for taking off the cylinder head and barrel. I left it there. I was tired and needed a fresh eye on events as they unfolded. Barry and I went for a meal, a beer and a chat. We discussed where I might get the engineering work done and he said Brisbane would be a better area, being much busier than his small corner of the world. I concurred and decided to ring my friend Phil in the morning. I remember him introducing me to a mechanic friend who I thought would be a good place to start.
There’s something very rewarding about mechanical work. It involves several human faculties and I enjoy the thinking process as much as the doing. Dexterity, planning, observation and knowledge all come in to play. If only I had some of them. Just kidding – I hope! I’m sure those of you who experiment with recipes, enjoy DIY or love creating your own garden will know what I mean. Now the angst of breaking down and rescuing myself had faded, I was looking forward to the challenge.
I wondered what I was going to find. Off came the cylinder head, then the barrel and all was revealed. The piston had been worn away at the front edge, near the two exhausts valves, and had simply died of old age and hard work. No surprise after 95,000 kms. If I think back over the harsh conditions she’s been ridden through it’s no surprise really. The barrel was going to need reboring, with a new piston to suit, and I had a few other jobs to do too.

P1080705

‘Some truths are self evident.’ Or, to use a different quote, ‘Pissed and broke!’

Some of you might remember Hans, the Swiss cyclist whom I met in Vladivostok. You may also remember that he and his wife, Elisabeth, live on the Gold Coast and that I stayed at their house when I first came to Australia last May. I looked after their dog MoMo while they were away for a few days. Well, they’d been in touch and wanted to know if I could dog and house sit once more, this time for two weeks while they were in Japan. I was delighted to help as it would have given me some breathing space to work on the bike. That was plan A. Because working on the bike was now a necessity, the benefit would be the same, especially as Barry was going to be away for a few days and I needed a place to stay. Barry was happy to lend me one of his bikes so I rode the 90kms north from his place to theirs, with the bike parts for repair included in my luggage.

P1080709

No real damage to the barrel but it was rebored anyway.

Reunions are always nice, Elisabeth’s home cooked lasagne was even nicer. I’m always delightfully surprised by how easy it is to make friends quickly and to find so many things in common with strangers. I’m sure it’s in the nature of being away from all that’s familiar. It’s so easy to open up and let things flow. I think it’s probably the greatest delight of travelling. It was like this with Hans and Elisabeth and I was particularly pleased to be able to help them while they helped me.
I took Hans and Elisabeth to the airport next morning, was given strict instructions on watering all the plants, then got on with organising essential repairs. Thanks to Phil I contacted a machinist who would undertake the cylinder rebore and also check and replace any worn parts in the cylinder head. I took the parts up to his workshop, out to the east of Brisbane, not too far from where I was staying. Then I ordered various other parts from the local Suzuki dealer.
Walking the dog, writing the blog, waiting for words of cheer from the engineer. So the week passed by. In amongst all this I chased up the insurance company, who still hadn’t paid the ambulance bill presented to them last December. Useless! Take my advice and never buy travel insurance from any company that uses TCF PLC to handle their claims.

P1080764

One of the Echidnas that regularly visit Barry’s verandah.

If the devil finds work for idle hands then it’s also true that it finds work for idle credit cards too. I needed new riding gear. My jacket was patched in several places and the trousers had actually worn through just above the knee. They’d suffered a very hard two years. They were the Revitt brand. Well designed and priced above average, but not outrageous. I had been thinking about checking out some Klim riding gear. This American company makes what is possibly the world’s best adventure riding clothing. It certainly is quite special, along with being quite expensive too. Checking some out was on my list of things to do when I got back to the UK in a month or so but with time on my hands some research revealed that it would cost significantly less in Australia. I don’t normally buy this kind of thing without being able to try it on first but when I spoke to the shop, based near Sydney, they assured me I could return it via their Brisbane based business partner if I needed to, thereby saving on return postage. So I went for it. It arrived in a couple of days and although there are some design flaws, to my mind at least, they are minor enough that I decided to give them a try. While I was on a roll I bought a new crash helmet as mine was getting a bit battered. Its best days were way back in the past. I went for exactly the same one as I already had – a Shark Evoline. It can be worn as a full or open face and the chin piece flips back right over the helmet, so it’s not sticking up like a sail above your head. That arrived very quickly too, but equally quickly I decided to return it. The chin strap fastening is of the double D ring style rather than the micro ratchet fastening of the old one. I tried to convince myself I would grow to like it, But I knew I wouldn’t, so back it went. Oh well. ‘Two out of three ain’t bad,’ as Meatloaf once sang.

P1080715

The head doesn’t look bad either but new valves and oil seals were fitted while it was off.

On Friday of my first week of dog sitting, the engineer rang to say my parts were ready to collect. Hooray! At last I could get on with repairs. MoMo, has one tail, I felt like I had two. I went over to collect them, seeking advice about installation at the same time. I’ve rebuilt engines before but unless you do it often, you never do enough that it becomes routine, so advice is always welcome. I called round to see Phil, admired his new Yamaha Pacer MT09, and we, plus his wife Trish, went out for a sushi lunch and a good chat. They’re very exited about the building of their yoga centre over in Bali, which is starting to take shape.
Finally I went to the Suzuki dealer to collect the parts I’d ordered. They handed me a bag with everything in it – or so I thought. Unfortunately I didn’t check and when I got back to the Gold Coast I found a couple of items missing. I rang them up to express my displeasure at having to undertake an unnecessary 140kms round trip to collect them. When I went back next day I discovered they’d refunded $50 of the original price by way of saying sorry. Now that’s what I call good customer service and I felt much better.
From there I headed straight down to Byron Bay, keen to get on with fettling Doris. But on the way there I had one of those interesting, and in retrospect, amusing confrontations that sometimes happen. Other bike riders reading this may well relate to it.
Sometimes when a bike rider goes into a garage for fuel the pump won’t get switched on until they take their crash helmet off. To me this smacks of a prejudicial assumption that anyone on a bike is likely to be a thief who is going to fill up then ride off without paying. Under those circumstances I just ride out and go somewhere else. So as I came into Byron Bay I pulled into the BP servo and filled up. So far so good. But when I went in to pay the guy at the till told me I had to take my crash helmet off. The conversation went something like this.

Him: ‘You’ve got to take your crash helmet off.’
Me: ‘Why?’
Him: ‘Because it’s the rules. It’s for security.’
Me: ‘Well I’m sorry, I’m not going to. I refuse to be treated like a thief in the night and anyway, it’s an open face helmet and your security camera can see my face easily.’
Him: ‘If you refuse I’ll take your registration number and you won’t get served at any BP servo anywhere in Australia.’
Me: ‘No worries, there’s plenty of others. If it’s such a big issue, why did you switch the pump on in the first place?’
Him: ‘You wouldn’t be allowed to wear it in a bank.’
Me: ‘We’re not in a bank. Now here’s my credit card. You can either take the payment or I’ll walk out, it’s your choice.’
He waffled on a bit more but realised I meant what I said and took the card.
Me: ‘I’d like a receipt please.’
Him: ‘It’s too late, I’ve closed the sale.’
Me: ‘Well this queue behind me is going to get very long because I’m not leaving without one.’

I left with my receipt and carried on to Barry’s, partly annoyed, mostly amused. A small victory in the fight against anti biker prejudice, I felt. Or perhaps an annoying idiot deciding to be unnecessarily precious. You decide.

P1080729

I think I prefer the one on the right.

There wasn’t much of the day left so I just did some preparation work, then gave myself Sunday off before going back down on Monday. Over the next few days I got on with rebuilding the engine, taking my time to make sure all was right. I had a variety of other jobs to do so by the weekend it still wasn’t finished. Not a problem as I had plenty of time. I was due to fly back to the UK on the 18th June, so I still had almost three weeks.
Halfway through the week I had an unusual day out. I met a professional photographer to get my picture taken. Lots of pictures, in fact. Was I modelling a new range of clothing for the sixty plus man about town? No. Was I escorting a dishy young woman as she modelled a new bikini range? Sadly, not that either. The Guardian newspaper had been in touch, wanting to include last year’s Cape York escapade in the ‘Experience’ section of their weekend magazine. So photographer David flew up from Sydney and we went to some local beauty spots where he snapped away as I gazed enigmatically out to sea, or sat on a rock; sometimes wearing my hat, or not. With and without a shirt on over my T shirt. Standing up, sitting down and so on. He must have taken over one hundred shots and will send the best to the paper. They’ll use just one. The advantages of the digital age. He’s a Canadian émigré who married an Aussie woman and took up photography as a professional seven years ago. He said I’d been a great subject to work with – meaning easy and obedient. That compliment got him a lift back to the airport.
On Friday I went to the airport again, this time to collect Hans and Elisabeth, and I spent the weekend socialising with them. On Monday I moved myself down to Byron Bay, eager to finish off work on the bike. At this point I didn’t even know if she’d start up.

P1080735

Back together and ready for a run out. A happy day.

On Tuesday I had both good news and bad. All the jobs on the bike were completed and it started up, on the button, and ran well. A short trip down the road just to check all was as it should be, and plans were made for a trip out next day to begin the running in process. The bad news? Elisabeth contacted me to say I’d picked up a speeding ticket while using their car. Sixty eight kph in a sixty limit. I’d been caught by a mobile speed camera. The fine was $157, plus one demerit point. She didn’t mind suffering that, I just needed to pay the fine. Ah well, these things happen and I didn’t feel too stressed about it, although I did fell I’d let her down a bit. Fortunately she said she wasn’t too concerned about it.
My mood improved dramatically when I went out for the first long ride. I covered over 400kms, all on rural roads. ‘High revs, low gear’ was my maxim. I didn’t want to ‘slog’ the engine. She ran very sweetly, even over some of the hills of the Great Dividing Range, which lies close to the coast in that area. I was amused by the town name of Woodenbong, mostly because it’s not far from the small town of Nimbin. The connection? Nimbin is famed for being the centre of the hemp growing culture. You can wander down its streets and get offered dope openly. The problem lies with knowing which seller is the undercover copper.

P1080752

A lovely sign for an amusingly named town.

Back at base I was surprised, and very disappointed, to find the oil level had dropped significantly. I know I’d worked the bike quite hard but I wasn’t expecting that. At least I knew now to watch it more closely and hoped it was just part of the running in process. I was more cheerful after steak and beer at the Byron Brewery, a great way to restore optimism.
The next ride out was half the distance because I called in to visit someone. The daughter of Bernard and Mary, my friends in Melbourne, lives just inland from Byron Bay at the poetically named Mullumbimby. I do think Australia managed to create some great place names, often of Aboriginal origin. Established as a farming town, these days it’s something of an alternative lifestyle centre, full of quirky characters and odd sights. I met Sarah at the Brunswick Valley museum where she runs various local history research projects. It’s housed in the old post office building and traces the area’s history, as do all of these small local museums. A more recent aspect of the story relates to a successful protest movement against the logging of ancient trees. This was a very contentious issue, with ecologists pitched against loggers. One group fought to save irreplaceable ancient woodlands from destruction, the other to save their industry and livelihoods. Taking place in the early 70s, this was one of the early ‘hippy’ ecological battles, and the first against logging anywhere in the world. The hippies won. Logging was a big industry in many parts of Australia but was felt to be unsustainable. It still takes place of course as wood is very much n demand, but is now managed in line with best sustainable practices.

P1080757

Sarah and the museum.

Sarah, when she’s not working, lives an eco lifestyle on her 150 acre plot of land out in the country,along with her partner, Harry. It was a delight to meet her. She reminds me of her Dad – no bad thing – and as she showed me round the museum it was clear she was both proud of the work she does at the museum and happy with her lifestyle. Having already ridden round much of the glorious local countryside, it was easy to understand why. Sub tropical flora, peaceful beauty, great views. Plenty of trees too! The happy, hippy hills of the Border Ranges. What’s not to like?

P1080754

Park your bike where you like.

A relatively short and gentle riding day but I was pleased to find that oil consumption was much improved. Fuel consumption was delightful but I expected that from an unloaded bike, ridden gently. The only slight worry was that I’d detected a bit of pinking (detonation) a couple of times. Something to keep an eye on. After a day off the bike, helping Barry with some maintenance work, another 600kms day out left me satisfied with how the bike ran, happy with oil usage, which seemed to be dropping, and generally feeling good about everything. The engine was clearly loosening up nicely and I’d even been using top gear a fair bit. I’d been in the Gibralter Ranges, chilly up at 1100 metres, enjoyed the riding very much and now, like a man recovered from a broken limb, felt it was time to move on. But not too far. I was due to fly back to the UK in a week’s time so I rode up to visit a couple of friends near Brisbane.
I’d first linked up with Craig via Facebook, met him briefly before I left Brisbane last year and then met up with him again when we were both in Broome last September. He ride`s a Suzuki DR650, which he’`s been modifying a fair bit. That’s the fun of owning a bike that owes you nothing. He’d bought his as a cheap insurance write off and has been having fun with the spanners and credit card ever since. His daughter, Heather, was staying with him too and when I arrived it was the morning after a party and two other friends were there too. The woman, Bec, was interested to meet me because her parents` had been camping up at Canal Creek when the helicopters were out looking for me last year. I felt suitably embarrassed at having been ‘found out’ and some friendly mickey taking ensued.

P1080787

Tex and Bundy, who use their sponsored Motto Guzzi to raise money for charity. Bundy rides on the tank. Great, isn’t he?

On Monday I went to the funeral of a man I’d never met, or even heard of. A very odd thing to do maybe, but Craig was going anyway and he said to tag along. Strangely, I found myself very moved by the whole event. I got to know this guy backwards, so to speak. His name was Keith Weir, he died of cancer at only fifty nine, and was a skilled and sought after race car mechanic and general fixer. Originally from New Zealand, he’d come to Australia to pursue his race track dreams. He worked for a Holden dealership and quickly became part of their V8 Saloon Car race team. As in the USA, this form of racing is big in Australia and NZ. Keith worked with Peter Brock and Dick Johnson, two of Australia’s most famous Saloon Car racers. One of them came to the funeral and spoke eloquently of the great times they’d all had. He was full of fun and something of a practical joker, but would help anyone. The speeches from his friends and family were very moving and I couldn’t help getting teary and emotional, thinking about friends I’d lost too early.
He loved bikes too and this is how Craig got to know him. All we bike riders met at the funeral parlour and accompanied the hearse to the cemetery, then we gave Keith a noisy send off by the graveside with plenty of revving of engines. At the wake afterwards nobody seemed at all put out when I owned up to never having met Keith and I had some great conversations with some of the people there. Isn’t it strange where happenstance takes you sometimes, and how unexpectedly moving yet uplifting an unplanned event can be.

P1080797

The nicest man I never met.

After Craig I went to visit Phil and Trish for a couple of days. I went with Phil to meet one of his old work colleagues and we had a discussion about Mohammed Ali, who’d just died. The praise being lavished on him seem to stick in his gullet somewhat. He regarded him as` a draft dodger, who hadn’t been punished enough for what he’d done. I felt the need to defend him. I suggested that people who went abroad, or had their rich family find them a safe berth back at home, were draft dodgers. Ali simply refused to go and was prepared to stick around and take the consequences. If he ‘got off lightly’ it wasn’t his doing. So a man of principle, I felt. I was a bit puzzled by this animosity until I remembered that Australia had a system of conscription at the time of the Vietnam war and many Aussies died out there. Britain had the good sense to keep out of that mess.
Well, that was one hell of a busy month, what with one thing and another. ‘Challenging’ barely summed it up. ‘Fraught’ might be more appropriate. But with the help and encouragement of some good friends I was able to relax. The bike was in fine fettle once more and all that was left to do was enjoy a relaxing weekend back with Hans and Elisabeth, who were happy to look after my bike, before catching a train to Brisbane airport and jetting off back to the UK for family celebrations and the delights of seeing old friends again.

P1080810

Phil and Trish, getting in the Bali mood.

Sydney Part 2

Sydney, New South Wales. Monday 2nd May 2016.

Pretty much all western cities have multi national populations. Sydney is no exception and has a very large number of people of Chinese extraction, probably close to 200,000. This was made obvious whenever I walked around the CBD. Many are drawn by the education system, others by work opportunities. Some of them seem to be quite well off, especially if the property market is anything to go by.
On one of my walks into the city centre I passed by a building which caught my eye for several reasons. It was one of those obviously well appointed apartment blocks, the kind of place I’d feel lucky to be invited into and that only a lottery win would enable me to buy. But I long ago grew out of pointless envy so what caught my attention were the plants climbing up the walls. Intrigued, I crossed the road for a closer look. Bear in mind this was no ivy clad colonial house but a thirty storey block, where I expected to see glass rather than grass. Then I noticed some strange structures up at roof level, including what looked like stainless steel panels polished to a mirror finish and mounted on a platform which cantilevered out from the building. I really needed to find out what this place was all about.

P1080307

One Central Park. Green walls and a Heliostat on the roof.

It’s called One Central Park and is a complex of several apartment blocks surrounding a high end shopping mall. The mall has a central atrium, full of plants which receive natural light, delivered there by the mirrors I noted earlier. The system is known as a Heliostat and on another roof are reflectors which direct the sun towards the mirrors. They have electric motors which enable them to track the sun. I had to smile as it was chucking it down with rain at the time. The buildings are covered in vertical gardens and the whole complex is surrounded by publicly accessible parkland. The building has a very high energy efficiency rating, partly because of water recycling. What particularly drew my attention was that when I went into the sales office to get more information, the two people in there were both Chinese. This suggested to me who the likely occupants of these extremely expensive apartments were likely to be, hence my earlier comments about the Chinese population. Of course, this set me to thinking about whether or not cities benefit from this kind of exclusive development, aimed at the very rich of all nationalities. Is it a benefit or does it lead to the exclusion of people of more ordinary means? All cities enjoy, or suffer, this kind of development. Personally I believe they tend to shut people out, increase prices of all properties and make life very difficult for most people. London has suffered in the same way.

 

P1080344

Former industrial building about to become fancy, and expensive, Norman Foster designed apartments. Why not social housing?

My plans to walk down to darling Harbour were thwarted by one of those pesky museums which I like so much. Like a drunk unable to stagger past a pub, if I see one I have to go in there and sample what’s on offer. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (the Powerhouse Museum, for short) is housed in an old power station building and displays technology, both old and new. One of the original steam powered generators is still in there, along with several other steam engines. A couple were running, chuffing away quietly. One huge engine had powered London’s Youngs Brewery for over one hundred years. In the Transport section there was a nicely restored steam locomotive and other railway equipment. I used to have a model railway so felt a certain kinship with this display.

P1080335

One of the steam powered generators which used to occupy the building.

A pleasant look at the old technology was followed by an excellent gallery filled with modern science. Designed to be accessible to both adults and children, it has exhibits explaining the many branches of physics, of chemistry, ecology and how to conduct experiments. There is a mock up of the Mars surface and a model of the Mars Lander trundles around, controlled remotely, just as the real one would be. The kids loved it as they could do the controlling.
The transport section had planes, trains and automobiles, as used during Sydney’s past. And there was a section on space too. Models of various satellites and space rockets hung from the roof but the piece de resistance was the mock up of the International Space Station. I was able to go inside and stand still while the walls rotated around me, giving a sense of how weightlessness might feel. Odd, was my conclusion. It’s not very big either. Six months living in a small box room, with several others, doesn’t appeal to me. But then, I suppose there are many upsides too.

P1080316

Ancient and modern. Steam and space technology.

Other areas of the museum had displays on design, the nature of modern consumerism, the effects of WW1 on science and medicine – and several others. Almost too many to list. One was all about design awards given to Australian projects, which included One Central park. I wasn’t surprised at that. So all in all, a terrific afternoon in this huge building, stuffed full of interesting displays. I wasn’t too worried about not having reached my intended destination in the end and came out feeling like I’d made the right choice.
‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.’ Most travellers would happily quote this line from Carry On Cleo at some time or another. For me it was all about Carnets de Passage and sorting out bike insurance and registration. While in Melbourne I’d talked to Australia’s AA, who’d been very helpful in guiding me through the necessary steps to get my new carnet lodged with customs. All the arrangements were made and once in Sydney all I had to do was take the old and the new carnets down to customs, at the airport, and get the deed done. ‘Easier said than done’, is the common refrain. And just for a pleasant change, it wasn’t true. The airport is quite close to Sydney CBD, so it was an easy ride out there. I handed both carnets over, along with the form supplied by the AAA, to a very uncheerful customs official. And then sat down to wait, a bit nervous about the outcome. No reason to be really, but life depends on these formalities so much that it’s hard not to be. I needn’t have worried. He came back after about twenty minutes with everything stamped up and I was good to go. A real relief. Up until that point I’d held back from making future plans but now I could commit to meeting friends and booking my flight home for a visit.
My bike insurance was also due to expire, as was its registration with Queensland Roads department. A few phone calls sorted that out. I renewed my insurance and worked out that the rest could be done when I actually reached Queensland in week or two’s time. Excellent! My tail was up and wagging and I could carry on enjoying Sydney.

P1070994

Not one of MacQuarrie’s, but the superb Queen Victoria Building provides high end shopping for Sydneysiders.

I mentioned before that Governor MacQuarrie, and his wife, spent time and money organising Sydney as a proper town, with over 250 buildings and infrastructure projects, and one of the first buildings to go up was the Barracks. It housed newly arrived convicts, although MacQuarrie encouraged them to move out and make a life for themselves. He believed in making them into settlers rather than mere prisoners. If they behaved well they were allowed to leave and give things a go. This may seem strange, but it’s worth remembering there was no escape from Australia so no real need to lock people up. This enlightened attitude got him into trouble with the British government and he was eased out of his position eventually. Meanwhile, as the colony grew many ex-prisoners made a good living, even to the extent that dynasties were formed over the years.
The convict built barracks building (see photo in previous blog) has been renovated to a very high standard. It shows its history as convict accommodation, a place for female settlers and, finally,a courtroom and offices. Most of the women came from Ireland, were single women, and were found positions as domestic servants. There was a labour exchange function included in the building. The conversion to museum included some stripping back of paintwork and wall coverings to reveal the older paint and wallpaper. It is one of Sydney’s oldest buildings and provides a fascinating insight into the city’s early days.

P1070914

Convict sleeping arrangements in The Barracks.

On the same theme, I took a walking tour around The Rocks. This area lies between Circular Quay, where the opera house is, and Darling Harbour. It was the area where the freed prisoners went in order to become settlers. It grew into a place full of dodgy characters, raucous pubs and people genuinely trying to make the best of their new life. Gradually, proper brick houses were built to replace the wooden shacks, shops and other businesses opened, and it began to look like a suburb. Convict transportation to Sydney ceased in 1840 but The Rocks (so named because of the ground beneath) carried on as the dark underbelly of the new city. Elsewhere, in the MacQuarrie designed city streets, fine buildings were erected to reflect the growing and successful trade with Britain and the Empire. The Rocks simply became more notorious for crime, drinking, the sex trade, gambling, and the fleecing of visiting sailors and other unfortunates. One of those places where you could have all the fun you liked until your money has been fleeced from your pocket. Many of the convicts came from Ireland and although most never rose much above labouring status, many became successful merchants, publicans and so on. They were proud of their success and were the biggest ‘employers’ of convict labour in the colony. By the time MacQuarrie left in 1821, 85% of Sydney’s population were ex-convicts. Marriage with the aforementioned young Irish women was common and later in the 19th century, when Australian independence was mooted, the Irish presence, naturally anti British, helped promote the idea. Our guide also told us of the plentiful shady characters and gangs which used to plague the area.

P1080470

Archaeology by The Rocks YHA.

This was an evening tour so next morning I walked round there again, just to get a closer look at some of the places she mentioned. There’s some archaeological work going on, exploring how people lived back then. The area is full of narrow cobbled streets and there was a busy lunchtime crowd enjoying the food stalls near the Rocks Museum. Good food, if the queues were anything to go by.

P1080478

Social cleansing in action. Local people are not happy.

Near to The Rocks is another old area of the city called Miller’s Point. This is full of 1920s and 30s social housing which the city is trying to sell off. The problem is that tenants still live in them but because of their location, overlooking Darling Harbour, they are worth millions of dollars. Needless to stay the city is slowly moving the residents out and there is an active protest movement trying to stop it. Many of the houses have already been sold, at prices around $3 million dollars un-refurbished, but others are draped in protest banners, and photos which reflect the residents family history as lived in the house. The city says it will use the money to build more social housing, but it will be out in the suburbs, nowhere near the area in which these families have lived for generations.I can only feel angry at this kind of gentrification and social cleansing. It’s happening in London too, as well as many other large cities.

P1080485

City streets aren’t just about the buildings in them. People have histories too.

To cheer me up a bit I went to visit the Sydney Observatory, sited in its own park on top of the hill. As you’d expect, its all about telescopes, stars and planets and is still active. Opened in 1858, it replaced earlier observatories, undertaking the important work of mapping the southern skies. Given the fairly recent settlement of the southern hemisphere, this was very much a work in progress, although Aboriginals had been doing it for millennia. Perhaps someone should have just asked them. Meteorology was also practised and there were displays of all the instruments used over the years, as well as plenty of telescopes and chronometers. One especially interesting item was the Time Ball, which sits on top of the observatory tower. On the 5th June 1858 the ball was raised up its pole and dropped at exactly 1pm, thereby telling Sydneysiders and ships’ masters the correct time of day. Watches were checked and ships clocks adjusted accordingly. The true time was determined by astral observation, giving the observatory a very real function, applicable to daily life. It was vitally important for ships’ navigators to know the correct time because measuring longitudinal position on the Earth’s surface was dependant on it. The info panel pointed out that most large harbours around the world had such a device. A comforting thing for sailors, even if they had their mind on other comforts while moored near The Rocks.

P1080222

Sydney Observatory. Observe the timing ball on the roof of the tower.

With the Sydney weather keeping mild and dry, I thought it a good idea to explore some of the small harbours which lie within the bigger Sydney Harbour. The best way to do this seemed to be by ferry so I selected the route that called in at the the greatest number of places. The ferry I chose went right up to the suburb Paramatta, on the river of the same name, calling in at lots of places on the way. This town was settled soon after Sydney as a way of expanding the settlement. It used to be a five day river journey, it’s about an hour now. As many of you know, seeing a city from its waterways usually gives you views unobtainable by other means and adds a feeling of being an explorer, albeit a slight one. But you’re guaranteed fresh air rather than traffic fumes and it was fun to stop at places with familiar London place names, such as Chiswick, Greenwich and Woolwich. Once at Paramatta I sat by the river to eat lunch and had a pleasant conversation with a Zimbabwean who’d escaped his office for some fresh air. He’d also managed to escape the turmoil in Zimbabwe too and had forged a new life with his wife and Aussie born children. The immigration story goes on.

P1080047

A nice park surrounds MacQuarries former residence. In his time it was all a vegetable garden.

Governor MacQuarrie had his official residence out here and I enjoyed the walk around the Domain, admiring the old buildings. On the trip back I had a nice conversation with Min, a retired Chinese restaurateur who’d been in Australia thirty four years. She enjoyed photography too, and there’s lots to enjoy through a lens, especially the harbour bridge.

P1080087

Min, another keen photographer.

‘Art for art’s sake, Money for God’s sake.’ So sang 10cc, back in 1972. Sydney offers plenty of both and given that their hit occurred at the height of the Glam Rock period, a visit to the Grayson Perry exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art seemed fitting. After all, he does enjoy make-up, a dress and a showy necklace. He had appeared in a Channel 4 documentary fairly recently and was asked ‘When you wear women’s clothes is it performance art?’ ‘Not really,’he replied, ‘I just enjoy cross dressing.’ I like this man’s sense of humour and I like his art too. In reality he does wear clothes sometimes for artistic effect and some of these were on show. But most of his work is in ceramics, sculptures and tapestries, with some watercolours. He tends to depict personal strife and angst, with themes centred on childhood, religion, warfare, sexual themes and transvestism. Much of this originates from his own childhood. He digs down into life’s pretensions and vulnerabilities. I really liked this exhibition and felt plenty of common feeling with many of this themes.

P1070936

‘The Adoration of the cage fighters.’ From a series of tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences.

I toured round the other galleries in the MCA, some good, some which didn’t grab me at all. Some of the art relating to the effects of European settlement was great. Other displays were in the ‘stare and wait for inspiration’ category. Boring, in other words. But Hey! It is a contemporary art museum after all.
In fact my first taste of Sydney’s art delights came at the Art Gallery of NSW where I saw an exhibition called ‘Tang, treasures from the Silk Road capital.’ The Tang Dynasty was around in the 7th century and is considered a golden age of Chinese art. Buddhism was the major ‘religion’ of the time and archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of tombs, stuffed full of grave goods. These include gold and silver figurines and other artefacts, along with plenty of terracotta items too, such as camels and horse riders. Usefully, the tombs often had lists of their contents written on the walls. Archaeology made simple. Some of the artwork from the walls had been reproduced for the exhibition and was very eye catching. The city was named Chang’an, now modern day Xi’an in Shaanxi province. With over one million people, its riches came from its position at the eastern end of the Silk Road trade routes. Fabulous stuff.

P1070701P1070700P1070698

Tang Dynasty Art.

Other galleries had old European art, early 20th century works, especially Cubism, along with plenty of Aussie paintings and contemporary sculptures. All of which I enjoyed to a greater or lesser degree.
Enough of art! It was time to look at some Hearts of Oak and learn about rum rations and weevil filled biscuits. The only place to do this is at the Maritime Museum, down at Darling Harbour. As well as the museum building, there are four naval vessels moored in the harbour, which can be explored at your leisure. Possibly the most interesting of these was an almost exact replica of Lieutenant Cook’s ship, HM Barque Endeavour. It’s tiny! And very with low ceilings between decks. Modern facilities have had to be installed, as well as an engine, but that’s the only difference. The original contingent was ninety four people and even the officers had to sleep below decks because of the presence of scientists etc. A barque has a flat bottom, ideal for exploring shallow coastal waters. But on the open sea it would bob around a lot and wasn’t very fast either. Even so, it has to be admitted that the original did a pretty good job. This replica runs with a crew of thirty six and has been round the world twice, running training and team building events. The masts, sails and rigging all look very complicated but I imagine everyone had a specific area to work in and would have become very good at it. A very tough life though.

P1080249

Replica of HMB Endeavour. The real one was recently found on the bottom of Rhode Island harbour, USA.

Moored near the Endeavour replica is the Daring Class destroyer HMAS Vampire. I joined a guided tour around it which was, of course, fascinating. It’s always good to delve into different worlds and find out about them. The naval life is full of anachronistic customs. One example: the Captain is only allowed into the officers’ mess by invitation. Otherwise they eat alone. Custom demands that they are not allowed to buy any drinks, so he’s on a freebie all evening. That’s probably why they doesn’t get invited too often. I suppose it makes sense. Having to share your relaxation time with your boss isn’t a good idea. Our guide used to serve on aircraft carriers so he knew his stuff.
This ship was Australian built, based on a British design. They made some sensible modifications, such as putting the wheelhouse and radio room below decks so that they wouldn’t get damaged if the ship took a hit. Pretty sensible really. Armament was three twin 4.5 inch turret guns, four anti aircraft Bofors guns and one anti submarine mortar. These days it’s all guided missiles.
Fancy having to rely on two minute showers? That’s all the crew were allowed. After that ran out it was seawater! But they were well fed even if their accommodation was necessarily pretty cramped. Nothing much seemed to have changed in that respect during two hundred years.

P1080492

Sleek, fast but outdated. HMAS Vampire in this nuclear age.

Next to the Vampire is an Oberon Class submarine, HMS Onslow. A tour round this vessel made the other two ships seem like mansions. It was built in Scotland and carried a crew of sixty eight. They all lived cheek by jowl and you wouldn’t want to have the sailor with bad breath or digestive issues as your neighbour. ‘Cramped’ just doesn’t do it justice.
The rest of the museum was full of maritime exhibitions and curiosities. I really enjoyed the display of fish x-rays. Pictures of fish bones? Well, kind of. They displayed the x-ray next to an info panel which included a picture of the actual fish. I just thought it was a quirkily different way to look at things. The display about the search for a reliable way to measure longitude was fascinating. The problem was always about knowing how far you’d travelled from Greenwich. Sailors were pretty good at measuring local time but they also needed to know the correct time at the Greenwich Meridian. Because every minute equals a fixed distance of the Earth’s rotation, measuring the difference between the two times would determine a ship’s location when coordinated with the easily worked out latitude. A problem big enough for the British Admiralty to offer a £20,000 prize for a reliable chronometer. That was big bucks back in the mid 18th century. Clockmaker John Harrison finally came up with an accurate timepiece, which enabled a ship to sail to Bermuda and be only 9.8 miles off true. An amazing achievement for the time, although it took him forty years and many trials and tribulations to do it. So did the Admiralty pay him the money? Of course not! They gave him £10,000 and would only pay the rest if he revealed his construction methods to them. He refused to do this but made up the rest of the money in other ways. A genius? Maybe, but more about hard work and determination than anything else. Here’s a couple of links if you want to find out more.

http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/longitude-found-john-harrison
http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/history-science-technology-and-medicine/history-science/latitude-and-longitude

P1080392P1080393

From within and from without.

A rather off the wall collection showed a-rays of various fish alongside their normal selves. I thought this was pretty cool really. The other galleries focused on the history of the navy; immigration journeys and so on. Very well worth the visit and I was able to spread it over a couple of days by using the facility for re-entry.

P1080529

‘I eat lettuce cos I can’ said this Dugong.

After the museum I went over to Seaworld for a look at life under the ocean waves. I wasn’t too impressed with this place. It was a bit shabby, although there were some new exhibitions being built. It’s not the kind of place that keeps whales or dolphins in captivity, I’m pleased to say. The largest sea creatures there are Dugongs – Sea Cows. A male and a female, both rescue animals. I’d seen these in their natural habitat when I was over at Shark Bay, WA, on a bout trip. The problem is they only surface for a enough time to draw breath so you don’t get to see much of them. They feed on the sea grass found in the warm, shallow waters off the western coast. There’s no sea grass anywhere near Sydney so they feed them cos lettuce instead. It’s about the same nutritionally and they like the taste. So there’s staff who do nothing other than cut up the lettuce and place it in racks ready to go in the dugongs’ tank. About two hundred per day. What fun. Other fish included manta rays, small sharks and thousands of colourful reef fish. Enjoyable but I didn’t feel it was worth the entry fee.
Much better than that was the glorious sunset I watched over the harbour and its surrounding buildings. A good opportunity to play with some of the special settings on my camera.


Sydneysiders enjoy their beaches rather like I enjoy motorbikes, and spend as much time on them as they can. There are plenty of them, including some for naturists, both on the north and south sides of the harbour. The most famous of these is Bondi Beach, known throughout the world as the best place to have Christmas dinner al-fresco, or as the surfing crowd’s paradise. I’d been told about a very nice coastal walk, from Coogee to Bondi, so a bus ride from the city found me breathing sea air down at Coogee and walking up the cliff path to admire the sea view. It was nice to stretch my legs in the sunshine as the path wandered up and down the cliffs. There were some surfers and sunbathers in some of the small bays, other cliff top walkers enjoying the sea breeze and several people pumping iron at a clifftop gym. A clifftop gym? Yes indeed. Kids have slides and climbing frames provided by the local council, adults have gym equipment, set out like a torture circuit for flaccid muscles. There was an elderly woman there being urged on to more and greater effort by her own personal trainer. She didn’t seem to be enjoying it much but she stuck with it anyway. I always used to enjoy my time in the gym so I spent half an hour on the various machines, stretching muscles I’d forgotten I had.

P1080130

If you have to exercise it would be harder to find a nicer setting.

P1080136

Tomb with a view.

Eventually I reached a point from where I could see Bondi Beach laid out in front of me. All sand and surf, it was easy to see the attraction. There’s a wide sweep of golden sand and the waves roll in constantly. The surf wasn’t very high that day but there were plenty of people in the water anyway. It looked a lot smaller than all the pictures had led me to imagine, but it was still very beautiful and the attraction was obvious. From Bondi I took a bus up to the very pretty Watsons Bay and walked up to South Head. The path handily went past the naturist beach so on the way back I went down there and enjoyed some all over sunshine. Sorry, no photos of that – and I’m sure you’re very pleased.

P1080159

The wide sweep of Bondi Beach.

 

Watson's Bay with Sydney CBD behind it.

Watson’s Bay with Sydney CBD behind it.

Back in Bondi I met up with Kym again (see previous post). She lives near there so we met up for fish and chips and a couple of beers. Johnny, one of her old friends from home, came with her, a computer programmer originally from Northern Ireland. The meal was nice, the frozen yoghurt shop next door was even nicer! Plenty of chatting and laughing is a good way to finish off a sunny outdoors day. Sunshine comes in various guises, that’s for sure, but it was sad to think that it’s most probably my last visit with Kym.
Still on the subject of nice young women, I met my French friend Jo one more time before I left. We went to a local pub, along with her American friends Mike and Maggie, and her Aussie boyfriend Andy. Another nice evening of beer and laughs. And another one where they threw us out of the pub at closing time. And, as with Kym, probably my last visit with Jo too. Sad.
But we all must move on and I planned to head up into the Blue Mountains. I’d not seen everything Sydney had to offer, but had definitely seen the culture and history. It’s Australia’s first and largest city and has many things to offer visitors. Although all state capitals are by the sea, Sydney seems to have much more of a sea based lifestyle. I think that’s because its harbour has dozens of much smaller coves and harbours where leisure is the main activity. Plus a couple of iconic structures that have captivated the world. As the city grew its suburbs spread around the coastline too, aided by first the ferries and then the bridge. After all, over four million people can’t all be wrong.

P1070749

Sydneysiders love to surf.

For my part I found Sydney to be attractive as a place to visit and walk around. I particularly liked Circular Quay, with the hustle and bustle of the busy ferries docking then leaving. I spent time sitting on the benches near the MCA, listening to the well organised buskers and admiring the harbour bridge and the opera house, as did many others. The difference between this harbour and those of other cities is that it’s in constant use as part and parcel of the city’s daily life. It would still be very busy even if there were no tourists. Other cities don’t quite manage that.  It has its underbelly too. No longer at The Rocks but in the Kings Cross area. That’s were some of the gay bars are and plenty of ‘adult stores’ too. I walked past one day but didn’t explore. Melburnians may not agree but Sydney seems more like the capital city than the capital itself.
But it was time for me to leave. The only question was, would my bike start?

P1070887

Two of Sydney’s icons, photographed from the third.

Sydney, Part 1

Sydney, New South Wales. 23rd April 2016

I arrived in Sydney in fits and starts (please don’t misread that), with Doris running more like a Japanese jumping bean than a super smooth motorcycle. She didn’t want to tick over during the frequent traffic enforced stops and the response to the throttle was far from precise – to put it mildly. I’d spoken to a hostel the day before, who said they had room for her in their back garden provided the bike wasn’t ‘one of those huge BMW’s with big panniers.’ Well it isn’t but even so, would not fit through their gate. I found another place further down the same street which had a secure private car park and, most importantly, vacancies. That wasn’t ever likely to be a problem at that time of year anyway, but finding a place near to the city centre, with off road parking, most definitely was. I was in a three bedded room and my two roomies were both Brits, one from Oxford, the other from Glasgow. They’re both painters and decorators, hoping to get residency visas, who had some interestingly derogatory things to say about Aussie workmanship. They had no issues with the wages though, which are far higher than in the UK.
As usual, the first thing to do in a new city is to find out what there is to see. I soon discovered, not surprisingly, there’s plenty. Australia’s largest and oldest city has a plethora of historical and cultural delights. ‘Kid in a sweet shop’ time then.

P1070741

One of the delights of the Botanic Gardens.

Australia had been found by quite a few European sailors before James Cook arrived on the east coast in 1770, claimed it for Britain and named it New South Wales. I must say this situation puzzles me slightly. Why was it that Europeans tended not to fight over new lands? Was there some kind of agreement between Europe’s trading, raiding claiming nations? That the first one to reach a new area and could be bothered to stop and plant a flag had first dibs? Or was it a product of some kind of colonial mutual respect, similar to the ‘honour among thieves’ principal?
Anyway, Britain, having managed to lose its American colonies, needed a new home for transported criminals and the south east corner of New South Wales was chosen. Led by captain Arthur Phillip, the first fleet of eleven ships arrived in Port Jackson on 26th January 1788. This date is now celebrated by most Australians as Australia Day. Certain Australians regard it as Invasion Day. I’ll leave you to work that one out for yourselves. The ships carried around 1,000 convicts, soldiers and free settlers and they set themselves to work to create a convict settlement.

P1070917

The old Barracks, built to guard the city.

One of the strengths of this new colony was its harbours and hinterland. Within a few decades the settlers had overcome their early difficulties, including near starvation, and although the original objective was not to build a city as such, that began to happen anyway. Key to this progress was Governor Lachlan MacQuarrie and his wife. He arrived in 1810 and during the next eleven years laid out a proper town, with planned streets and civic buildings. His wife wanted the settlement to better reflect European urban ideals and she was instrumental in setting up the Botanic gardens, among other projects. MacQuarrie undertook many infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, quays etc, and named most of the streets after the Ducal names of George 111’s sons – Sussex, Kent, York and so on. One of the main thoroughfares he named after himself – and why not! Perhaps one of his most important decisions was to allow convicts to earn their emancipation and eventually become free men. This encouraged good behaviour and helped the growth of trade and the development of the city. Early trading related to sealing and whaling but as more land was cleared then wool became the key export product. More convicts and free settlers arrived so a virtuous cycle of growth occurred. Eventually the New South Wales authorities allowed the city to be incorporated and in 1842 the newly named Sydney came into existence.
As usual, I’ll point you towards a couple of websites where you can read more:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney
http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/learn/sydneys-history
And there’s a fascinating story about how Governor Phillip kidnapped some Aborigines here: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/woollarawarre_bennelong

P1070613

One of the many groups of ANZAC day marchers.

Now that I had a long list of places to visit, which should I go to first? In the end the decision was easy. I’d arrived on the ANZAC day weekend so after a relaxing Sunday I walked down to the CBD to watch the bank holiday Monday parade. It was impressive, that’s for sure. Various regiments and groups from the different services marched through the city, to the applause of the watching crowds. Ships’ crews, army regiments, air force squadrons. Most branches of the services were represented. Some were currently serving, others clearly veterans. Their banners usually gave their section name and all the theatres of conflict in which it had operated. Lots of marching bands, some from military related youth groups. It was fascinating but also moving at times. I stood near the main entrance to the ANZAC War Memorial, which is in Hyde Park. As each group marched up Elizabeth Street the order would go out from the leader: ‘Eyes Left!’ The banner would drop to lay parallel with the ground and the marchers would salute as they passed by. Very moving. I’m no lover of nationalism and am always suspicious of ardent patriotism, but it’s very proper to pay respect to those fallen. Australia has sent its military into almost every conflict during the 20th and 21st centuries and Aussies are quick to recognise those who served. I was very happy to join them. A couple of days later I went into the memorial itself, where there is a simple statue and an eternal flame.

P1070674

The ANZAC memorial, in Hyde Park.

P1070679

A simple memorial with its eternal flame.

All the time I was in Sydney the weather was kind, apart from one or two slightly miserable days. Some locals were feeling the autumn chill but I found it warm and pleasant, and good weather for walking around. I suppose how you react to the weather depends on what you’re used to. From my hostel most places to visit were within a walking distance of about forty minutes, so if nothing else I was getting plenty of exercise. A walk through the very pleasant Botanic Gardens took me down to Mrs MacQuarrie’s Point and to Mrs MacQuarrie’s chair. Rather than being an item of domestic furniture they left behind when they went back to England, the chair is a rock shelf which she used to sit on when she wanted to look out over the harbour. What she used to enjoy looking at is a matter for speculation but what my eyes were drawn to was the architectural wonder of the Sydney Opera House and the engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one sitting beyond the other. If you want to choose the one thing that made Sydney into an international city, then look no further than its opera house. A simply stunning building, sitting on Bennelong Point and looking like a silver flower opening its petals to receive the rain, or maybe a ship hoisting its sails for another trans-ocean voyage. I walked round there, eager to get a closer look and some close up photos.

P1070767

Neither of these icons were there when Mrs MacQuarrie sat looking across the harbour.

I was pleased to find that tours were available so I paid up, then queued up, waiting for it to start. One of the first things I discovered was that the structure is of a building within a building. Despite my flower analogy the exterior was designed with a maritime theme and the support structure really did remind me of the ribs of a sailing ship. I was not surprised therefore, to discover that Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect who won the design competition, had a father who was a naval architect. The inner building was designed to provide a very high quality acoustic experience There is the main opera stage, a large performance stage and a couple of smaller stages. In the main auditorium is a 10,000 pipe organ. They often show films in there and full orchestra, such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, play the score live. It wasn’t difficult to imagine how magnificent that organ must have sounded when it was used on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

P1070893

Opera house from the bridge. A ferry passes by.

Fascinating fact time: when the auditoria were refurbished in the 1980s they took the opportunity to install acoustic seating. Now, don’t run away with the idea that all the armrests and headrests have speakers in them, or any such thing. This is an opera house, not a small town Lothario’s passion wagon. The idea was that each seat is made of a material which has the same acoustic property when it’s empty as when it’s occupied. The idea is that the sound in the auditorium will be the same regardless of whether it’s full or not. Crucially, it also means that rehearsals have the same sound quality as a performance. What a great idea. It was a great shame that I couldn’t manage to see a performance while I was in the city.

P1070872

Sydney Opera House. What a great building!

The whole design and appearance of the building is monumental in both its vision and its execution. The engineering involved was beyond cutting edge, it was truly inspired. It’s such a shame that the city had a bitter falling out with the designer and he never saw its completion – and still hasn’t visited it. If I were to try to describe everything here we would be in for a seriously long session, but there’s lots more information via this link. Well worth the read. It’s a fascinating building.
http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/sydney-opera-house

Some of the more intricate details of the opera house.

While I was on the icon trail it seemed a good idea to walk round Darling Harbour and take a closer look at Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately known as The Coathanger. Although far less cutting edge than the opera house, it is still, nonetheless, very special. Why was it needed? As Sydney grew suburbs sprang up on the north shore of the harbour, particularly around Manly. Ferries plied their trade across the harbour but created a bottleneck for travellers, especially those who wanted to take their cars across. A bridge was proposed as early as 1815, and again around the time of federation in 1901. But serious efforts were made around the time of WW1 to get a design approved and eventually a tender for construction was issued. It was won by a Middlesbrough firm, Dorman, Long and Co., a steel manufacturer and bridge building company. The project was overseen by Sydney’s much respected civil engineer JJ Bradfield. Started in 1924, it was completed in August 1932 and provided much needed work for thousands of people during the depression years. Sadly, sixteen people died building it although this was a small number for a project of this size during that era.

P1070869

Endless steel latticework and, if you look closely, some mad people taking the Bridge Walk.

There’s a whole pile of impressive statistics – the amount of steel; the number of rivets; the size of the bridge etc. But my favourite was that in order to allow for the seasonal temperature changes, and the consequent effects of expansion on all that steel, they built the bridge on top of four massive hinges, thereby allowing it to move as it expanded. These are housed at the base of the four towers that all the pictures show, and are anchored into the rock beneath them. Although faced by granite, the towers are built from steel. There is an excellent visitor centre housed at the top of the south east tower and the view over the harbour and the city is magnificent. I went up there, and then walked halfway across the bridge, just to get a feel for it. Visitors with deep pockets, strong legs and a very good head for heights can join tours which take them up onto the top of the arch – 134 metres above the waters of the harbour. The road deck carries eight lanes of traffic, two rail tracks, a cycle track and a pedestrian walkway. But imagine sailing into the harbour as a post WW2 immigrant and catching a first glimpse of that massive bridge. What a lasting impression it must have made!

P1080104

A sight to remember for new arrivals.

Once I’d arrived in Sydney I’d contacted a couple of old friends who I’d met on the road. Jo is a very nice French woman and we met at the hostel in Broome. Kym is a very nice English woman who worked in a pub in the small, former gold town of Ravenswood, way out in Far North Queensland. I’d kept in touch with both of them via Facebook, surely one of the most useful facilities for travellers in existence. Kym and I were going to meet at the Australian museum, then go for a bite to eat. But before our afternoon rendezvous I had a morning to fill so I went to the Police and Justice Museum, housed in the old police station and courthouse. All big cities have their criminal ‘fraternity’ and Sydney is no exception. There’s a huge selection of old photos, taken by the crime scene photographers who, in the 1920s and 30s, were only just beginning to learn their trade. The negatives, mostly old glass plates, had been found in a shed somewhere and made a fascinating display of rogues. More than anything it was a revealing display of the city and it’s people. Almost traffic free streets, very old fashioned clothes and a snapshot of how people lived ninety years ago. I joined a tour and heard the tale of a husband murdering his wife and getting away with it for ten years because there was no body. He was finally caught by forensic evidence, another science in its infancy at that time. This was one of those small museums which offered much.
On to the Australian museum where I met Kym. I hadn’t seen her for eight or nine months, so the reunion was good. The museum was excellent too. It focussed mostly on the natural history of the country but included Aboriginal history and especially the dreadful effects on them of white settlement. There were galleries covering all the fauna and flora, very well laid out and with some great exhibitions. I’ve pretty much decided that birds are my favourite animals so I enjoyed the huge variety they had on display. Kym particularly enjoyed the geology section, full of exquisitely coloured gemstones and minerals. Australia has some quite unique geology and it takes this kind of display to show it at its best.

P1070990

Kym enjoys a pint.

But museums are thirsty work so when it closed at 5pm Kym took us to one of her favourite city pubs for burger and beer. Curried Pork Belly isn’t a traditional burger filling but I can highly recommend it. The pub also sold a nice variety of draught beer too. I found one I liked, a nice pale ale, and stuck with it for the duration. Kym told me all about her job in graduate recruitment, similar to what she’d done back in England. Her company was prepared to sponsor her full work visa so a bright future beckons. I was very pleased for her. Unfortunately she had to leave by 6pm but we arranged to meet again. She lives out at Bondi and I would plan a walk out that wat to coincide with a day when Kym could meet me.
It was an even greater shame that Kym couldn’t stay long enough to meet Jo, who arrived soon after. I’m sure they’d have got on, as travellers usually do. As it was Jo and I spent the rest of the vening ta;king about many subjects, including her interesting and challenging upbringing in France. I’ve always found beer and conversation to be good companions and both flowed very easily. They threw us out of the pub when it closed at midnight. We’d had a great time. I made it back to my hostel with no problems, somewhat to my surprise, if I’m honest. It’s a very long time since I’d drunk so much. But what a terrific, busy, beery day!

P1070992

Jo and I enjoy a beer too.

At the beginning of this section I mentioned the culture and history Sydney has to offer. More on that very soon.

Canberra

Jindabyne, Victoria. 17th April 2016.

After a month in the city it was time to head for the hills. Fresh air, fresh views and fresh bends. Ultimately I was heading for Canberra  but Bernard and I had put our heads together to find a route that would satisfy my craving for some fun riding. The great roads of Tassie seemed to be a long way in the past.

P1070428

Heading for the hills. The Snowy Mountains await.

Teacher and pupil managed to devise a route that got me out of the city on a freeway (the best way), then along the main road near the coast, until I could head inland up into the hills. Destination Jindabyne, way up in the Great Dividing range. If you think Australia is flat, think again. There’s plenty of mountainous country for a motorcyclist to enjoy. The nicely twisty road ran alongside the Snowy River as it climbed upwards into the Snowy Mountains. But like a skater approaching thin ice, I needed to watch were I was going as one slip could lead to disaster. As I rode along the gravel section of the road, climbing ever higher, the afternoon and the sunlight were fading, mist was rolling down and the track was slippery in places. To encourage my inclination towards caution, the drop off the edge was very steep and very deep. On the way up I’d passed some likely looking camping spots but decided to press on while I could. The highest point was a chilly 1270 metres but after that the track started going down and eventually I reached asphalt and then the town of Jindaberg.

P1070425

As I head upwards a familiar name appears.

By the light of my not-very-bright headlight I found the campsite I’d been aiming for and the owner directed me to a spot near the kitchen and BBQ area. There I had shelter, light and hot water, where I could organise a meal and eat in relative comfort. I’m always impressed by the facilities found in Aussie campsites. There are invariably camp kitchens and a free gas BBQ, with sinks and usually a fridge/freezer too. And all for $12.50. Fantastic. Over the last two weeks at Bernard and Mary’s I’d been living in a different world, like being up in a cloud or some kind of fairyland. Now I was literally back down to earth.
Jindabyne offered nothing more than a place to refuel and buy some ever more necessary engine oil. Consumption was increasing noticeably. My plan for the day was to climb up through Koscuizco National Park and then take a back road through to Canberra. Much more challenging than the main road.
As I travelled up through the national park I was confronted by signs advising caution for winter drivers: Pull In Here to fit snow chains; Watch Out for snowploughs. But it was still early autumn so no need for me to worry just yet. The plethora of cable lifts and lodges, sitting on the mountainsides tempting skiers like neon signs atop a casino tempts gamblers, did remind me how popular winter sports are in this part of Australia. The road is called Alpine Way, which I suppose is enough of a clue, and rose to a peak of 1580 metres as it crossed the Great Dividing Range, via the prosaically named Dead Horse gap.

P1070434

High enough to need snow markers at the edge of the road.

The road, as you can imagine, was steep, bendy and narrow. I loved it. I stopped to look at the Snowy Mountain hydro-electric plant, which took twenty five years to build and provides, so the sign says, 11% of the generated electricity in Australia (4500 gigwatt hours per annum) as well as feeding water to two local irrigation schemes. Well, I was impressed. These features put me in mind of Scotland although I didn’t see any sign of bagpipes or whisky. So I settled for a peaceful coffee down in the valley town of Khancoban while I planned my next move.

P1070438

P1070441

Looking down over Jindabyne. Enjoying the autumn colours.

In the end Khancoban was as far as I went along my planned route. Just outside the town I turned onto the mountain road towards Canberra and was faced with a sign warning me of probable road closures. Probable? I went to explore and found the road blocked by machinery further up and I had no choice but to turn round. But let’s not deny one thing: the ride back was just as much fun as the ride out and I got a nice view of the lake next to which Jindabyne sits as I came back down to the town. Another fill up and a pleasant surprise when I calculated fuel consumption. My small engine definitely prefers hills and bends to freeways, judging by the consumption figures. A few hours later, after resorting to the main road, I booked into a YHA hostel in Canberra.
Australia’s capital is one of these odd cities which were located and built for a purpose rather than growing organically. Imagine two people deciding to get together but are unable to decide which of their home towns to live in. So they build a house for them to occupy halfway between each of them. There you have Canberra, home to the Federal Parliament of Australia. There are other examples of capital cities being created – Washington DC and Brasilia spring to mind, but Canberra is the youngest.
Why was it necessary? Entirely because of the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, and the need to avoid favouring either of them by granting them the status of being the nation’s capital. In Australia, interstate rivalry is just as intense as any sporting rivalry you could imagine. Think the Ashes and the Rugby World cup rolled into one..

canberra

Canberra’s unique geometrical layout.

Even before federation took place in 1901 there was recognition that a separate city would be required, although necessity meant that the new parliament initially went to Melbourne, temporarily located in the Exhibition Hall. In 1908 the location for Canberra was chosen and in 1913 the city was officially named, reflecting a local indigenous word for ‘meeting place’. An area of land was ceded by New South Wales to eventually become the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which itself now has its own legislature, in the same way that other states and territories do. Not that there was much there. It was 1927 before the new parliament building was ready and the politicians finally moved from Melbourne. After this the growth of the city was slow, being described as ‘several suburbs looking for a city’. But post WW2 more government departments were moved there and some proper development took place. It’s design was heavily influenced by the Garden City movement so there is plenty of open space and native bushland for its 300,000 plus population.

P1070518

The nation’s first purpose built parliamentary building.

P1070520

But not everyone feels good about it.

The parliamentary buildings and the layout of the city were designed by Burley and Marion Griffin, from Chicago. Their design for the city used geometric patterns – circles, hexagons and triangles. They were so taken with the results of their work that they moved to Canberra, taking Australian citizenship as well. A new parliamentary building was opened in 1988, to mark Australia’s bi-centennial. It sits on top of Capital Hill and there is a direct line of sight from there, through the old parliamentary building across to the Australian War Memorial on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin. For the visitor there’s plenty to see, especially one who likes history and politics. Just right for me then. I was going to be as happy as an MP receiving their expenses cheque. Art, science and history awaited.

P1070446

A sculpture called The Loop, pointing the way towards Uluru.

The city is quite spread out, with no real CBD. But the National Museum of Australia was within walking distance of my hostel so that’s what I did. The building itself is artistic, with a design that deliberately catches the eye as you approach it from the other side of the lake. The designers recognised that the history of Australia has many components so they designed a building to reflect that. Small stories about individuals; about events; about Aussies abroad; about Aussie achievers and achievements. A gallery full of Indigenous stories and another with the story of the continent itself, its animals and environments. Outside is a massive sculpture in the form of a loop, with the bottom end of it leading the eye towards Uluru, in the centre of the country. All in all a very different, and fascinating, approach to presenting history and culture.

P1070467

Aboriginal totems.

Given that Canberra’s raison d’etre is to house the parliament buildings, it seemed sensible to go and look at them. The old one is now a museum of democracy and I joined the free tour around the building. We learned about the nature of government in Australia and here’s a brief run down. Skip these paragraphs if you like!
Australia uses the Westminster Parliamentary system, which means they have two houses and a non executive head of state, in this case the British monarch, represented by a Governor-General. Very strangely, to my mind at least, this official has the power to dismiss parliament – and on one famous occasion, he did just that during the constitutional crisis of 1975. Australia has six states and two internal territories, which all have their own legislatures, plus another four island territories, which don’t. The powers of a state legislature are greater, and more independent from the federal government, than those of a territory.

P1070524

The rather striking new Parliamentary Building.

The two houses of parliament are the Senate and the Lower House. Each state has twelve senators, the two territories have two each. A total of 76. The numbers are fixed to ensure each state has an equal voice in the senate, regardless of size and population. By contrast, the house of representatives has 150 members and the numbers in each state depend on the size of the electorate. The two territories do not elect people to the lower house and decisions taken by their legislatures can be overridden by the federal government. Both houses use forms of proportional representation. Elections to the lower house take place very three years. The senators serve six years but elections for half of them occur every three, thereby providing overlap between the two houses and a degree of continuity. At the time of writing Australia has a double dissolution on its hands – a rare event, meaning that all MPs and senators are facing the voters. Half of the senators elected will have to face re-election in three years time so as to get the overlap back on track.

P1070509

The green benches and speakers chair of the Senate, in the old building.

All this may seem very confusing but I find it far better than the British system, where we get no say whatever in who sits in our upper house. It’s bad enough being a subject of a monarch without having to suffer appointed politicians, and living in a partial theocracy as well. It’s long past the time Britain looked outwards instead of backwards and introduced a fair system. Sorry about that little rant. Sometimes a peasant’s revolt wells up inside me and I feel the need to wave my pitchfork around.
The Westminster System means that Australia has a Prime Minister, an Official Opposition and a Speaker. The Speaker’s chair is a copy of Westminster’s, as is the official mace that sits on the table in front of them. The colour of the benches in each house matches those in the House of Commons and House of Lords, i.e. green and red. In the basement is a terrific display of political cartoons, most of which are acerbicly funny.
Moving on to my subsequent tour of the new parliamentary buildings, all is much the same except that the colours of the benches, although still green and red, use shades of colour which match those found on native Gum trees. There are press galleries and public galleries on balconies above the chamber but I was puzzled by the highest of these, which had perspex screens across the front of it. I was delighted to learn that they are specifically for schoolchildren. They are soundproofed from the debating chamber so their noise doesn’t disturb events below but they can still listen to, discuss and be taught about, what’s taking place. A fabulous idea and a great way of helping to engage youngsters in the democratic process. Session times begin at 9.30am and can go on as late as 10pm but very rarely do. One very good thing is that speeches from members are limited to fifteen minutes, therefore no filibustering can take place. Well done Australia, I think the UK could learn much.

P1070516

A different point of view on political matters. Aborigines still aren’t acknowledged in the Australian Constitution.

Now you’re all back with me, what other places did I visit? The National Gallery of Australia was well worth the time spent in there. It has a collection of paintings by famous international artists, such as David Hockney and Monet, as well as well known Australian artists. One such is Sidney Nolan, who produced a whole range of paintings depicting the story of bushranger Ned Kelly, done in quite a unique style. Critics panned them but what do they know? I liked them. Several galleries showed indigenous art, something I’m getting to like quite a lot. Pop art, impressionist paintings, plenty of sculpture. It was well worth the price of the parking ticket I found stuck on my bike when I came out – although it remains unpaid. Naughty me!

P1070474

A Hockney landscape.

P1070499

Sidney Nolan’s take on Ned Kelly’s trial. A distinctive style, you might say.

There’s a very good place called Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. You’ll not be surprised to hear it’s full of displays about science and technology, and hundreds of holidaying kids enjoying them. Most of them are interactive and I think it’s a place where visitors need to take a child, just to get the most out of it. I couldn’t find one to borrow so wandered around on my own. But I very much enjoyed the presentation on dinosaurs, given by a very enthusiastic palaeontologist, fresh from a dig where they’d made some exciting discoveries. Artefacts from around 45,000 years ago have been discovered, increasing the knowledge of Australia’s earliest occupants.

P1070571

Inside the War Memorial. Memories of WW2.

My last visit was to the Australian War Memorial, with displays that tell of ANZAC activities from WW1 and WW2, as well as Australian military events since. There’s a great collection of planes, mini submarines, artillery and so on. As at the Menin Gate in Belgium, they have a Last Post ceremony, at 4.45pm each day, just as the museum closes. A bugler and a bagpiper did the honours and some wreaths were laid by various people, including some school groups. So, a sad but uplifting way to finish my visit to Canberra.

P1070591

Playing the Last Post.

So now begins a cautionary tale, which can best be summarised as: be careful about listening to Cousin Bob. My Canadian Cousin Bob lived in Canberra for over two years and gave me some suggestions of places to visit, some of which I followed. So far, so good. But he also suggested I take a ride out to Bateman Bay where there is a fish and chip café of the highest quality. Although Sydney lies to the north and Bateman Bay is to the south, I decided to give it a go, aiming to cover the 680km distance in one day. I’m sure you can guess that I failed – miserably. Like a motorcycling version of Mr Bean, I seemed to bounce from one disaster to another.
Firstly, it was 2pm before I reached Bateman Bay and 3pm before I left, with nearly 300kms still to ride. Then, less than an hour down the road, I broke down. In fairness to Doris (and Cousin Bob)  this was a first. I’d had punctures before, but never a mechanical failure. The fault was in the carburettor and it was 7pm before I’d fixed it and was on the way again. It wasn’t running properly but was good enough. A couple of lads in a fourby stopped to see if they could help, offering the use of their headlights, if nothing else. I was grateful but could manage without them.

P1070481

The bird of Paradise approaches the Hot Water Planet, by James Rosenquist. Or, just possibly, the Inside of My Carburettor.

Eventually I made it into the town of Nowra, but there was no hostel there. I decided to go along to Wollongong, where I knew there was one but I needed fuel. While I was in the servo, a guy pointed out a strap that was hanging down from the bike. I instantly realised it should have been securing the bike cover I carry with me, and then I instantly realised that meant I’d left it behind, where I broke down. Sure enough, when I’d ridden the 45kms back there, it was lying on the ground. It was now too late to go to Wollongong so I found a motel back in Nowra where I gratefully slept in a very expensive bed . I was cheered up slightly by the Victoria Bitter being on special offer in the pub. Next day, with the bike playing up most of the way, I eventually made it to Sydney.
So there we are. Remember to be very careful of what you do with Cousin Bob’s advice.
But in fairness to Bob it wasn’t his fault that I left Canberra at least two hours later than I should have; nor that the bike broke down; nor that I left the bike cover behind; nor that there wasn’t any cheap accommodation in Nowra. But I am grateful to Bob for recommending Innes Boatshed Café because the fish and chips were, as he promised, delicious.

 

P1070596

Great fish and chips next to the harbour.

 

A Month in Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria. 15th March 2016.

It’s quite a city, is Melbourne. It almost wasn’t allowed to exist and was in danger of being named Batmania, populated by Batmen and Batwomen. But it overcame these difficulties to become Australia’s largest city and home of the first federal government – for a while at least. These days it’s reckoned to be the world’s ‘most livable city’, although I’ve always been mystified as to how these things are decided, and by whom. So there it sits, down in Australia’s south east corner. No longer the biggest city, having been surpassed by its great rival Sydney, but seemingly the best. Sydney-siders may choose to disagree.
An overnight ferry journey from Tasmania delivered me safely to the port and I headed into the city in search of a place to stay. I found a MacDonalds. They don’t supply beds but do supply internet and sell breakfast . I’d arrived at the start of the Australian Grand Prix weekend and finding a bed would not be a racing certainty. Eventually I found a hostel in the suburb of Prahran, not far from the famous St Kilda beach. The price was low, the standard at rock bottom, easily the worst one I’ve stayed in. But the proverbial beggar can’t be a chooser so I gritted my teeth, cleared some rubbish off the floor and settled in. In contrast, the pub and restaurant which the hostel sits above looked really nice. Prahran itself is one of those urban areas which are near enough but far enough from a city centre to provide both a respectable shopping district and a lively evening scene. I discovered a great food market, housed in a late 19th C trading hall and filled with delicatessens and suppliers of fresh food. Transport links were good too, trains and trams into the city. So outside was definitely better than in.

P1060831

The huge frontage of Flinders Street station.

Having had a busy time in Tassie I was now marking time to some extent. My son, Ross, was due to join me in a few days time so I wasn’t going to visit the tourist places until he arrived. But a few trips into the city centre for some research showed the trains to be handy and the city to be full of things to see and places to visit. Coming out of Flinders Street station, a dash across the busy junction got me to Federation Square where, like a signpost to all the delights of Melbourne, the visitor centre staff where ready to guide me to all the guides I needed. Weighed down with maps, leaflets and brochures, I felt ready for some planning.
Meanwhile I’d been in touch with a Melburnian named Doug, who I’d been introduced to by a mutual Facebook friend. He’d suggested a ride out somewhere and we settled on the Great Ocean Road, part of the tourist route which links Melbourne with Adelaide. Although I’d already ridden along it I had been in a bit of a hurry, on a showery day, so was happy to do it more justice.

P1060818

Doug Mullet, my guide for the day.

We met at a motorway service area, to the west of the city, on the kind of day that makes you glad to be a biker. Clear, sunny and with a Mc breakfast to start the day off properly. Doug is a retired teacher, multi talented judging by the range of subjects he used to teach. From maths, through physics to drama. He’s now a man with ambitions. He plans to buy a camper van, put a bike on the back and travel Australia. A great combination I reckon. But he’s already been to many other countries, often enjoying long train journeys in the process, and he has cousins in London that he’s visited too. I knew I was going to have a good day out with a great companion. After all, he paid for breakfast!
The GOR winds its way along Victoria’s southern coast and is renowned for its wonderful views, small bays, bends and traffic. Despite the 30o sunshine the road wasn’t too busy and we weren’t in any hurry anyway.
Our first stop was at the home of Rip Curl surfboards. It started out as a one man business back in the seventies, the brain child of a fanatical surfer who knew he could produce better than what was around. It’s now a huge international business, so it seems he was right. I was impressed by the whole set up and the range of boards and accessories available. It almost doesn’t need saying but surf boards and accessories is a huge industry in Australia and I suspect many of the popular brands started out this way. There were surfers at many of the places we stopped at,the onshore wind creating good conditions for them. I’ve never tried it myself. Old dogs and new tricks, etc, but it looks like it would probably be fun

P1060803

This evocative display in the Ripcurl shop harked back to the founder’s early surfing days.

We stopped off at Split Point to admire the view and the lighthouse, then rode along to Lorne for a hot chocolate and to Apollo Bay for lunch. I had stayed there on my way across from Adelaide but all I saw that time was my hostel, the local shops and a day-long steady downpour. It looked so much nicer in the sunshine and it was easy to understand why the tourist coaches stopped to disgorge their camera toting, sun shaded hoards. We had stopped for lunch – Doug’s treat once more. I could get used to this.
The last time I rode the GOR I’d wanted to visit the Otway Fly, a tree top walk up in the forest above the bay. I didn’t get there because of time and weather. Doug suggested we go there after lunch so I was happy to agree. I’ve been to a similar place before and I enjoyed this one too. The ‘big beast’ among these trees is the Mountain Ash, which can grow up to 100 metres tall. The walkway is about 30-40 metres up so we could see plenty of bird life and get a different view of the forest floor. The ride up there and back was good fun too.
Throughout the day Doug and I chatted about bikes, riding gear, travelling, future plans and so on. A great day out and one of the highlights of my stay in Melbourne. Thanks Doug. I had a great day out with a true gentleman.

P1060807

The Great Ocean Road has plenty of natural beauty to admire.

Odd things happen sometimes, which you can look back on and wonder about your luck, both bad and good. My riding boots needed repairing and I’d found a place just north of the CBD which specialised in motorcycle boots. One Saturday I caught the tram into the city, a tram which would have taken me right there. Except it was the Grand Prix weekend and road closures necessitated a change. Initially taking the tram which went in the wrong direction didn’t help either. Mistake quickly realised, I changed back and made it there in the end. But …. I hadn’t thought to check opening hours and they had shut by the time I arrived, forty minutes too late. Bad luck? Would I have been on time if the transport had been normal and I’d managed it better? Who knows, but as it was I had to wander round the city carrying the boots in a bag and being careful to remember to pick them up again every time I put them down. Close followers of this blog will know I’m very good at leaving bags behind and the inevitable happened. I got on the train back to the hostel and as soon as it pulled away I realised I’d left the boots on the bench where I’d been sitting. I got off at the next station, immediately got onto a train going back which, because it went round in a loop, stopped at the same platform from which I’d left and there, still on the bench, were my boots. A quick check of the signboard told me the train that had brought me back to the city would now take me out to Prahran again so I promptly got back on, feeling both foolish and very lucky. I think I’d just completed a railway version of a walk through a hall of mirrors. A casual observer would have been at a loss to understand what had been going on. I wouldn’t have blamed them.

P1070075

Melbourne’s older suburbs are full of neat little houses with individual styling.

Eventually it was time to leave Prahran, with no regrets at moving away from that dump of a hostel. The new one was just on the edge of the CBD, opposite the museum, and was in a different class. Ross’s flight had been delayed by technical faults so I had a couple of days to kill.
The mainstay of Melbourne’s excellent transport system is the trams. They’ve rattled around the city since the early 20th C and are free to ride within the city centre. The easiest way to pay is with a Myki card, which can be loaded with money as necessary. It’s a common enough system worldwide. The hostel loaned me one for Ross so I was able to meet him in the city centre on the morning of his arrival and get him back to the hostel without any fuss. He was, of course, very tired but after a few hours sleep we went out for a walk down to the visitor centre in Federation Square for some ideas.

P1060972

One of Melbourne’s older trams outside one of the older buildings. Both beloved of tourists.

Next morning a change came over Ross. He suffers from an under active thyroid gland and this sometimes brings on anxiety. And that’s what happened to him. Whether it was jet lag, being so far away from home, worries about forthcoming exams at university or a combination of everything, he felt too unwell to do anything. And that’s how it remained for three days until eventually he went home early. A deep disappointment for both of us. I’d really been looking forward to spending time with him and he’d been looking forward to a nice holiday. But there’s no way round these things sometimes and it was simply not to be. Such a shame.
So, alone once more, I carried on being a tourist. I had bought tickets for an Aussie Rules football game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Easter Saturday. The MCG is a must see place for sports fans so I was pleased to have obtained them, especially as I wanted to see an AFL game. Ross and I had watched one on TV on Thursday, with a copy of the rules in front of us, in the hope we’d be able to understand what was happening on the pitch.

P1070206

Looking across to the Sports and Entertainment Precinct from the top of the Eureka Tower (named in honour of the Eureka Rebellion.). The MCG is the arena on the left, Rod Laver Arena on the right..

The first MCG was built in 1853 to house Melbourne Cricket Club and was the venue for the first Australia/England test match. The current stadium was built in time to host the 1956 Olympic Games but has been refurbished since. It sits among several other stadia, including the Rod Laver tennis arena. In summer it is the home to cricket, in winter to AFL. It seats 100,000 people and has seating and catering facilities which make them a pleasure to use. There are big screens in the corners, very necessary in such a big stadium.
The Australian Football League developed in the 1890s and is centred mostly in the south east. Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney all have several teams, with a couple way over towards Perth and also up around Brisbane too. A total of eighteen, in just one league.

P1060881

A very famous Aussie sportsman welcomes you to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The game is played on an oval pitch, with an oval ball. The pitch can be up to 185 metres long and 155 metres wide. That’s a huge area. Players can run with the ball, but must bounce it every 15 metres, ‘handball’ it or kick it. ‘Handballing’ involves hitting it to another player by punting it with the fist. It isn’t thrown like a rugby ball. The key skill is in catching. If a player catches a ball that has travelled more than 50 metres he gets a free kick. This is clearly a huge advantage if he is within range of the goal. There are four goalposts at each end and kicking the ball cleanly between the centre two earns six points. Getting the ball between either of the outer two posts, or between the centre two with any part of the body other than the foot, earns one point. An own goal will also give the other team one point and is sometimes used as a defensive tactic. It is very high scoring and fast paced, which demands constant substitution of players throughout the game. Each team can have over eighty. With coaches being allowed on the pitch at any time and a total of eleven officials, it is a very strange game indeed! The full laws and rules can be seen here: http://www.aflrules.com.au/afl-game-rules/

P1060897

The huge pitch, just before the game started. Sadly, not such a huge crowd.

I enjoyed the spectacle very much and was rooting for the local team, Melbourne, who were playing the GWS Giants, from Sydney. The final result was unusually close at 82-80. My biggest disappointment was that the stadium was only about 20% full. It seems that Melbourne aren’t very good so don’t have a big following, and GWS are a long way from home so didn’t bring many fans. Unlike the TV game on Thursday, also at the MCG, there wasn’t much of an atmosphere so I didn’t get the MCG experience I’d heard so much about. Such is life.

P1060904

The guys in pink are the coaches who are allowed on the pitch during the game, but can’t go too close to where the ball is.

P1060903

One of the umpires (in yellow) ‘bounces off’ to start play.

Fortunately museums are pretty constant and are invariably popular, as witnessed by the amount of holidaying kids and parents at Melbourne Museum, just across the road from my hostel, in Carlton Park. Because I could prove I was over sixty, entry was free. It was well worth it too. They have some fabulous galleries and in the one about Melbourne I learned all about Batman.
Attempts had been made from the early1800s to settle the shores of Port Phillip Bay but none succeeded until settlers from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) began investigating the mainland in the 1830s. A certain John Batman claims to have ‘bought’ around 600,000 acres from the local Aboriginals, paying them in clothes and trinkets and promising an annual rental. This deal was never recognised by the authorities in Sydney. Apart from anything else Aborigines are custodians of land, not owners, so the concept of ‘selling’ just didn’t exist for them. But Batman went ahead and started a new settlement, calling it Batmania. Other settlers arrived and although denied permission to do so by the Governor in Sydney, a new, convict free town was begun. Eventually the authorities gave in to reality and sent a magistrate, a surveyor and other officials to formalise the settlement, changing the name to Melbourne, after the then British Prime Minister. The surveyor created a street plan, aligned with the Yarra River, which is now the CBD. He designated the main streets, at 99 feet wide, and the minor streets in between them to be 33 feet wide. That’s how things still are today. The colony grew off the back of successful agriculture on the fertile lands around it. Despite being part of New South Wales, the city kept itself separate from Sydney by creating its own police force, land registry etc. Eventually in 1851, after much agitation by the populace, the new state of Victoria was recognised with Melbourne as the capital.

P1070268

Ecstatic headline when Victoria was founded.

Gold had been found around Sydney about that time and the authorities in Melbourne offered rewards to anyone finding commercial amounts of it in Victoria. It turned out that the hills around the state were covered in it and the Victorian goldrush was soon in full swing. Melbourne emptied out as people headed to the goldfields but promptly filled back up again as ships from around the world brought thousands of hopefuls, looking to get rich. Many did. The city most definitely did and so began the forty year boom during which most of the city’s fine buildings were erected. This included the hall used for the 1880 international exhibition, which became the home of the Federal Parliament until it moved to Canberra in 1927. ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ had been created and was thriving. More info here:
http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/history-of-melbourne-581#.
Back in the museum, I found the Mind and Body section, which, like a biology lesson on steroids, had plenty of graphic diagrams and models explaining all the bodily functions. All the kids seemed to love it. I was very pleased by the gallery on evolution too, which gave equal credit to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin for their evolutionary theories. Wallace was poor and funded his research on evolution by collecting and selling animal specimens, found on his travels. He sent his work to Darwin to seek his opinion, which made Darwin realise he needed to get his finger out when it came to publishing his own. Darwin was happy to give credit to Wallace for the work he had done, which was along the same lines as his. But Wallace would never have got his work published, he just didn’t have the contacts or clout that the rich Darwin did. So well done Melbourne Museum for giving him recognition.

Alfred and Charles. Similar theories and mutual respect.

One morning I went across to the State Library, the meeting point for a walking tour of Melbourne CBD. It was one of those where you pay the guide at the end of the tour, based on how good you thought it was. And it was a very interesting three hours. He showed us various great buildings, as well as some sparky graffiti; some of the fine shopping arcades; plenty of historical stories about the city. In the first five years of gold production around twenty million ounces of gold was mined. That’s simply incredible. He told us the story of the 888 campaign, a stone masons’ strike of the late 19th C. They wanted to be able to work for only eight hours per day and have eight hours rest and eight hours play. It was difficult but they won in the end and there’s a monument to them up in the city. I’m sure there’s no irony intended but it’s right next to the old gaol, where the bush ranger Ned Kelly was hanged.

P1060977

Monument to the stone masons’ strike., leading to decent working conditions.

So now it’s time for a little story to gladden your hearts. When I started my secondary education my English teacher was a very nice, adventurous and forward looking teacher named Bernard Newsome. He and his wife came to England from Melbourne and he gained his teaching certificate there. His first job was at Crown Woods School and he taught me and my twin brother for three years, until he left. He was one of those teachers that you remember well for reasons that you can’t necessarily remember. They just leave such a positive impression on you. Roll the years forward to 2005 and Bernard, now retired after a very successful career as a senior lecturer at Melbourne university, is visiting England with his wife Mary. An acquaintance happened to know my father so he obtained contact details and rang him up. He gave Bernard my brother’s details and now they’re back in touch. When my brother knew I was going to be in Melbourne he passed me Bernard’s contact details. Now we’re back in touch. So it was to Bernard and Mary’s house in Toorak, Melbourne, that I headed when I left my hostel. And fifty years since we last met, I was welcomed into their home like a long lost son.

P1070415

Bernard and Mary.

I’d be a liar if I said he hadn’t changed. Of course he has. He’s in his eighties now and suffers from heart problems, but the essential Bernard I remember. The humour, the insight and the quiet gift of knowledge is still there and I had a fabulous fortnight with them. We were delighted with each other’s company and I felt the warmth exuded by both of them. Their house has an annexe, where the youngest of their three children, Polly, lives. She’s a very sparky character and joined us on a couple of trips out, as well as taking me on a little tour of Melbourne.

I took time to do a few small jobs on the bike, including replacing the very bald rear tyre, and also sorted out some admin problems surrounding my carnet de passage. That’s a whole saga in itself. I finally collected my repaired boots from the cobbler and got them home safely without losing them. Not even once.

Plenty of grip now.

Mary is an artist and we visited a couple of galleries which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. In the Yarra River is the small Herring Island, man made from river dredging. Formerly used as a scout camp, it’s accessible only by boat, a small, motorised punt in this case. We timed it well as the service was about to close down for the winter. There are sculptures dotted around the island but the main attraction is a small gallery which happened to be showing a collection of small pictures. Called the A4 exhibition, all of them were on A4 size material and I think it made them very effective. I got chatting to the ‘duty artist’, Carin, who had four of her paintings on display. She normally paints landscapes in watercolour but said she thoroughly enjoyed working on a smaller scale and decided to produce four very delightful pictures of insects – a subject whose scale suited the size restriction. There were many other good works there too. A delightful little place. Back on the ‘mainland’ coffee and bread pudding – covered in syrup – was too tempting to turn down.

Lileth Ladybird and Basil Bee. Two of Carin’s delightful pictures.

Next day we went to a gallery of a completely different style. Built by rich art lovers and displaying most of their collection, it’s called the Tarrawarra Museum of Art. It’s a marvellous building, well worthy of the tax saving Bernard suggested it made for them. The exhibition was all about landscapes and this was reinforced by the design of the building. The rectangular openings in the surrounding wall effectively make the view over the lake, willow tree lake and distant escarpment part of the exhibition. Inside I gladly took lessons from Bernard and Mary on various aspects of the paintings, keen to extend my own knowledge of what makes a good one. We’d already discussed still life, something which, up to now, I simply hadn’t understood. Teachers never stop teaching thankfully, but by the time we got to the pub for an extremely nice lunch, I think I’d earned it.

P1070109

I rather liked this landscape.

Polly and I took a tram into the city one morning so she could show me some of the places she likes. First call was to the National Gallery of Victoria. I got a taster of what’s in the galleries and what to look at when I came back for a longer visit. Same thing applied to the State Library, a building whose design and function matches that of the British Library in many ways. Melbourne has some grand old shopping arcades, some of them from Victorian times. Banks Arcade is one such, with a vaulted roof and skylights, small specialist shops and statues of Gog and Magog, those two representatives of the wars that will accompany the end of days – allegedly. I imagine they were put up to reflect what happens when the Boxing Day sales begin.

P1070154

Gog and Magog, either side of a very nice clock.

We enjoyed a Japanese lunch then looked at some street art and a couple of the city’s old buildings. The former Post Office has a typically municipal look to it and has a great interior. It’s now an H&M store. Better than this was the Melbourne City Baths, built in 1904 to meet the needs of the growing population and to replace an earlier version. It’s a fine old building, in a very typical Edwardian style,, still with the original pool, balcony and changing rooms. One area has been converted into a gym, aimed at personal training rather than personal cleaning, and a squash court; but essentially the building retains its original function. Up on the balcony is a nice display of photos and cuttings telling its story, which reflects the ups and downs typical of such public facilities. Similar places were common in most British cities too. I wonder how many are left?
Polly has travelled a fair bit. New Zealand and Laos, but in particular she spent time in East Berlin, just after the wall came down. Exciting times for that city. I was happy to tell her it’s calmed down a bit now.

P1070112

Polly, alongside one of the more puzzling exhibits from the Tarrwarra museum.

I decided to take a ride out to Ballarat, one of Victoria’s big gold rush mining towns and, coincidentally, also where Bernard attended boarding school. He was a first class cricketer, rower and Aussie Rules football player for his school and almost went to university off the back of that. Fortunately an English degree was more attractive to him. As if that claim to fame isn’t enough, it’s also regarded as the cradle of Australian democracy thanks to a minor revolution involving miners.
A chilly 120kms ride north west of the city found me at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s main tourist attraction. I thought the entry fee rather steep but to be fair to them there is plenty to see and do inside the gold mining town they’ve created. The buildings are reconstructions based on those from the 1850s and are laid out in streets. There are plays, demonstrations and – my favourite – plenty of steam. Visitors can also go down old mine shafts.

Reconstructed streets and modern children in a period schoolroom. It seems they used to write in trays of sand back then.

I avoided most of these things as I didn’t have too much time but got into the swing of things among the people wearing period costumes acting in various roles. The shops were open, as were houses and schools. The costumed guides were there to answer questions and to act out various scenarios throughout the day. There were loads of families around who seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely. Many of them took the opportunity to pan for gold – real gold which they were allowed to keep should they be lucky. I’m betting there wasn’t much there though.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the steam engines, which are the only source of power for the various craft demonstrations. A host of belts, pulleys and shafts moves the power around the site to various workshops, such as the wheelwright’s, where I watched how a wagon wheel is made. The great thing is that all old style artefacts are made and maintained by these steam powered workshops and the craftsmen inside them. The only concession to modernity are necessary things such as machine guards. The men wear authentic clothes and seem to have deliberately grown authentic beards too. While I was chatting to one of them I carefully examined his face, looking for the glue. But no, it was the real thing.

Steam provides the power that the wheelwright uses to make the wagon wheels.

Across the way was the Gold Museum, with detailed information about assay processes and other related displays, including equipment, clothing and stories of mining triumphs and failures. I decided in the end it was worth the money but if you ever go, allow a full day.
Not far away is the site of the Eureka Stockade and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). The story behind this place is as follows.
Miners were charged a licence fee for the right to dig. These fees were high and the miners had no say in what they were or how they were applied. Many of them had emigrated from England and Ireland and were veterans of the Chartist Movement, which sought fair representation for all men. The Chartist maxim was “That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.”  There was no representation for miners in the Victorian parliament and negotiations between their leaders and the politicians brought no result. New and more determined leaders mong the miners decided to launch a rebellion. A stockade was built to defend against the Colonial troops but a dawn battle, which lasted less than an hour, saw defeat for the miners and twenty seven dead people. The leaders were tried in Melbourne for treason but popular opinion was on their side and the jury’s verdict was Not Guilty.

P1070350

The remains of the Southern Cross flag which flew over the Eureka Stockade.

A Royal Commission of Enquiry, which had been set up before the rebellion, recommended many improvements to the way the mines were licenced, pretty much meeting all the demands of the miners. In 1856 the law was changed to give voting rights to all white males. This was a significant change, one which didn’t happen in Britain until 1867.Sadly it also helped to embed sexism and racism into Australian official affairs as women and the thousands of Chinese miners were excluded.
I’ve only been able to give a very short version of the story here (Hurrah! I hear you shout) and lots more information is available here:
http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/eureka-stockade
The museum traced this story, displayed the remains of the rebels’ Southern Cross flag and told other related stories from around the world on the democracy theme.

P1070352

Workers at an Auckland meat processing works were stood down for wearing this innocuous T shirt and still await reinstatement. Even in a country as forward looking as New Zealand, injustices can still be found.

Various other venues around Melbourne helped me to learn the city’s story. The Old Treasury Building was one such. It was designed by JJ Clark, a Liverpudlian immigrant aged only nineteen, who was also responsible for the design of many other public buildings. Bursting at the seams with Melbourne history, the old vaults and offices are filled with displays about gold rush days, the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, early interactions with indigenous people and a large section about the post WW1 Soldier Scheme.I really liked the story of the Soldier Settlers. This scheme was designed to help returned WW1 troops. If they agreed to move into unoccupied areas within Victoria they were given land and loans to start farms. Although there were some successes, most of the men were too damaged, physically, mentally or both, to be able to cope with the situation. I mentioned before the Groupies Scheme in Western Australia. Similarly, all that these families had was some land and a loan. No clearance had taken place, no house had been built and it was just too much for most of them. They weren’t given enough land for a viable farm either. As in WA, the scheme was abandoned and a subsequent enquiry was very critical. But those that did make it work became the backbone of Victoria’s pastoral industry.

P1070037

The Soldier Settlement Scheme. A worthy idea but badly organised.

The Immigration Museum was worth an hour or so’s visit, telling the story of immigration from Europe, especially post WW2, where Australia was a haven for the stateless and dispossessed. The federal government was keen to increase the population and as well as the war victims the era of the ‘Ten pound Pom’ was born. Many Britons left for Australia to seek a new life and were mostly successful. I’ve met many of their children since I’ve been here and they all seemed happy about their situation, including those that were born in Britain.
Melbourne has a very racially mixed population and many people are of Irish background. The potato famines of the mid-19th C drove huge numbers to leave home and gold fever infected Melbourne was a popular destination. So it was no surprise to find, when I visited the state library, a section devoted to the Easter Uprising of 1916. Depending on your viewpoint, this event was a glorious failure, but one that ultimately led to Irish independence, or it was a treasonable act of war against the British state. I’d guess that to the many descendants of those immigrants it was the former, especially as the majority of them would have been Catholic. At this time there was no conscription into the army and as the defeat at Gallipoli and the horrors of the Western Front worked their way into the Australian consciousness the people gradually turned against it. The government wanted to introduce it but were defeated in two referenda, in 1916 and 1917. One of the key influences on the first decision was the events in Dublin, which helped to turn Australia’s initial enthusiasm to ‘fight for the Empire’ into strong resistance in those areas which had a strong Irish voice. The information leaflet points out that at the time of the opening of the state library in 1856 nearly one third of Australia’s population was Irish born. So no surprise at seeing plenty of displays relating to James Joyce, WB Yeates and others.
Both the State Library and the National Gallery of Victoria have a wide range of artworks and artefacts. One of the NGV galleries over in Federation Square had a terrific and moving display of ‘angry art’ from indigenous sources, depicting the discrimination, sexual injustice and inequality their people suffered.

The tragedy of Aboriginal life and the hoped for, but unlikely, victory.

On a lighter note I enjoyed a walk around the Queen Victoria Market. This 1878 building houses a traditional working market, part wholesale and part public. It has various halls, each of which focuses on meat, dairy, fruit and veg etc., along with areas aimed at souvenir hunters and other tourists. Every Wednesday it holds a Summer Night Market where the halls are full of artisan food stalls, global food stalls and several entertainment stages. Judging by how busy it was when I went there Melburnians seem to enjoy trying different foods and ‘music while you eat’.
Melbourne had a second treat for me with regard to old friends from the past. Dave Gall used to live in Charlton, SE London, with his wife Marti. He used to join us for football games at The Valley, and in the Rose of Denmark, our pre-game watering hole. Dave is a Melburnian and soon after his son was born they returned to Australia. I had his email address so was able to arrange a reunion with them. You all understand the delights of catching up on news, comings and goings, and gossip. We had a great day. Getting to know their kids (a daughter as well now), enjoying lunch and dinner, and generally reviving an old friendship. Marti still teaches maths and Dave has given up the corporate world to become a teaching assistant at a special needs school. They both seemed very happy. Therefore I was too.

P1070179

Dave, Marti, Bethany and Josh.

In among all this visiting I was busy on the phone trying to sort out my carnet de passage, my bike’s ‘passport’. They expire after one year although I’d been able to extend mine while in New Zealand. But now I had a new one and needed to get the old one ‘signed off’ and the new one started. A ride out to the customs office at Melbourne airport had been a failure. It seemed I needed to get a form filled out by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA). This made sense really because when I thought back I remembered that the Japanese Automobile Federation had to validate my carnet before Japanese customs would stamp it; the New Zealand AA had been involved in extending my carnet too. In the end it was all straight forward. It just took some emails and phone calls to a very helpful woman at the AAA. Once I had the form I contacted customs again and they said it would be OK for me to complete the paperwork when I got to Sydney. That was a real relief. I find it difficult to shake off that feeling of naughty boy type nervousness when I’m dealing with these officials. It’s not that I’m trying to fool them or anything, it’s very much that if things go wrong then my life suddenly becomes very difficult. I still couldn’t quite relax until everything had been finalised in Sydney, but things now looked all set for the right result. Phew!

Carlos filmed me and Doris.

Think back, if you can, to last July and my little escapade up on Cape York, when I went for a swim and nearly didn’t come back. The BBC got wind of it and contacted me to appear on a programme called Close Calls on Camera. It focuses on the role of the emergency services in rescuing poor fools like me. So one Sunday morning a cameraman arrived at Bernard’s house to interview me. Carlos unloaded all his gear, set it up in the living room and we simply chatted for well over an hour. He gave me some tips on how to answer his questions, the main one being that I needed to include his question in my answer as his voice would not be heard. We did some shots of me making tea, sitting in the garden drinking it, and then some sequences of me riding up and down the road on Doris. It was good fun and I think it will be broadcast towards the end of June. My fifteen minutes of fame will happen soon.
Eventually the time came for me to leave Bernard, Mary and Melbourne. I took them and Polly out to one of their favourite restaurants and had an absolutely perfectly cooked kangaroo steak. The red wine wasn’t bad either. I had been with them for over two weeks and it was a magical time. I was cosseted, fed, shown around and generally treated like the prodigal son. I was a more than willing swimmer in the natural teaching pool of Mary and Bernard, learning much about art, Aussie Rules football and story telling. It was a truly delightful interlude. Will I ever see them again? I can only hope so.

And finally, some of the terrific artwork I saw in Melbourne.

P1070099P1060986P1060850P1070260P1070262

There’s Something About an Island. Part 2

Melbourne, Victoria. 3rd March 2016.

P1060247

‘Spiriting’ tourists across the Bass Strait to Tassie.

Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania was slow work. Despite being there early, I queued up for ages. The staff were checking everyone for fresh fruit and vegetables. Tassie has real concerns about the spread of fruit fly and similar problems so I dutifully declared my lunchtime fruit. I could either throw it away or subject myself to a quarantine check on the other side. No contest, I kept the fruit. Oddly, they didn’t seem too fussed about my spare fuel can, something the info sheet suggested wasn’t allowed on board. Once on the car deck the crew strapped all the bikes down and I went up to the lounge. I found a table by the window with a very handy mains socket next to it and I settled in for the ten hour crossing.
I mentioned at the end of my last post I’d booked the ferry at short notice. All well and good for getting to Tassie, but what about getting back? I try to avoid deadlines while I’m on the road but I needed to be in Melbourne by the evening of the 20th March. You can imagine my annoyance when the website showed the next bookable ferry to be on the evening of the 21st! No good to me. I rang them up instead and was pleased to find they could get me on the evening sailing on the 14th, although the price left me gasping a bit. That gave me ten days for exploring the island and I figured it would be long enough.
A smooth crossing over the 200+ kilometres of Bass Strait saw me in Devonport by 6pm. Unloaded, passed through quarantine and out onto the main road across the north of Tasmania. I’d been unable to find a hostel in the port but had managed to locate one in the small town of Penguin, about 40kms away. It won’t surprise you to know that the town is named after the bird but it disappointed me when I discovered they no longer nest along the beach there, so no chance of seeing them.

P1060255

A very large concrete penguin celebrates the town’s centenary.

At the time of the first a penal settlement Tasmania was called Van Diemen’s Land. It had been named by Dutch navigator and explorer Abel Tasman after his sponsor at the Dutch East Indies Company (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_East_India_Company). It had once been connected to the rest of Australia by a land bridge, enabling Aboriginals to find their way there. Over the millenia evolution had led to the development of some unique animals, as well as to some differences between the human populations of the island and the mainland. Tasmanian Devils and Tasmanian Tigers were two of the unique animals. Sadly both the population of tigers and humans were hunted to extinction by settlers. When transportation was finally stopped by Britain the people of Van Diemens Land wanted to remove the stain, as they saw it, of being a penal colony so they changed the name to Tasmania. Then came separation from New South Wales and statehood. Agriculture, sheep, timber, gold and tin mining had made the colony wealthy so more settlers soon came. It remains prosperous still. While on the ferry I attended a very amusing and informative talk given by one of the national park rangers, where our appetites where whetted for seeing the wildlife.

tasmania-organised-tours

Tasmania. Lots of green, lots of mountains.

The west side of the island is mostly unoccupied, once the north coast is left behind. There are few roads and only small settlements, and most of the area is a series of huge national parks. In fact, forty percent of the island is protected in some way. There is some mining in the north west area and some larger towns lie on, or close to, the coast about halfway down the west side. Most habitable areas are in the south and east, including Hobart, the capital. As Australian states go, Tasmania is tiny. Its nearest neighbour is Victoria which is the smallest of the mainland states. Even so, it is over three times the size of Tassie, which compares to Ireland in size.
I made plans to explore along the north coast and into the hills of the hinterland, before heading south and west to Strahan. Hobart after that, then up the east coast and back towards the ferry port.
Meanwhile, another biker arrived at the hostel. Ryan is English, twenty years old and had flown out to visit his uncle in Fremantle. He bought a Honda Deauville and has ridden much the same route as me, across the Nullarbor and through Adelaide. He’s a very articulate and mature guy who used to own a motorcycle shop, along with his two brothers. We hit it off and decided to ride together for the next few days, at least as far as Strahan.

P1060268

Ryan and Deauville

It made a nice change to have a riding companion. Yes, you can talk to other hostel dwellers about how good your day was, but they don’t really ‘get’ what the riding is all about. I feel that explaining it to another traveller is like trying to tell a drummer what playing a flute is like. Same tune, very different instrument.
We took a ride westward, along the coast to Winyard, where we found our way up to the lighthouse on Table Cape. I’ve visited several lighthouses now, so this one was a bit ‘ho-hum’, but Ryan enjoyed the tour very much. I was surprised to learn that automation came to this one in 1920, when acetylene replaced kerosene. Others I’d visited had been converted to automated electric lighting at a much later date.It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm, so we had a great view out over the sea and surrounding land. This part of Tasmania is renowned for its fruit, vegetables and flowers – especially tulips. The soil is volcanic, and the rich brown colour has the look of fertility about it.

The Nut

The Nut and Stanley.

Further along the coast we came to the town of Stanley, out on a spit of land and nestling under a geological oddity called The Nut. Almost circular, one hundred and fifty metres high, it has sides steep enough to warrant a chairlift up to the top. We didn’t go up there but the views must be stunning as it overlooks both the Bass Strait and inland. Instead, we rode around it and found a picture postcard little café on the waterside. Painted a bright red and yellow, a boat in the same colours was moored next to it, offering seal watching trips. We stuck with a nice coffee and had a chat with three who were out to enjoy a sunny ride. As often happens, the Union Flag on my British number plate started off the conversation about my route there. Fortunately I never tire of talking about it!

Stanly cafe

Pretty little cafe at Stanley.

The next part of our plan was to head up into the hills just inland, towards Leven Canyon. The map depicted the roads with wiggly lines. Bikers home in on those like bees to apple blossom, seeking the honey of the bends. We’d decided on a circular route through the hills, with a stop to look at Preston Falls on the way. Was the riding good? You betcha! We had fun, with good surfaces and challenging curves. I got us slightly lost, but we found the falls and stopped for a look. Nothing worthy of mention really, it hadn’t rained much lately. As we were walking back up to the car park we heard a bike go past. By the time we got there the rider had turned round and come back. He introduced himself as Brian and was riding a BMW K1200RS, looking surprising small for such a big bike. He asked us where we were going and when we said back to Penguin, he offered to lead us there through the back roads, reckoning he could show us some routes we wouldn’t otherwise find. So, a local rider, on a sporty bike offers to show us where its at. Would you refuse? We didn’t either and had even more fun getting back than we’d had getting there. Challenging sometimes, but enormous, honeyed fun. The roads were great but the countryside through which they passed was special too. It put me in mind of the Bavarian hills I’d ridden through at the beginning of my journey. Steep slopes, deep valleys and very tall pine trees. We knew there would be more of this to come. Tasmania was shaping up to be pretty special.

P1060285

Brian and his very handy K1200RS.

Ryan and I had studied the map, taken note of advice from Brian and worked out a route down to Strahan which we hoped would give us even more bendy thrills. We weren’t disappointed. Three hundred kilometres of twisty fun. Even the main road was good. At one point we stopped to investigate Hester Gorge and in the car park got chatting to some other riders. One of them, Richard, was riding a Velocette Venom Clubman, a very nice looking example, which he’d owned since 1969 and had rebuilt over the years. It took me straight back to my teenage years, when I’d owned a Velocette too. One of the others had a Can-Am Spyder, two wheels at the front and one at the back. I’d seen plenty of these around Australia and NZ and I asked him how it handled on the twisty roads. “It sticks like glue and goes like stink” he said. Helped, no doubt by the torquey 1,000cc V-Twin engine.
We carried on and turned onto a narrower road which looped around past a couple of hydro-electric plants as it climbed through the Meredith Ranges, up to a chilly seven hundred metres. And it was here that we discovered that Tasmanian road engineers obviously all ride bikes. The surface was billiard table smooth and every bend had a perfect radius. No nasty surprises half way round. We just had to lean in at the start, set up the right speed, and maintain a constant level of pressure on the bars and tension on the throttle. Our engines, our tyres and our hearts all sang in unison as we flew through one bend after another. Up until that point I had thought of Raquel Welch or Marylin Monroe as being curvy perfection. Not any more!

We managed to stay on the back road twisties all the way down to Strahan, where we booked into the YHA hostel for a couple of nights. The speciality of the town is the boat trips which go out around Macquarie Harbour and up the Gordon River. We couldn’t get onto those running the next day so we booked for the day after. That gave us a day to kill around the town so after a relaxing morning we took a walk out along the sea front and through a local rain forested park to see a waterfall. Some much needed exercise for me and more time to chat bikes, touring and life in general, with Ryan.
There are two companies which run Gordon River tours. Both of them offer differently priced seats, according to position on the boat; both provide refreshments and lunch. We chose World Heritage Cruises, who allow you to wander anywhere on the decks of the boat, which the other company doesn’t. I’m all for egalitarianism, especially when it means better access to good photographic viewpoints. On a six hour trip like this, there was plenty to look at.

P1060287

Old Velocettes shouldn’t be in museums. They should be touring round the countryside, like Richard does with his.

Ryan and I were seated at a table with two friendly couples, both touring around the island. The skipper kept up a running commentary as we headed down the harbour towards Hells Gate, where the quiet waters of the sheltered bay meet the often fierce seas of the Southern Ocean. On this day all was calm, although it was easy to see where one ended and the other began. It looks very odd to see waves seemingly breaking over nothing at all. There is a breakwater and a submerged sandbar which, literally, stem the tides so the sea doesn’t get much chance to batter the land within the harbour. It was a calm day but even so, the boat took on a new life once we’d gone through the 120 metre wide channel. I imagine that faced with a southerly gale any skipper would be wishing they’d stayed at home watching Home and Away. Yes, it could easily be that bad.

P1060350

Looking inland through Hell’s Gate. It’s very strange how calm the water is inside.

Around the mouth of the channel are small, rocky outcrops with marker lights on them, and one with a lighthouse, the white walls very pretty in the sunlight.
Back inside the harbour we went to look at a fish farm. Luckily it was feeding time, otherwise there wouldn’t have been much to see. As it was we could see the circular nets, with some platforms inside. Feed is delivered by hose. Like some kind of demented gardener, a guy on a boat was spraying the area inside the nets with a mixture of water and feed. This operation takes place four times a day, making for some fat, fast growing, trout and salmon.

P1060360

Feeding time at the fish farm.

The main place of interest was Sarah Island, a former penal settlement, which had a reputation as being the worst possible prison to be sent to. It operated from 1822-34, pre-dating Port Arthur, and for much of that time was a place of brutality and terror. Re-offending convicts, both men and women, were sent there, and suffered under a commander who delighted in delivering the harshest of punishments. Severe floggings and hard labour in chains, with minimal rations, were common. The stated objective of the regime was to deter other prisoners in the colonies from misbehaving by making Sarah Island’s reputation so bad that none would want to be sent there. It’s no surprise that when the commander got into difficulties in a boat in the harbour, none of the watching prisoners bothered to go and help him. He drowned.

P1060378

The remains of the slipway at the boat building yard.

The main occupation was felling and hauling Huon Pine, a timber much sought after for ship building. Because of the difficulty of transporting the pine away from the island they started building their own boats and ships and eventually this became another key activity. In 1825 a commander arrived who was more interested in finding prisoners to work in the ship yard and a couple of years later a master shipbuilder was posted there. Many high quality vessels were constructed. Prisoners were treated and fed well and could learn a trade. During this period both punishments and escape attempts fell to almost nothing. When the settlement finally closed in 1834 the last ship to be built was due to be sailed to the new settlement at Port Arthur. It never made it. The convicts had other ideas and The Frederick became ‘the ship that never was’, now the name of a play. Ten convict shipwrights stole it and sailed to South America. They made it to Chile, although some were later recaptured and returned for trial. In earlier times many convicts tried to escape and there’s a story about Alexander Pierce, who escaped with seven others into the bush. He survived, the others didn’t. They became his source of food. Nice!

How the colony developed.

How the colony developed.

 

The value of learning a trade.

The value of learning a trade.

The story of Sarah Island is a fascinating one and it’s been described as ‘a place of degradation, depravity and woe’. This is part of the truth but not all of it, as the tour was able to reveal. The guide was excellent – informative and amusing. Very well worth the time spent and nicely gory too.
After the very excellent buffet lunch we travelled inland for a while, up the Gordon River. We landed by a nature trail, which took us along boardwalks to where we could see the area’s oldest Huon pine. Australia’s native trees are usually very impressive but this one was lying down, and has been for the last twenty years. It seems it still counts as a tree rather than deadwood because the roots are still in the ground and there is growth on the trunk. I felt somewhat cheated, as if I’d been offered a chocolate bar and given a toffee.

P1060386

Six hundred and fifty year old Huon pine. Somebody had to count all those rings!

Back on the boat we enjoyed a video all about the men who spent their time felling these trees. A tough life, with many months away from family, but big rewards for the sought after timber. All Huon pines are protected now and the only available wood is from recycling. The boat landed us next to one of the old sawmills, which still produces Huon pine products. There was a demonstration of sawing and plenty of wooden trinkets on sale. It had been a great day out, well worth the time and money.

P1060393

Trimming a Huon pine log down to size, ready to be made into tourist tat.

Ryan had decided to head back north. He wanted to explore those marvellous roads a bit more. I had a deadline so I needed to move on, with Tassie’s capital city, Hobart, next on my list. I was sorry to leave Ryan behind, I’d very much enjoyed his company.
A wet start but dry by lunchtime. I met a couple of bikers at my lunchtime café, so had a nice chat while I warmed up. The drying road and warm sun then gave me a decent run into the city, where I’d booked a hostel in the CBD. But before I got there I diverted to a place called MONA – Museum of Old and New Art. It is as unlike a traditional art gallery as anything you could imagine. Think Frank Zappa rather than Barry Manilow. It is Australia’s largest private gallery and probably its most controversial too. Owner David Walsh described it as ‘a subversive adult Disneyland’ when he opened it five years ago. It’s reckoned to have had the same beneficial effect on Hobart that the Guggenheim did on Bilbao, shining a bright light on the city and its surrounds and encouraging more tourists. Other city businesses have invested accordingly and reaped the benefit.

P1060451

Somebody’s take on the Porche feeling.

In my opinion art, at least some of it, should be about poking the establishment in the eye with a sharp stick. Have you ever heard of Gilbert and George? Two artists from Britain who have been doing just that since the late 1960s. Their art almost always includes themselves and, from what I saw at MONA, seems to delight in undermining the kind of attitudes displayed by the right wing press. Racism, xenophobia, religion, inequality of all kinds. They’ve worked from their studio in East London for most of their time together and are a gay couple. One of their quotes about their work is: “Our art is capable of bringing out the bigot inside the liberal, and the liberal inside the bigot.”
The photos show some of their work and I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

P1060411P1060408P1060427P1060422

There’s a variety of other work there too. Some of it edgy, some just plain weird. One display was a wall full of plaster casts of female genitalia. Very strange, not especially erotic and the main question in my mind was ‘how was it done?’ Gallery information can be found here: http://www.mona.net.au/ There’s a good newspaper piece about it here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-13/mona-got-hobart-humming/7081376
My hostel was on the edge of the CBD, convenient for walking to the various places of interest. Hobart is clearly on the up, with a new shopping mall and plenty of places to eat and drink. But it still seems to have some edgier places out on the, erm, edges. On Saturday I went to the famous street market, down at Salamanca Square, near the waterfront. It was certainly busy, with plenty of stalls selling clothing, trinkets, food and drink, all spread along one side of the square. There was a cruise ship in the harbour so the ‘bees’ where buzzing around the ‘honeypot’. It was a nice, sunny day, so who could blame them? I’m sure the stallholders where content. The square has been nicely restored, with cafés and street sculpture.

P1060465

Street sculpture with an Aussie flavour.

In the harbour a number of nicely restored boats were on display, as well as a couple of sailing ships used for training courses for youngsters. Straight away they put me in mind of Maria, the Danish woman I met on the ferry between Russia to Japan. She’d been on one such voyage as a teenager and is now a master mariner. These trips are great for building confidence and teamwork skills, although I don’t suppose very many participants go on the become Captains. The harbour area generally is very visitor friendly too.

P1060478

Nicely restored boats.

Nearby is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a marvellous place in which to while away an afternoon. The complex includes some of the island’s oldest buildings, from the time when the port’s main function was to provision the prison and settlers. There is a smorgasbord of displays: the history of settlement; indigenous culture; natural sciences; art from colonial times to modern day. Three displays grabbed my attention. The geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean; all about how the polar currents work and recent discoveries about undersea mountains in the region. In the wildlife gallery was the sad tale of the Tasmanian Tiger, hunted to extinction by pastoralists, who were paid a bounty by the government. The last one was killed in the 1930s, before naturalists were able to do anything to save them. The even sadder story of the indigenous people, who were displaced, tricked and also hunted almost to extinction. They fought hard to protect their land, especially after settlers began to fence it. In the end the only remaining Tasmanian Aboriginals were those living on some of the Bass Strait islands, until they were also forcibly removed because settlers wanted the land. Some survived and recently they were given back these islands, so their numbers are growing now. Read more here: http://www.tas-aboriginal-elders.org.au/history

P1060487

Tasmanian Tiger.

P1060489

An Aboriginal point of view about Australia Day.

I took a ride out to Bruny Island, lying just off the coast, south of Hobart. Accessible only by ferry, it’s a place of natural beauty and is really two islands connected by a very narrow neck of land. As I rode along it I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before global warming caused the sea to wash away the road, like an incoming tide eating away at a sandcastle. But for now it provides a place where visitors can climb a steep path to a 360 degree lookout point, or stay close to the beach to watch penguins coming home at dusk. I rode around both islands, mostly on gravel trails, and enjoyed the scenery. It’s easy to see why tourists like the islands. There’s some lovely bays, good fishing and plenty of trails for keen walkers and cyclists.

P1060506

The connecting road between north and south islands. How long before swimming will be necessary?

My last day out before leaving Hobart was to the former penal settlement at Port Arthur. First opened in 1830, it was built to replace the one at Sarah Island. It closed in 1877, by which time most of the prisoners were too old to work. During its busiest period there were around 1200 prisoners, male, female and children. The settlement was expected to be self sufficient, earning its keep from timber felling, boat building, brick making and coal mining. It was a place for dealing with secondary offenders, as Sarah Island had been, and was another place of cruel punishments. An English prison reformer, Jeremy Bentham, had studied new prisons in Pennsylvania, USA, and brought these ideas back to England. London saw the building of Pentonville prison, based on these ideas. His thinking was to replace physical punishment with a regime of psychological control, a system designed to be a ‘machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. The system was adopted at Port Arthur and led to the construction of the Separate Prison, where those not responding to a diet of moral and religious instruction were kept in separate cells and not allowed to communicate with anyone. Even the pews in the church had single seats, closed off from those next to them. In some cases it worked, but in many others it simply drove people mad.

P1060579

18th century view of the prison system. It was adopted with enthusiasm.

Once the settlement closed, the buildings and land were sold off but it wasn’t long before tourists started to visit so some of them were retained and refurbished, to be used as museums and hotels. Today there is a huge complex of old buildings, some in ruins but many still intact. It covers the area of a small town and the scale of it was the most surprising thing to me. Another surprise was the ability to wander round the site, in and out of the buildings, with almost no supervision and right up until dusk. It’s a big site and you can get a lift in electric carts around it. I was amused to discover that all the staff are constantly on the lookout for people who fly drones over the site, trying to take unofficial photographs. I wondered if they shot them down but it seems not.
Talking of shooting. Does the evil of a place remain in the walls or maybe the ground? I ask because in 1996 a Port Arthur man named Martin Bryant killed thirty five people and injured many others, in and around the town. It began with the killing of some local people he had a grudge against but soon changed into random shootings. More details here, if you want to read them:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_(Australia As a result the federal government, with the support of state governments, introduced nationwide controls on access to weapons. There have been no similar shootings since. USA take note!

P1060583

Separated pews in the church. Prisoners weren’t allowed to talk to each other but they used to sing instead.

P1060618

Some of the old Port Arthur buildings.

With a ferry to be caught soon, albeit at the other end of the island, Hobart had to be left behind. Tasmania isn’t very big, as I’ve already said. From Arthur Port to ferry port is less than three hundred kilometres, although my planned ride up the east coast would add some extra. But I didn’t intend to do it in one day, even though could. I’d studied the tourist guide and had marked a couple of places to visit. I’d even found a hostel in which to stay, en route. Talking of hostels, I was pleased to be leaving this one. It was a bit run down and trying to get a good night’s sleep had been closer to living under a motorway bridge than I would have liked. The traffic was constant.
There is a very long bridge that crosses the Derwent River, on the way out of Hobart. Last time I rode it the sun was shining on the hills in the distance. This time all I could see ahead was cloud. I zipped up my jacket and settled in for a wet ride. And I wasn’t disappointed, if you see what I mean. Despite being very damp, it wasn’t cold and the roads were good. Soon enough I arrived at the small town of Bicheno, and stopped at a motorcycle museum, as mentioned in the tourist brochure. It was small and displayed a variety of 1950s, 60s and 70s bikes, collected together by the enthusiastic owner. There were even some for sale, had I been tempted. All of them were from my youth even if many of them, like the Benelli Six, had been way out of my price range. When I was young my budget sometimes stretched to a number with one zero on the end, definitely not three!

Afterwards I was glad to find a café and bakery, as are often present in Aussie high streets. These small places usually have speciality products and I happily discovered the delicious delights of a lamb and rosemary pie. With the hot coffee, I was now nicely warmed up and the rain had stopped too.
Moving on up the twisty road I came to the Natural World Sanctuary. Imagine for a moment that you’re walking through the Tassie bush and you hear the crunching of bones being eaten. You sneak a bit closer and you see a small, dark haired mammal eating a dead animal for its dinner. It looks up, sees you and suddenly you’re faced with a mouth full of large, sharp teeth and a pair of ears glowing bright red, like a bulb behind a hairy lampshade. You’ve just met a Tasmanian Devil, one of Tassie’s indigenous marsupials.

P1060731

Tassie Devil. The white markings help disguise them at night.

The sanctuary had lots of them. It was big and was full of pretty much all the mammals and birds Southern Australia and Tasmania has to offer. With the sun now shining, I enjoyed a couple of hours looking around. I was able to watch the Devils being fed and also learn all about their habits from the guide. Here’s a brief overview of what they’re about.
Firstly, they are Marsupial Mammals, nothing unusual for Australia. They live about five or six years and weigh around 6-8kg. Their name comes from their appearance. Their ears contain many blood vessels and when necessary they will suffuse with blood. Even just with the light behind them they look bright red. They have the strongest jaws of any mammal, relative to their size. Strong enough to bite through a human femur. They will eat mostly carrion and any live animals they can find. At breeding time, the female is kidnapped by the strongest male in the area, is taken to his den and is held captive there for a week or so, in a near comatose state. He spends that time impregnating her, to use the politest phrase I can think of. If this were humans behaving like that the tabloids would be having a field day! However, at the end of that period the tables are turned and she kicks him out of the den while she is gestating. After twenty one days she gives birth to around 25-30 young, 60% of whom will not survive. She only has four teats and competition is fierce. Devils eat small animals and carrion so the dead young help feed the mother.

Unfortunately they have one weakness. They are susceptible to catching a contagious form of cancer. The result is very nasty mouth tumours, which continue to grow until they can no longer eat. This sanctuary has a breeding programme, based around cancer free animals, which are kept out on an island. They attempt to spread the gene pool as widely as possible, especially as some schools of thought believe a narrow gene pool assists the spread of the cancer. They are also experimenting with a vaccine. Why go to all this trouble? The Devil is a vitally important animal to the ecosystem of Tasmania. They help keep down populations of feral cats and dogs by denying them carrion to eat. More importantly, they keep down the population of foxes, who are a real threat to native species. Other breeding programmes help support wallaby populations too. I don’t like zoos much but sanctuaries like these are valuable and aid the survival of threatened species. I thought it was great.
The day’s ride ended in St Helens, a small town near the coast. I’d put the hostel address in the GPS but when I got to the location, no sign of it. After I’d scouted around a bit I went into the reception of a motel, where a nice woman told me it had closed down. “But I’ve got vacancies” she said, “normally $80 for a double room but I’ll do you one for $70.” That was still more than twice what I would have paid in a hostel but the alternative was to camp. “I can’t really afford that, how about $50?” I said, with an expectant smile. She said she couldn’t go that low so we settled on $60. I was happy enough with that as I was still a bit damp and the tent didn’t appeal very much. “The only problem with a motel room,” I said to her, “is that I can’t cook for myself.” “Not to worry” She said, “how about if I put you in a family room, for the same price. There’ll be a microwave and a kettle in there.” That was good enough for me. So I ended up in a five bedded, two room unit for only $60. End of season days have their advantages. I was almost tempted to hang a sign on the door to see if there were any takers for the spare beds.

P1060765

Lichen covered rocks, looking quite fiery.

My last day in Tasmania was sunnier and warmer so my ride out to look at the Bay of Fires was more enjoyable. Bay of Fires? A strange name and one which a tourist brochure suggested was earned by the red lichen covering many of the rocks. But when I rode out to Binalong Bay, at the southern end of the 40km long main bay, I read an info board which said it had been so named by Captain Furneaux when he saw hundreds of fires strung along the shoreline as he sailed past. They led him to believe the country was densely populated. But even so, the red lichen is very striking. A bit further up the coast I rode out to an area called The Gardens, which gave a view of most of the bay. Red rocks were everywhere.

P1060775

Tin Dragon on the hillside on the road into Derby.

Retracing my wheel tracks, back to the main road, I continued my journey north and west, on a direct route to Devonport, via Launceston. At the small town of Derby I called in at the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre. I’d seen the figure of a dragon formed by, and painted onto, some rocks on the side of the hill as I rode into the town. But I guessed the centre was more than just the story of some rock painting and I was right. It was all about the mining activity which centred on the town and the ‘Tin Rush’ which led to it. It was the Chinese that first found tin in the area, while looking for gold. They built a 48km water race to get the essential liquid across to their mines. Eventually the town decided to build a dam across the local Cascade River to guarantee a year round supply to Derby Mine, the biggest in the area. High pressure water was needed to separate the tin from the overlying rock. It’s easy to see the effects of this, where hillsides have been removed and great heaps of spoil left behind. But in 1929 nature took her revenge. Five days of solid rain in the surrounding hills, culminating with a fall of five inches in two hours, put enormous pressure on the dam. Although it had been declared ‘fit for purpose’ by inspectors, it eventually gave way under the pressure of water. The force of it rushing through the narrow valley was so great that the river reversed its flow for five miles upstream. Everything in the valley was swept away, including many houses and other buildings, and fourteen people were killed. The dam was rebuilt in the 1930’s and the mine reopened in 1937. The tin it produced was vital to the war effort.

P1060790

Hillside removed, all for the tin within.

The interpretation centre did an excellent job of telling the local story as well as describing the history of tin use and mining world wide. The advances in metal technology were very significant in historical terms, even to the extent of affecting the outcome of battles when one side had better weapons because of it. The Romans probably invaded Britain partly to get hold of the tin we produced. I love history so learning new things at this place was a delight to me.
Apart from stopping at a car park for a toilet break, the rest of the journey to Devonport was uneventful. Now I wouldn’t normally write about a loo break, but the local State Emergency Service (SES) had set up a ‘revive and survive’ centre there. While travelling the roads of Australia I would often see signs with this slogan on, to encourage drivers to stop for a rest. Roadhouses and cafés will offer free coffee to drivers too. Here they were offering free tea or coffee so I was more than happy to indulge. For a small donation I could get a packet of biscuits too. Having had personal experience of the value of these organisations I happily donated.

revive and survive 2

“Have a cup tea mate.” “Thanks, don’t mind if I do.”

Devonport, despite it being Monday, was deserted. It was Labour Day bank holiday and everything in the CBD was shut. It seems all Aussies get the day off, even most waiting staff and cooks. So it was fish in a bun at MacDonald’s before heading round to board the ferry. When I got there I was amazed to see dozens of old Harleys and Indians queuing up – and I mean really old. There had been some kind of competitive event between the two marques on Tasmania, which Harley had won, “for a change,” someone told me. I discovered later that the ‘Great Race’ is held somewhere in Australia every year, the aim being to continue the early 20th C rivalry between the two marques by means of a navigation and reliability challenge. Pre-1958 bikes only, so none of those stupid looking, over the top behemoths that are sold these days. More details here: http://www.great-race.com.au/
There were hundreds of bikes waiting to board but I took advantage of some lethargy among the queuers to get on quickly. I located the cabin my berth was in then found somewhere to sit in the lounge and settled in for the evening. Time to reflect on the previous ten days.

P1060791

Really old Harley, which means it’s a nice one.

Tasania is a terrific place to visit, especially on a bike. Friendly people, great roads, beautiful scenery, which is reminiscent of high Alpine passes in some places, Wales or the Lake District in others. There’s plenty to see and do and ten days wasn’t really long enough.There were loads of other bikes around because the Ulysses club were holding their annual rally on the island. (http://www.ulyssesclub.org/ ) But my disorganised ferry bookings meant that was all the time I had. Such a shame.