There’s Something about an Island. Pt 1.

Mount Gambier, SA. 22nd February 2016.

While I’d been in Adelaide, conversations with my son had led to the offer of a free pass for the World Super Bike Race meeting at Phillip Island, south of Melbourne. His girlfriend’s Dad is a mechanic with Crescent Racing, who have teamed up with Pata Yamaha and will run their WSB programme this year. They’ve had a five year lay off and have returned with their all new YZF-R1. A full weekend paddock pass, for free, was too good an opportunity to resist. I didn’t even have to divert from my journey as Melbourne was my next destination anyway.
Phillip Island is a motorcycle Mecca. Although they run car races there too, the biggest events are WSB and Moto GP, making the car races almost incidental. Even some of the bends are named after famous Aussie bike racers. To be fair to the four wheelers, V8 Supercar racing is pretty big there too. Bike racers describe it as one of the best tracks in the world to race on. The best thing for me was that I now had a personal interest in the results. Despite riding a Suzuki, I now support Yamaha!

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There’s some famous bike racing names on there.

First though, I had to get there. At this point I have to declare that Doris is a little unwell. She’s had a hard life, after all. 90,000 kms total distance, 78,000 on this journey at time of these events. The timing chain is long overdue for renewal and some piston wear has definitely taken up residence inside. Oil consumption is now a constant factor. The poor old girl needs a top end tear down and some TLC. But, as long as I keep the oil topped up, she just keeps on going and I have no fears of imminent failure just yet. Anyway, with my earplugs in and music turned up loud, all seems good.

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Bay of Islands, Great Ocean Road.

The journey took me south of the city, up over Mount Barker and down towards the coast. And it wasn’t plain sailing. There’s something very odd going on with my petrol tank. Let me explain. I bought an Acerbis off-road style plastic tank, with a capacity of sixteen litres. Much more practical than the original nine. It has a tap on each side and I run with just the RH one switched on. When I get low on fuel I turn the LH tap from Off through to Reserve. I think of this as ‘first reserve. When that runs low I turn the RH tap from On to Reserve, ‘second reserve’ if you like. Depending on consumption, this normally begins to happen at around 260 to 280kms. This day it began at 180kms. I was either suffering appallingly bad consumption or something was wrong. I went on to ‘second reserve’ soon after. The same scenario was with me throughout the day. With an average fuel consumption of 20kms per litre, it should have been getting up into the mid to high 200s before needing reserve. Very, very peculiar. I could only think of two reasons. Vacuuming of the fuel tank or some kind of blockage of the taps or their filters. Whichever, it didn’t really make sense.

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Cell block accommodation at Mount Gambier Gaol.

When I got to my overnight stop in Mount Gambier, I went to gaol. No, no, not for thrashing Doris mercilessly. I’m allowed to do that even though I don’t. The old Gaol House had been converted into a hostel. It’s quite a funky place, with dorms set up in the former cells. First opened in 1866, it was ‘active’ until 1995. In 2010 the current owners bought it and converted it into a backpacker hostel and function centre. They hold music events there and people can hire small or larger areas, along with accommodation if required. All the original features are still there and it makes a unique place to stay.
Before I left I took a ride up to see the Blue Lake, on a hill above the town. It was formed in an old caldera and is famous for its deep blue colour. Sadly, the effect was somewhat spoiled as the sky was overcast, but it still looked impressive. It also supplies the town with water and I was equally impressed by the systems used to supply the water while keeping the lake full, but not overflowing.

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Some of the Twelve Apostles.

South of Mount Gambier, at Portland, the Eyre Highway begins its wanderings. It’s otherwise know as the Great Ocean Road and is one of Australia’s iconic routes. Its appeal is the natural beauty of the coastline, which it follows closely. There are many viewpoints to stop at, take photos and generally enjoy the view. There is something special about a nice shoreline, isn’t there?
Two of the noted views are of the Bay of Islands and the Twelve Apostles, a series of large island rock stacks close to the shore. Eroded by the constant pounding of the Southern Ocean, they are of layered limestone rock now separated from the main cliffs. The Twelve Apostles used to be called the Sow and Piglets but the need to attract tourists force a name change in 1922. There’s only ten left now, the ocean having eaten the other two. The only way to see them all is from the air so I satisfied myself with joining the tourist hordes and taking photos of those in view from the lookout point on the cliff.
I stopped at a hostel in Apollo Bay, with plans to reach Phillip Island next day and take a look around. In the morning it was chucking it down with rain so I adopted plan B and stayed right where I was. At least it gave me a chance to sort out some issues with my credit card. Did you know that if you set up a Direct Debit, but then don’t use it, your bank will cancel it after thirteen months? No, me neither. And when mine did just that they didn’t even have the courtesy to write and tell me. Which meant when I used my spare credit card the DD was no longer there to pay it off. I got it all sorted out eventually. The CC company cancelled the penalty charge and my bank compensated me with a small payment, so all was OK. Very annoying though, and very arrogant of my bank, I thought.

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On the ferry. I was impressed by both bike and beard.

Next morning was dry and I set off once more. There were several sets of roadworks and the route was busy with cars. So although bend swinging would normally have been the order of the day, I took it easy and enjoyed the views instead. I was heading for a ferry which runs from Queenscliff, near Geelong, across the mouth of Port Phillip Bay. It cost $35 but saved close on 150kms by avoiding the ride around the bay and also the roads close to Melbourne. When I pulled up on the ferry the rattling from the engine caused a guy in a small truck to ask if it was a diesel. Oh dear! We chatted and he said he lived not far from the bridge over to the island and invited me to come and stay while I took a look at it, if I wanted to. A very kind offer and one I would consider.

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Nice view from my camping spot, across the circuit to the sea.

On the island I found the circuit and made my way to the Accreditation Centre, where I’d been told my pass would be. But it wasn’t! The woman there said it would probably arrive in the morning. Meanwhile, I needed to get into the circuit campsite, which could only be done if I had a ticket. Impasse. The solution was to pay for a ticket, the ticket office promising they’d refund the cost once I could show them my pass. Good enough, and they did.
Phillip Island is renowned for its wind and I was struggling to put my tent up while it lived down to its reputation. I’d just got finished when someone pulled up beside me and said hello. It was Barry, the guy I knew from Byron Bay. A nice surprise. I last saw him back in May. He’d been planning a Russian trip so we chatted about that. He and his friends had a great time there and two of them made it down to Turkey before heading home. I told him about the noisy bike and he said I should head to his place and do the work on it there. Unless I get a better (or closer) offer, I’ll do just that. Barry has plenty of equipment and is a good mechanic too. I just hope Doris will get there.
Once I’d set up I managed to contact Crescent Racing and talk my way into the paddock area where I collected my pass. Practice started next day (Friday) and I was all set to enjoy it.

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Aren’t I the lucky one.

I had a fabulous weekend. I won’t go into every detail. The weather was generally good, so was the racing. The Pata Yamaha riders are Alex Lowes and Sylvain Guintoli. Sylvain is a former WSB champion and is new into the team; Alex is a former Britsh SB champion who has worked with crescent racing for several seasons. They had mixed results over the weekend. The Yamaha can keep with the leaders through the bends but lacks enough pace on the straights. In the first round Sylvain came in sixth and Alex was in seventh until he lost the front end on a bend. On Sunday Sylvain finished fifth but Alex didn’t do as well.. The bike had an oil leak and he missed a gear, running wide on a bend. He fought back from nineteenth to finish fourteenth. Both races were won by Jonathan Rea, from Northern Island, so although Yamaha didn’t do so well, it was good to see a Brit scooping the points.

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I thought this was interesting. And a bit unnerving too!

The circuit has some great viewing pints and spectators are allowed to ride their bikes around the perimeter track to reach them. The attitude of track security seemed very relaxed. Spectators were allowed into the paddock area and tours were given, although I’m not sure exactly of what. I spent practice day wandering around the circuit and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I’m told it’s very different when the Moto GP is on. There were several other races in the programme, including national superbike races and some classes for 80s and 90s bikes. It was great to see these big old beasts blasting round the track and to see them looking mean and moody in the pits. There’s something quite magnificent about a Honda CBX Six parked in its pit garage, stripped down to the essentials and ready for its rider to hurl it down the straight before muscling it round Gardner Bend.

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Behemoths! A brace of Honda CBX Sixes.

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And a very nice Big Zed.

I had spoken to Mel, my ‘sponsor’, when I collected my pass on Thursday. After the racing on Saturday I went over to the pit and chatted to him while he and his colleagues cleaned and stripped Alex’s bike ready for repair. Fortunately only superficial damage so no all night repair sessions for the mechanics. Mel showed me round the garage. There’s a specialist tyre bay; a suspension bay staffed by Ohlins Suspension; an area with several computers where they analyse the telemetric feedback from the bike’s engine and suspension; the general mechanic’s area where Mel and a couple of others work. He said they were generally happy with the performance of the bike, considering how new it is, but recognised a slight lack of top end performance. I asked if this meant some engine rebuilding but Mel said not as the engines are sealed at the factory, as per WSB regulations. So that only leaves the engine management software as an opportunity for tuning-in more performance. Very much the way of things these days when it comes to making engines run better. Just ask Volkswagen.

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Mel and colleagues clean Alex Lowes’ bike ready for some repairs.

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Getting ready for the start of race 1.

Mel owns a motocross shop out in the West Midlands, where he lives. He became a WSB mechanic after being asked to help local superbike racers and it grew from there. He flies home as soon as they’ve cleared up and packed away after the Sunday race, then he has about ten days before he heads off to the next race circuit, in Thailand in this case. Fortunately he has a very understanding wife. He enjoys the life though, and is clearly good at it, having been with Crescent Racing for several years. For my part I was very grateful to him for getting the pass and enabling me to do something I would never have considered otherwise.

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Thanks for a great weekend Mel.

The circuit is smooth and fast, with some full throttle corners and some really tricky ones too. There’s a viewing point called Siberia Corner and is famed for the wind that blows in off the ocean on certain days. It also overlooks a series of left/right, bends were the bikes have to be ridden with skill and determination. I noted that the prices at the food bars weren’t too expensive and on the Sunday, having cooked for myself for three nights, I happily tried a couple of them for quality. No complaints. The circuit is, however, very determined to prevent any alchohol being brought in. All vehicles are searched as they enter the circuit and the campsite. I was amazed to discover that you can’t even take drinks from the outer to the inner part of the circuit. I’m guessing it’s a case of who the profits go to and the inner circuit bars don’t want to lose out.

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Some people sit by the sea on a deckchair. Sensible people sit by the sea and watch motorbike racing.

While walking round the circuit I came across a huge, orange helicopter. It looked massive. I had a chat with one of the engineers who was there to greet the public. It’s based on the design that was first used in Vietnam, for flying in armoured vehicles to the battlefield. It can carry up to 20,000 pounds. It was fitted with a 20,000 (US) gallon water tank, with two huge hoses slung underneath. It seems they are used to scoop up water from a lake and enable the tank to be filled in about forty seconds. Well, I was impressed!

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Erickson Air Crane. Mighty meaty.

When I left Monday morning I had to get the bike jump started because I’d been charging my phone of its battery all weekend. It’s not a very happy starter at the moment anyway and a nearly flat battery gave it no chance. I tried to use the kickstarter but once I’d kicked it down it stuck there.I managed to force it back up but it was something else that needed looking at. I headed up towards Melbourne but quickly turned off up into the hills and a little place called Dalyston, where Ewan lives He’s the guy I met on the ferry and I’d decided to take up his offer. It took me a while to find his address on the GPS because he pronounces it Darlston. He has a house with a huge shed attached, which he uses as a workshop. He repairs pretty much anything that comes along and when I arrived was fixing up an old lawnmower. It belongs to a guy who was going to do some plastering for him, so it seems the barter system is alive and well out there.

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These start out as Honda 110cc Postie bikes but finish as cute little custom bikes.

Ewan was very welcoming and I made it clear to him I just wanted to take the cam cover off and check all was well. In the end I decided against going even that deep into the engine, worried that I might getting far more involved than I needed to. By tacit agreement, Ewan and I knew I was only staying overnight. I’d got there before lunchtime and I got stuck in to the various jobs. A crack had appeared in one of the mounting lugs for the luggage rack. Rwan has a welder, so no problem. I checked the valve clearances, all OK. I took off the clutch cover, not OK. When I’d kicked the bike over I had somehow broken the return spring and an aluminium collar that sits inside it, and helps locate the spring, had broken in too. I wasn’t too worried about either of them as they weren’t essential. That was until we worked out that the collar also acted as a spacer between the kickstart shaft and the casing. Without it the shaft was likely to move around inside the case and cause damage. So Ewan simply found a spare piece of brass bar, cut a piece off and drilled and trimmed it on his lathe until it was good enough to act as a spacer. Fantastic! We puzzled over why it had all gone wrong in the first place and eventually worked out that I had probably failed to assemble it properly after I’d worked on the clutch. Ewan rang up a local Suzuki dealer and we were very lucky in that he had a new collar in stock, although not the spring. He could get the spring in a couple of days but the collar is now on ‘back order from Japan’, which is dealer speak for ‘unobtainable’. I decided I could leave the spring until I got to Melbourne, but said I’d call in for the spring.

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Ewan, who hates having his photo taken.

Ewan offered to weld up the rack for me and also to strengthen some of the lugs. While he did that I made a start on a job that would be coming up in the future. Both of my brake discs are getting worn and I have some spares back at base camp. I would bring them back with me after my next visit home but I knew I was going to have trouble removing the fixing bolts. On the basis of ‘making hay while the sun shone’, I borrowed Ewans impact screwdriver and allen bolt socket and set to. It remarkable how simple jobs are when you have the right tools. I had those bolts out in short order. That left me feeling good.
I’m very impressed by Ewan’s workshop. He’s built a separate storage area, with a mezzanine and a hoist, so he couls lock all his equipment away and, if he chooses to, rent out the main area.. He has a nice lathe, good welding gear and even a plasma cutter. He’ll turn his hand to any repair that comes his way – truly a man after my own heart. Over dinner we had a great chat about his previous job as a truckie and how he got to be where he is now. His house is a bit of a classic, having walls made of patterned metal and a particular style from the early part of the century. He’s slowly doing it up. He used to have a Harley but now he’s got a woman instead. She wasn’t around as she had flu. He’s got cousins over in Luton so visits England from time to time, although his family originally came from Scotland. He’s a terrific bloke and really helped me out. In so many ways, a typical Aussie.

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Doing it in style. Seen on Phillip Island.

In the morning I took a very nice ride out to Warragul, to the Suzuki dealer. I bought the collar of course, as well as a couple of other parts I needed for the rear brake. He very helpfully checked up on the availability of some other parts I needed. They’re in stock at the Suzuki warehouse in Melbourne, so I’ll order them when I get there. On the way back to Ewans I stopped for some lunch in a town called Poowong, where they breed 8ft long earthworms. Why? I’m afraid I have no idea!
I left Ewan once I’d loaded up the bike. The noise level now was within the range called ‘acceptable’, even though I hadn’t really done anything. So I pushed on up to Melbourne. The traffic, as Ewan had predicted, was very heavy, even going into the city. I headed to a hostel recommended by Ewan but it was full. I had to hunt around and eventually found one at St Kilda, where I booked in for couple of nights. I had to park the bike round the corner, cover it up and keep my fingers crossed. I’ve never felt at risk from theft in Aussie towns but big cities march to a different drumbeat. I chatted to another rider in a servo and he told me there were biker gangs in the city who loved to steal bikes. All I could do was hope they didn’t spot mine before I moved on.
Next day I booked myself onto the Spirit of Tasmania, 07.30 sailing, leaving the following morning. I’d heard a lot about Tasmania and was looking forward to exploring the island. Gilda had given me a list of ‘must see’ places to visit and I’d heard it was a very biker friendly place. At that point, I didn’t know the half of it.

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In the Motrocycle World show marquee. The MV Agusta is nice too.

In Adelaide

Adelaide. 7th February 2016.

Adelaide is an impressive city. The streets were deliberately laid out on a grid system, as were most Aussie towns and cities, and is bordered on every side by parkland. It occurred to me to wonder whether those 18th and 19th century Aussie town planners had remembered the lessons of the great fire of London. Then, the city fathers wanted to redesign the road layout to avoid the narrow and fire friendly streets of the medieval city. But the need to replace damaged buildings was too urgent and their plans came to nothing. Either way, common sense prevailed in Adelaide and finding one’s way around the CBD is straightforward.

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A typical CBD building.

Gilda’s new house is further out, in the suburb of Kensington. Fortunately somewhat less expensive than its London namesake, but still very nice. A big and modern house, with a large garage and not too much garden. Perfect for the busy professional. Perfect for stray travellers too, especially one with need of garage space and time for repairs. But I had a deadline as Gilda’s sister was coming to visit a week later and would need the room I was in. So the loose plan was to concentrate on bike repairs, possibly mixed in with a bit of sightseeing if time allowed. Then I would move to a city centre hostel and be a proper tourist. Gilda had only just moved in and, with boyfriend Ajay’s help, had been busy assembling flat-pack furniture. She was less than happy with some of the suppliers though. One item arrived damaged and another had parts missing. Some things do seem to be truly universal. But at least there was a plentiful supply of cardboard to keep the garage floor clean while I worked.

I had already contacted an Adelaide business, called Your Suspension Shop, who could rebuild the shock absorber. So the first job on Monday was to remove the old one and get it there. Easy to get it off, far harder to get it to YSS, who were 20kms out of town at Angle Vale. I set off at lunchtime. The bus to the CBD stops at the end of Gilda’s road. I asked the driver to put me off at the central station, he forgot. Eventually I got there, obtained some transport maps and route instructions from the enquiry office and got the train. After the train I needed a bus but the once an hour service to Angle Vale was timed so that the bus left five minutes before the train arrived. No comment! Eventually I got there, fifteen minutes before closing time.

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Bent and busted!

It is a one man business, run by Walter, a Swiss emigrée from thirty years ago. He set the business up in the days when the road from Angle Vale to Adelaide was still a dirt track. His thinking was that the city would keep expanding until his cheap land became a valuable asset. He was right except that it took about fifteen years longer than he expected. Meanwhile, after examining my shock absorber he said he’d never seen one that had suffered from a broken yoke before. But he said the spring was OK and he’d be able to renew all the parts. It would be ready by the end of the week. Good enough for me, although the anticipated $800 cost caused me to swallow hard. No choice though.

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Indigenous busker. He sounded very good.

During the morning I’d rung up Kessener, a local Suzuki dealer, and they had a new chain and sprockets in stock, at reasonable cost. I’d wanted the standard forty three tooth rear sprocket but they only had forty two. I was likely to be going off road a lot less now so it seemed like a good opportunity to raise the gearing a little. I hope to see an improvement in fuel consumption. I also needed some cleaning materials as the bike was filthy and a bit oily too.
Next morning Gilda had some errands to run so she was able to get me to the places I needed to go as well. While at Kessner’s I talked to them about some assistance with the service that was now due and they were happy to help me.
Back at Gilda’s I got on with cleaning up all the other suspension components, ready for replacement of the shock absorber, and then replaced the clutch plates and their springs. Base camp had sent out the new set I’d left at home, ready for when they were needed. I’d collected them from Esperance and was pleasantly surprised that I’d made it across the Nullarbor on the old ones. I believe I could have left replacement for a bit longer but I’d have been a fool to pass up the opportunity to do the job where I had space and time.
After two very productive days, Wednesday was going to be a third, with chain and sprockets to be fitted. I was just about to start when Walter rang up to say my shock absorber was ready. I was surprised and impressed. All done in a day and a half. I had a quick debate with myself as to whether I should go to get it next morning or go straight away. Eagerness won out and I set off. This time I knew the transport tricks and got an earlier train, so reached YSS in plenty of time. Walter had done a great job. He’d used a larger diameter central rod and had also fitted rebound damping, something I hadn’t had before but which he said was more important than compression damping. So it seems my money had given me a better unit than the broken one had ever been. I felt a bit better about the cost.

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Walter, from Your Suspension Shop, showing off my rebuilt shock..

Next day I fitted the shock absorber and then the chain and sprockets. Various other jobs flowed out of that, just small things that were more annoying than serious. Scratching some itches, so to speak. Friday now, and it was off to Kessner Suzuki to take advantage of their hospitality. They can’t allow me into their workshop but I found a quiet, shaded corner in their car park and got the service done. I was amazed at how muddy the air filter was, pretty much caked up in fact. One of the mechanics took care of that for me and we chatted about the bike. I told him that it was getting rather rattly and the top end was knocking a bit. When I told him it had covered over 90,000kms without any kind of work being done, he was stunned. He said these small engines usually need a top end rebuild by about 50,000kms. Well that cheered me up. Firstly because it became clear it was ‘OK to rattle’, so to speak. Secondly because Doris had outlasted what he would have expected from her, and was still getting on with the job – albeit noisily. Finding a place to do some work of a more in depth nature was becoming a priority. She is also beginning to use oil. Another sign that a rebuild is imminent. She’s had a hard life up to now and is starting to show it.
While I was working, Aaron, the service manager, sat down and worked out a quote for all the parts I might need for a top end overhaul. That was very kind of him and, as is usual when I visit these dealers, didn’t charge me anything for the help his workshop gave me although I did buy the oil off them. Brilliant!

On the more social side of life, Gilda and Ajay had been away for a couple of days. Gilda went out one evening and Ajay and I had a nice chat. He’s originally from The Punjab so we talked about India and some of her history, a topic that interests us both. I enjoyed getting to know him better as he’s a naturally shy person and I think he didn’t know quite what to make of me.

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Town centre sculpture, with an indi

Ajay left on Saturday, to visit his parents and then to return to Tom Price, where he works at the hospital. I cleaned the bike up and then joined Gilda, her friend Chris and his family for a nice burger. Gilda arranged to take one of Chris’ kids to see Star Wars on Sunday and, of course, I was happy to be included in that. I really enjoyed the film and it was good to see some strong new characters appearing. We went out later to take all the cardboard packaging down to a recycling centre and almost didn’t make it there. A woman decided to turn right across the front of Gilda’s car and it was only her fast reactions, heavy braking and timely swerve that avoided disaster. And she was driving her friends car too! Gilda was fuming and feeling quite shaky too.
Once we’d dumped the cardboard we went in search of something that Australia is very good at, a wood fired pizza. I don’t know whether they’re available elsewhere but they really are delicious. And we had plenty of time for chatting too. A great way to round of a productive and enjoyable week.

 

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Jet engine intake.

On Monday I had to move out and move in. Out of Gilda’s and into a city centre hostel. Within easy walking distance of the places I wanted to visit but in a quiet street. But before going there I headed back out of town to Angle Vale once more. Walter had said to call up and see him, with the bike fully loaded, so he could check all was well with the suspension. On the way there I saw a sign for a museum, specifically for military jet aircraft. Far too much temptation to be able to pass by such a place, so I happily diverted for a look-see. The Classic Jets Fighter Museum concentrates on rebuilding planes that have been recovered after crashes or rescued from the scrap heap at the end of their service life. The volunteers, all skilled craftsmen, rebuild or replace, as necessary. Their biggest and most challenging project is to reconstruct a F4U-1 Corsair, the remains of which were semi-submerged in a lake. Other crash sites supplied some of the parts and airframe components from other Corsairs were used to construct jigs from which missing parts could be made. A very difficult task, but now at the point where assembly is about to take place. One of the volunteers was happy to show me round the reconstruction hangar. They’re clearly very proud of what they’ve achieved. Visit their website to see what other jets they’ve restored. www.classicjets.com.

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From this water rotted mess …………..

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……….. to this painstakingly reconstructed air frame.

Walter said the pre-load on my suspension needed adjusting up a bit but otherwise all was fine. I happily rode back into the city centre but by the time I got to the hostel I was not very happy at all. As I came through the city the back brake went soft, then failed altogether, with no resistance on the pedal. At the hostel I had a look and found the pipe between the master cylinder and the calliper was leaking. How the hell did that happen? A bit of thought made me realise that while the suspension unit was off the bike the swinging arm had been in its lowest possible position and had therefore been pulling on the hose. There was a bit of weakness there anyway, just from wear and tear really, and that extra stretching was enough for it to fail. Damn! I thought I was finished with spannering for a while. I rang up Kessner and they impressed me by saying they could get a standard Suzuki rubber hose within a day or so. But the guy I was talking to suggested I contact a local supplier who made brake hoses to order, and gave me their number. He was right. I rang them and they would make me a hose at a cheaper price and it would be steel braided too, much stronger than just rubber. OK, a job for another day, but at least the solution was at hand.

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Would it fit in Doris?

So here I was, settled into the city. But what of Adelaide itself? Founded in 1836, as capital of a freely settled, non-convict state of British immigrants, it was named after Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, queen consort to King William IV. It practised religious freedom and became known as ‘the city of churches’ because of it. How many of its 1.3 million inhabitants still visit them is unknown, but I did spot some nice examples while I was walking around. It sits on the River Torrens and is surrounded by hills. It has suitably old and grand buildings, which reflect its commercial beginnings. Likewise, there are grand buildings of a cultural nature too, such as the museum and university. The metropolitan area sprawls out along the river and into the hills, a necessity given that it accommodates three quarters of South Australia’s inhabitants of 1.7 million.

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A lovely building, I thought. Full of small shops supplying imprtant services.

I enjoy visiting museums, art galleries and similar places but my visit there coincided with the Adelaide Fringe Festival. It’s a month long frolic of fun and comedy, similar to Edinburgh’s, so I used the free festival guides to pick out three shows to visit during the next week. Rundle Mall is the city’s main shopping street and is pedestrianised. It has several large shopping centres as well as smaller, arcade style buildings. Many of the shops in these are small independents and there are many more such shops around the streets. I’m always impressed by Australia’s willingness to support such businesses, long gone in most UK towns under the baleful influence of supermarkets and chain stores. Long may it continue. While I was in Rundle Mall I called in at the pop-up festival ticket office and committed my money to the cause.

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Remembering the Old Folks.

On the northern side of the CBD lies the Art Gallery of SA and the SA Museum. During several visits over the course of the week I enjoyed a healthy injection of culture. The museum has many exhibits that are common to most museums – animals, minerals etc. But this one includes some excellent displays on Aboriginal culture and a gallery dedicated to Pacific cultures. That was a first for me. This museum has been open for over 100 years and Australian anthropologists have been visiting the Pacific islands for much of that time. So they have put together a fascinating collection of cannibalistic exhibits which reflected the lifestyles (death styles?) of the inhabitants. Shrunken heads of family and enemies, that kind of thing. Most of these practices were spiritual and were designed to help the dead in the after life. Plenty of displays of weapons, canoes etc. It was the first time I’d seen artifacts from this area of the world although I’d heard the gory stories before. Perhaps the most significant part of the display is the gallery itself. It was first established in 1895 and the gallery  was restored to its original appearance in 2006, both the room and the display cases. The rest of the museum is modern so the gallery is a fine example of how museums used to be.

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Designed to fail.

I called into the Immigration Museum, just next door. Although it describes how SA became settled, the story isn’t all wine and roses. Almost from the time of federation, the government introduced a ‘white Australia’ policy. As well as leading to the apartheid style treatment of indigenous people, it also encouraged immigration officials to deny entry to anyone that didn’t fit their ideal. Certain individuals would be subjected to tests, deliberately designed to make them fail, and therefore be rejected. The picture above is one such example. Although it’s a shameful part of Australia’s story, I was impressed by the honesty of the displays that tell the story.

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There are stories inside these wonderful Gond pictures.

There are stories inside these wonderful Gond pictures.

The art gallery is equally impressive and has also been established since the 19th C. There’s plenty of Australian, as well as international art, traditional as well as modern. I particularly enjoyed the Asian gallery. Firstly for some beautiful Japanese ceramics and textiles, but mostly for the Gond art. These are paintings and sculpture which originated from the tribes of Central India. They are nicely weird and are based on myths and stories from ancient times. They are reminiscent of Aboriginal art too but are far more complex and varied. Yes, they’re modern works but take advantage of modern materials too.

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‘Buck with cigar.’ A bronze sculpture of a woman who underwent various sex change operations. Designed to challenge our perceptions of ‘normal’. It worked for me.

Another display contains amazingly expressive photos, produced in large sizes. They cleverly combine interior and exterior scenes into the same print with incredible effect. Half a day very well spent.
Nearby is part of the University of SA and while walking past I was tempted to take a peek inside the large, classical building. It was an exam venue but they were between sessions. I was completely taken by the design of the roof and gallery just below it. One of the staff broke off from putting exam papers out on the desks and came to enquire what I wanted. I said I was passing by, that I was fascinated by the roof and did he mind if I had a look. He asked me where I was from and allowed me to go up to the gallery to take photos, against all the rules, because ‘I was from London’. Why it worked that way I’ve no idea. Puzzled but grateful.

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Fantastic roof on this university building.

Penny Arcade. Another cultural Building? Well no, not really. A sixty six year old woman, although she doesn’t look it, who started out as a very young member of the Andy Warhol Factory. She’s spent her career as a performer and has written an interesting performance monologue about how cities lose their soul and get gentrified. She focussed on New York of course, but everything she said applies to London or any other big city. Poorer people driven out; huge increases in property prices and rents; all those small and interesting shops, bars and venues taken over by corporates. Her measurement of any particular area’s level of submission to this trend was to count the cupcake shops. She complains a lot about modern life, something most of the audience could sympathise with. Interesting, sometimes amusing but, sadly true. The show has had mixed reviews from critics and I think I could understand why as she was a bit illogical at times. She was rather scathing of today’s youngsters, something this father of three could not agree with.

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Penny Arcade makes her point.

Back in the world of museums though. I took a ride out to Power Brakes, where the brake line could be made. They said they couldn’t do it while I waited. I asked how long and they said about half an hour. That sounded to me like a ‘while you wait’ service. The people there were extremely helpful and I got chatting to a guy who was getting the brake discs replaced on his car. He told me he used to be the general manager but, in fact, he used to be one of the owners and had recently sold up and retired. We had a nice discussion about how if a business treats its staff well then it will be a success because customers will reap the benefit. None of the people there had fewer than seventeen years service, so the philosophy clearly works. I’d already spoken to Kessners and with my new brake pipe already fitted on I went there to get the brakes bled out. They did it straight away, charged me half an hour labour, and off I went.

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The very helpful Steve, at Kessner Suzuki, bleeds the rear brake.

So the museum I mentioned just now?

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Maritime themed traffic island.

Port Adelaide is home to the SA Maritime Museum. It details the maritime activities of the city, the lives of workers in the port and some of the vessels that worked from it. Chief among these was the two masted, shallow draught ketch, which used to work the coast and the coastal rivers. Eventually steam engines reduced their numbers and rail and roads removed their need. Another section had displays which modelled the accommodation immigrants ‘enjoyed’ on the ships bringing them across. Extremely basic during the early years but vastly improved and quite comfortable looking by the time of the ‘ten pound Pom’ in the fifties and sixties. An excellent display about Dolphins too. The port area itself was something of an outdoors museum as many of the old buildings were still around and had been well looked after.

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Not quite cruise liner comfort, but not a bad way to travel to your new country.

The Royal Croquet Club is one of the two main venues for the fringe festival. It is set up in the city’s Victoria Square and provides several stages, of different sizes, for performers. Most are inside temporary buildings or marquees, a few are outside. There are food stalls, bars and funky looking relaxation areas. The weather was quite chilly when I went to see Penny Arcade but it was a much warmer evening when I enjoyed the amazing spectacle that is Barbu. This Montreal based acrobatic ensemble consists of two women and six men, backed by electro-funk music. This is what their website says:

(http://www.cirquealfonse.com/en/shows/barbu/)  BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret delves into the origins of the circus in Montreal at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Imagine a fairground, where spectators are left spellbound by remarkable performances and outrageous feats, simple curiosities and unexpected eccentricities. Political correctness has no place in the mayhem of this show. In scene after scene where music, video, circus and general craziness collide, each performer wows the audience with a showcase of spectacular skills. May the best beard win! Backed by a frenetic electro-trad band, the Cirque Alfonse clan strays dangerously close to the edge in this exuberant circus rave. It was an amazing show. Superb acrobatics, plenty of humour, a few magic tricks, a bit of glamour and some magnificent beards. If they ever appear near you, do go to see them.

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The first mobile phone?

The final museum visit helped me on my mission to learn about Australia’s motor industry. I have to admit that I neither knew they had one nor that I was on a mission to learn about it. But sometimes these things creep up on you. The National Motor Museum had initially been set up by some enthusiasts in a disused flour mill but was eventually taken over by the SA government and new premises were built. The ride out there was a terrific run over the hills north of the city. It was a chilly and damp day, and I was quite glad to arrive and get a warming cup of coffee. It was worth the ride though as the museum does tell the fascinating story of how the growing usage of cars helped to open up the last areas of unpopulated Australia.

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1937 3.5 litre Bently Drophead Coupe. It ended up in Australia, via America. Original owner? Mr Stanley Hailwood, father of Mike-the-Bike.

American cars were far more popular than those from Britain in the early years, despite the cultural links. The reason was simply the similarity in the terrain of the two countries. Roads in Britain were mostly sealed by the 1920s and distances were relatively short. It was the complete opposite in America and Australia, both countries enjoying wide open spaces and suffering very poor quality road surfaces. The large size and tough construction of American cars and trucks suited Australia perfectly and it wasn’t long before small, then medium, then larger factories were importing chassis and running gear and building their own bodies onto them.

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Willeys didn’t only make Jeeps. This is the Overland Sedan, known as the ‘Aerodynamic’.

This approach worked for several decades. Holden Motors started out building car bodies and became the biggest in the country. By 1923 they were producing over 50% of car bodies and in 1929, having secured an exclusive deal with General Motors, were making over 40,000 per annum. The Great Depression ended all this and Holden was forced to diversify, making other steel products such as filing cabinets. Eventually General Motors bought the company. Post war, the Australian government wanted to improve employment prospects and Holden, with American factory help, designed and built Australia’s first home grown car.  Ford, and others, opened factories in Australia as time went by, although it’s sad to report that no cars are made in Australia any more. British cars became popular with city based customers and many models familiar to me were represented in the museum, although usually with the largest available engine.

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First all Australian Holden, from 1948.

There was an interesting display of small commercial vehicles and buses, often with interesting stories attached. A selection of motorbikes completed the display and the whole museum managed to tell the story of Australian motoring very successfully.

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Local bus services helped develop the suburbs.

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As did services such as this.

My last evening in Adelaide was spent with Gilda, and in the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Before you start getting too excited, there is no connection whatever between the two.
Gilda met me at the Elephant British Pub. They had a huge range of beers but the only English one was Speckled Hen. The general style of it definitely reminded me of an old style British boozer. I enjoyed a couple of local brews, along with a rather delicious meal of Bangers and Mash, Aussie style. That meant it being served with bits of bacon and cheese on top of the mash. Absolutely delicious. Gilda and I chatted away, as we always do, and hoped we’d be bale to meet again somewhere, before I leave Aus. Although she’s bought a house in Adelaide she’ll still be flying around the country on assignments so we’re confident our paths will cross somewhere. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t.

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Classics, with classic Aussie humour.

The Garden of Unearthly Delights was the second, and biggest, of the two festival venues. It had been set up in Rundle Park, conveniently close to where I’d just eaten. It looked great, with coloured lights strung across the trees and all sorts of brightly lit stalls and fun-fair rides. I found my way to the venue and while waiting to go in I examined some nicely off=the-wall artwork. Copies of a whole range of classic paintings had been printed, but with pithy, quirky and topical comments printed under them. Nicely amusing.
Pulp Show was also quirky and a definitely weird. The artist was essentially a dancer who mimed and danced to a series of soundtracks containing music and speech. She spent the hour taking the Micky out of various Aussie tropes, styles and events. These included Hanging Rock, Crocodile Dundee, murdering hitch hikers and Aussie drinking culture. There was some audience participation too. It all worked very well and I enjoyed it very much.

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The motto of the immigrant.

Adelaide had been a very enjoyable place to visit, on many levels. Lots of essential maintenance successfully completed. Old and new friends met, culture enjoyed, both old style and new. It was the first Australian ‘old colonial’ city I’d visited properly and I found the space and scale very easy on the senses. The mix of traditional and modern works well and nothing is too overpowering. Even the suburbs seem gentle and well ordered. I’d enjoyed it very much.

 

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Inside – Out. From the SA Art Gallery.

Riding the Nullarbor.

Esperance, WA. 3rd February 2016.

Although it was time to get out of town, I still needed to do one more thing before I left. A game of golf beckoned. ‘Golf?’I hear you exclaim. ‘Geoff doesn’t play golf, in fact he can’t stand the game.’ Indeed I can’t. I’m with Mark Twain on the subject. ‘A good walk spoilt,’ he’s quoted as saying. But Kalgoorlie Boulder is host to the first two holes of the Nullarbor Links Golf course, the world’s longest. The keen golfers among you can read all about it here: www.nullarborlinks.com.

The majority of you just need to read this brief intro from the website: The Nullarbor Links concept is unique. The 18-hole par 72 golf course spans 1,365 kilometres with one hole in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. Each hole includes a green and tee and somewhat rugged outback-style natural terrain fairway. The course provides a quintessential Australian experience and a much-needed activity/attraction for travellers along the renowned desolate highway.

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Not exactly Tiger Woods.

So of course I had to visit hole one and to that end I rode to the town’s CY O’Conner golf club. In the car park I asked a guy where the tee for hole one was and not only did he show me but he borrowed a club from the shop for me to hold while he took my photo. The sharp eyed among you will realise I’m only pretending to hit that ball – which isn’t there anyway! You’ll also spot the label still attached to the club. Duty done, I headed south for Esperance, stopping at Normanton to have a quick look at hole four, just out of interest. No pristine greens and welcoming clubhouse down at this sandy outpost. Just a tin shack for a changing room and an honesty box for the green fees. No shortage of sand filled bunkers though.

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Probably the greenest of the fairways on the Nullabor Links. Hannan’s Find, hole 1 at Kalgoorlie.

An easy ride down to the seaside, where I booked into the YHA hostel for a couple of nights. Then I went to visit Neal, who Paul had put me in touch with. He has a variety of bikes, in various stages of refurbishment, but his main one is a Yamaha XT600, which he uses on the dirt quite a lot. This was the bike I had originally planned to use for my trip until the Suzuki took preference, and mine got smashed up anyway. Neal knows the tracks in the area well and I got some useful advice from him about the route back inland to the Eyre Highway, the main Nullarbor road. The track I planned to take should be OK, Neal said, provided it’s dry. There had been some rain around lately, but not for a few days, so between us we thought I should be alright. Given the stiff breeze blowing in off the sea, any water still there should be drying up well. How rough? Road trains use it, which usually means such tracks are generally in good order. So far, so good. Then I showed him my rear suspension.

Collapsed suspension bracket. Not much movement in it now.

Collapsed suspension bracket. Not much movement in it now.

Over the past week or ten days I’d been concious of something being not quite right with the bike’s handling. In the end it had become obvious something was wrong and when I checked the rear shock absorber I could see that the bracket at its base, where it bolts to the swinging arm linkage, had collapsed. The bike was much lower to the ground than it should be and suspension movement was limited. So was the poor old girl in a fit state to be going off road? Well, I’d been fine on the dirt roads included in the Golden Quest Trail and going via the sealed roads would add 200kms to the journey, plus a load of extra time. I was heading towards Adelaide and wanted to get there as soon as I could. I decided to dwell on it before making a final decision.

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Nice little church building, put to a new use.

Esperance is a small town but is on a very beautiful stretch of coast. It has beautiful bays nearby, great for surfing, fishing or simply visiting for the sheer pleasure of it. I went for a walk around the town, enjoying the foreshore area and checking out the Museum Village, full of historic buildings. One of them is an old church, small and wooden, now used as a shop selling natural beauty products. It somehow seemed an appropriate change. As well as the old courthouse and government buildings, the village also contained the first school house. Parked outside was an old tank, with its gun barrel aimed right at it. I could only admire the Esperance version of school discipline.

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Dare to misbehave!

You won’t be surprised when I tell you the town was born out of the farming and agriculture industries. It became a port later, supporting the mining industry too. Until the railway was built between Perth and the goldfields, Esperance was their main supply route. It was named after a French explorer ship, L’Espérance (Hope), although that appears to be the only French influence in the area, except for the towns Bijou Theatre. I may have said this before, but I like the history of these small towns. ‘Cute’ would be too patronising a word to use. ‘Pocket sized’ suits their stories better and they are always straight forward and meaningful, invariably relating to a fledgling industry built on hard graft or a fortuitous discovery of some kind, often both. Good stuff.

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A nice model of the technological marvel that was Skylab.

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A different point of view.

Esperance’s most recent claim to fame though, was when Skylab 1 fell onto it. Well, almost. Skylab 1 was America’s first space station and in 1979 it fell out of its orbit and burned up in the atmosphere. It was a huge media event, with the San Francisco Examiner offering US$10,000 for the first piece of it delivered to its offices. The debris mostly landed in the Southern Ocean, off Australia’s south coast, but some fell on land around this area. Various residents found pieces of it on their land and one lucky 17 year old was flown, along with his family, to San Francisco to deliver a piece to the newspaper office. The town council cheekily issued NASA a $400 dollar fine for littering. Thirty years later a local radio station raised the funds to pay it. There’s a few sculptures and memorials along the foreshore relating to the event and it surely adds a unique dimension to the history of any town.

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It’s hard to beat a coastal outlook on a sunny day.

That afternoon I took a windy-but-sunny ride along the Great Ocean Drive, a very lovely ride alongside the beautiful coastline. There’s something special about sea and sand on a sunny day. Turquoise blue water, white sand, surf and rocky cliffs. A proper coastal view. Included in the route was the Ten Mile Lagoon wind farm (well done Esperance!) and a view of the lagoon itself, made pink by the beta carotene-bearing algae that lives in it. The ride also gave me time to think about which route to choose out of town. I plumped for the Parmango Road, trusting to Neal’s advice and plenty of luck.

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The recent rain had left a few challenges but fortunately, it wasn’t all like this.

Did I do the right thing? Yes, as it turned out, but while riding the track itself, I wasn’t so sure. It was fairly smooth at first, but that only lasted until the last factory farm. The recent rain had left some muddy sections to be dealt with, but that wasn’t so bad. The worst part came later on when the track changed from packed dirt to stone – and became very rough. My poor bike! The back end was bumping and bouncing all over the place, with the suspension clashing and banging like a goods train in a shunting yard. By then I could do nothing other than grit my teeth and carry on. It’s hard to control a bucking and bouncing bike while your fingers are crossed, but I managed it and finally emerged onto the Eyre Highway, a couple of hundred metres from Balladonia roadhouse. Doris and I both needed a rest.

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A sign I was pleased to see.

Roadhouses are, I believe, a peculiarly Australian phenomena these days. America had them but now they’re roadside bars, often with dodgy reputations. They were born of the huge distances within the country, and the need for travellers to get food, fuel and accommodation as they traversed the long highways. Sometimes they’re part of a small settlement, more often they’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere. As an example, roadhouses are the only places of help and sustenance along a 750km stretch of the Eyre Highway, between Norseman and Eucla. They usually have simple accommodation, as well as a campground. Balladonia roadhouse does all of this but with some extras bolted on. Just one word explains it. Skylab!

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One of the larger pieces of debris.

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How the press saw it.

The atmosphere rained space debris on the area around the roadhouse too, and the roadhouse makes the most of it. Well, why not! There’s precious little else out there. Next to the café is a small museum with a section of Skylab on display. On the wall are posters showing a montage of newspaper headlines from 1979, some of them quite funny, along with the background story. Unusually, and to their great credit, there is also a decent display relating to the local Aboriginals, along with one on the settlement of the area. Reading all that information helped to stop my brain rattling, one of the effects of the track. The coffee was good too. And before I left I took a photo of hole 7 on the Nullarbor Links, aptly named Skylab.

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The Skylab tee.

Onwards then. I was now entering the infamous Nullarbor Plain, a treeless, featureless waste. At least, that is its reputation. But reputations arise out of fear and ignorance and are there to be challenged and defeated. If you look at this highway on a road map there seems to be nothing there. No symbols representing rivers, mountains or forests, and no towns. The reality is far different, of course. The tourist map I had lists a whole host of interesting places and features. Pretty much all of them natural phenomena, such as walking/cycling trails; blowholes; nature reserves; national parks with flora and fauna. There are some man-made attractions too, such as old telegraph stations, cattle stations, museums etc. Many of these are a short distance off the highway and there is easily at least a week’s worth of exploring to be done. Roadhouses occur often enough that fuel, food and accommodation need never be a problem. Some careful thought and planning would be all you need. For all that it is a harsh environment and travellers need to take care. But if none of this interesting stuff appeals, you could always play golf.

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No chance of getting ‘the bends’ here.

I guess I was probably like most users of the Eyre Highway though – it was a route from A to B. I needed to get to Adelaide to meet Gilda. She had bought a house there and was moving in over the coming weekend. She had invited me to stay. I urgently needed to do some work on Doris, not least of which was to repair the rear suspension. I had located, and talked to, a company near Adelaide which would rebuild my old shock absorber. Just what I needed. Doris was also due a service and some new clutch plates needed to be fitted. Chain and sprockets too. I was now a man on a mission.
It was lunchtime when I left Balladonia roadhouse but I didn’t get far before one of the Eyre Highway’s famous features appeared in front of me, Ninety Mile Straight. Although these days it’s the 146.6 kilometre straight. Doesn’t quite have the same ring, somehow. It is the longest straight stretch of road in Australia and one of the longest in the world. There’s a sign at the beginning of it, just right for a photo opportunity. A couple had stopped for the same reason and the guy took mine for me. It’s a shame the road has to go up and down while following the terrain because there’s no real sense of distance. I would have loved to have seen what ninety miles of straight road actually looked like. But from the saddle it was just more asphalt. In fact the only moment of excitement between Balladonia and Cocklebiddy roadhouse, my night time stop, was that I was launched forward forty five minutes in time when I crossed into a different time zone. Forty five minutes? What’s the point in that? Why not make it an hour? I slept on it.

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Nullarbor. Plain as plain as be.

Day two of this marathon was as hot as the previous one. And mostly just as boring. The only real excitement was changing states as I crossed from WA into South Australia. This is a big deal. They have a border village on the dividing line and a two hour time difference. The other interesting event was entering the barest part of the Nullarbor Plain. It was given its name by a surveyor, EA Delisser, in 1865, who simply combined the Latin words for ‘none’ (nullus) and ‘tree’ (arbor). It stretched for 1,100 kilometres ahead of me, west to east, and is an unforgiving, arid land of desert scrub and almost no trees. It looks very odd. Just low, green scrub as far as the eye can see. The first crossing was made in 1849 and a motorable track was finally cut across it in 1942. Between those two events the telegraph line was constructed and an east/west railway was built, but used a route about 120kms to the north. It always strikes me as odd when I think about how long it took for some of these routes to be built. But it simply reflects how sparsley populated Australia is compared to its land mass, and how individual states tended to be more inward than outward looking. It often took major events, such as WW2, to act as a catalyst for action. Meanwhile, I instinctively ran through a mental check of all the bike’s functions, sharpening my hearing and raising the alert level a notch or two. Breaking down in this wilderness did not appeal in the slightest.

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Laid back German. Willie and his bike, seen at one of my fueling stops.

Eventually the roadhouse at Penong hove into view. A count of the hours said I’d been on the road for ten but the clock said twelve. Either way, dusk was approaching so I turned into the campsite. Yesterday the traffic had been quite sparse. Today had been much busier, with plenty of trucks coming past me. Although I always feel guilty when I hold these guys up, it’s good to know they’re around should things go wrong. I came across an example of this when I saw a broken down car and a truckie had pulled up to help. There were a couple of young French girls, struggling to get the wheel nuts undone so they could fit their spare. Needless to say, we had them under way in short order.

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Speaks for itself.

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Local bird.

Something that often happens when you cross state lines is a quarantine check. They are keen to stop the spread of fruit fly, banana blight etc. Some just focus on trucks but this one required all vehicles to stop. I was about to go through it so I breakfasted on all my spare fruit and had no hassle from the man at the checkpoint.

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The start of a very long ride.

My third day on the Nullarbor and beyond was going to be a long one. When I left Esperance I put Gilda’s address in my GPS, purely for the purpose of tracking progress. Let’s face it, I didn’t need any help with directions when there was only one road to follow, but seeing the distance gradually dropping away gave me a comforting feeling that progress was being made. It started as 2169kms I still had well over 800kms to go but having got away fairly early, I was expecting to make it. And I did. Those kilometres just kept ticking away. The road slowly changed as I left the Nullabor behind, meaning I’d now completed one of the great, iconic Aussie road trips. More towns, more traffic, as I headed across the Eyre Peninsular to Port Augusta. There were probably some nice places to visit, if only I’d had the time.
Eventually I came to the city outskirts, marked by all those typical edge of city industries. Finally I was crossing the CBD and the GPS took me out to Gilda’s house. 855kms and eleven and a half hours on the road. A long day. A day of achievement. Now for some rest and relaxation. I wondered what Adelaide had to offer.