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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


‘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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


‘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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


‘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.


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


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.


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.


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?


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