Regroup, Refresh and Return

London, UK. 20th October, 2016

It was nice to be home but it didn’t take more than a few frosty mornings to remind me of why I like Australia; nor to remind me of where I felt I should have been. My journey to the warmth of North Queensland was on hold for a while. Instead, time to contemplate; time to plan; time to replace; eventually time to return. How soon? Very hard to say but I hoped not much more than three months or so. Well, the route that took me from arrivals at Heathrow back to the departure lounge at the same airport proved to be a sinuous one.
One of the main things that had been on my mind as I rode across the outback on my return to Brisbane was whether or not to buy a new bike, and what to get. Doris’ troubles had put me in the frame of mind to replace her, but with what? Research had made it clear that no similar bike is now sold in Europe. Emissions regulations and the marketing department’s insistence on Rally Raiders had killed off the lightweight dual purpose bike. A radical option would be to buy a Suzuki DRZ400 in Australia, ship it back home and then register it. That may seem a very odd thing to consider but it would have resolved the problems related to traveling with a personal identity from one country and a bike registration from another. So, having dismissed all other options I decided I had no choice other than to buy the bike I really wanted anyway, the CCM GP450 Adventure. Once I’d eliminated all other possibilities I had no choice, I’m pleased to say. The truth is, I wanted one! Like a young man swooning over his first hot rod, I was hooked. Have a look at their website to see why. ccm-motorcycles.com.
Within ten days of landing the deal was done. I spoke to Cliff, at the Adventure Bike Shop in Suffolk (adventurebikeshop.co.uk). Not only is he an authorised dealer for CCM but I’d dealt with him previously and I knew I could trust him. After all, he and his wife had also ridden overland to Australia. He’d walked the walk. He had a test bike in stock so I arranged a ride.

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Cliff, plus CCM.

It was noisier than I expected, a busy sounding engine. Made by the Taiwanese company KYMCO, this 450cc engine had been used by BMW, KTM and Husqvarna at various times. BMW dropped that model and it seems likely CCM bought a surplus batch as the engine had BMW embossed on the engine cover. It certainly went well and had the often desired extra power that Doris lacked. 40bhp compared to 33bhp. With its 125kg dry weight and modern suspension, it handled well too. It was a little tall for me but there were factory options that would deal with that. I liked it so I bought one. The test ride had confirmed the impression that various internet and magazine articles had already given me. Was it worth coming home for? Only time and distance will reveal that.
The bike was registered from the 1st November and I went up to Suffolk to collect it on the 2nd. After getting off the mainline train at Marks Tey I took a noisy old diesel/electric out to Sudbury. I realised we were traveling through Gainsborough Country, a gentle landscape with old country houses nestling in the folds of the low hills. It all looked typically English. Up to that point coming home had left me feeling quite despondent. All of a sudden I felt glad to be back. It was a sudden feeling and was rather welcome too. As we passed through one station I noticed a museum collection of old rolling stock and an original signal box. This is a part of England I haven’t explored much and the desire to do so was quite strong. So I will – one day.
Cliff had fitted various extras at my request, such as the essential heated hand grips, spotlights and a modern electronic ‘fuse’ box. Business completed, I donned the riding gear I’d brought with me and the new crash helmet I’d also bought from Cliff, and set off for home.

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New bikes always look pretty. I wonder how long for?

It was bloody cold, but I enjoyed the ride and began to learn the new bike and how it handled. My initial impression of noise didn’t change but it certainly went well although I knew it was quite low geared. I definitely needed to change that. I had a few other additions in mind, just to get it ready for long distance travel, but I had plenty of time to organise that as Doris wasn’t due back into the UK for a few weeks yet.
Doris. Now there’s a tale. I had left her with the Aussie shippers who said she’d be on a boat to Tilbury by the 25th October, and would arrive on 16th December. I naively accepted that as fact and felt it would give me enough time to transfer panniers and other gear from her to the CCM, and then maybe get it on a ship to Australia by mid-January. But I reckoned without the inconsistency that shipping companies are renowned for. Because the original boat didn’t have enough cargo to make the trip to Tilbury worthwhile Doris was delayed for over a week and didn’t arrive until 21st December. Of course, Christmas then got in the way and I didn’t collect her until 29th December. Nearly two weeks later than anticipated. Fortunately the agents were very efficient and they dealt with the customs clearance, meaning all I had to do was collect the bike. Gary, my neighbour, loaned me his bike trailer and the rest was easy.

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Doris arrives home. Retirement beckons.

By this time I’d sourced some luggage mounting plates from Zen Overland (zenoverland.com). These are beautifully made flat aluminium plates which bolt on to the rear luggage rack and side pannier rails and will provide a secure platform for my panniers and large holdall. Zen are experts at making bespoke metalwork in small production runs, and they are well worth what I paid for them. I’d already visited them at their base in Wells, Somerset, just to check the plates out and try them for size.

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CNC crafted, anodised aluminium. The new best thing in luggage mounting.

It was on the way back from there that I had my first ‘off’. As I rode from Wells to Calne, planning to visit my niece and her family, it was dark and wet. I came to a mini roundabout, indicating to turn right, and an elderly woman decided not to bother waiting for me to complete my turn. Instead she pulled out, forcing me to brake sharply. She braked too and a very low speed collision took place. No big drama really. I was pretty much stationary, and so was she, at the point when I collided with her front wheel, laying the bike over in the process. No injuries and no damage to speak of. Just the handlebars twisted round and a slight scratch on the end of the twist grip. She was very apologetic, was quite shook up but was relieved when I contacted her a couple of days later to tell her I wouldn’t be making a claim. It could have been far worse and I suppose that as the bike was now ‘christened’ there would be no need to have another one!

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Stupid people get everywhere, but why do I keep meeting them?

I needed to put at least 500 miles on the bike before I could get the first service done. I made arrangements to take it back to the factory in Bolton for this job and also ordered a couple of upgrades. One of these was to fit a hydraulic adjuster to the rear suspension, making pre-load adjustment far easier. The second was to fit a Power Commander. This upgrade to the engine management system has the aim of smoothing out the low running as well as the general power delivery across the whole rev range. Fuel injection on single cylinder bikes can be notoriously difficult to get right, mostly because of the emissions regulations. CCM also offer one which boosts power output and it includes a different, and noisier silencer. Not to my taste at all, thanks. The last thing I need is more noise. Many riders like the idea of noisier bikes. I think they feel it boosts their ego somehow, and makes some kind of statement. There is also some kind of myth about how ‘loud pipes save lives’, a belief that other road users will be alerted to the bike’s presence and therefore act more safely. This is complete nonsense of course, and the effect is likely to be the opposite by increasing confusion and raising aggression. Apart from anything else, a loud exhaust is very, very wearing and would make long journeys a literal pain. For my part I believe it’s best to ‘go quietly on your way’, ride defensively and not see other people as your enemy.
Eventually I’d put enough miles on the bike to make the journey to Bolton for the first service. It usefully coincided with a visit to Manchester for some birthday celebrations – mine and my son’s. A very nice family time before turning back to more practical agenda items.

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Eddie Kidd’s bus-jumping CCM. Now on display in the foyer of the factory.

The CCM factory is relatively small and each bike is hand built. CCM (Clews Competition Motorcycles) have always specialised in off road racers, specifically enduro and motocross. They developed a very strong, and light, bonded aluminium frame, tried and tested on the competition bikes. This frame is at the heart of the GP450 Adventure and, along with KYMCO’s small engine, is why the roadside weight of the bike, with its 20 litre tanks full of fuel, weighs only 140 to 145kgs. No-one else makes a comparable bike. It’s even lighter than Doris, a terrific achievement.

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GP450 Adventures in the making, on the factory floor.

I found the factory and was introduced to Mick, the mechanic who deals with customer’s bikes. It’s very unusual for a manufacturer to do this, it’s normally the dealers’ job. But CCM offer a repair service and I needed to go there to get the upgrades fitted too. Mick was happy to let me watch him and one reason for this is so that he can impart his wisdom to the riders, many of whom will want to service their own bikes. There’s nothing that quite beats receiving knowledge from the fount of wisdom and it proved to be a very useful session. Mick also took steps to lower the bike a bit, thereby improving the riding experience hugely.

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Mick at work on my bike.

Upgrades installed, oil and filter refreshed, I set off back south. Seven hours and 330 cold miles later I reached Newquay, Cornwall. “Where?”, I hear you gasp. “But Geoff, you live in London!” Well, that’s true, but I’d been asked to give a talk to a Forces training course down at RAF St Mawgan and had agreed to do it the next day. Staff Sergeant Nathan James had read about my adventure up in Cape York, had friended me on Facebook and when he realised I was back in the UK had contacted me to ask if I could give a talk on one of his training courses. He teaches survival skills to teams of inter-force personnel and he likes to get people down to describe the mental challenges of being in a life threatening situation. I saw this as an interesting challenge so was happy to ride to Cornwall and give it a go. I got a nice room for two nights, good food in the mess and access to very cheap beer too. What’s not to like? The talk seemed to go down well, so it was a worthwhile couple of days. They even presented me with a small survival kit, the message being to make sure it’s with me when I go off a-wandering. I was also able to call in to visit my friends Sam and Birgit, in Exeter, on the way home.

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Friends Bev and John. Fellow motorcycle adventurers who I visited while passing through the Lake District.

All of these events were taking place around December time, so as well as bike fettling I was visiting friends and enjoying a very good Christmas with my family, the first in three years. When you have children that’s the kind of thing you miss when on the road. It was all the better for being unplanned too. In fact during the time I was at home I was able to visit many of my far flung friends and siblings. There’s six of us all together and we’ve spread ourselves around a fair bit, as far as Aberdeen in fact. But in particular I was very happy to be able to spend plenty of time with Jan, ‘the girl I’d left behind’. As well as general socialising, we went to see The Motown Story, a hugely enjoyable musical all about Berry Gordon’s trials, tribulations and successes. The music, singing and dancing were superb. It never ceases to amaze me how these shows manage to capture the feel and style of the times they reflect. Brilliant!

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Part of the display at the Battle of Britain Memorial, on the cliffs above Dover. I called in during one of my test rides.

In among all this fun and frolics I still managed to keep my eye on the ball of getting the CCM ready for shipping. With Doris now safe in my garage I got on with fitting the panniers to their new home and finishing off the various changes and upgrades to the new (as yet unnamed) bike. In an attempt to reduce the overall noise I bought some stick-on sound deadening foam and stuck it to the inside of the front two fuel tanks. (The bike has one under the seat and two either side of the engine.) This seemed to quieten things down a bit, I’m pleased to say. I completed two days of back-to-back riding around Kent and Sussex so as to run some before and after tests on the power commander unit. I’m pleased to say that it delivered on its promises of smoother running and better power delivery. It even improved the fuel consumption – by a whole one mile per gallon! I made some improvements to the quality of the electrics to the the rear lights by fitting waterproof connectors to the wiring. Riding on salted roads had very quickly destroyed the unprotected originals, a disappointing lack of quality control, in my opinion. While I’m on the subject I’ll comment that this brilliant bike is let down in some areas by underdevelopment and a lack of finesse in the finishing. But its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, so I’m not going to launch into a whinge-fest. I’ll be riding some hard miles  once I get it, and me, to Australia so you can read about how it stands up to punishment in future blogs. Other owners have also ridden some tough miles, notably in Africa, and have been delighted with its robustness. I had occasional problems with Doris too, so it can be said that these come with the territory – in every sense.

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The loaded up CCM, about to be ridden across to Motofreight for it’s journey to Aus.

So as I write this I’m 37,000 feet above the sea, on the way back to Australia. I’ve been at home for exactly five months, far longer than intended. I was fearful I’d get comfortable and indolent but once I’d passed my bike into the hands of Roddy at Motofreight (motofreight.com), the die was cast and my journey had effectively resumed. I’m doing it the easy way by flying in to Sydney, where I can catch up with friends and be a tourist for a week or so. Then, likewise, in to Melbourne, where I’ll collect my bike before heading north. Even so, I feel a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear that I may have lost the traveling urge; the need to see what’s over the next horizon and to wonder who I’ll meet in the next town. But I’m exited to find out how my new bike will perform; how quickly I’ll get used to being on the road again. I know that I’ll be happy to be away from the TV, the constant news cycle and all the debilitating nonsense of Brexit and Trump. Back to the real world; the narrow focus of food, fuel and where to lay my head for the night. The journey begins once more and I’m in the mood for adventure.

A few of the bikes I saw at the NEC bike show, November and the ExCel bike show in London.

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Battered, Burnt and Bewildered.

Melbourne, Victoria. 12th August 2016.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.

So runs the first half of the second verse of the poem ‘If’, by Rudyard Kipling. As I sit and write this blog these words seem so very relevant and bring perspective after a very testing time. But I’m getting ahead of myself and need to go back a couple of months, to where I was at the end of the last blog post.
When I arrived in the hospital at Broken Hill I felt a battered wreck. Closer to unravelling than travelling. But four days of care and rest brought me back to a physical and mental state where I could contemplate a pain free future, even though it was still a fair way off. It amazes me how painful just one cracked rib can be, making all normal movement seem like a test of endurance. I’d felt like I’d been used as a battering ram but I knew I wasn’t really all that badly off and by the time I left Broken Hill my mood had brightened considerably. With my left hand in a cast and my right collar bone feeling decidedly sore, I was glad of the taxi driver’s help with my bag en route to the airport. Bernard and Mary had very kindly agreed to look after me while I recovered so I had two flights to cope with, both on Rex Airlines, a small company which hops across the outback linking small towns with the big cities.

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Damaged collarbone joint. Just one of the injuries.

Once I’d settled in I had some new skills to learn, such as eating with one hand and showering with a plastic bag over my arm. We visited his GP who lined up an x-ray for a month later and put me in touch with a physio too. He gave me some exercises to do, with the purpose of strengthening my collarbone. So, medically organised and slowly heading towards a pain free normality, I settled down for the wait.
Bernard and Mary are busy people, usually with plenty of work to do regarding various art projects. They use all of their combined skills; Mary’s as an artist, Bernard’s as a writer, and the lively imagination of them both. Bernard has become very skilled with Mac and printer, producing high quality pamphlets and booklets, for distribution to friends. Some years ago they’d undertaken a journey into New South Wales and had written down the name of every creek they crossed en route – and there would have been hundreds. Mary produced a series of scrolls which listed the names of them all but were also decorated with drawings of local flora and fauna, especially birds. They looked fabulous and she had
The second project on the go was to write a series of limericks which included the names of the towns they passed through. Followers of this blog will have realised, if they weren’t aware already, that Australia has many towns with names that a poet, if a limerick writer could be described as such, would delight in rolling round their tongue in search of a suitable rhyme.A bit of fun for them both. The booklet would then be decorated with drawings from Mary’s artistic hand and copies circulated to friends. I got quite enthusiastic about this and contributed one of my own, which will be included as a guest entry. It goes:
A bike rider left Thargomindah
Heading west on a road, mostly cinder.
Oe’er hillside and dell,
He didn’t fare well,
Fallen pride, broken rib, fractured finger.

Not exactly Shelley, but it was one way of trying to make light of my predicament.

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Some of the Jesus Trolleys.

Because of Mary’s connections in the art world in Melbourne I was able to accompany them to some exhibition openings. The wine supplied always tickled our palates even if the art on view didn’t manage to take our fancy. One evening, at Melbourne Town Hall, was the opening of a display of ‘Jesus Trolleys’. It sounds very bizarre. In many ways it was. Scrub that. In every way, it was. There’s a Melburnian named Desmond Hynes who, having been seriously ill, decided it was the Christian god that saved him. He dedicated his time to being a ‘soldier of Jesus’, one of several who toured the streets of the CBD and the precincts of the MCG and other sporting arenas, preaching in the evangelical ‘fire and brimstone’ style. He used to carry his preaching material around in a shopping trolley, daubed with religious slogans. Over the years he used quite a few. The art world describes this as ‘accidental art’ and decided his trolleys and other material were worth displaying, along with various photos from the past. I had a brief chat with him and he seems a modest man. I felt the art world’s interest in all this was a bit pretentious and to the now elderly Desmond’s credit he looked somewhat nonplussed throughout. While I have no time for his cause, it’s difficult not to admire his dedication. But I tend to think it’s the art world that’s more ‘off its trolley’ out of the two.

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Desmond and his sister.

At another event we saw a fantastic collection from the Australian artist Deborah Halpern. She was having a bit of a clear out, not only of her own work, mostly ceramics, but also some of her collection. I thought many of the pieces there were great. So was the wine!

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A couple of Deborah’s pieces.

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One of the stranger paintings in her collection.

Other cultural events? Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the BBC series, The Hollow Crown, a few years ago, I was delighted to discover that one of the cinemas was showing a film of the stage play Richard III. This version starred Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave. He was brilliant, she wasn’t. Filmed at the Almeida Theatre in London, they used the recent discovery of the king’s body in Leicester to set the scene then morphed the play back into the 15th century. It’s difficult to maintain an accurate body count in this play, with the characters dropping like flies. So they put skulls on a shelf at the back of the set as each one was done away with by Richard. A thoroughly enjoyable production.
While I was on a Shakespearean roll I also watched Hamlet – three times! At Bernard’s I saw a film of David Tennant’s theatre performance; a film version starring Kenneth Brannagh; finally another visit to the cinema to watch a recording of the play starring Dominic Cumberbatch. All of them were terrific in their own way. I’d never seen Hamlet before and it’s a gripping story. I finished off this cultural journey by watching a film version of Macbeth, which was glorious in its settings and performances. A word of advice though. I discovered that it’s a good idea to read a synopsis of the stories first. Characters can come and go so quickly that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. Knowing the story means you can enjoy the dialogue and performances.

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Waiting for the AFL parade to start, opposite the Old Treasury Building.

Melbourne also offers culture of a very different sort. In the same way that cultured Romans enjoyed watching gladiators fight each other, I suspect that many Shakespeare fans would have joined me in enjoying the AFL (Aussie rules football) final, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The game started in Victoria and was popular among Irish immigrants in particular. It’s deemed important enough by the state government that the Friday before the final is a public holiday, with the two teams parading through the city. With Melbourne team Western Bulldogs playing Sydney Swans, the final reflected the rivalry between the two cities. I have to be honest and say that the parade, although interesting to see, wasn’t anything special. I suppose it would have been great if you were a ‘Doggie’, it being sixty one years since the team had last been in a final. I wouldn’t go again though. Even so, I was happy enough to watch the players, coaches and others ride past on the back of Toyota pick ups, provided as part of their sponsorship, and then walk down to the MCG to mingle with the crowds and soak up their excitement. All well and good as a taster, but the main course, when it arrived next day, was a sumptuous feast of sporting endeavour.

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Outside the MCG after the parade, with the two teams on display to their fans.

I watched the game with Bernard, Mary and their Godson Barney. It seems that pies and beer is the game watching tradition in their house, one I was happy to support. I’d seen plenty of games while staying at Bernard’s and had learned much from him as he used to play at senior amateur level when he was young. We’d watched the end of season play-offs, seeing the Doggies and The Swans knock out their opponents as they worked their way through. The Doggies last won in 1954 and even on TV it was clear just how electric the atmosphere was. Being in the stadium must have been simply amazing. Justifiably so. It was a great game to watch. The Swans came in at half time two points ahead but The Doggies were two points up by the end of the third quarter and eventually won by twenty two points, at 89-67. It was a very tough but surprisingly fair game.
At the presentation ceremony two things impressed me very much. The first was that young fans are selected to hang the medals around the necks of the players, one fan to each medal. The player carries a special baseball cap up to the podium which they give to the boy or girl in exchange for it. What a thrill that must be for the youngsters. No glad handing politicians or royals at this game of the people. The second was when the Doggies’ coach, Luke Beverridge, gave his medal to the injured club captain, Robert Murphy. The supporters in the crowd raised the roof at that. What a great event to have watched!

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The very kitsch entrance to Luna Park fairground. Very popular with Melburnians.

I had plenty of time for exploring too. Melbourne has a reputation for, shall we say, variable weather. But it was winter so cold and rain didn’t really come as a surprise. But there was a fair bit of sunshine too and I explored St Kilda Beach, King’s Domain and the Botanical Gardens. The famous Luna Park is at St Kilda, modelled on America’s Coney Island. The Shrine of Remembrance lies within Kings Domain and is a sobering place to visit.

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The Shrine of Remembrance.

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One of the sculptures outside.

In among all this excitement much of my time was taken up with more mundane activities. I was well looked after by Bernard and Mary, possibly the kindest people I know. Bernard had taken me to his GP as soon as I arrived there and when I went for he x-ray he’d arranged the results didn’t look good.

The piece of bone is a bit of a pain but will heal eventually.

The piece of bone is a bit of a pain but will heal eventually.

The broken piece of bone you can see in the x-ray was of concern to the doctor at the clinic and he recommended further examination by an expert. I found one at St Vincent Hospital and for a fistful of dollars was examined and given the advice that it would be best to leave things as they were because it was so long since the accident – five weeks at this point. Pinning it would be difficult, painful and take up to six weeks to heal. For a few dollars more I had a session with a physiotherapist who, the cast now having been removed, put my hand in a lightweight splint and gave me some exercises to do. They worked too. The tendons across the knuckles slowly stretched back to normal and over the next few weeks I regained full movement in my fingers. My shoulder was back to normal too and I felt I was ready to organise a return to Innamincka and a reunion with Doris.

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A visitor to Bernard’s garden. A possum, in case you were wondering.

At this point events rather took over. Like a child jumping onto an already spinning playground roundabout, I was suddenly launched into a frenzy of activity. I’d already talked to Bernard and Mary about when I might be ready to leave. The reality was that their kindness had meant them delaying some visits from friends. I was about to ring up Nichelle at Innamincka Hotel, the first stage in getting a leave date organised, when Bernard came in to tell me his daughter was coming home at short notice and would need my room. Nichelle had said to me that if I could get to Thargominda, the nearest town to them with a commercial airport, she would be able to give me a lift back to the hotel provided my arrival coincided with one of their occasional visits there. When I rang her she said their next visit would be the next day, and then none for two months or more. Suddenly I was being both pushed and pulled. Urgent action was required. A manic hour on the internet resulted in a flight to Brisbane, a night in a hostel there, and a seat on the twice weekly plane out to Thargominda. A brief respite from paction (a blend of panic and action) for packing and lunch, then Bernard took me into Melbourne CBD to catch a bus to the airport. By 8pm I was settled in to the hostel in Brisbane, recovering from a day that began with a relaxed breakfast and then morphed into a mad rush. On the plane I sat next to Caitlin, a very pleasant and chatty 22 year old. She’d been away for eleven days and was mad keen to get home to see her cat, who’d suffered an injury. Her friend was picking her up at the airport and they very kindly gave me a lift to my hostel. I was very pleased about that. I needed to relax!
I took time to reflect on how necessary it is to bend with the breezes of life, something I’d learned to do long ago. Despite my injuries my time in Melbourne had been very positive. Sometimes I just relaxed and tackled the word puzzles in the newspaper; others I enjoyed Melbourne’s culture, tourist attractions and people. But now I was ready to get on with my journey and write its next chapter.
An early train and a McDonald’s breakfast got me to the airport, where I caught Rex Airline’s plane-that-behaves-like-a-bus. With only thirty four seats, this twin engine turbo prop plane hops across the outback, dropping off and picking up passengers as it goes. Thargominda is the last stop of five, where it turns around and goes back to Brisbane. Not exactly the number 53 bus to Camden Town, but you get my drift. Nichelle was there to collect me and Haydyn, the hotel’s returning chef, and before very long we were, as my limerick says, heading west on a road, mostly cinder.
Four hours and nearly 400kms later we were there. I put my bag in my room and headed round to be reunited with my best girl, Doris.

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Nichelle and Geoff. Hospitable and helpful to travellers in trouble.

Nichelle and her husband Geoff had tucked her away by the workshops and stowed my gear inside. She looked sad, forlorn and very battered. I had thought that, having been ridden away from the scene of my crash, she might have come out of it fairly unscathed, but given how hard I’d hit the ground I should have known better. The screen was broken but I had expected that. What surprised me was that the headlight was smashed and the front mudguard had snapped in two, clearly demonstrating how much the front end had dug in. At the same time the rear mudguard was knocked sideways and the rear light was broken too. I can’t work out quite how that must have happened. When I looked at my crash helmet one side of it was pretty busted up. I could understand now why my head had been spinning and my vision blurred so much. The battery had completely died too. When I’d been lying in a room immediately after the crash Nichelle had sorted out my big bag for me but I forgot to ask her to remove my GPS. So it had been switched on the whole time and had drained the battery of all power. Once a battery has been left flat for so long it is unlikely ever to recover. And so it proved. I was extremely thankful that I’d had the foresight to retro fit a kick starter before I left home. For someone who cut their teeth on old British bikes, it was a simple case of being ‘back in the old routine’.

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Bent up back end, with’ adjusting stick’ leaning against the bike.

Using tools borrowed from Geoff, I managed to re-attach the broken front mudguard and straighten out the rear one too. There was nothing I could do about the headlight but I had no plans to ride in the dark so wasn’t bothered about that. I stitched together the broken screen with cable ties and applied some ‘fix and stitch’ outback technology to my damaged luggage. Hard falls are tough on soft bags but when it comes to the overlanders’ argument between hard and soft panniers, I’m a confirmed ‘softie’. Much easier to repair.

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Mudguard missing, headlight smashed.

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A passable bodge sees it rideable again.

So, by late morning on Friday I was ready to try out the repairs on Doris and those on my hand too. ‘Battered and bashed but better’ nicely summed up both of us. How would it go?
When I went to pay Nichelle she asked if I wanted to stay another night? “No thanks, I feel the need to get going” said my mouth. “Not at $110 per night” said my brain. At that time I’d no idea where that thought would lead me.
Birdsville was still my intended destination, then back to Brisbane for proper repairs. So I filled and loaded up my water bladder, knowing I’d be camping that night, and strapped it down, with the rest of my luggage, on the back of the bike before setting off on the 450km dirt road journey. After an eight week lay-off, it was great to be moving again, and the open desert looked as tempting as ever.
Because Doris was still using oil under certain circumstances, I planned to stop after about 120kms to let her cool down a bit and to check the oil. But I didn’t. Why? Because I’d seen a sign for Arrabur, no more than a dot on the map but possibly with coffee. As my odometer tripped past 120kms a voice in my head started up.
“Geoff, you were going to stop at 120kms. Don’t you think you should?”
“Yes but Arrabur is only another 30kms and there might be coffee.”
“Stop now Geoff, you know you should. Look, there’s even some trees you could use to shelter from the sun.”
“No, I’m going to push on. There might be coffee.”
”OK, suit yourself.”
So I did. And previous experience should have told me never to ignore that voice.

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Disaster!

About 30kms later I came to a T junction and as I turned right I saw in my mirror clouds of smoke coming from the silencer. I thought the engine had blown up in a big way and the smoke was oil vapour. But I immediately realised it was from my burning luggage! The big bag that sits across the luggage rack was on fire. I leapt off the bike, threw my fuel bladder (full of petrol) away from the bike then wrenched the burning bag out from under its straps and threw it on the ground, burning side downwards. The flames seemed to go out and I turned back to the bike to realise the rear mudguard was burning and melting. I also realised my water bladder wasn’t there. How to put out the flames? Out of sheer desperation I started to undo the flies on my trousers, hoping to be able to produce some water from internal sources, even though I’d have struggled to do so in that heat. Luckily there was no need as I remembered the drinking water I carry in my backpack. That did the trick and at least the bike was no longer on fire. The same couldn’t be said for my bag, which was flaring up again. Like a fakir on hot coals I was dancing about the smouldering bag and with a combination of sand, boots and gloves I managed to put the flames out again. I pulled my scorched belongings out of the still smouldering bag, managing to retrieve half of my clothes, my laptop (but with a new, melted brown look to it) and a small case with electronic leads and storage in it. But I really must have told some terrible lies sometime previously because my pants were, literally, on fire!

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Burnt bag!

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Scorched laptop.I was amazed, and grateful, to discover it still works.

I gathered together the sad remains of my belongings and fitted them into a couple of other bags I had with me. Then I tried to work out why this disaster had happened. The missing water bladder was what told the tale. I remember strapping it on top of my other bags before I set off and that was my undoing. It’s very soft and amorphous and the ride along the dirt road had clearly allowed it to escape from the straps and it fell from the bike. The rest was inevitable. My large bag was now free to work its way across the luggage rack until it came to rest on the end of the silencer. Super hot exhaust gasses and nylon don’t go very well together and combustion was the certain result. The ‘if onlys’ came thick and fast. ‘If only I’d decided to stay another night.’ ‘If only I’d stopped when that voice in my head was telling me to.’ ‘If only I’d checked my mirror more often.’ Self recrimination probably isn’t a good thing but it’s difficult not to do.
I’d used up all my drinking water but a passing family stopped and I was able to get more from them. After some procrastination I decided to go back to Innamincka and around 25kms back along the route, there was the water bladder lying in the middle of the track. I strapped it back on the bike, but properly this time. Back at the hotel I resumed residence in my old room, told my tale of woe and listened to that of a group of guys who had also fallen foul of the tough terrain. The studs on one of their front wheels had sheared off, damaging the hub in the process. They were stuck there until spares arrived. I began to realise what Nichelle had meant when she’d told me, months before, that they were used to dealing with whatever problems came along. But the Aussie outback is like that.

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Incredible to think that if I hadn’t bought these I’d probably still be travelling.

My trip to Birdsville was abandoned, for now at least. The plan was to go directly to Brisbane and replace what I’d lost, repair the bike and try again. But I’d reckoned without my own ability to throw spanners in the works. “What now?” you may well ask. Well, when I fuelled up next morning I remembered I no longer had any footwear, apart from my boots. The shop sold flip flops so I bought a pair. I packed them away and set off. 170kms later I stopped for a break and noticed that the roll top on one of the bags was open. I’d tried to put the flip flops inside it but had put them under one of the straps instead. I’d ridden away, having forgotten to do it up again. I checked inside and was delighted to see my passport and document wallet still in there. Relieved, and feeling I’d got away with that particular bit of stupidity, I carried on. But as time went by the nagging feeling grew that I may not have got away with it after all. In the hotel room in the town of Bollon, 750kms after I left Innamincka, I checked everything only to discover that I’d lost the small, black case where I kept my electronic bits and pieces. Charging leads for phone etc; plug converters; two storage drives containing music, films and all my photos. A real disaster. By the next morning I’d decided I had no choice other than to go back and look for it.

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The recent rain had brought some welcome colour to the outback.

I’d discovered the open bag 170kms from Innamincka and was confident it would be lying at the side of the road somewhere. But despite riding that section as slowly as I could, scanning the roadside very carefully, I didn’t find it, neither on the way to or from Innamincka. Two nights accommodation, two day’s meals and 1500kms worth of fuel brought no result. As you can imagine, like a man who’d forgotten to renew his lottery ticket on a winning weekend, I was very fed up indeed.
I rang my friends in Brisbane who were happy to help me out of my predicament and put me up while I decided my next move. Over the three days of riding I was having a constant debate as to what to do. One half of me wanted to stay, get everything replaced or repaired, and carry on. The other half wanted to go home, replace everything and investigate buying a new bike. In particular I felt that if I went home I’d be giving up in the face of adversity, something I promised myself I’d never do. Although Doris wasn’t as well as she could be, after 92,000kms on the road, I felt she’d go for many more and I could deal with problems when they happened – if they did. Conversely, I thought a new bike would be a good idea. Anyway, I was feeling very low after the disasters of the last few days and my damaged hand wasn’t quite as well healed as I’d have liked. Christmas with my family was an attractive thought, the British winter less so. I’d be leaving behind the Aussie summer. What to do?
Once I’d reached Brisbane I talked it through with various friends and the consensus was that going home was not giving up. As Paul from Australind put it when I rang him, “Geoff, all you’re doing is hitting the pause button on your journey. You’ll press the start button when you get back again.” Wise words from a good friend, and that’s what I decided to do.

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Having fun on a day out near Brisbane.

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Trish is far more classy.

But what to do with Doris? She was battered, burnt and looking very sorry for herself. I’d decided to buy a new bike once I was back in the UK so I didn’t actually need her any more. I could sell her to a breaker. I spoke to Aussie customs who said the only answer was to officially import her, otherwise my carnet wouldn’t get signed off. The reality of that was losing a 3,000 Euro deposit. The process would take up to two weeks, I had one week left on my visa. For once reality and sentiment came together and the decision was to ship her back home. At nearly £1,000 (Thanks for nothing, Brexiters!) it wasn’t a cheap option. But I felt that leaving her behind to be broken up would have been like abandoning an old friend in her time of trouble. As I write this she’s on a ship somewhere, courtesy of Ship My Bike, Australia. Very helpful people.

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I say Au Revoir to Doris outside Oliver’s Motorcycles, where she was crated up ready for shipping.

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After more than 92,000kms she deserves a rest

With the help of Phil and Trish I was able to organise the crating and transport of Doris to Brisbane docks and then to arrange my own flight back home. It’s great to have such good friends.
Since arriving back in Britain I’ve started to feel much better about the whole situation. I’ve taken note of the sentiment expressed in those few lines at the beginning of this post. Nothing stands still, everything moves forward in one way or another. But more news on that in the next post.
Have a merry Christmas everyone, and an adventurous new year.

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

Robina, Queensland 20th July 2016

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

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

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

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The Globe Theatre.

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

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Bill’s 1934 Morgan.

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Today’s version.

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

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Handcrafted body ready to be fitted.

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Threewheelers in the making.

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

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This was where I longed to be.

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

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When they say ‘No Rabbits’ they mean it!

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

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

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

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On the way back to Byron Bay.

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

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

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

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Deja vu.

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

Wrecked piston. But what about the cylinder?

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

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An excellent use for a nice old building.

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

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

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Dave, a very nice fella.

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

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The Cunnamulla Fella.

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

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How the wheel works.

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

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And the generator the wheel drives.

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

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

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Good roads ahead. Well, open at least.

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

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Where the state borders meet.

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

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Anti dingo and wild dog fence.

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

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Some of the people who visit Cameron Corner.

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

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Ready to go into the helicopter.

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

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RFDS helicopter.

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

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RFDS plane.

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

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At least I had a finger and thumb free.

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

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

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Seen on the hospital wall.

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Also seen on the hospital wall.

Compression, Depression and Rejuvenation.

Katoomba, NSW. 12th May 2016

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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‘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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

Sydney, Part 1

Sydney, New South Wales. 23rd April 2016

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

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One of the delights of the Botanic Gardens.

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

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The old Barracks, built to guard the city.

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

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One of the many groups of ANZAC day marchers.

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

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The ANZAC memorial, in Hyde Park.

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A simple memorial with its eternal flame.

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

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

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

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Opera house from the bridge. A ferry passes by.

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

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Sydney Opera House. What a great building!

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

Some of the more intricate details of the opera house.

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

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

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

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A sight to remember for new arrivals.

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

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Kym enjoys a pint.

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

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Jo and I enjoy a beer too.

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

Canberra

Jindabyne, Victoria. 17th April 2016.

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

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Heading for the hills. The Snowy Mountains await.

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

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As I head upwards a familiar name appears.

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

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

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

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Looking down over Jindabyne. Enjoying the autumn colours.

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

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Canberra’s unique geometrical layout.

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

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The nation’s first purpose built parliamentary building.

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But not everyone feels good about it.

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

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

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

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Aboriginal totems.

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

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The rather striking new Parliamentary Building.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Hockney landscape.

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

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

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Inside the War Memorial. Memories of WW2.

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

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Playing the Last Post.

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

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

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

 

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Great fish and chips next to the harbour.