A Month in Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria. 15th March 2016.

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

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The huge frontage of Flinders Street station.

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

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Doug Mullet, my guide for the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ecstatic headline when Victoria was founded.

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

Alfred and Charles. Similar theories and mutual respect.

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

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

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

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Bernard and Mary.

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

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

Plenty of grip now.

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

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

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

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I rather liked this landscape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dave, Marti, Bethany and Josh.

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

Carlos filmed me and Doris.

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

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

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There’s Something About an Island. Part 2

Melbourne, Victoria. 3rd March 2016.

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‘Spiriting’ tourists across the Bass Strait to Tassie.

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

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

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

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Tasmania. Lots of green, lots of mountains.

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

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Ryan and Deauville

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

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The Nut and Stanley.

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

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Pretty little cafe at Stanley.

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

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Brian and his very handy K1200RS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feeding time at the fish farm.

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

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The remains of the slipway at the boat building yard.

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

How the colony developed.

How the colony developed.

 

The value of learning a trade.

The value of learning a trade.

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

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

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

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

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

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Somebody’s take on the Porche feeling.

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

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

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Street sculpture with an Aussie flavour.

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

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Nicely restored boats.

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

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Tasmanian Tiger.

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An Aboriginal point of view about Australia Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some of the old Port Arthur buildings.

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

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

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

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

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

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Lichen covered rocks, looking quite fiery.

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

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Tin Dragon on the hillside on the road into Derby.

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

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Hillside removed, all for the tin within.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

There’s Something about an Island. Pt 1.

Mount Gambier, SA. 22nd February 2016.

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

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There’s some famous bike racing names on there.

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

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Bay of Islands, Great Ocean Road.

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

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Cell block accommodation at Mount Gambier Gaol.

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

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Some of the Twelve Apostles.

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

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

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

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

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

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Aren’t I the lucky one.

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

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

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

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Behemoths! A brace of Honda CBX Sixes.

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And a very nice Big Zed.

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

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

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Getting ready for the start of race 1.

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

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Thanks for a great weekend Mel.

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

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

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

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Erickson Air Crane. Mighty meaty.

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

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

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

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Ewan, who hates having his photo taken.

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

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Doing it in style. Seen on Phillip Island.

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

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

In Adelaide

Adelaide. 7th February 2016.

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

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A typical CBD building.

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

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

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Bent and busted!

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

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Indigenous busker. He sounded very good.

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

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

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

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

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Town centre sculpture, with an indi

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

 

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Jet engine intake.

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

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From this water rotted mess …………..

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

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

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Would it fit in Doris?

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

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

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

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Remembering the Old Folks.

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

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Designed to fail.

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

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There are stories inside these wonderful Gond pictures.

There are stories inside these wonderful Gond pictures.

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

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

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

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Fantastic roof on this university building.

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

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Penny Arcade makes her point.

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

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

So the museum I mentioned just now?

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Maritime themed traffic island.

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

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

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

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

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The first mobile phone?

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

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

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

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

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

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First all Australian Holden, from 1948.

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

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Local bus services helped develop the suburbs.

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As did services such as this.

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

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Classics, with classic Aussie humour.

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

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The motto of the immigrant.

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

 

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Inside – Out. From the SA Art Gallery.

Riding the Nullarbor.

Esperance, WA. 3rd February 2016.

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

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

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Not exactly Tiger Woods.

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

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

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

Collapsed suspension bracket. Not much movement in it now.

Collapsed suspension bracket. Not much movement in it now.

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

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Nice little church building, put to a new use.

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

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Dare to misbehave!

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

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A nice model of the technological marvel that was Skylab.

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A different point of view.

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

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

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

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

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

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A sign I was pleased to see.

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

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One of the larger pieces of debris.

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How the press saw it.

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

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The Skylab tee.

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

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No chance of getting ‘the bends’ here.

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

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Nullarbor. Plain as plain as be.

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

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

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

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Speaks for itself.

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Local bird.

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

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The start of a very long ride.

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

Kalgoorlie Gold

Kalgoorlie, WA. 26th January 2016.

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No fence and no emus.

I don’t know about you but when I ride up a track whose name is Emu Fence Road, I expect to see a fence but no emus, or some emus but no fence. I didn’t see either. Perhaps the fence had done its job and been moved elsewhere.
What I did find was an arrow straight, nicely graded, dirt road which took me north to the main Perth/Kalgoorlie highway. The recent heavy rain had caused a couple of the floodways to actually have water in them, but nothing too challenging. In celebration of Australia Day, the rain stayed away and the sun came out.

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Rare sight. A floodway with water in it. Nothing very challenging though.

Rod had got up early and set off on his long ride back to Perth. I had a final chat with Andrew and Jo, the couple with the very smart VW camper. It had been challenging Andrew’s mechanical skills with a mysterious case of cutting out, at random intervals and for no apparent reason. They had a few days before they had to head back home and were considering going to Kalgoorlie as well. I hoped to see them there.
I joined the main road at Southern Cross, desperate for fuel, then headed east to Kalgoorlie, via Coolgardie. It didn’t take me long to find Kalgoorlie Backpackers, where I was welcomed by Lizzie and found I was on my own in a dorm. The quiet season has its advantages.

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One of Kalgoorlie’s fine old hotels, The York.

The first thing to do here is give you an idea of the history of the two main goldfield towns and how things stand now. Coolgardie describes itself as ‘The Mother of the Goldfields’. The first major find was made nearby in September 1892, Arthur Bayley being the lucky man. The nearest mining warden was almost 200 kms west of Fly Flat, where he struck lucky, and within hours of the news breaking out began the greatest movement of people in Australia’s history. And in this way, a town was born. The last gold was mined in 1963 and Coolgardie now looks like a ghost town, especially in the summer heat and dust. Its wide main street is deserted, although many of its finer buildings remain. It seemed to me that if it wasn’t for the tourists and the fact that the main West to East road, from Perth to Adelaide, runs through it, the town would have died long ago.

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Not anymore I’m afraid.

Forty kilometres to the east lies Kalgoorlie-Boulder, two gold rush towns now combined into one, and home to the Golden Mile reef. It was in 1893 that Paddy Hannan and two friends found alluvial gold but there was more here than at Coolgardie. Therefore Kalgoorlie became the most important town in this part of WA and is the main town of the goldfields area. And, unlike Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie-Boulder is still producing gold. Over the decades more gold was found to the north, giving birth to yet more towns, although none as big. The whole goldfields area is dry, arid scrubland but with pockets of activity to be found down along the dirt roads. Prospecting still goes on, both by big companies and small groups of individuals. I often saw signs saying ‘Metal Detectors are not allowed in this area,’ or similar. You have to have a licence to prospect. I learned that some groups of people go out with bulldozers, although that’s less common than individuals with metal detectors. The next big find is out there somewhere, it seems. My aim, over the next few days, was to explore the history and take a look at what currently goes on.

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The goldfields of WA and the extent of those around Kalgoorlie.

My first visit was to the museum. Run by WA Museums, it details the history of the town, how it grew from a collection of tents into a bustling place of 30,000 people, and the difficult life of the miners. One of their biggest problems was the severe lack of water. Local supplies tended to be brackish and had to be desalinated to make the water drinkable. This was done by condensing it, a costly process, and it’s reckoned that water was worth more than the gold itself. The lack of water meant new methods had to be devised for separating the gold from the ore. Traditionally it had been washed out but here the waste rock was blown off the gold by a machine using bellows and trays with different sized holes in. The Dryblower blew the dust off the crushed rock as it fell through the sieves, leaving the heavier, gold bearing ore behind.

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The Dry Blower. Necessity was the mother of this invention.

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Hand made in Kalgoorlie. It might catch on!

The museum contained a variety of buildings which included an example of a family home from the early 20th C, with its tin covered wooden framework, tin chimney and basic equipment. This demonstrated that mining evolved from individuals working their twenty acre claim and living in tents, to partnerships and companies employing men to dig and tunnel. Individual claims were bought up to form bigger mine leases and shares were sold to provide funds for equipment and exploration.
Another building was the British Pub, claimed to be the southern hemisphere’s narrowest pub at only six metres wide. It housed a display of old trade union banners and a dentist surgery.

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Colorful trade union banner. I suppose it ought to be good, given the profession represented.

A rather special display was entitled The Last Diggers of Vignacourt. In the late 1990’s a historian discovered a collection of photographic plates in the loft of a barn in Vignacourt, France. This town was used as an R&R centre, particularly for ANZACs on the Western Front during WW1. A local photographer used his barn as a studio and took hundreds of photos of resting soldiers. Postcards were made from them for the men to send home. Many of the soldiers never made it back to Australia and this collection has become a poignant memento for their families. It was both interesting and moving.

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Some Diggers pose. Did any of them survive?

And while I was looking around that display I bumped into Andrew and Jo, who said they’d followed my wheeltracks up Emu Fence Road. Andrew was pleased to report he’d discovered the reason why their VW sometimes cut out. It seemed there was a loose connection behind the dashboard and he was confident he’d got it fixed. Good news.
That evening I took a ride up to Mount Charlotte lookout, recommended for its sunset views. Here I learned more about a fascinating and essential engineering project from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, one which enabled Kalgoorlie and the goldfields to survive. On the top of this hill is a reservoir which supplies the town. It gets its water from Perth. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Perth is 570 kms away but the water supply problem in the Kalgoorlie goldfields was so bad that something had to be done. The decision was taken to build a 560km pipeline to deliver fresh water from the hills behind the capital city. If there was ever any doubt as to the importance of gold to the state of WA, this project answered them. The pipeline and its seven pumping stations are still in use today and can be seen running alongside the main highway. Fascinating. And the sunset was pretty good too.

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A small section of the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline.

On a visit to Boulder station museum I gained more information about the infrastructure required to support such a large mining operation. The railway grew so as to supply people and equipment from Perth, as you would expect. Local lines also sprang up, linking Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Boulder and a few other nearby towns. They were popular and well used, so much so that an electric tram system was built to rival them. But I think the most unusual rail lines were those built to supply wood. Even though fuel was no longer needed for the water condensing plants, wood was very much in demand for timber props and fuel for the steam plant, cooking and warmth. Dubbed ‘The Woodlines,’ they spread out from the towns into the surrounding woodland. As the felling operations moved to new areas so tracks were laid to extract the logs. By 1920 one company was bringing in 2,000 tonnes of wood per day. Life for the timber workers was very tough although small, mobile towns were formed were wives and children lived too. They even had a mobile wooden school house, which moved on with the cutting operation. The companies’ fortunes rose and fell with the gold prices because demand for wood depended on mining activity. Better roads, trucks and diesel powered plant gradually removed the need for wood although it surprised me to learn that the last woodline didn’t close until 1965. The map of the lines looks like the veins and capillaries on an old persons hand, as they spread out across the landscape.

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Map of the Woodlines. Find some trees, lay another section of rail.

One more historical mining place to tell you about. Hannan’s North Tourist Mine lies just outside town and has a variety of displays detailing mining life both ancient and modern. There are examples of headframes, winding gear, ore crushers, miner’s shacks and tents, prospectors’ equipment, assay office equipment and so on. There was an explanation of the popular Aussie gambling game of Two Up. The game involves two identical coins, a ‘kip’ for throwing them into the air and a cleared space for playing the game. Each member of the group takes turns at being the ‘spinner’ and participants bet on how the coins will fall. It was always an illegal game, but very popular in mining camps and with ANZAC troops, until recent times when it was allowed to be played on ANZAC day as part of the memorial celebrations. On a more modern theme there was an example of one of the huge diggers which pick up the rock after blasting and of one of the huge dumper trucks which take it to the processing plant. I’d struggle to fit one of those into my house, I reckon, and there can’t be too many vehicles which come fitted with a staircase for driver access.

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About as big as my house!

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A family home, out in the goldfields.

Kalgoorlie is home to the Super Pit. ‘Super’ is barely adequate to describe this place. ‘Humungous’ or Ginormous’ might be closer to the truth. The Super Pit is an open-cut gold mine approximately 3.6 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and 512 metres deep. It was created in the 1980s by Alan Bond, who bought up a number of old mine leases in order to get the land area needed for it. Many of those underground pits were pretty much worked out, in economic terms at least, but he realised how cheaper methods of extraction, along with economies of scale, could keep the gold flowing. He turned out to be a dodgy character and went to prison for fraud, but he had the right idea and others carried through his scheme. Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) now extracts the gold on behalf of American and Canadian owners. Every now and again the digging reveals an old shaft containing abandoned equipment and vehicles from the earlier mines. The pit is very close to the town but lies behind huge banks created by mine spoil, which helps shield it from noise and dust. The company runs tours around the site so, naturally, I went on one.

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Sim-ply enor-mous.

We were picked up from the tour office in the main street and taken the short distance to the mine by minibus. Health and safety naturally prevailed and we all had to wear long sleeves, trousers, proper shoes and hi-vis waistcoats. At one point we were allowed out of the vehicle and had to wear hard hats. The company takes its responsibilities to the town just as seriously. These days all the processing is carried out on-site and due consideration is given to wind direction when operations might create dust. The huge hills of spoil are being replanted, firstly to keep them stable and secondly to replace lost vegetation. The company is proud of these efforts although the cynic in me wonders how much of it is voluntary and how much enforced by regulation. Either way, it’s the right thing to do although the result will never look natural.
As we drove around the mine our guide showed us the ore processing plant, an area where bits of timber and metal from the old workings were stored, and encouraged us to wave at the drivers of the huge dump trucks as they drove past. These vehicles work 24/7 and drivers simply leave it at the end of their shift and another takes their place. They earn about $80,000 per annum but the work is seriously boring. They all have an LED readout on the side and one passed us showing 249 tonnes load. That rock will give up a few ounces of gold. Many of the drivers and equipment operators are female, mechanisation meaning that muscle power isn’t a factor in selecting good staff. The trucks are automatic, with air conditioning, and their operations are directed by computer.

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250 tonnes of rock on its way to be processed. Give the driver a wave!

We were shown an area where blasting was to take place later in the day. They drill a pattern of holes into the rock, fill them with an explosive mix of ammonium nitrate and diesel oil, then plug the hole with rock so as to force the blast into the ground. Blasting normally takes place around lunchtime every day but was being delayed because the wind was blowing towards the town. Our guide also pointed out some square plates attached to the sides of the pit. These monitor movement in the rock and provide an early warning of possible rock falls. All work in that area will be suspended until either the movement stops or the rock does indeed move. Sensible safety precautions and we could see a couple of places where this had happened.

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Drilling rigs prepare the ground.

Despite the pit being open cast, there is still an underground section being worked, although that will expire soon. The main pit will probably be worked out sometime in the late 2020s, at which point in will be left to backfill with water – likely to take about fifty years!
Later on I went up to the public lookout to watch the blasting, high up on the edge of the pit. From that height it was just a large puff of smoke, followed by a loud rumbling sound and more piles of rock to be scooped up and transported away. Watching all the vehicles leaving the area, followed by the blasting, had been a bit eerie but soon enough the earth movers and dump trucks were back doing the same as they did yesterday and will do tomorrow. The show must go on.

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A large cloud of smoke and dust as the charges go off, then the work continues.

Looking down into the pit changes the perspective of it all. Everything takes place on a large scale but doesn’t seem to from above. The sides are dotted with holes where the downward digging has cut across old mine tunnels. Bearing in mind they’re big enough for heavy vehicles to drive along, from the lookout they reminded me of the water jets you see on the sides of a spa bath. Quite strange.

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It’s rather odd to see the old pit workings exposed in this way.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder benefits hugely from the pit, as you’d expect. About 25% of it’s population work in the mines and the greatest proportion of its incomes is from the same source. Unusually, the mine does not operate a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) system but insists people live in the town. The advantage of this is that it’s a proper community, with wives (or husbands) and children living there too. Many of the mine support services are there too. Even so, there is still a large proportion of single men and I was fascinated to discover, in the same street as my hostel, one of the services required by some of them.
Hay Street is the traditional home of the town’s brothels and one of them, Questa Casa, runs daily tours at 3pm. You have to be out by 5pm otherwise you risk becoming a customer! ‘Titillating but Tasteless’ would probably be the best heading for such an event but it provided an interesting insight into how necessity can live alongside public squeamishness. I think it might be called ‘moral relativism’ these days. However, it seems these places have fallen through a crack in the law. The activity is illegal in WA but a blind eye is turned, including by the occupants of the police station just down the road.

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Questa Casa. Pretty in pink.

In its early days the town had brothels all over the area but as more permanence took hold, and families moved in, brothels came under the heading of ‘something must be done!’ So in the early 20th C all brothels were forced to move into Brookman Street, near the town centre and its pubs. In the 1920s pressure was brought onto politicians to close them down completely. A representative from Perth came over and had the good sense to listen to those who pointed out that closure of the brothels would simply cause the huge numbers of single men to focus their attentions on the wives and daughters of the families in the town. His answer was to declare that no brothels now existed in Brookman Street. Meanwhile, the name of the lower section of this street had been changed to Hay Street. Even so, it was ruled that all working girls must be strangers to the town, although I don’t know whether that’s still the case, had to be over 21 and unmarried. Only buildings previously used as brothels are allowed to operate as such now and provided there’s no trouble, they’re left pretty much alone.

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Choose your torture, pay the price.

It was interesting to see that the eight other people on my tour consisted of four couples and Lizzie, over at my hostel, had said they’re very popular. Questa Casa is owned by an American woman who bought it purely as a business investment. Our guide was her daughter and she told us all they do is rent rooms to the girls. Every other transaction is between them and their clients. After the introductory talk she showed us a couple of the rooms. One of these was the domain of a BDSM mistress, filled with instruments and devices designed to give pleasure through pain. The pleasure went to the purse of the mistress and the pain to the wallet of the client. Every single means of torture and humiliation costs extra money. I won’t describe some of the things our guide explained to us as this is a family show, after all. Along the front of the building, facing the street, are about ten doors behind which sit the girls, dressed in various attractive outfits, designed to tempt customers. And in case you’re ever in town and are tempted, it will cost you nearly $300 dollars an hour. I can assure you I wasn’t, not even a little bit.

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‘Am I to your taste sir? Please do come in.’

Before I left Kalgoorlie I was pleased to be able to meet up with my friend Paul, who was on his way out to some of the more northerly mines with supplies of hydrochloric acid. The town’s wide streets meant he could easily park his road train while we went for a coffee. I also met up with a former AA colleague, Alan and his wife, Margaret. They take regular holidays in Australia, usually buying a camper van to tour round in. They have friends and relatives here and find it a good way to escape the British winter. We met up in town for coffee and had a good chat about the old days, always an enjoyable way to pass time. They’re slowly following me eastwards across the bottom of the country, taking their time and enjoying the sunshine and scenery.

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Alan and Margaret.

Time to leave Kalgoorlie-Boulder. A fascinating town and still central to a major gold producing area. That enabled me to learn more about current extraction methods, to add to all the history I’d already learned. Now, I was going back to Coolgardie, with plans to ride some of the Golden Quest Trail. Partly on dirt roads, this route went through many of the old mining areas so I thought it would be worth the ride. I arrived at the town’s only campsite, set up and walked across the road to the servo where I met Paul once more. We’d managed to link up again and he had time to break his journey for more coffee and chatting. Afterwards I took a walk around the town and just had time for a quick look around the small museum at the visitor centre. The main display related to the Varischetti Mine rescue. In 1907 Modesto Varischetti became trapped underground at the Bonnievale mine, following heavy rain and flooding, and managed to survive a nine day ordeal before being rescued by two divers. He was trapped in an air pocket and the divers, having had special equipment delivered by a government funded ‘Rescue Special’ train from Perth, manage to reach him with food and supplies. They went down to him several times and on day nine sufficient water had been pumped out that they were able to lead him out to the surface. A real tale of heroics and of a caring mine owner.

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Fine civic building but part of Coolgardie’s fading glory.

A walk around the town afterwards did little to remove my earlier impression that it is slowly dying. The information sheet led me to many sites where important buildings had stood, the majority of them just empty spaces. Those that remained were often empty and in poor condition. But the wide streets and impressive public buildings showed this was once a rich and important town.
At the campsite I was pitched next to an Aussie named Alan. He had recently retired, at 72, and was ‘doing the loop’ as the Aussies call their round the coast tour. He spent a fair bit of his time on his laptop and he told me he was writing his life story for his grandchildren, as a warning. ‘Don’t do some of the things I’ve done’ will be his message. That included being a delivery driver for a marijuana grower up in the hills of New South Wales, many years ago. He’d spent most of his career as a chef although he chose not to tell me what he used to put in his ‘special’ cakes.

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Alan, looking chilled.

Setting off on the Golden Quest Trail next day, I’d worked out it would take three days to cover the complete 965kms and had already decided to cut that short. I felt the need to move on. But there were a couple of places I did want to visit. One of these was Lake Ballard, a huge salt pan to the north. Its claim to fame is as the site of a series of fifty one sculptures by Anthony Gormley, a famous British artist called Inside Australia. He came to the nearby town of Menzies, persuaded its inhabitants to be laser scanned – naked – and then used them to create these very strange sculptures. He calls them Insiders, the idea being that by slicing through the whole body scans he is capturing what’s inside. He says, ‘The insider reveals an attitude in a taut, abstract shape formed by the passage of a person’s life. Out on the salt lake they become antennae in space in relationship with each other but also with the land and the limit of our perception: the horizon.’ I walked out across the salty surface, made slippery by the recent rain, to look at the nearest two, and came back none the wiser. Interesting but puzzling. Perhaps some would say that’s how art should be.

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Strange figure in a strange place. One of the Anthony Gormley sculptures.

Equally interesting was that this lake gets covered in water every few decades, whenever the northern cyclones stretch far enough south. Just below the surface lie millions of shrimp eggs and the water brings these to life. The result is that tens of thousands of Banded Stilts arrive and breed, using the shrimps for food. They nest on the multitude of small islands which dot the surface. How do these birds know that conditions are right for them? The event can surely only occur once or twice in their lifetime. It seems incredible to me.

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A vast salt pan, with odd looking islands all over it.

I was on dirt roads by now and kept passing signs saying ‘Here was ……… Town,’ just in front of an empty area of ground. There was sometimes the ruin of an old building, usually nothing at all. These places had risen with the gold and disappeared with it too. A roadhouse called Ora Banda had managed to survive, through tourism really, but that was the only functioning building I saw.
I quick stop at Menzies, then on to Leonora to stay at their campsite. Here I learned that there are still prospectors out there, small operations literally scraping a living off the ground with bulldozers and small dry-blowing machines. They get a licence and off they go, using a bit of geological knowledge and luck to guide them. Apart from the machinery, it seems that searching for gold still uses one hundred year old methods and still has the same attraction.

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A clever man in many ways, it seems.

After a wet night I headed back to Kalgoorlie via the Sons of Gwalia (another name for Wales) mine. This was one of the longest lasting pits in the northern goldfields, running from 1896 to 1963. It too has re-opened as a super pit although much smaller than that at Kalgoorlie. Gwalia is particularly famous for having Herbert Hoover as its chief engineer. He was a clever and innovative man and in particular he developed the idea of forty five degree mine shafts because they followed the line of the reef more closely. He designed his own house there and it is used as a B&B today, which helps to fund the museum. I enjoyed looking at the old machinery, particularly the huge, steam powered windlass, with its counter rotating drums which had clutches in them. A very new idea at the time and it was built in Erith, Kent. A reminder of home.

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Herbert Hoover’s self designes house at Sons of Gwalia mine.

It was time to leave the goldfields and head back south. Eventually I was going to turn east, towards Adelaide, but first it was time for some sea air. The winds and waves of Esperance beckoned. This area had been fascinating, on many levels. Its history isn’t just about the shiny metals below the surface. It’s also about goodness and greed, theft and murder, rags to riches and back again. There’s plenty to discover about luck and losing and it’s a microcosm of how Australia grew from a colony into a country. Many of the miners became involved in politics. There was racism in some areas, towards southern Europeans as well as to Aboriginals. The ‘diggers’ from the mines became ANZACS and showed themselves to be tough heroes when the time came. What a fascinating area in which to spend time.

Woods, Waves, Wars and Whales

Perth, WA. 8th January 2016
An easy flight back to Perth, a quick taxi ride back to David’s house. Into bed for a few hours sleep. Then, some jobs to do.
I rode across town to a bike shop that sold Forma boots, an Italian company whose Adventure Rider model had received good reviews. I’d been interested in them for a while and had tried on Paul’s pair. They seem well made, have a waterproof ‘sock’ inside and aren’t too clunky for walking in. I was tempted because my Altberg boots, which had served me well over the previous 70,000kms, had worn out soles. But you know how it is with boots. They have to be just right and these weren’t, so no deal. I’ll just have to get my old ones repaired when I get to a city where I’ll be staying long enough to manage without them for a week or so.

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Before.

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…. and after.

I wasn’t able to get myself a Christmas present but I got some for Doris. I mentioned buying the new screen, before I left for Bali. That got fitted. Sad to see the other one go in many ways, we’d shared some tough times together. But it definitely wasn’t going to survive another tumble on the gravel so it had to go. The other present, courtesy of my friend Paul, from Australind, was a new set of petrol tank pannier bags. He has a friend at work whose wife is clever with canvas and cotton and she made up some replacements for the originals, which had survived many a scrape. And I have to say she did a fantastic job. A Christmas present for me and Doris from Paul. Thanks mate, and just in time as the others were falling apart. Lastly, I replaced the number plate, broken when I came off on the Gibb River Road. Is Australia slowly eating my bike??

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Old and every so slightly worn out.

Bright and shiny new. Thanks Paul!

Bright and shiny new. Thanks Paul!

Before I left Perth I sorted out some wiring on David’s Yamaha SR400 and tried to diagnose why it wouldn’t start. There was no spark and some investigation with the multi meter suggests it’s a faulty CDI unit. $200 for a new one, from a supplier in Europe. Ouch! I suggested he get a second opinion before spending that kind of money. Before I left he put me in touch with one of his friends in Malaysia, a potentially useful contact in a country where labour rates are low and a top end rebuild might be on the cards.
But, as always, the time comes to leave behind new friends and move on.
I was heading back to Australind, to stay at Paul’s place for a few days. The problem was going to be getting there. I’d come back to find severe bush fires raging across the countryside south of Perth. As I rode down the freeway I came to a closure and was diverted off. I couldn’t see any diversion signs at the top of the slip road so I went west, towards the coast, as I’d heard the fires were more inland. Thirty kilometres later I came to another closure and had no choice but to turn back. I had a coffee first and chatted to the locals, who told me of a clear route. Once I was on it, I saw diversion signs!

 

Yarloop blaze

This gets to be serious!

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An aerial view of Yarloop, once the fire was out.

The route took me through an area I’d ridden before and turned out to be a nice ride, although a long one. It was eerie to see drifting smoke laying in the hollows, just above the ground. Eventually I made it to Paul’s house, several hours and 250kms later than expected. But I was lucky. I’d merely been inconvenienced. Over 120 families had lost their homes and possessions in the town of Yarloop, with over two hundred buildings destroyed in total – the whole town, in effect. These fires stop for nothing, once they get a hold.

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The police had closed the road and while I was drinking coffee these guys headed out.

Paul was away on holiday but I was able to stay at his house for a few days while I caught up on some writing, bike maintenance and equipment repairs. Paul is a terrific guy and has been a really good friend to me. How many other people would give you the run of their house while they’re not there? Fortunately I had plans to meet him down on the coast so would be able to thank him then.
On the way south I met up with Gilda, my favourite radiologist, in Manjimup. There’s lots of towns around this area whose names end in ‘up’ and I discovered it’s a local Aboriginal word for ‘place’. Manjin is the name of a reed that was important to them, hence the name. I wonder if the good citizens of Yallingup know it means ‘place of love’?

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Doris and Gilda. One dumped me and the other mended me.

Gilda and I wandered around the local timber museum then went for a delicious woodfired pizza meal at a local pub. These are something that Australia does really well and this one was both cooked and served by Italians, probably accounting for the unusual choice in toppings. Gilda is stuck there for a few weeks as she’s on an assignment there but she’ll be in Adelaide after that and I hope to see her there.
Paul and I had already ridden some of this area, and visited some of the very tall trees there. But I was planning to go to the Tree Top Walk and the Ancient Empire Trail. Both were at the same location, deep in the Karri and Tingle forests near the small town of Walpole. But first, taking the advice of the pleasant guy at the visitor centre, I took a roundabout route, through some beautiful forest, to the small town of Northcliffe. Here I learned more about something I’d first heard of in the WA museum in Perth, the Group Settlement Scheme.

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Just to give an idea of the size of these trees. Clearing these from the land must have been a job and a half.

A joint enterprise between the Western Australian, Federal and British governments, the scheme encouraged migrants to the area for the purpose of establishing dairy farms. The idea was heavily promoted in Britain by press magnate Viscount Northcliffe’s newspapers, hence the name of the town. Begun in 1921, it was seen as an answer to three problems: high post war unemployment in both Britain and Australia; a way of opening up land in south WA and establishing a dairy industry in the area; reducing reliance on produce imported from other parts of Australia. It was open to Australian and British applicants and was heavily subsidised by the WA state government.
Groups of about twenty men, and their families if they had them, had their passage paid and after a few days of acclimatisation in Perth, were taken out to the area. The ‘Groupies’ from the UK often came out together on the same boat. But far from the cleared land and house they were promised, what they got was around one hundred and fifty acres of virgin forest and tents. They were paid to clear the land, given a grant to buy household equipment and loaned money which, when paid off, would leave them as owners of the land. The idea of setting up groups was to provide the labour needed to clear the land and set up the farms. Over the years the state paid for roads and railways, and provided one teacher schools for the children. But the scheme was considered to be a huge failure and had been abandoned by 1930. The land was poor, extremely difficult to clear and dairy prices were too low to enable the farmers to pay back the loans. Many walked off the land, giving up their entitlement, although those who had nowhere else to go stuck it out. Conditions were harsh, especially before roads and railways were built, and many families suffered deprivation. But the scheme did lay the foundations for the successful dairy industry the region currently has, as well as establishing many towns in the area, although the cost to the state was huge, around £6,500,000.

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Eventually, the Groupies had reasonable homes. But it was a long, hard slog to get to this stage.

There were some winners though. The small museum in Northcliffe told the story of a local man who won the contract to supply the timber for the settlers’ houses. There’s a fascinating story about the transportation of a huge steam engine and whim (windlass), needed to power the saw mill. It took up to twenty eight bullocks fourteen days to haul the engine out to the mill from the nearest railhead, and this included building a temporary bridge across one of the rivers. Stirring stuff, and a perfect example of the ingenuity and determination needed to open up new territory.

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The thirteen tonne Robey steam engine. Modern technology of its time but hauled in by old style bulls and bullock teams.

On the way to Walpole I stopped at a lookout and bumped into Wayne and Denise, a fifty-something couple who had rented out their house and were touring around Aus with their caravan and two dogs. Wayne is a mechanic and driver and they’d pick up work where they could to fund their travels. They both ride bikes and one of Wayne’s is a Moto Guzzi, so we were happy to talk about Italian V Twins for a while. When I stopped for a coffee in Walpole, I saw them again.
At the Valley of the Giants I was looking forward to walking among some ancient trees and tangling with a Tingle. These trees are found in Red or Yellow varieties and are very tall. They are part of ancient forests which date back to before Gondwanaland separated from Pangaea, around fifty million years ago. Because the climate in this area hasn’t changed as much as in other parts of Australia, many species of flora and fauna have an evolutionary history directly from those times.

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They meant it when they said they are big.

As tourism grew it became clear these forests were under threat of damage because the roots of tingle trees do not go very deep. Disturbance of the topsoil has a greater effect than with others so in 1995 construction of a tree top walkway began. A design competition was held, with entries from across Australia and the winning design was fittingly inspired by two of the local plants. It was installed without use of cranes or helicopters so as to minimise its environmental impact. The see through steel decking reinforces the sensation of height – forty metres above the forest floor. Access to this relatively small (6,000 hectare) and unique forest is limited and controlled as part of the preservation plan.
When I bought my entry ticket the woman asked where I was from. I told her London. ‘How long will you be in Australia for?’ she asked. ‘Until I get fed up with you lot’ I replied. She thought that was really funny, as I’d sensed she would. I then added, ‘Which is likely to take a very long time.’ Which is very true. Aussies are great people.

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Treetop walkway. A fantastic way to view these giants of the forest.

The walk among the tree tops was interesting, of course. It’s a unique way of looking at trees. It was odd to see how some had trunks that suddenly stopped, but with new trunks and crowns growing alongside. Fire is the reason, the one element that probably shapes Australia’s landscape more than any other. When a tingle tree suffers fire damage to its crown it grows a new one. It has to, otherwise it would die. They live for up to four hundred years and can reach a height of eighty metres in the case of the Red Tingle, the Yellow Tingle a little less.
The Ancient Empire boardwalk takes you through the forest at ground level. There’s plenty of info boards about the trees and other plants, as well as the animals that live among them. The older tingles often have holes at the base of the trunk, started out by insect activity and accelerated by fire. The base can be twenty metres in circumference, because of the buttressed root system. The V shaped holes in some trees were easily big enough to walk through and, in some cases, to drive through. Despite this seemingly life threatening damage, the tree will still be growing.
Back at the ticket office I bumped into Wayne and Denise again and, having already chatted to one of the wardens who owned several Moto Guzzis, we enjoyed an impromptu owners club meeting. On many different levels, this is a most excellent place.

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Wayne and Denise. Like many others, touring and enjoying their country.

The final part of my day had me riding down to the seaside town of Denmark, and to the Ocean Beach caravan park to join Paul and his family. He had talked to reception about my arrival and they were happy for me to pay the extra person fee and camp on Paul’s site, which saved me the full camping fee. Their friends Stuart, Jenny and daughters were camped alongside them and I was welcomed by all.
It’s sometimes tempting to do things the easy way, get lazy and bask in other people’s hospitality. But I was concious of how easy it is to overdo that. So although I spent evenings with my friends I made sure I left them to enjoy their family time during the day, while I went off and explored the area. This part of WA’s south coast has some beautiful bays and natural features, as well as the usual touristic venues, so it wasn’t difficult to plan a day out. The weather was a bit mixed but I wasn’t planning to sunbathe anyway, so it suited me. My first port of call was Greens Pool and next to that, Elephant Rocks.

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Green’s Pool. Great for seaside holiday fun.

Greens Pool is a nice circular bay, with low level rocks scattered in the shallows, just right for the kids to swim out to and play on. There were plenty of families having fun on the busy beach. A short walk over a low cliff brought me to Elephant Cove, a much smaller bay also with plenty of rocks to clamber over. The main feature here was the collection of large rocks which looked, not surprisingly, a bit like a herd of elephants! Plenty of people here too and I sometimes wonder what they make of me as I wander around, obviously alone.

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You can see how they got their name of Elephant Rocks.

Next I went inland a bit, to the Alpaca Farm, a great place for kids, and goats too. The farm is slowly building up enough of a herd to consider selling the alpaca wool commercially, although they’re not there yet. But a comparison between a newly shorn alpaca and its friends suggests they deliver a fair bit. There are ponies, donkeys and a camel too, along with various small animals. I met Eleanor, a biology graduate from Devon, who has been working and volunteering enough to have earned her residency permit. She’s not sure what she’ll do next. When I’d arrived I’d been given a bag of food and was able to go into the alpaca and goat pens to have fun feeding them, as well as the child inside.

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Eleanor and her babies.

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Paul, Jo, Connor and Jordan. Lovely people and so very kind to me.

A nice ride down a gravel trail through a forest got me back to the coast where I admired a couple more places of note, Conspicuous Point and Parry Bay. The last visit before heading back to camp was to the fish and chip shop in Denmark. The fresh Red Snapper was delicious and the chips plentiful. Then a nice evening chatting with my friends. Stuart and family were leaving the next morning.
Once Stuart had packed up and left Paul, Jo and their boys went off for some surfing while I planned out the next few days and wrote a bit. We went out later to the Boston Brewery where I ate probably the best meal I’ve had since arriving in Australia. It was a Beer Cured Ham Steak and was as big as it was delicious. Tender, tasty and big enough for two people. I managed it though, of course.

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Paul, Jo, Connor and Jordan. Lovely people and so very kind to me.

Paul, Jo and the boys were leaving next day so our last evening was good although tinged with sadness. We’ve become very good friends and I’ll miss them. Just to emphasise the point the rain started hammering down in the early hours and was still going strong while hey were packing their gear away in the morning. Everyone got wet, although needless to say the rain stopped once everything was stowed. Paul has a camping trailer with a large, fold-out tent and I was impressed by how everything went back neatly into it, although it will all have to come back out to be dried off when the sun returns. They had a five hour drive back to Australind and set off as soon as they could, leaving me behind to get myself packed and organised. I was very sorry to see them go and although I hope to meet up with Paul again, It’s unlikely I’ll ever see Jo, Connor or Jordan any more. It’s great to make friends when you travel, but always sad to say goodbye, and a little bit of my heart went north with them.
A couple of hours riding got me to Albany, the next town eastwards along the coast, and quite a big one. I arrived at the same time as the next batch of rain. Albany has several claims to fame in Australia and WA’s history. It was the first town settled in the state and was, until Fremantle took over, the busiest port. It was the departure point for the ANZAC fleet that sailed to Egypt and then Gallipoli, delivering thousands of Diggers and Kiwis to those fields of slaughter. This relationship between the town and the departing ANZACs led to the National ANZAC Centre being sited there. More on that later.
So, plenty to see in Albany. Enough to keep me there five days though? Let’s see.

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The Brig Amity.

On a cloudy morning I walked down towards the seafront to take a look at the full sized replica of the brig Amity. This ship brought the first Western Australian settlers to King George Sound from Sydney, a mixture of soldiers, convicts and support staff. Up to this point the only visitors had been sealers and whalers. Several explorers had mapped the coast but it was the arrival of the French explorer, Dumont D’Urville, which made the authorities in Sydney appreciate the risk of France claiming the south west coast. When Perth was established in 1829 it was a non-convict settlement and the city objected to Albany having convicts and also to having a town within the new state being run as a military establishment by New South Wales. Relations between states often involved a degree of rivalry. The governor of NSW was happy to hand it over as it was a costly exercise anyway, so Albany officially became part of the Swan River Colony (later WA).
The town slowly grew and benefited from being WA’s only deep water harbour. Settlers from other parts of Australia, and from abroad, landed there and in the late 19th C gold rush the port became very busy. The harbour was important enough to warrant the building of the Princess Royal Fort in the 1890s, with funding from all Australian states, and guns supplied by the British military. Australia’s first example of federated action even though the federation was yet to be set up.

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Albany’s famous Dog Rock.

Albany never really became a big commercial centre, more of a stepping off point to the inland regions and a supply point for pastoralists. The one exception to that is the whaling industry, with a factory being established in 1952 but closing in 1978. Today it is more about tourism and good living although the port is still busy. The population is over 30,000 now.
After looking over the Amity I visited the local museum, very much enjoying the photographic exhibition in the upstairs gallery. There were some stunning wildlife pictures there. While in an arty mood I went to the Vancouver Art Centre and enjoyed their display, particularly the paintings with an indigenous theme. Gilda had recommended the nearby Vancouver Street café, so I checked them out too.

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I love these Aboriginal inspired paintings, often based on Dreamtime stories.

I’d been to the visitor centre the day before but called by again, only to find it closed. But set up next to it was a van offering hearing tests. I know I’m suffering from age related hearing loss so I thought I’d get checked out. I wasn’t surprised to find my hearing has deteriorated but was surprised by how much worse my right ear is than my left. The tester told me that the psychological effect of it can become chronic if left too long, even if a hearing aid is fitted. Maybe it’s time to do something about it. The only thing that worries me is that I wear ear plugs when I’m riding so how would that work?
The next day it rained, too much to go out in, apart from a walk to the shops. It didn’t matter as I had domestic problems to solve. These things aren’t always easy when you’re a long way from home and with an eight hour time difference. Firstly, the boiler in my house was playing up. Fortunately my very good neighbour, Keith, was able to check it for me, then get an engineer in to assess it and finally organise a replacement. Yes, £2,000, just like that! Happy tenants though, and it is tax deductible, which is some compensation.
Secondly, the clutch on the bike is giving early warning signs of imminent problems. Nothing too drastic yet. I have some spare plates back at base camp but they couldn’t be found, at first. Eventually they revealed themselves and are now in the post, to be collected at Esperance, one of the towns I’m slowly heading to.
Thirdly, I now have a credit card problem. I was trying to top up my international SIM card and between the website and my bank, payment was refused. I suppose I shouldn’t have kept trying it, six times in all, because Visa thought there was something funny going on and decided there was a security risk, and cancelled it. Once they do that there’s no way back and the new one will have to be sent out to me – somewhere! If anyone reading this is planning to go travelling, make sure you have a second credit card and, if you can manage it, a second debit card too. I’m very glad that I do.

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Statue of Kemal Attaturk, peacemaker and father of modern Turkey.

Albany is surrounded by national parks and good beaches so, the rain having blown away, I went for a walk along the coastal trail to Middleton Beach, via Ellen Cove, once a popular destination for tourist laden boats. As the cloud slowly cleared I could get good views of King George’s Sound and the Princess Royal Harbour. It was easy to see why ships found it a safe haven. The harbour especially is surrounded on all sides by land, apart from the narrow entry point. There were several look out points placed on the higher part of the path, very useful for whale watching at the right time of year. I read that migrating whales like to linger close to this coast to play around, much to the delight of tourists and the boat skippers who take them out to watch them.
One quite moving exhibit along the track was a statue of Kemnal Attaturk, Turkish Prime Minister from 1923 to 1938. With more relevance though, he was the leader of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli. He is famous for this quote, from 1934, dedicated to the ANZACS: “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” The channel his statue overlooks is named after him. I wonder what he would think of those ruling his country now?

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Gunner’s eye view of St Georges Sound, from the Princess Royal fort.

On the way back I diverted up the hill to visit the the National ANZAC Centre at the Princess Royal Fortress. Newly built in time for the 1914 centenary, the centre is very interactive and focusses on the personal stories of thirty participants in the battles at Gallipoli, as well as covering activities of the mounted desert forces who later fought in Sinai and Egypt. You get provided with an audio guide and given a card with a soldier’s name on it. At various points around the display you can place this card on a reader and the screen next to it will give you information on ‘your’ soldier and what had happened to him at that point in time. Mine started the war as a corporal, survived, fought in WW2 and was a captain by the end of that. He died of cancer in the 1960s. I guess that most others weren’t so lucky.
ANZAC was a name used by the British army to identify the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). It stuck, and is a badge of honour for both countries. It’s no longer used now that NZ has stopped sending troops abroad to fight foreign wars.
The displays are excellent and there’s a huge amount to read through, and exhibits to examine, all laid out in time order. The centre deliberately overlooks King Georges Sound, which was the gathering place for the Australian and New Zealand fleets prior to their departure in late 1914.

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At the lookout above Princess Royal fort. It’s not difficult to visualise those ships lined up, ready to sail to Egypt, then Gallipoli. Only about a third of the ANZACS on board returned uninjured.

Outside is the fortress, with guns still in place, and a collection of weaponry from ships and submarines. Albany was also a WW2 American submarine base and there’s plenty of information relating to that too. On the hill top is a viewpoint which has info boards showing all the ships that gathered in the sound below and their names. The whole set up must be quite a moving place for Aussies and Kiwis who had relatives involved in the war. Full of history and moving stories, a fantastic place.
My last day in Albany saw me riding out to Frenchman Bay to visit a more recent part of the town’s history and also one of its technical triumphs. The first place was the wind farm, high on the cliff that overlooks the bay. There are eighteen turbines spread out along the cliff top turning fresh air into useful power. There’s lots of info about their history, cost, how they work etc. I think they look wonderful, as they spin around providing up to eighty percent of the town’s power needs. Well done Albany for having the foresight to install them.

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Coastal breezes powering toasters and freezers. Elegant and essential.

I called in to see the blow holes, which give a spectacular display of foaming sea power, provided there’s enough swell in the incoming tide. Fortunately I asked someone coming back up the path whether they were blowing and he said no. That question usefully saved me a 1.6km walk and 78 steps, down then back up,. I got back on the bike and rode round to the Discovery Centre, at Frenchman Bay.
There are several attractions here but I was only interested in the old Whaling Station. It’s one of those places that’s horribly fascinating. It all looks very innocent now, with one of the old whale chasing ships in dry dock, so people can clamber over it. Flensing is the Norwegian word used to describe the removal of the blubber from the whale.The wooden flensing deck and associated saws, winches and equipment are on view, all tidy and clean. The large sheds where blubber was boiled down for oil and fertiliser, along with the giant stoves and drying machines, can be walked around. But the reality, as shown in photos and exhibits, was a bloody, stinking, horrendous horror story, which was played out day after day at this site for twenty six years. It was a severe shortage of lubricating oil, post WW2, which made whale hunting commercially viable once more and these whale filled waters made rich hunting grounds. The company bought whale chasers, powerful boats with harpoon guns and sonar. They were aided by spotter planes and developed very effective methods of hunting and killing. The harpoons had grenades mounted on the end and, if well aimed, would kill the whale instantly.

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The whale chaser Cheyne IV, with whale oil storage tanks behind it.

Our guide took us round the station, explaining all the activities and processes. The photos were very gory and the whole process seems repugnant. But, to be fair, a need was being met and the oil was in much demand. We humans will use animals to enable us to live our comfortable lives. I’m a meat eater and I don’t suppose a slaughterhouse is a very nice place to be either. All the same, I’m very pleased we don’t do it any more. The end came for the station as various species were banned from being hunted, due to the threat of extinction, and demand dropped as alternatives were found to the whale products. Conservationist pressure helped things along too. These days there is no need to hunt whales at all. Are you listening, Japan?? Norway???

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Large, powered saw.

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And this is what it does. Yes, that is a whale’s head.

Inside one of the sheds were some whale skeletons. They are HUGE animals, and it’s strange to see how their flippers contain an arm with exactly the same bone structure as humans. No surprise really, they’re mammals after all, but it kind of brings it home.

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A big beast.

One piece of very useful information given to me by the VC was a list of films showing at the town cinema. The Revenant, Star Wars in 3D and the Hateful Eight. I’d been starved of film going since I left home and decided this was too good an opportunity to miss. In the end I didn’t see Star Wars but thoroughly enjoyed the Hateful Eight, well worth seeing if you like Tarrantino’s work. I didn’t like the Revenant quite so much. A good film, great acting, stunning locations and a good story, but somehow it just didn’t grab me.
Time to leave Albany and head north to the Kalgoorlie goldfields. But I had one last place to call into. Near the small town of Hyden is a geological feature called Wave Rock. What is it? A very strange looking rock, shaped like a wave. To be more accurate, it’s a large rocky outcrop and one side of it is shaped like a wave.
It was a pleasant ride up there, past several large salt pans. The ground water in southern WA is very salty, a big concern to wheat growers in the area. The removal of the native bush and trees has allowed the water table to gradually rise, which in turn is affecting the ability to grow wheat. The natural balance of the land is very fine and upsetting it isn’t difficult. Many areas have been replanted with a fast growing variety of gum tree in an attempt to redress it. I rode through the wheat belt and seeing the size of the fields made the problem clear.

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Rod and BMW, sheltering from the rain on the patio of the camp kitchen.

At the reception of the camp site next to wave rock I bumped into Rod, who was enjoying an Australia Day weekend break on his BMW800GS. The reception staff suggested we share a pitch, to save a bit of money, an excellent idea. We soon hit it off and rode back into town for a meal, kindly bought by Rod. So I bought the beer!
Rod owns his own plumbing business and has only been riding about six years, and wonders why he took so long to learn. He went on an orginsed tour in Africa, led by Charlie Boorman, no less, and unfortunately had a bad accident when a car pulled across him. So what did he do? He went back the following year for another go. Well done Rod, I’d like to think I’d have done the same. He wants to go off touring, when commitments allow, and says that I’m inspiring him to make it happen. I’m not too sure how I feel about inspiring anyone, I feel it’s a big responsibility. But I’m very happy if someone dreams about a long trip and is encouraged enough by what I’m doing to have a go themselves. That’s good enough for me.

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‘Bailing out’ was almost literal .

About 4am the heavens opened up. Rob was sleeping in a swag, small enough to pack on his bike but not big enough for torrential rain. So he moved himself, his gear and his bike over to the camp kitchen where there was a verandah big enough to put everything under. At about 7am I bailed out too, although I left my tent and bike where they were. The rain persisted most of the day but eventually I moved everything under shelter. Neither of us felt like leaving and we booked another night. The campsite owner very kindly let us sleep on the verandahs of a couple of unoccupied self contained units. It was lucky the campsite was fairly empty. My riding gear got wet, despite being in one of the tent porches, and the weather was so damp it took until the second day, and some sunshine, to dry out.

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Here’s why.

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No suggestion of the downpour to come in that sunset.

The rain did pause enough to allow us a chance to look at Wave Rock, which is one of those geographical oddities that I like so much. The wave shape was formed millions of years ago when all but the top of the rock was underground. Rainwater containing salts and other minerals attacked the underground section of it, slowly softening the rock. As erosion exposed more of the rock the softened parts broke off, leaving the overhang that can be seen today. Wind and rain smoothed it out and it really does look like a giant wave. The staining on it is from moss and lichen. It’s fifteen metres high and over one hundred metres long, and looks amazing.

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Wave Rock. The dark staining is moss and lichen.

But that isn’t the rock’s only trick. When the town of Hyden was settled they needed a water supply so had the bright idea of creating a dam at one end. The run-off water from the rock is diverted by a wall into it. A clever idea, although no longer relied on since piped water arrived. At the other end is a strange collection of tumbled and eroded rocks named the Hippo’s Yawn. The picture makes clear the reason why.

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Hippo’s Yawn

A little further along is Mulka’s Cave. There is an Aboriginal legend attached to this place. The cave is full of hand prints, stencilled onto the walls. Some of them are much higher than others, as if belonging to a giant. He is Mulka, a huge man who was the progeny of a forbidden marriage and was cross eyed, so couldn’t hunt. Rather than starve, he took to eating children. A tale of caution to keep little ones in line. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of these delightful places throughout Australia. I keep reading about them and visit as many as I can.

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Hand print covered cave walls.

But the time had come to say goodbye and good luck to Rod, and to head up Emu Fence Road – what a great name – towards Kalgoorlie and the northern goldfields. And maybe, just maybe, to trip over a nugget or two.

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Jo and Andrew, with their very smart VW camper.