The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle
With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming
In Part 1 we covered preparations for the trip to Dublin – and onwards. This week we head off!
The bikes were finished in time for our departure, but only just. It is truly amazing just what can turn up to delay you, but we were ready when the first guests for our farewell party arrived. The bikes were all packed and lined up outside the front door.
I will draw a considerate curtain of silence over the activities of the Sydney University Motorcycle Club that night. When the time came for us to leave, I had had half an hour of sleep, Charlie had had none and the guard of honour to see us off had shrunk from 80 to one. The entire club, barring only one intrepid soul, was asleep, some in distressing positions on the lawn.
So were we, not long after departure. Not on the lawn. Our route took us through the Royal National Park south of Sydney, and we took advantage of a shaded river bank to catch a bit of shut-eye: we’d done all of 30km so far.
The afternoon saw us a little further along our way, but the weather was already demonstrating some of the nastiness it would be handing out later on. By the time we had passed Wollongong, some 80km from Sydney, a cloudburst had caught us.
Its relatives followed us for the rest of the day as we rolled south on Highway 1 at the 80km/h that the XLs found congenial. We discovered a river cave to sleep in that first night, with a pool in front, but we left some of our clothes under a drip from the stone ceiling. A lot to learn, yet.
Julie and Trevor, friends of Charlie’s, sheltered us the next night and tried to teach us mah-jong into the bargain. Then we sat out on the verandah, looking out over their little bit of the Ranges, and had a few quiet drinks. Trevor, who is quite a brilliant mechanic, brazed up some braces for the backs of our pannier racks the next day. His workshop was across the road from McConkey’s pub—’The Killarney of the South’ so we ducked over there for a Guinness with lunch. They were out of Guinness.
We played boy motocross racers on some of the mud roads along the coast, and Charlie’s Trials Universals beat my Avon Roadrunners every time. Not being much of a dirt rider, I was mostly petrified. Back on the tar, we rolled down through the state forests that straddle the border ranges, still in the rain, of course. But it’s so peaceful down there, ridge after ridge of forest rolling away to the horizon.
Lakes Entrance provided fresh scallops from the local Fishermen’s Co-op, and I fried them in butter in my old Army dixie for a memorable meal. Lunch the next day was marine again, the Yarram Hotel turning out a seafood platter for $3 that consisted of grilled fish, deep-fried battered scallops, oysters and prawns with an excellent salad. Australian pub lunches can be superb, although the prices have increased over the past forty years.
Gippsland’s straight roads took us further south, to Wilson’s Promontory. This is a national park and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife makes absolutely sure you don’t forget it. There are more signs than plants in the otherwise lovely, rugged, stony park. We camped at Tidal River among the black dripping ti-trees and drank quantities of bourbon and milk. For medicinal purposes only.
Friends put us up in Melbourne, and we spent a great deal of time in the excellent Chinese and Greek restaurants that city has to offer. As a Sydney-sider, I am obliged to add at this stage that Melbourne doesn’t have a great deal else to offer… we take our inter-capital rivalries seriously. There being a shortage of helmets, we got around by car.
‘Err… this car has a bullet hole in the door,’ noted Charlie. Gaby, the proud owner, nodded. Apparently she had been driving along out in the country one night when there was a bang. When she got home, she extracted a .303 bullet from the padding in her seat. My friend Lee grinned, ‘Who said Australia isn’t the frontier any more, eh?’ she asked.
The Geelong freeway took us out of town a couple of days later and no one shot at us. We took the Great Ocean Road west along the coast, throwing the poor little XLs around as if they were desiccated Ducatis. This is a marvelous bike road with twists and turns along the cliffs and a reasonable surface, spoiled only by some loose gravel and tourists. Lunch was at Lorne, in a pub that reminded me of the Grand at Brighton, then we were ready for the dirt and gravel surface after Apollo Bay.
Down to our campsite at the Red Johanna, the gravel was deep enough to swallow a bike whole, but we survived to sit on the cliff top and watch the sea mist roll in and envelop the coast in gauze. The next day took us through equal parts of state forest and grazing land to Mt Gambier with its famous Blue Lake, which every year it seems to claim one or two skin-divers looking for its mysterious water supply.
We had a very Australian dinner at Mac’s Hotel, the local cocky’s pub. Cockies are farmers, not cockatoos (although that seems to be where the name comes from), and you can have cow cockies, wheat cockies or sheep cockies. I imagine that in the backblocks you can even have marijuana cockies… They all eat and drink well, as we found out.
The Coorong, a seaside desert rather strangely full of waterways, kept us amused the next day as we tried out its numerous little sand-tracks. We needed the rest by the time we found a campsite on the shores of Lake Albert; I wonder what makes my body think that hanging onto the handlebars really hard will stop the bike from falling over? It doesn’t work, you know.
We left the pelicans nodding sagely on the lake the next morning and made our way up past Bordertown to Tailem Bend. Our first sight of the Murray River gave us not only a view of the longest river system on the continent but also of the Murray Queen, one of the last paddle steamers plying it. Very majestic she looked, too.
The run into Adelaide was a bit grim on the new ridge top motorway, which was exposed to the scorching desert winds. We had lunch at Hahndorf, in the German Arms pub; there’s a large expatriate German community down here and they haven’t forgotten how to cook a decent schnitzel. The Adelaide Hills provided a last bit of riding amusement before we rolled into the South Australian capital, dry and tired. Once again we had friends to put us up and put up with us, and Adelaide provided its famous Arts Festival for our amusement.
Desert days (and nights)
Then the road took us towards the Flinders Range, and we registered our best petrol consumption figures for the trip: 77mpg, thanks to a substantial tailwind. Not far out of Adelaide we thought the end of the trip had come rather early as we rolled into a little town called Dublin! We camped that night in Germein Gorge in the Flinders and had to be very careful with our fire—everything was dry; even the creek had long since ceased to flow. Fortunately we were already carrying our own water.
At Pookara, we turned off Highway 1 to go down the gravel road to Streaky Bay. The campsite was rather uninspiring, although the bay itself looked good with its alternating light and dark sea floor. We did find some inspiration that night in the pub, watching a little blonde, who was dancing in the tightest gold lame pants I have ever seen.
Nothing was open the next morning, and breakfast had to wait until we reached Smoky Bay, where the General Store provided some geriatric biscuits. It’s grim country down there, but the people are friendly; Ceduna was pleasant enough, more like a suburb of Sydney than a town on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. There we met a bloke who was touring the country in a converted bus. As a runabout, he carried a Kawasaki 1000 in the back—complete with sidecar.
Outside Penong there was a forest of windmills all mounted on wheeled trolleys—another testament to the inhospitability of the land. It wasn’t much farther to the ‘Nullarbor—treeless plain’ sign, where we saw our first wombat of the trip. He was just trundling along minding his own business, and disappeared before I could get the camera out.
After years spent faffing around with old Harleys, The Bear rode a Honda XL250 around the world and then decided he might as well keep writing about bikes. Three books and endless magazines later he now spends his time looking for those special bike roads.
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