In November I drove from Mount Isa to Brisbane via Winton. A few weeks later I was back down the same road heading back to Brisbane for Christmas, again taking two days to do the 1900km drive, but this time stopping at Blackall overnight. This first photo is of the Blue Heeler Hotel in Kynuna, 160km north of Winton. The historic little timber building can trace its existence back to the 1880s when it was a Cobb and Co post. Thirsty travellers still seek out its wares, though it was shut as I drove past mid-morning.
After a long stretch of flat country south of Cloncurry it was good to see some hills again north of Winton. These mesa-like structures remind me of the American west.
Recent rains means there is plenty of grass so the cattle are well fed and fat again in the West. The two to three year drought was broken by heavy falls across the region.
A brief glimpse of the Boeing 747 at the Qantas Founders Museum as I drove past Longreach. The Museum tells the story of the founders of Qantas and the 747 is pride of place. All Qantas Boeing 747-400 aircraft carry the word “Longreach” as part of the livery as well as their city name, signifying the “long reach” of the aircraft and the town where Qantas commenced operations.
Just 27km east of Longreach is Ilfracombe. This tiny town is home to the 100-year-old Wellshot Hotel, one of the most famous pubs in the outback (I stayed a raucous night there in 2002) and also the Ilfracombe Machinery and Heritage Museum which has artifacts dotted along the side of the road, known as The Great Machinery Mile. The Museum is home to everything from standing engines to earthmoving machinery and illustrates the evolution of the pastoral and transport industries.
About halfway between Longreach and Barcaldine I stumbled upon the appropriately named Christmas Creek. I felt very festive in this part of Tinseltown.
I spent the night in Blackall which at 900km to Mount Isa and 1000km to Brisbane is the closest town to the halfway mark. Blackall is the biggest town in the central west, developed on the sheep’s back. I visited the Woolscour, too late for the last tour of the day but I was able to roam the grounds for free. The Woolscour operated commercially from 1908 to 1978 and was restored in 1989 by the Blackall Historical Woolscour Association. The plant has the only intact steam-powered wool washing plant left in Australia.
Blackall’s association with wool is underscored by Australia’s most famous shearer Jackie Howe. In 1892 at a property outside Blackall, Howe shore a record of 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes. A memorial statue is located outside Blackall’s Universal Garden Centre in Shamrock St. Inside is a gallery, with a historic display, relating to Howe and local history. Howe was a committed trade unionist and active during the shearer strikes of 1891 and 1894. After he died in 1920, Queensland Premier T. J. Ryan wrote a telegram to Howe’s widow, “I have lost a true and trusted friend and Labor has lost a champion”.
There wasn’t much water in the evocatively named Barcoo River when I went to check it out in Blackall. The first white explorer in the region, Sir Thomas Mitchell, gave it a different name when he arrived in 1846, calling it the Victoria, after Britain’s monarch. This was because Mitchell thought the north-flowing stream might be a “river leading to India”, in other words, cross the northern part of the continent before emptying into the Indian Ocean as the “Victoria River” already named in the Northern Territory. Mitchell’s second-in-command Edmund Kennedy later followed the course of the river, finding it turned abruptly south-west and ending up in the Lake Eyre Basin. Kennedy renamed it the Aboriginal word Barcoo.
I was greeted by a moody and beautiful dawn the following morning as I set off south on the second half of my journey down the Landsborough Highway.
About halfway between Blackall and Tambo I crossed the Wild Dog Barrier Fence. The fence was built in the 1880s to keep dingoes out of the south-east part of the continent to protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world’s longest fence. It stretches 5614 km east to west from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby ending west of Eyre peninsula on the Nullarbor Plain at Nundroo, South Australia. It has not been completely successful at keeping out the dingoes but is still regularly maintained.
After 12 hours of driving I arrived in Brisbane. I was reminded again that evening of the festive season as I walked down the Queen St Mall right in to the middle of a Christmas pageant and parade. I didn’t hang around with the Gingerbread Man and the elves for long being very thirsty after two days in the saddle and very much ready to “bend the arm”. Cheers.
I can’t find any photos of day 2 either so here is a map of the route. An hour and bit by car, maybe, but a lot longer with a bicycle, especially a dodgy bicycle.
Sunday morning, and a full bladder is there to wake me. I struggle out of bed to deal with the problem. It’s the morning after the morning after the night before so my head feels refreshed. Its bright, 7:15am, I’m awake and consumed in tyre worries.
Grant is still asleep so I sneak out to check the Sunday scene. The gurgling tune of the dark river intrigued me last night, I set off on a stroll to check out the Richmond in daylight. The river is suitably pretty and fastﬂowing a long way below the bridge. A sign there says it is home to platypuses. I stand at the bridge and stare for ages but don’t see any. Glenn informed me later he and Luke went for an even earlier walk this morning (thanks to the alarm power of kids) and saw a concrete platypus in lieu of live ones. Maybe it was too slow-moving for me, but I didn’t see that either.
When I return, the motel breakfast awaits me in the room. Normally Grant and I are hearty and reliable food guzzlers but this second successive morning neither of us can ﬁnish our bacon and egg offerings. Nerves are almost certainly playing a bit of harmless havoc. Instinctively we feel the real ride begins today in Casino.
I have the added headache of the dodgiest of dodgy tyres to contend with. We swap the tyres as proposed last night. Grant gets his wad of sticky tape out and he straps up the offending hole. It is not the most elegant solution ever devised but it may just hold. It better had hold as I have 100 kilometres ahead of me today as far as Grafton with only one tiny town between here and there at the halfway mark for sustenance.
Not much else by way of the succours of civilisation. Just to add to the interest level, I destroy another tube in the crossover operation. I use my last spare tube to replace it. Another bridge has just been incinerated. With the careful precision normally associated with bomb disposal, I gingerly put the panniers onto the bike. It’s probably just my imagination but they seem wilfully heavier than yesterday.
Prepare to meet thy doom, my stack of bibles seem to be swearing. I walk the bike to a nearby garage and pump up the tyres. Grant and Glenn do likewise. Glenn has his panniers on for their ﬁrst showing. We are ready to embark. Donna and the kids set themselves up for a farewell salute to us on the outskirts of town. Glenn’s kids wave enthusiastically to their Dad. We wave goodbye and are out on the wide open road.
It’s an exciting moment as we set sail into uncharted waters half expecting to fall off the side of the planet on the road to Grafton. My gaze is on that damn front tyre as much as the road ahead. Two kilometres in, then ﬁve, then ten. . .it seems to be holding.
The countryside has a rougher feel to it this side of Casino. Less grass, less farmland, more trees, more scrub. We ride in close formation to limit the effect of the headwind blowing maliciously at us. It’s a mostly long straight run, a corner is a rare thing of beauty, a hill is a much-treasured distraction. Treasured by me, at least.
Glenn is struggling at the rear with breathing difﬁculties and the occasional cramp. At the 20km mark there is a picnic spot, if you could call a gravelled area, in the middle of nowhere with no facilities except a single forlorn tap, a picnic spot. Though it does not have much by way of aesthetic distraction, it is excuse enough for us to take the ﬁrst break of the day. I ﬁll up the water bottles and re-examine my tyre.
The hole is slowly widening but the sticky tape solution is holding for now. My constant glaring at the tyre is holding it together by sheer dint of will. I watch the passing parade of utility trucks wondering which of them will have the dubious privilege of giving my dead bike and me a lift today.
Another 30kms pass in unadventurous fashion. After a while, you get into a rhythm. Your legs are spinning on automatic pilot, you forget you are cycling and you surrender to your thoughts. Before you know it, there is a signpost welcoming you to Whipporie. We are halfway to Grafton. It is the point of no return, whatever happens from here, I am spending the night in Graﬁon not Casino. Whipporie, even the sound of its name seems to give praise to our progress so far.
Actually there is not much here except a single shop. But a shop is all we require for now. Inside we purchase a ﬁstful of hot pies, chocolates and cold drinks. Next to the shop is a grassy area complete with tables and chairs. We plonk ourselves down and barrel into a high noon lunch a la Whipporie.
The world feels good again. The sun is shining and we are conﬁdent of reaching tonight’s destination. Aﬁer eating our ﬁll, Grant and I unpack the ront tyre from my bike. Nearby is a littered empty Victoria Bitter carton. We requisition this cardboard material for our uses. Grunty’s idea, it niftily ﬁlls the gap between tyre and tube and offers a bit more protection from the elements. We then apply more masking tape to hold this playschool tactic together. I pump up the tyre and examine the handiwork. Not quite good as new, but who cares as long as it works.
The shop proprietor ﬁlls up our water bottles for us. A couple of motorcyclists roll in and we have a brief chat. They are from Grafton so we pump them for information about its attractions. They mention some pubs that are supposedly good but we quickly forget the names of them. Their bikes are all muddy, they have done some off-road adventures. One of them explained that it’s not a good idea to run over a snake on the dirt road, they are apparently capable of rearing up and biting you on the bum. I couldn’t quite see how a snake could survive the impact of a high-speed motorbike accident, much less visualise how it could extract immediate revenge in its wounded condition. But I’m just a pedalist, so what would I know?
We say farewell to the bikies and set off on the second leg of our Sabbath ride. It is similar uninspiring terrain south of Whiporie. There are long stretches of straight road with little protection from the wind. The sounds of the bush are punctuated by the heartbeat of a bumpy tyre. The gap gets steadily wider and every time I ride over it, it gives out a ‘bulump’ sound, painfully reminding of its presence 70 or 80 times a minute (my cadence is too low, I think). I sing songs to distract myself. Luckily for the sanity of the other two guys, I’m as much out of hearing range as I am out of tune.
I count down the kilometre posts to Graﬁon “G 40kms”. . ..”G 35km”. . .30km. . .and so on down to a mere 10km to go. I’m very tired but an inspiring sight cheers me up. It’s the vision of a large river. My right hand view is of the sprawling Clarence River. It’s the largest of all NSW northern rivers and it’s a sign that Grafton is not too far away.
The last ten clicks pass astonishingly slowly, either my perception of time has heightened or more likely my cycling has slowed to a crawl. Traffic has noticeably picked up too as we circle in on Grafton. The river disappears behind an ugly hive of industrial estate. It is a prosaic sight but at least it tells us we have arrived.
There it is, the sign welcoming us to Grafton “city of the jacarandas”. And on the outskirts of town, I quickly spot a potential destination for the night. It’s the caravan park about 3kms north of the city centre. That’s close enough for me, I really can’t be fagged to cycle on any further. I had got there a bit ahead of the other two and went inside to check it out. $65 would buy us the price of a cabin van for the night plus linen. The proprietor threw the linen in free presumably out of pity to the tired cyclist who couldn’t afford to squeeze a few sheets into overloaded panniers for the journey.
I wait for the others to arrive. Soon they puff into view and I tell them what I’ve gleaned. We all go inside to check it out. There’s a swimming pool and a washing machine and the $65 cabin looks cosy enough. Too tired to imagine getting back up on a bike, we are sold. We quickly unpack the bikes and claim a bed each. We trudge over to the amenities block for a soothing cold drink, then Muddy and I proceed directly to the swimming pool.
Like the entire caravan park, the pool is empty. While it remained a mystery to us why there didn’t seem to be anyone staying in the park, it was quickly clear to us why the pool was empty. It is vigorously cold. It takes several deep breaths and false starts to get my body in the water and when it happens it is instant electro shock therapy. My body temperature drops rapidly. My heartbeat goes up several quantum levels. I have got the required shock value and am now entering the teeth chattering phase. It was quickly time to pull myself out of the deep freeze. A brisk rubdown with the towel is required as much for its heat value as drying ability. But the pool has worked its peculiar brand of magic, I feel good again and proud of my day’s cycling efforts.
There is also a huge sense of relief that I will be able to replace the tyres on Monday morning before I have to contemplate the next set of serious cycling endeavours.
Time enough meanwhile, to sit in the chairs outside the cabin in the long shadows of the evening sunshine and talk about the day. Glenn asks me did I see the Jabiru stork in a waterhole we passed somewhere along the road. I didn’t see it and argued foolishly that according to the Book, it was a Jabiru swan I didn’t see, not a Jabiru stork. But the Book is not clearly meant to be a guide to nature. We jabbered on about swans and storks before we turned our discussion to our plans for the evening.
It’s a Sunday so we don’t expect the place to be exactly throbbing with life. Rural Australia takes its day of rest seriously and most pubs are shut by 8pm. We were all game for the walk into town and having decided on our course of action, we were quickly showered, dressed, up and ready. So at 5pm we set off to explore Grafton.
There’s a serious bit of a walk ahead of us. It takes a full 45 minutes past the racecourse and neat, pretty houses to negotiate our way into central Grafton. A journey long enough for us all to agree that it will be a taxi job home tonight. As the sun goes down, it gets cool very quickly and my decision not to pack a jacket or jumper for the journey invites derision from the other two rugged up members of the expedition.
At last we arrive at the main drag at Prince St. We suss out the restaurant scene, not exactly vibrant. Our options are limited and a choice has to be made: pick one of the two Chinese restaurants that are open. At least we are thankful for the Chinese presumed lack of Christianity that allows them to be in business on the day. One of the two shops advertises itself blatantly as ‘the best Chinese in town’, dishing out a figurative slap in the face of its only rival claimant. The other one does not feel the need to indulge in a competitive petty squabble. We postpone the choice for now and seek out the solace of the pub for an aperitif or two.
We listen desultorily to the kareoke in progress in the back bar. In our bar, TV screens surround us, dishing out greyhound and harness racing in equal measure. We quickly down the mandatory couple of schooners and are now ravenous.
Possibly due to an adverse reaction to the sign, we choose the supposed second best Chinese restaurant in town for dinner. Their “all you can eat” buffet helps sway our decision. As I’ve said, cycling gives you a tolerably healthy appetite plus there is the added bonus of scofﬁng to your hearts content knowing that the calories will be comfortably dealt with out on the road.
We take to the $10 smorgasbord with gusto and stuff our faces with basic but plentiful Chinese food. As a bonus, there are our placemats to look at which are a goldmine of information on the Chinese Years, complete with advice. Dragons (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000) like me should marry late, they caution. Intriguingly we should also “avoid Rats” (1960, 1972 et al). Sage advice and positively hygienic.
We are completely full and there is no earthly way we can contemplate another 45 minute walk. We pay our bills and order a taxi from the restaurant. Our ride is waiting outside the door by the time we have waddled down the stairs to ground level. The long by taxi and we are home before we had journey back miraculously evaporates into a ﬁve minute trip and we are home before we ﬁnished burping.
Back in the simpler pre 9/11 days of April 2001, myself and some mates decided to cycle from Brisbane to Sydney. We allowed two weeks for the journey. Three of us, Grant, Glenn and me, were in for the full haul. A fourth member, Hugh, would join us at the end of the first week. At the time, I kept a long diary of daily events. Later I shared that diary with friends but subsequently forgot about it. Among countless changes of computers through the years I no longer had a soft copy and could not find the hard copy among my poorly-organised files. So I’m grateful to the work mainly of Glenn but also of Grant who turned their hard copies back into digital versions. Glenn put the story of each day on his website, and I’d thought I’d do the same. Here is how the two weeks unfolded beginnng on Saturday, April 28, 2001. Although we’d advertised it as a Brisbane to Sydney ride, for logistical reasons we cut 100km off the course. Read on.
We knew where we were going to, but did we know where we were starting from?
Of course Grant “Grunty” Pearce, a stickler for the truth, would always tell people we met along the way that we were going from Rathdowney to Sydney. What’s Up downie? Rathdowney was a small pleasant town at the bottom of the Queensland – NSW border ranges. And of course Grunty was right. Because here we were, dressed up in cyclist combat costume and getting our picture taken outside the Rathdowney Information Centre. The information I was getting clearly wasn’t Brisbane. Brisbane is a further one hundred kilometres north up the road. But given the distance we were about to travel and the relative anonymity of Rathdowney, I assumed people would forgive us a cheat start and so I preferred to tell people we were cycling from Brisbane to Sydney. Brisbane. That’s where we live so that’s where we start. There was another problem. This morning my head feels like an abattoir after a hard day’s slaughter and as I pose for the photo I feel the cold remorse of the bicycle saddle and sense the shiver of the upcoming hills. I am getting ready to dodge for cover just before my brain explodes.
We were drinking in Brisbane last night. Heavily. And that’s why we are feeling very sad and seedy as we set off today. There was a rare night of free beer on offer and Grunty and I both helped ourselves to a skinful and then some more. Serendipity had deemed that a work celebration was to be held the Friday night before our Saturday start. Nothing to do with the bike ride, but its timing was auspicious, if a little dangerous as it now proved to be. I think back to last night, perhaps I shouldn’t have had that ninth beer. Or the tenth. Or the several after that.
Never mind. Last night’s base camp was at the halfway point of Jimboomba, 50kms out of Brisbane and home of Malcolm “Malool” Fong and his girlfriend Rebecca. Malool had been indulging in the free beer with us and Rebecca bravely drove into town late at night to pick us up. She had to put up with three loud drunks for the hour long return trip to Jimboomba. Two of whom were elated with the prospect of two weeks holiday cycling a thousand kilometres between two Australian east coast cities. Not that Rebecca would have been jealous.
When we got to Malool’s place, we quickly faded and slept the shattered sleep of the sloshed. While we snoozed, Rebecca took the opportunity to sneakily put on the “spokie dokies” on our bikes. Initially she tiptoed around as she carefully placed them on the wheels but when she accidentally knocked against one of the bikes she realised that we were in a catatonic alcohol-induced stupor and we would not have woken if she had let a herd of trombone-playing elephants maraud through the kitchen. Okie doakie, what are spokie dokies? Brightly coloured decorations for the spokes, of course. Soon both wheels of our bikes were festooned with orange, blue, red and yellow decorations complete with shiny little moons and smiling stars. The spokie dokies slid and rattled when the bike was led at walking pace, but centrifugal force kept them in place when cycling and the colours merged kaleidoscopically in the whizz. I grew to respect and like my spokie dokies.
I woke up around 8:30am on Saturday and inspected the damage. It was severe. The head was feeling battered and bruised, my stomach was a bottle of Sarajevo 92 and my hands were decidedly shaky. I took an emergency cold shower in an attempt to rouse myself into action. I had to act decisively as there was one hundred kilometres of cycling to be negotiated today. The shower stung me awake and made me feel slightly more human. The rehabilitation process continued with the smell of sizzling bacon. Malool and Rebecca were also up and about, preparing a big breakfast for the travellers.
Grunty and I are normally big eaters but the presence of ﬁrst day nerves (and hostile innards) meant we were barely able to ﬁnish our breakfasts. I ﬁnally had enough courage to look at my bike. I didn’t notice the bright spokie dokies that splattered the wheels. In my unobservant state I knew something was amiss but couldn’t quite focus on what it was. “Did someone clean my bike?” I asked dumbly. Rebecca and Malool laughed and assumed I was joking. How could I fail to see the ornaments? I couldn’t figure out why they were laughing but I put it out of my mind as there was too much recovery to concentrate on. A quick look at Grunty made me feel better — he looked as bad as I felt. I would have mutually sick company for the ride.
So this was Day One. The ﬁrst day out on the road. The idea was three years old but until this day the Brisbane to Sydney bike trip had never made it past the front door of the pub. Today the pub was nowhere to be seen, the panniers were packed and the bikes were strapped onto Malool’s car. No going back now. Two weeks to get to Sydney by pedal power alone. Once we get to Rathdowney of course. It could be done a lot quicker than two weeks. A serious cyclist from our ofﬁce was almost disdainful when we told him how long we were taking to do the trip. Eight days, he reckoned. But this was supposed to be a holiday too. We had worked out our itinerary and we were in no hurry. Two weeks with two rest days would suit us just ﬁne.
We arrived in Rathdowney mid morning. The weather was ﬁne, not too warm or cold and barely a ﬂicker of breeze. Ideal cycling conditions. The hills to the state border loomed ominously behind the town. Malool and Rebecca, presumably taking pity on us, offer us one last chance to do the sensible thing and return to Brisbane by car. Reluctantly, we refuse the Governor’s pardon. Grunty and I ceremonially ﬁll up our water bottles. We carefully place the heavy panniers on the bike rack. There is a cautious prod here to the front tyre, a gentle jab there to the back tyre. We and the tyres are pumped up and ready to go. I summon up the memory of what a smile looks like for a cameo appearance in the aforementioned photograph of the boys at the starting post. There is time for a quick prayer of hope to Our Lady of Ghisallo, the patron saint of cyclists (She won the Lourdes stage of the Tour de France in 1745) and we are away. For a while my headache disappears, replaced by an awesome feeling of adventure with the delicious prospect of two weeks of cycling to come.
There’s no time for dilly-dallying in the delightful late Autumn weather because we have an appointment to keep at the New South Wales border. There, in about an hour’s time we are scheduled to meet the third member of our expedition Glenn “Muddy” Mead. That lies ahead. In order for us to leave Queensland behind we take the road built by charity, we are not-so-gladiators sent to the Lions Road. The supposed ‘short cut’ between Beaudesert in Queensland and Kyogle in NSW built by the Lions clubs of the two border towns. Fine and short if you are driving but hell if you are pumping on two wheels. There is a big climb to the border up to eastern Australia’s spinal column, the Great Dividing Range.
We see the border in the distance, it’s where the rainforest starts on the other side. Here in Queensland it’s all bleak pastoral land crystallised with a raw beauty, good for sheep and not much else, crisscrossed many times by the Running Creek on, funnily enough, the Running Creek Road. Although the Queenslanders helped build the Lions Road, they preferred to call it something else. The ofﬁcial Lions Road starts at the border. Still some way away.
Back in the present the road so far is lumpy; there are as many downs as ups. We come to a menacing bright red roadsign that warns motorists with dodgy clutches and cyclists with dodgy motors that there is a “very steep climb ahead next 250 metres”. Count ‘em. Only two hundred and fifty of the buggers. But I get to know to know each of these metres intimately. There is much grinding and pumping the cobwebs from my knees as I strain every muscle to climb the hill. There is ﬂeeting pleasure as I get to the top. It is dissipated by the knowledge a bigger hill lies ahead. A few weeks ago, I had done a recce of the Lions Road (ok, ok, the Running Creek Road) by car and noted well the two red roadsigns warning of severe hills.
We successfully negotiated the baby bump and the second one was the mother hill. I had warned Grunty of the two big hills and at each little lump in the road he hopefully asked me “was this one of them?”. But such a hill could not simply be wished away. Finally we saw it, our hearts sunk, we didn’t need the road sign to tell us what lay ahead. It was a bloody great ski jump, pinched from some unsuspecting Winter Olympic venue and set down here by whimsical belligerent gods in a remote wilderness. The hill was monstrous, audacious and downright obscene.
The border post, perched serenely at the summit, taunted us from a great height. We gasped involuntarily at the sight. The bright red sign did not lie: “Very Steep Climb ahead next 1 kilometre” it warned us. The last kilometre of Queensland was not going to be taken lightly. After a pause for breath, I set off ﬁrst, determined to get this obstacle out of the way as quickly as possible. I quickly decelerated and was down in the smallest ‘granny gears’ almost immediately. The gradient struck a devilish deal with gravity and hung at anobtuse angle off the ground. I managed somehow to stay upright for 650 metres of bonejarring pain. The delightful weather was now our hot enemy. One last heave-ho before I conceded defeat for the ﬁrst time. The panniers felt as if they were packed with leaden bibles. I was forced into the ignominy of walking my bike. I felt my grandmother would be ashamed of me, if she were alive and a very ﬁt cyclist given to provoking.
After a brief respite taking in the splendid view back into the valley below, I found a hidden pocket of energy and got back on board the bike in a wobbly fashion. But my pocket was ridden with holes, the pain was too soon and too intense and I had to dismount a second time a mere hundred metres from the border gate. I trudged my bike and its bibles wearily over the line. Welcome to New South Wales. You are.
My hangover had receded, too many other pains now clamoured for attention. The sleepy border guard (he is there to check agricultural produce not passports) is probably well used to the passing parade of mad half-dead cyclists and he barely took his eye off his ﬂickering black-and-white portable TV to acknowledge my sodden presence. He certainly didn’t bat an eyelid at my frenzied request for a water reﬁll. “Pure rainwater” he told me it was and it was refreshing and cold in my massacred throat.
I sat down in the sun, pulled off my sweaty shirt and attempted to revive myself with lashings of purest rainwater. The border guard’s dog ambled over to me and commenced licking the profuse sweat from my back. I was too tired to shoo him away. He wagged his tailed in doggish satisfaction as he drank happily from my bodily ﬂuids as quickly as I replenished them.
Aﬁer a few minutes I could see a bedraggled ghostly ﬁgure inching up the hill. It was Grunty grunting and groaning. He hobbled over the line much to the delight of the sweat-licking dog, anticipating a new thirst quencher. He plonked himself down next to me wordlessly. Grunty ﬁlled up with rainwater; dog ﬁlled up with Grunty.
We had conquered the ﬁrst hurdle. The ﬁrst “Triangle”, even. But now is not the time to talk of Triangles.
Where is Glenn? Not here at the actual border. Our meeting place is actually a few kilometres further on at the picnic spot called the Border Loop. Here there is a side road, which looks out onto the spot where the Brisbane to Sydney railway line loops the loops in an artistic ﬁgure eight so that the trains can climb those same damn hills.
One week later, Hugh Breslin our fourth trepid traveller would take that very train to join us at the halfway mark to Sydney. But now is not the time to talk of Hugh either. Grunty and I cycle on the couple of kays to the Loop but no Muddy is to be found. The picnic spot is empty except for a man and his young daughter. The man comes up to me and says, “Glenn’s not here”. I reply unthinking “I know” before I realise that this unknown guy must know Glenn and why he is supposed to be here. “You know Glenn, then?” I ask. “Yes” he replies “I work with him”.
Mike introduces himself as a keen cyclist who would have loved to do this trip with us but he is recovering from an injury. He can only watch enviously (if only he knew) at us and our Grand Plans. Glenn is late for his appointment but we are not complaining, happy to take this opportunity to fully recover from our border ordeal.
Glenn arranged to meet us here because of a clashing appointment that morning in Brisbane. None of us had desperately wanted to include the outer suburbs of Brisbane in our ride. When we spoke of starting in Rathdowney, he suggested he join us at the Border at midday so that he could meet a commitment to train his son’s under seven soccer side that morning.
Finally two big four wheel drive cars one complete with attached bicycle arrives in the car park and its safe to assume that this is Glenn’s entourage. Out of the cars pile a whole bunch of people, there is Glenn, his wife Donna, Glenn’s mum, dad and grandmother and two of Glenn’s kids, Luke aged 7 and Milly aged 3 (the third sibling Madeline has sensibly boycotted the whole event and stayed home with her other grandparents).
After introductions, Donna produces some lifesaving ice cold sports drinks, a medicine which Grunty and I knock back feverishly. Donna will also provide a second useful function. She and the kids will be staying with us on the first night in the town of Casino. This means she is able to transport our panniers, those biblical deadweight panniers, to the motel giving us a burden-free cycle for the rest of the day.
Muddy tells me his son’s under sevens soccer team won 4-0 so we are heading off on a winning note. We only took what we wore and a few essential bike repair elements. And now we were three.
Off we go, negotiating the heart-starting 600 metres back up a steep hill to the Lions road from the car park. After that it’s a freewheel down the Border Range National Park on the NSW side. Not too fast lest one of those hair-raising corners claims me as a victim but joyously effortless all the same. The only hassle is my loosely strapped bike helmet is dragged by the wind off the back of my head almost choking me as it settles around the back of my throat.
Elation takes hold as we glide through the rainforest. At the bottom of the hill we pass our first shop without stopping. A bad mistake. Within minutes the ﬁrst pangs of hunger strike and soon it’s gnawing away at me. There is a long way to go yet. It was past lpm when we recommenced and we had roughly 4 hours of late April daylight to get to Casino, still 75kms away.
After more sylvan scenery, we ﬁnally leave the den of the Lions Road and rejoin the main highway, the Summerland Way. We are two months late to gain a passport to summer but the weather was pleasant enough. But now we were to get our ﬁrst glimpse of what was to become a regular travelling partner for the remaining journey — the Southerly breezes. A headwind hit almost immediately on the Summerland way. This was bad planning on my part. In my research for the ride I was somehow convinced the prevailing winds were favourable Northerlies, pushing us along to our destination. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Almost every day for the next two weeks, we would become intimately acquainted with the breeze and we would need the dedication of dentists as we cycled continuously into the teeth of ﬁerce headwinds.
We felt it in our faces as we hit the ﬁrst hint of civilisation at Wiangaree. A town where one horse would have looked plentiful, it did have one crucial ingredient, a general store. And they sold hot food. Hot greasy food, the ideal post hangover cure-all. Just the salve my depleted body needed. I greedily devoured their ﬁsh and chips as Grunty and Muddy made hay with the shop’s ﬁne selection of meat pies. Guilt-free fare for long distance cyclists.
There, we nonchalantly tell the proprietor that we are cycling to Sydney. “From Rathdowney” added Grunty. That was ok, the locals here knew where Rathdowney was. I spend a few minutes admiring the pretty collection of Asian orchids and the local history exhibits in the store. Replenished we set off again, our destination and ﬁrst night’s camp at the quaintly named town of Casino.
We were soon at the doorstep of Kyogle, the first centre of sustained inhabitance we’ve seen on our journey.
We weren’t much of an army (even if we were now marching on our full stomachs as well as our wheels) who invaded Kyogle that day. It wouldn’t have mattered. We would still have stormed the town if we were of a mind. There was no one to stop us. Kyogle was declared dead late on Saturday afternoon. All doors were shut, traffic non-existent and the shopping street was deserted. Kyogle was taking the weekend very seriously, it had put its shades on and taken a collective siesta.
We however had a long way to go before we could avail of a nightcap so we pressed on through the town not stopping to check out its apparent indolence. There was another 40kms of headwinds and two hours cycling to do before we could relax in Casino.
Our bodies were starting to complain and it was only ﬁtting we were heading to the self proclaimed “Beef Capital” for sustenance. We ploughed on down the open roads among endless miles of sheep and cattle properties and the ever present but silent Brisbane-Sydney railway line which hugged the side of the road for dear life in the absence of any trains to comfort. In a desperate bid to relieve my tired legs and strained brain I cycle on ahead of the other two. Daylight was becoming an issue for me, darkening by five thirty at this time of year and it would be black by six. I didn’t want to be on the highway at night without lights.
Then with only 17 kilometres between me and a soothing hot bath, pffuffff went my day. The honour of getting the first puncture of the expedition went to me. I quickly ground to a halt. As I am well ahead of the other two there is plenty of time for a few well chosen expletives. But no panic. Soon I am phlegmatically unloading the panniers and removing the offending tube from the back wheel as I await Grunty with the spare tube.
Soon enough they were in sight and even sooner they were here and off the bikes to inspect the damage. First there are a few well deserved laughs at my expense before a glance at the fast receding sun tells us its time to get down to business to replace the tube. There’s a problem. The tube is the wrong size for my bike. I did have a tube that was the proper size but it was stowed away safely in my panniers well ahead of me in Casino. Grant and Glenn’s mountain bikes have 26 inch tube diameters; my hybrid bike is a 27 incher. We forgot this important consideration when we decided to take only one spare.
We try to jam the tube in anyway. Seconds later it inevitably goes Pffffffff. We can’t pump a round tube into a bigger round hole. It was time to surrender and declare my opening battle lost. I would have to suffer the indignity of a lift for the last 17 kilometres of the day. The guys would ride on to Casino and come back in Glenn’s four wheel drive to collect me. Nothing for me to do but sit down and wait. And wait.
At least I am near a bus stop at a road junction. I wheel the bike to the bus stop where I have a seat and some protection from the buffeting of the breeze. There is also the prospect of the occasional spot of people watching as cars negotiated the junction in various directions.
An hour passes in turgid fashion. The sky was darkening and it was becoming a bit cold too. I calculated that the lads would have reached Casino and the rescue mission would soon be here. It was almost completely dark when a 4 wheel drive ﬂashes past. It stops a few hundred metres down the road and does a u-turn. Help has arrived. To my surprise, its neither Glenn nor Grant but Donna behind the wheel with the two kids in the back.
We struggle in the enveloping gloom to strap the sick bike onto the back of the car. Soon we are gliding on Casino in a much faster speed than I had earlier anticipated. Donna told me what had happened. It was 5:30pm and getting increasingly dark where she was waiting at the motel. She thought something might be amiss so she set off to look for us. She found the weary lads just outside Casino delayed by my misadventure. They told her they were ﬁne (just plain tired) but I needed attention. So they cycled onto the motel and now Donna was here to save my deﬂated bacon.
I thanked her for her rescue mission. I felt disappointed I couldn’t complete the first day but I was grateful for the support vehicle this one day. It would be our only such privilege in two weeks. Donna and the kids would part ways with us tomorrow and we would be on our own from there on. At last we approached the comforting lights of Casino.
We go through the town centre and cross the Richmond River to our motel on the southern side of the town. The swimming pool looks immediately inviting. However Glenn, our welcoming committee, tells me that he has already sampled its wares and the water is bloody cold. That won’t stop me. First I unpack the bike from the car. I ﬁnd the motel room where a shagged out and supine Grunty is soaking up the rest and idly watching the news on TV.
We examine the back tyre of my bike. There is a major centre of wear and tear on the tyre which is in desperate need of replacement or it will cause the tube to blow again tomorrow, correct size or not. But tomorrow is Sunday, day of rest for others and where are we going to ﬁnd a bike shop open in Casino on Sunday?
Temporarily I put this problem out of my mind and I get into my boardshorts. The pool is calling. I test a toe into the temperature-challenged water. It’s cold alright. Never mind, I dive in regardless and send shock waves through my system. Brrrrrr. It’s just about survivable.
Thus encouraged, Glenn’s boy Luke soon joins me for a splash and I play a game of monsters of the deep with Mudster Jr to keep the body moving. Ten minutes later I am feeling refreshed enough and I hop out and beeline directly for the shower.
After standing spellbound for ages under its delicious hot spray, I feel life start to creep back into me.
I am soon ready to investigate what Casino has on offer. There is no eponymous palace of gambling though the pubs have the ubiquitous pokies. The town was named for Monte Cassino where the American troops were stalled in their advance north through the Italian mountains in the Second World War.
Hopefully their delay is not an omen for me, but I am struggling to visualise any similarities between the rugged Italian hilltown and its Australian pastoral ﬂatland counterpart. Casino is, as the motel literature points out, claims to be “the beef capital” (though perhaps the location of the bovine parliament might be disputed by Rockhampton among other places) so a steak would seem the order of the day.
We were too early for Beef Week, which was hitting Casino in a big way in mid May. We would have to cram a whole week of beefeating in one night. Our weary limbs are thankful for the car and we drive into the centre of town. Slap bang in the centre is a bike shop. It’s closed of course. And it won’t be open tomorrow.
We chat with the guy in the service station next door. He knows the bike shop proprietor, a chap named Tony Keogh. Unfortunately Mr Keogh lives about 20kms out of town. The guys reckon I should give him a call but I feel it’s highly unlikely he’d be too keen to come into town on Sunday morning just to sell me a tyre. Besides I don’t believe it was enough of an emergency situation to warrant such drastic action.
I formulated the alternative plan brewing inside me. We would move the stricken tyre from the heavier back wheel (bearing the main weight of me and the pannier bags), strap it up somehow and transfer it to the lighter front wheel. We would then move the sturdier tyre to the back wheel. If for whatever reason that wouldn’t work then I would simply remain holed up in Casino for the day (a la americain), check out its Sunday offerings, then get the tyre on Monday morning before trying to catch up with the guys over the next few, big (gulp!) days. That was tomorrow’s worry, for now we were ravenous.
Long distance cycling does wonders for an appetite and now I was on the lookout for an edible horse-between-two-mattresses. The service station guy does his tourist bit for the town and recommends the nearby Hotel Cecil as a good spot for steaks. We need little persuasion. Inside, the restaurant area is full, a good and bad sign. The place must be reasonable to attract the throngs but would there be room at the inn and a spare table of six for us?
Luckily the pub is cavernous, there are other dining rooms. We ﬁnd some ﬂoor space and a table and finally enough chairs so that we don’t require the assistance of music to see who gets a seat. Straight to the bar to order a round of schooners of beer for the thirsty cyclists. And my hangover? What hangover? It was well dissipated after the many events of the day.
The beers go down very well but we are tired and hungry. The steaks emerge from the kitchen and they are suitably large and frightening and they taste just fine. The kids are yawning and irritable and so are the male adults. We are done for the day.
Donna takes Grant and the kids back in the car. Glenn and I fancy the walk back through the quiet township and we hear the loud ﬂowing rapids of the Richmond River invisible in the gloom below the bridge. We brieﬂy discuss the day in a monosyllabic manner but it’s a mostly silent walk. Finally it’s the welcome sanctuary of the bed after a few ablutions and it feels good.
Welcoming me home, really. It feels like I’ve been sleeping in this bed all my life. Perhaps I have been or maybe I just dreamed I have been. I certainly cannot recall a single iota of dreamstuff to record. It was deep dark black sleep with the occasional lament of a weary limb and the odd frisson of the memory of my tyre dilemma. I wake up in a minor panic with a vision of me marooned on the road 50 kilometres from the nearest town with just a broken bicycle for company. I replace this vision with less distressing thoughts and sleep slowly descends again.
Since 2009 I’ve handed out an end of year award for my media person of the year, or sometimes personalities, or sometimes multiple personalities (as was the case in in 2011, 2012 and 2014). There is only winner this year but it is the first posthumous winner. It also follows the lead of the Nobel Prize for Literature and awards it to a musician: the late, great David Bowie.
Bowie barely lived ten days in 2016 but they were enough to make a profound impression on the year that followed. On January 8, it was his 69th birthday and his birthday present to the world was his 25th album, ★ (Blackstar), released that day, and his first ever without a cover picture of Bowie. Its oddness captivated and for two days reviewers crawled over ★ sokaing every last slice of meaning out of it. The 10-minute title song was on everyone’s lips but songs like Lazarus also spoke about an artist groping with mortality.
Just how close to the truth, few realised. Lazarus was also a musical Bowie co-wrote with playwright Enda Walsh, inspired by Walter Tevis’s book The Man Who Fell to Earth, about a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. Bowie starred in the Nicholas Roeg movie based on the book in 1976. Some 39 years later he made a rare public appearance on 12 December, 2015 outside a performance of the play Lazarus at New York’s Theatre Workshop, where he greeted fans and signed autographs.
He was never seen in public again. On January 10 2016, just two days after the release of ★ came the shock news the Black Star himself was dead. Bowie had liver cancer, but managed to keep it a closely guarded secret for 18 months. He struggled to make rehearsals as illness closed in but he got his album out before he died and the media had never picked up on it. Early January is a slow time for news but this was shocking. Bowie was 69 but surely had many years still to give us? In 2015 his life work inspired museums to host “David Bowie Is”, here we were suddenly with David Bowie Was.
It affected me like a death in the family. I’ve never met him and only saw him twice (oddly within three days of each other at concerts in 1987) but he composed the soundtrack of my life. I was in a daze for days comprehending the news. It wasn’t just me. Bowie’s death profoundly impacted many and his death almost framed an entire year. Paul Bethany expressed the phenomenum best on June 24 when he tweeted “In January I dismissed my mate’s theory that David Bowie was the glue holding the universe together but I don’t know man… I don’t know…”
June 24 was a day after the stunning Brexit result, a week after the particularly shocking murder of Labor MP Jo Cox, a month after the death of Mohammad Ali (who would surely have won this award multiple times in the 70s) and barely two after the death of another musical great, Leonard Cohen. With Europe in crisis, terrorism rampant, the Syrian war spiralling out of control and Trump menacing, Bethany’s distress was palpable. The “mate’s theory” Bowie’s death unravelled the universe sounds like a plotline of a Bowie song but it also reflected dangerous times, allied to a string of famous but coincidental deaths (British celebrities were badly hit). The same feeling persisted in the second half of the year, before I expressed my exasperation for people to “stop being so arbitrary” in a Tweet saying the “2016 was bad” idea was skewed to singers and British cultural figures as well as two election results which not everyone thought were disasters. Then I remembered minutes later I am equally arbitrary with this annual award.
I don’t often think of Bowie’s music being media but it is, just as Dylan’s music is literature. Media covers a multitude of sins and the awards have reflected my interests of the year each year. I started in 2009 giving it to then ABC boss Mark Scott for taking up the fight to Murdoch, who had far too much power in Australia and English-speaking world. The 2015 government learned their lesson by appointing a Murdoch hack to lead the ABC, while Scott this year became boss of NSW’s education department.
In 2010 my fascination turned to the possibilities of Wikileaks and audacious founder Julian Assange. In 2016 Assange remains powerful with his strategic leaks against Hillary Clinton playing a major role in the US election. But Assange is compromised goods and will remain so as long as he stays in the Ecuadorian embassy, a now ridiculous four years far longer than any sentence a Swedish court might have imposed.
In 2011 my focus switched back to the pervasiveness of Rupert Murdoch. The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger and reporter Nick Davies won it for exposing News Ltd’s frightening links with government and police and even more frightening conspiracy to howl down – and hunt down – anyone that might expose them. News’s search for the “story” trampled on all human rights but the Guardian’s dedication to the truth brought them down.
Their work was reinforced by 2012 winner judge Brian Leveson who patiently let all the evidence flow through his court. It led to countless shocking revelations and Rupert’s most humbling moment, a problem 10 years in the making. Labor MP Tom Watson and journalist Martin Hickman wrote Dial M for Murdoch about the wide extent of the conspiracy. I read the book at the start of this year thinking, that in 2016 the Sun is as bad as ever. British media is now worse than it was in 2011 with The Sun overtaken in infamy now by the Daily Mail for its single-handed anti-immigrant push. Unlike most immigrants, the Daily Mail doesn’t mind stealing, with the paper internationally notorious as a plagiarist of other people’s journalism.
There was plenty of valid material available, as proven by my stand-out winner in 2013. Edward Snowden took the Wikileaks concept to a logical conclusion with his voluminous leak of NSA files. That it was dangerous is obvious in that Snowden remains a fugitive from American justice. The leaks did not help Clinton in 2016 even though they showed her as competent but their existence is a reminder for politicians, corporates and the rest of us, it is in our interests to be truthful. Our lies will be some day be found out.
I awarded my following year’s media personalities to Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Basher Mohamed. They were three brave journalists, imprisoned in Egypt on trumped up charges for over 12 months for just doing their job. They were in Kafka’s The Trial, unable to to be prosecuted but nightmarishly unable to get off the hook either. Their employer Al Jazeera was not blameless as a player in Egyptian politics, but Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed behaved with great dignity through their year long ordeal and deserving winners in 2014.
By 2015 I was aware of a glaring anomaly in the awards: no woman had won it. As I admitted last year, this reflected more on my male-dominated influences than on a lack of suitable female candidates. When I started to look at women in the field, Clementine Ford stood out for her uncompromising stance in publicly outing misogynist behaviour, bravery attracting praise and hatred in equal measure. Ford sharply called out the problems that lie in our language as much as in our attitudes. Her book Fight Like A Girl was well received this year.
When I started thinking about this year, I was convinced the winner would be another woman: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton was as much an outsider as an insider, and her fight to become president shows the additional challenges women face as a pure result of their gender. Despite misgivings, she was infinitely preferable as president to Donald S Trump. I shared the view of the New Yorker which used the analogy of the air steward offering a choice of “chicken, or a platter of shit with broken glass in it”, only for the customer to pause and go, “how is the chicken cooked?”
Southern fried Clinton was better than shitstrewn Trump by almost any measure but it wasn’t enough. Trump didn’t play by the rules, he rang rings around traditional media and played into its sexism. While I admired successful unorthodoxy in Assange and Snowden, I detested most of what Trump said (the only relief is we are not talking about President Ted Cruz) and maybe he’ll even stimulate the economy with new infrastructure. But Time can do what they like, I could never award him my person of the year. Of his many lies “Crooked Hillary” was the worst of the lot, a projection of his own aura as Crooked Donald. Had she won Hillary would have been a steady hand at the tiller, though would have struggled to get her agenda through a hostile House and Senate.
But she didn’t win. Even before the election, she was “deeply reviled” and her strengths was less interesting news than his failings. She had failings too – not least, not heeding the warning signs in the rustbucket states Mike Moore pointed out. But even Moore thought she’d get in in the end. President Obama too thought his legacy was safe. But Clinton didn’t land a killer blow in the debates and the CIA news about her email investigations a few days before the election hurt badly. She comfortably won the national vote but easily lost the electoral college. Like Gore in 2000, Hillary disappeared off stage left in mid November despite doubts about her opponent’s legitimacy.
Among other crises, Trump left me in a panic about my person of the year. Thinking elsewhere it was another poor year for media. The year Buzzfeed almost matched New York Times in the value showed the contraction of the industry. There was the clickbait obsession of those that remained surrendering their social license, and leaving the field for social media networks to promote “dialogues of the deaf” using fake news tailor-made for the purpose of people who want it to be true so as to fuel their deafness.
The Prince of Social Media, Mark Zuckerberg is either the personification of evil or proof the singularity has arrived, depending on your beliefs. Yet there were good things even out of his tools. A woman used Facebook Live to broadcast the death of her partner at the hands of American police. The Media Centre in Aleppo got news out to the world the Syrian government did not want people to know and produced one of the most memorable images of the year of the boy in the ambulance , all through Facebook.
But in the end I had to go back to the “2016 is terrible” meme and remember how it started. Bowie was ahead of the curve in many ways, constantly reinventing himself musically, bending the rules on gender, quick to see the possibilities of digital and a pioneer of social media and online music streaming. In 1998 he said “If I was 19 again, I’d bypass music and go right to the internet.” A year later he told a prim Jeremy Paxton he supported the ideas of artists like Duchamp “that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”
★ was his final interpretation. The song’s 9:57 length reflects the 10 minute maximum posting allowed by iTunes.I still listen to it from time to time and I comprehensively enjoy his 1970s and early 1980s back catalogue. But to go with the sentiment, here is Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy in the first Christmas both Bowie and Bing Crosby are dead.
It was a book on my “to read” list for six months and when I finally did get around to reading Niki Savva’s The Road to Ruin, it felt like reading ancient history. Of course, it is barely 15 months since the key event of the book, the overthrow of Prime Minister Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull, in a fashion reminiscent of palace coups of Labor, behaviour the Liberals were so desperate not to be tainted with. But Abbott’s leadership was so terminal in 2015 the party had little option if they didn’t want electoral annihilation in 2016, a point brought out well in Savva’s book.
Though I admire Savva as an independent-ish figure of the right, I wasn’t immediately taken in by the book. The first few pages were endless name dropping, then the first few chapters were endless bitchiness about Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin. There was no doubting Credlin’s hold over Abbott but surely a chief of staff could not hold a nation to ransom in the way Credlin allegedly did? Akin to Kevin Rudd’s office when he was in power, things went into the inbox and never came out, and the focus was on micromanagement of trivial issues at the expense of more substantive issues.
The difference was that in 2009 the roadblock and the micromanager was Rudd himself whereas in 2014 Abbott had delegated those functions, and nearly all other functions to Peta Credlin. The hold she had on him, if Savva is to be believed, was immense, and Abbott was immune to all advice on the topic, even when close advisors told him of the damage caused by the perception of an affair between the two. Abbott’s overwhelming preoccupation, said Savva, was the wellbeing of Credlin and transferred all his power to her, which she used ruthlessly.
Savva skirts (a term I use advisedly) the issue of feminism even when she quotes Credlin telling Australian Women’s Weekly “If I was a guy I wouldn’t be bossy, I’d be strong”. Why was it Credlin’s fault that the wheels of government fell off, given she was unelected? Was it her fault, that Abbott’s first cabinet contained one woman, foreign minister Julie Bishop (a cartoon of the time added “and the good news is that she will be out of the country most of the time”), was it Credlin’s fault that Abbott ostracised Bishop as a deputy leader who owed nothing to him or made stupid “captain’s calls” like knighting Prince Phillip and making Bronwyn Bishop speaker, and was it Credlin’s fault Abbott underestimated the numbers game Turnbull was playing that eventually unseated him (them?) in September 2015?
When Savva finally gets over talking about Credlin, and then the digression about her own stint in politics as a policy adviser for Peter Costello, the book becomes a genuine page turner as she dissects the two spills of 2015. Savva had extraordinary access to Liberal powerbrokers most of whom were happy to go on the record about the problems of the day. The February 2015 spill came too early for Turnbull to show his hand, but Abbott was fatally weakened by only narrowing beating “an empty chair” in the ballot.
After that he had six months to turn things around but Abbott had only one modus operandi. Credlin was supposed to take a lower profile after the spill but remained a screen between him and the backbenchers he relied on for support. When the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter scandal broke, Abbott dithered and let it dominate the news for 18 days before finally throwing Bishop to the wolves after all the damage was done, losing a key ally in the process (her ultimate revenge was to vote for Turnbull in the ballot).
With polls showing a government wipeout in August,the party room was set for another move against the apparently hapless prime minister. Turnbull and his allies counted the numbers and believed the time was finally right to move. Even Abbott hardliners like Peter Dutton had enough and the only questions remaining was what would Julie Bishop do, and whether to move before or after the by-election for Canning in WA (where the Libs were running star candidate former SAS-commando Andrew Hastie). The WA campaign was run on strictly local lines with Abbott kept out of the picture and in the end Turnbull did not wait for it.
As for Julie Bishop, she reserved her support almost to the end and even told Turnbull that as deputy she would vote for the leader, as she had done in every ballot since 2007. But when Abbott confronted Bishop he was convinced she was in the coup and he neglected to ask her who she would vote for. When Abbott panicked and declared his position open, he made a mistake by also declaring the deputy leader position vacant, opening the way for Bishop to change her mind and vote for Turnbull. Abbott also fluffed his lines with Scott Morrison offering him the Treasury at the last minute while also giving assurances to Joe Hockey his job was safe. Morrison rightly saw this as untenable.
After the inevitable defeat, Abbott did not take it well. He was “angry, bitter and vengeful.” But rather than blame Turnbull (or better still, himself) he blamed Bishop and Morrison for their “perfidy”. Abbott does not appear to have absorbed the lessons of his defeat though he harbours hope of a second shot at government. Like Rudd he has suffered Relevance Deprivation Syndrome (of recent PMs only Julia Gillard appears immune) and he remains in parliament as a lonely outsider. Turnbull may suffer his own “30 bad Newspolls” and be turfed, but when he does it will be a Morrison or a Christian Porter looming at the gates, not an Abbott – with or without Peta Credlin. The best thing that be said for the coup is that it ended the Libs holier-than-thou pretense that those kinds of sordid power games were the exclusive preserve of Labor.
This was the final leg of my journey back to Mount Isa, after leaving Mackay. I continued north up the Bruce Hwy, turning right 120km later at Proserpine and out another 40km or so to Airlie Beach, a place I’ve been many times before. It is a bit overrun by backpackers by blessed by astonishing natural beauty. I checked into my digs for the night, which was a couple of kilometres out but there is a lovely walk along the foreshore to the main drag with plenty of big boats to admire.
This was one of the two marinas along the way and I would need to return here in the morning to catch my boat out to the reef on the Whitsundays.
This is the main beach in town and was looking empty in November.
This is why the beach was empty. Like everywhere along the northern Queensland coast it is infested with marine stingers in the summer months. Big ones like the box jellyfish and particularly nasty ones, Irukandji jellyfish – the size of a fingernail but the smallest and most venomous box jellyfish in the world—and one of the most venomous creatures on Earth. I settled for the swimming pool area beside the beach.
After a (safe) swim, and a beer and a feed at the local Surf Club (not much of a surf but a nice club with a lovely view over the water), I traipsed back to my digs as the sun continued its slow march westwards.
In the morning it was back to the Marina to board the Southern Stars sailing boat. It was an old boat, though not just any old boat. Built by Alan Bond in his glory days, it competed for Australia in the 1974 America’s Cup and was the first aluminium yacht to compete in the America’s Cup. It even has its own Wikipedia page. We were welcomed aboard by Kiwi skipper Pete.
Our destination was the Whitsunday islands out through Pioneer Bay with the Molle Islands to the south and Whitsunday Island itself the large island in the distance.
It was a relaxed cruise as Pete’s second-in-command Conor (seen here, bearded) said. Apparently they weren’t supposed to sail and only opened it up for bookings the day before so instead of 24 passengers there were just 12. Conor said that for them it felt like a day off. The other passengers were mostly Germans.
Because it was a proper sailing boat, we did some proper sailing. That meant plenty of spray and surging forward on an angle that meant we had to clamber to the top of the boat to avoid ending up in the drink.
After about an hour’s sailing we made it into the Whitsunday Passage, named by Cook on his 1770 voyage for the time of year he came through here. The Passage separates the two largest islands in the group, Hook Island (left) from Whitsunday Island (right).
This resort on Hook island has been closed after suffering cyclone damage. Apparently 12 of the 24 Great Barrier Reef resorts have been closed down either from cyclone damage or the tourist downturn since the GFC. According to Conor it was also a handy port in a storm for sailors in the region.
We then sailed down the ocean side of Whitsunday Island and parked off Tongue Bay and took the dinghy into the beach on the northern side of Tongue Point.
From there it was a short walk up to the Hill Inlet lookout over the famous Whitehaven Beach. Renowned for its white sand and turquoise, blue and green water, it’s no surprise it has often been named as Australia best beach, looking out over Whitsunday National Park.
Then it was down the other side to explore Whitehaven Beach and frolic in the water. The stingers can be an issue here too (though not as bad as the mainland) but the tour operators provide a full body wetsuit which I clambered into after considerable wriggling. But it was worth it, just to enjoy the beautiful water here. Afterwards it was time for lunch back on the boat and we found a snorkeling spot on the north side of the island. The coral was in good nick here and we saw plenty of wonderful sea creatures, before sailing back to port.
The following morning I drove north once more. After an hour or so, I stopped at Bowen for a coffee near the shore at 360 on Flagstaff Cafe. True to the name this cafe had 360 degree views. This view is south to the marina and the township of Bowen.
This was the view from the cafe out to the ocean with Hook Island straight ahead, and the Whitsunday passage I’d sailed through the day before.
This was the view north towards Edgecumbe Heights Recreation Reserve. There are plenty of bushwalks around here and I’d like to come back and explore Bowen a bit more.
But for now it was back in the car to contine the odyssey north. I stopped at Inkerman lookout just south of Home Hill. This view north shows the mouth of the Burdekin River.
I kept going and spend my final night at Townsville. After booking in at a hotel, I drove 10km north of town to Cape Pallerenda. The protected conservation park is by the beach (shown) and used to host a military hospital in the Second World War. It received a lot of casualties from the New Guinea campaign.
Magnetic Island gleams in the short distance across Cleveland Bay. The water looked tempting but stingers and the absence of a full wet suit kept me out. I did notice a few Indigenous kids took to the water, but I wasn’t game.
Cape Pallerenda has a few ruined bomb shelters and gun positions like this one below. The Japanese bombed Townsville in March 1942 and again in July that year. Townsville was a garrison town home to 50,000 US and Australian troops and was a launchpad for the Coral Sea campaign. For some reason this gun position reminds me of the original Star Trek Enterprise. For me it was time to boldly go home after a lovely week on the road.
After my day on GKI, I drove north the following morning from Rockhampton to Mackay, where I was booked into another motel.There is 300km of nothing much between Rocky and Sarina, which sits on the edge of Mackay canefield belt. At Sarina I detoured inland through the canefields then up in the ranges to Eungella Chalet. I stopped here the last time I did this run but it was raining. Though the clouds threatened again today, it cleared by the time I got to the top of the range and enjoyed a great view down to the valley below as I had lunch in the Chalet.
After a short walk in the local National Park, I drove the 70km down below and into Mackay. After checking in, I drove across the Pioneer River and up through Mackay’s northern beach suburbs until I hit Slade Point. It was yet another spot named by Captain James Cook in 1770 after Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor to the Navy 1755-71. This is the view north to Dolphin’s Head.
I expected to see some heavy industry around here as the home of two coal ports at Hay Point (seen in the left of the image below) and Dalrymple Bay, but I was more surprised to find a 73 hectare reserve, Slade Point Reserve. I went for a long walk in the Reserve, first hugging the shore with good views from Lamberts Lookout and then inland through the dunes.
As afternoon turned to evening I drove south back to town, detouring through Mackay Marina which glistened in the late sunshine.
The following day I had to get to Airlie Beach which was less than two hours away. So there was time for a detour back to Cape Hillsborough National Park. Again, this was another spot I visited last time but its beauty demands repeat visits. The beach was empty on a cloudy morning and I came too late to see the kangaroos feeding at dawn.
Unlike last time the tide was out so I was able to the full walk circuit of the Cape by walking along the rocks before finding the path up the hill. At low tide Wedge Island is linked to the mainland via a causeway but signs recommend you only head out there on a falling tide and I didn’t want to take the risk of being stranded out there for six hours. I was content to admire the view of the island from one of the lookouts on the Andrews Point 5.2km walk.
This is the view from the south of the Cape at Turtle Point looking south across Shoal Point to Belmunda.
The walk affords many gorgeous views of the beaches below at Cape Hillsborough. I’m back in the vicinity at New Year’s Eve and looking forward to checking out the other walks at this beautiful place.