Category Archives: Australia

#29in29 That would be an ecumenical matter

Following the storm south along the wet Caves Road, and on my way to the Cape Naturaliste, I am offered a different kind of enlightenment. On my right, between the road and the ocean, a Christian camp site.

Two hundred yards later, another one.

Two hundred yards after that, another.

The Christian Brethren Youth Camp.

The Busselton Baptist Youth Camp.

The Bussleton Catholic Youth Camp.

The Churches of Christ Camp Site

The Seventh Day Adventist Youth Camp.

And the Anglican Camp Site. I imagine Rowan Williams hammering his tent pegs in, wrestling with his folding chair and putting a match to his trangia. I think he’d be rather at home.

The devil may have all the best tunes but it looks like Jesus has got the good camp sites. It made me laugh, because it reminded me of the Monty Python sketch about the People’s Front of Judea*. But it was sad as well. Being young should be a time to meet people who are not like ourselves, so that we can test out the things we’ve been taught by our parents against the greater world and decide whether we agree with them. There will be plenty of time as grown-ups to divide the world into them and us, people we like and people we talk about behind their backs. Bikers we nod at at and bikers we ride by.

I tried to think of a good joke about how you would tell the difference but I didn’t work in the Ecumenical Office when I worked at Lambeth Palace so I don’t have much to go on. Presumably the Catholics barbecue fish on Fridays while the Anglicans stand up to sing campfire songs. There ought to have been an Amish campsite too, they would rock at camping. Though they might just raise a barn instead and not bother with the inconvenience of canvas.

*There is some swearing in this clip – NSFW!


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To the Lighthouse

My luck held as I rode round the bottom of Geographe Bay and took the Caves Road up to Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. Ahead of me the sky was heavy grey, split by the occasional flash of lighting, and underneath me the roads were soaking wet, but above my head the sky was blue. A good reason to meander along and enjoy the scenery. The earth is pink, and as the road gets nearer the coast the trees shrink into low green brush.

As an RBR rider I’m conditioned to take photos of my bike outside lighthouses, but I fancied climbing these as well, as practice for the Gloucester Tree at Pemberton. Cape Naturaliste, the northern lighthouse, is quite stumpy. Cape Leeuwin, at the bottom of the cape, and from which you can see the meeting point of the Indian and the Southern Oceans, is tall and slender.

As we walk up the path to the lighthouse, Liz, our guide talks about the isolation, and how hard it was for the lighthouse keepers and their families to live here. But it’s only taken me a few minutes to ride the 8 miles from Dunsborough, I say. Liz looks at me with well-deserved contempt. When the lighthouse was first built Dunsborough didn’t exist, she explains, carefully. Lighthousekeepers in need of medical help, company or supplies had to take a horse to Busselton. I think about this for a while. To me, lighthouse keepers are isolated because they work on tiny rocks surrounded by turbulent seas. These men, and their families, were isolated by the land itself. I think their houses look beautiful, with verandas to shade from the heat, and gardens to provide veggies and a few chooks, but they are a very long way from Waitrose.

The light and the mechanisms came from Birmingham. Travelling the other way, Australia sent trees chopped up to be used as cobbles in the streets of London. This seems an undignified way for trees to end their lives, though it is apparently kinder to horses’ hooves and quieter for sensitive Victorian ears.

“People with breathing or heart problems are warned against attempting to climb steep stairway leading to light,” it says at the foot of the stairs. I think this may be a metaphor. It is always a difficult climb to the light.

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#29in29 Bad Day, Part I

I have been escorted, supported and assisted, and now it is time to move on and face the world solo. The day starts abruptly, with a massive electrical storm. The lightning is impressive and slightly scary. A kind-hearted person had made sure I didn’t miss it by making their breakfast in the kitchen, which is on the other side of my bedroom wall, at 5.30am. Even with determination to be stealthy, which they had, it is difficult to microwave quietly. But pretty soon the sound of the rain beating on the tin roof of the Dolphin Retreat drowns out everything else. The storm sits overhead for around thirty minutes. There isn’t time to count any elephants between the lightning crack and the thunder roll. The rain is coming down so hard I worry that the sand under the bike will wash away. It doesn’t, but it does leave immense puddles all over the car park. This is Australia. It is not supposed to rain. I have not come prepared to be wet and cold. I read my book and drink instant coffee, because I forgot to pack my coffee filter and now I am doomed to start my mornings with Nescafe, scavenged from the Premier Inn and tucked into my wash bag next to the mascara.

There is no point starting the day under a cloud, so I lie reading and not really sleeping for another two hours.

I feel unusual. Tired and unfocused. The trees in the Tuart forest smell of mint. Can that be right or am I hallucinating?

In Busselton I want to see the Big Pier. It is grey and damp and I struggle to find a place to park. I think, maybe breakfast would help. In my fantasy I thought I would have breakfast in a beach-side cafe looking at the pier. In reality I have a small thimble of lukewarm gritty mud in a cafe on the main shopping run. I read the local paper. It seems that people getting married, crashing cars, suffering break-ins and writing long letters make news anywhere in the world. In a few days time there will be a big festival here, but today is just a weary working day.


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Going Postal

My copy of “Going Postal” has arrived, except that in the UK it’s called “The Long Ride Home.” I sent Nathan an email before I went to Australia because I really wanted to do my exploring on a postie bike – that’s why my overnight stops were so close together – and he was really helpful and generous with his advice.

Here’s Nathan’s intro:

“This is the story of my motorbike trip across the world. It took place from January to September 2009, on a little Honda called Dorothy. She’s a brilliant bike, painted red, the colour of speed, though she herself is not very fast. One time we hit eighty-five kilometres per hour and almost crashed with excitement.”

In the end I decided to take what ought to have been an easier route, and rent a GS. Didn’t quite work as planned! And I nearly got a go on a postie thanks to the Postie Bike Club of Western Australia, but I ran out of time. I still think they look brilliant fun. So I’ll just have to go back.

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Riding with the 99%

Cool people say things like “I’m not much of a one for joining things.” I used to try that line. I pretended that I aspired to be Rudyard Kipling’s Cat that Walks by Itself, self-sufficient and above wordly things like small talk and The Price Of Cheese. The truth was that I was a peculiar child with limited social skills. Joining in happened to other people.

But now I ride a motorcycle and the best thing about that is all the people it brings me to meet.

I loved my day with the Knights. Everyone I spoke to about it thought it was very funny that the Australians felt the need to organise me a police escort for my first ride in the country. Rolling up the freeway in a column of chrome and rubber, I thanked the gods of random life opportunities and laughed like a crazy woman.

Riding back down from the lookout point, Zeke, Muffy and I parked up and caught up with Mel and the rest of the club. They hadn’t persuaded the Castle Hotel to open up, and were a little further down the main drag on a shady verandah. Over a long black, Mel said a few words of welcome and awarded me a Blue Knights patch – a proper one, not a “Knight’s Lady” which is what the pillion partners wore – and a 99% diamond, and a badge. I don’t have powers of arrest so they are honorary. But I do feel honoured. So many people took a day out of their holidays to ride with me and show me their fine roads. But then I remember that they are bikers, and this is what we do.


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"Every attraction that a country in a state of nature can possess."

Today being Valentine’s Day it is wholly appropriate that I bring you the story of a pair of Star (Southern) Crossed Lovers.

While President Mel tries to persuade the waitress in the hotel to wind up the coffee machine, Zeke (pictured, with Large Honda) takes me and Muffy to the Mount Brown lookout over York and the Avon Valley.

The mountains have a sad story attached. In the Dreamtime the Hill People and the Valley People used to meet in the Avon Valley for sports and games. A young Valley Woman and a young Hill Man fell in love; but their people did not allow them to be together. Their relationship was taboo. As is traditional in such situations, they ran away so that they could be together.

The Valley People asked for her to be sent home. The Hill People said they did not know where the two young lovers had gone.

As is also traditional in such situations, the Valley People sent an army to bring her back.

The Hill People, having the advantage of the high ground, were handing out a pasting to their Valley brothers. So the Valley People called on their medicine man, who turned the Hill warriors to trees where they stood.

The warriors having been well and truly rooted, the medicine man then cursed Wunding and Wilura. Their bodies were found, but their spirits are tied to the mountains. He is stuck on Mount Bakewell, and she is stuck on Mount Barker, until the mountains turn to dust.

It would be a better story if she, being such a tart, were stuck on Mount Bakewell.


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Put the fan on the tourist

It is so hot that the ice cream I’m eating melts off the stick before I’ve finished it. And trust me, when it comes to ice cream I don’t hang about.

We are eating ice creams from the servo in the car park of the Coca Cola Cafe, Toodyay, instead of sitting in the cafe with cold drinks, because it has just closed. In the UK my special blessing is the bringing of rain. Here in Australia it seems to be the closing of cafes. None of the ones we have been to on today’s ride-out have been open – not this one; nor the York Cafe, nor the one in Northam at the head of the Avon Descent.

I was expecting hot. I brought my summer jacket and my thinnest gloves. The very polite Blue Knights, with whom I am riding today, raised an eyebrow. They are mostly riding in leather waistcoats and t-shirts. Zeke has some nifty removable sleeves, more to keep the sun off than to protect against gravel rash. But expecting hot and experiencing it are two very different things.

One day in January I rode from Kenilworth to Ely when the temperature was minus 2, not counting the windchill. The only thought my brain gave house room to was “Fuck me, it’s freezing.” Over and over again. Today is the exact opposite. It is is incredibly hot. The heat is bearing down on my brain and scattering my focus. I don’t feel terribly safe on the bike. I have been to Las Vegas and to Syria and to Cuba and none of those places were as hot as the wheat and sheep country around Northam. By the time we sit down in the cool, dark dining room of the Northam Tavern I have a matching set: red t-shirt, red hair, red face.

In Britain it is a terrible crime to hog the fire. I assume the same may be true of the large chrome pedestal fan stirring the air in one corner of the dining room. I take my 2-litre jug of ice and lemon squash and sit at a polite distance. A shout goes up. “Put the fan on the tourist!” I accept the gift with gratitude.

The Blue Knights are a police motorcycle club. If you have power of arrest, you can apply for membership. They have the same dry coppers’ humour as the police riders in the UK I’ve got to know through working on safety campaigns, government lobbies and advanced training. They have a good laugh at my pasty skin and my ungainly deportment on the Ducati. I’m all knees and elbows on it, because it’s tiny, and I’m always in the wrong bloody gear for a corner, because it’s temperamental and Italian and needs to be ridden with a great big handful of attitude. “Don’t worry,” they tell me. “If we aren’t ribbing you we don’t like you.”

I am learning from the Knights. The most important thing is that the drink that I have learnt to call an Americano should be ordered as a “long black.” If I stop for a drink or for lunch, I should park in the shade, because it is unnecessarily unpleasant to come back to a scorching seat. The toasting of crown jewels, while not a problem I expect to suffer, can be avoided with the use of a sheepskin seat cover. Pannier essentials include big bottles of water and roll-on sun block. I have no panniers. Being Italian, the Ducati is about glamour not practicality. I scavenge sun-block and water from Adrian and Woody.

The ride is a long one: we cover just over 200 miles in about 8 hours. And it is amazing, to be riding in convoy on the beautiful black stuff, through forests and farmland and bush, and, in the late afternoon, back through the city to my brother’s house near Fremantle. There will be time enough to ride alone later. Today I am enjoying the luxury of being part of a convoy, being shown the best roads by new friends.


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"Did you find her by the side of the road?"

Bec’s mesh jacket doesn’t fit. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me – she’s about 5 10 with a small waist, I’m 6 foot and go straight up and down, except on bad days when I go out in the middle – but men seem to see a smaller version of me than the one that exists in reality. I have a small pile of unworn t-shirts bought for me by the ex, who thought I was about a size 10. I think his subconscious was buying them for his lost love, who was tiny and half Chinese. But I digress.

My Triumph jacket with the liner out has been too hot on, I think, one day in 15 years of riding in Blighty. I though it would do fine for Australia. What it actually did was boil me in the bag like Batchelor’s Savoury Rice. On safety grounds alone I persuade myself that I ought to buy a new jacket and gloves, for dehydration and thermal overload proved just as distracting and unpleasant as being too cold. Adrian and Becs take me to their favourite gear shop on the way to Innaloo to collect the GS.

The Motorcycle Pit Stop is in North Perth. It looks reassuringly like a bike shop in Blighty, with the used bikes lined up in a row out front, the dayglo colours of dirtbike polyester to one side and the road-riding gear to the other. If this was a shop in England most of the gear would be about keeping warm. Here it’s the opposite problem – there’s perforated gear, thin gear and gear with integral Camelbaks. But wouldn’t that get really hot really quickly? Maybe you stick a teabag in there too and brew up on the move.

The girls’ gear is pink and has butterflies on it. The jacket I end up with, on the grounds that it fits and is affordable, is manly blue with white flashes. I remind myself that, if I want to wear a jacket that fits where it touches, then lurking in a cupboard at home I have a made-to measure jacket with a purple dragon on the back. And when I’ve lost the next 2 stone I’ll measure the same as I did when it was made and can start wearing it again. Though not in Australia. I think half-inch thick cowhide really wouldn’t be very practical in 42 degrees.

Adrian introduces me to Karen, who owns the Pit Stop and is struggling with a EPOS card reader which is dialling her fax machine in preference to the bank. This sounds like a good plan to me. I could fax her a picture of 200 dollars. How do I know Adrian and Becs, she wants to know. I am not sure where to start the story, and am distracted by the realisation that the shaggy cushion on the counter next to the card reader is in fact a small hairy dog. It sleeps peacefully until Adrian mentions that Becs, who has done her time on a 250, might be in the market for something bigger. The words “new bike?” wake it up in the same way that “brew?” galvanises a lethargic Yorkshireman. When it realises that a sale is not in prospect today it goes back to sleep in disgust.

I have a Dri Rider jacket and summer gloves. All I need now is a bike and I’m sorted.


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30 Dec: Happy GS Day!

I fear I am never going to love sportsbikes. Especially not shiny ones covered in fragile carbon fibre bits that cut out if you let the revs fall below 5,000. In my normal life I rarely get above 4 and a half – I have been allowed to fall into bad habits by Ruby, who was willing to go up to at least 7 but would quite happily lump along at half that. This is my excuse for being unreasonably excited on 30th December, which is GS Day.

It starts poorly. I have arranged to get the bus into town to meet Adrian and his girlfriend Becs. Becs will lend me her mesh jacket, if it fits. We’ll get some lunch and then they’ll drop me at Wotan Street, where Big Boys Toyz are. @sharemyoyster, one of the lovely bikers I talk to on Twitter, is going to meet me there and take me up the Swan Valley. (NB This is a wine region, not a position in the Australian Kama Sutra).

As I’m about to leave, my brother offers to drive me over to collect the bike in the afternoon. I didn’t want to impose so I am already sorted. I wonder if this offends him. He doesn’t say.

I’m 30 minutes early at the bus stop, just to be sure. After 30 minutes there is no bus. I check the TransPerth website and the bus is definitely running. Once it is 10 minutes late I call and ask when the next bus is. In 50 minutes, they cheerfully advise. What happened to the one that was supposed to be here 10 minutes ago? It ran as normal, she says. This is why I do not like public transport. If they render the buses invisible, how am I supposed to put my hand out to get one to stop? Still, it was a lovely morning and I watched a postie doing the rounds on his postie bike. He knew I had designs on it, I think – he never got off it, instead giving a splendid demonstration of the art of drive-by delivery.

In the end Adrian and Becs pick me up in a low, loud green sedan. Wotan Street is a dead end and when we get there a very tall black GS Adventure is waiting, accompanied by a very tall Englishman and his wife.

It is just possible that collecting motorcycles from Brian is not normally a group activity.

“Are they making a film?” he asks, while photocopying my driving licence and levying an eye-watering security deposit on my credit card. We spend a few minutes being rude about Ewan and Charlie and their inability to leave home without SAS medics and a support truck. I don’t think I have met any SAS medics yet here in Australia but I am not short of support, which is lovely.

Brian backs the GS out into the road for me. It’s an 800 not the 1200 I booked because there was a screw-up over dates, but it’s tall and squinty-eyed and also rather battered. This is good for two reasons. Because it’s already battered, Brian is happy for me to take it off the tarmac. And because it’s an 800 not a 1200 I might have a fighting chance of picking it up when it falls over.

David and Lynn lead out into the traffic. I follow them. I am sitting upright, the engine sounds like a tractor and all is good.


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And the days are not full enough

My list for #29in29 says that today I should tell you about Mogumber Tavern, but I’ve already done that. So today I will give you the poem that my amazing friend Rio sent me when I asked for encouragement at a low point in my solo adventure. it is by Ezra Pound and we think it has no title:

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

She added, “Better have full days on your own than empty days in a relationship. xxxx”

And I realised that the idea of living a life that didn’t shake the grass was even worse than living a life the wrong side of the glass. Occasional loneliness is a fair price to pay for freedom.


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