Saturday, July 25, 2009


I spent yesterday out on the road. I headed north up the Melba Highway to Yea. This made for a rather frustrating start to the day - I was impatient because I needed to make quick time in order to ride certain regions north of Bendigo, but road works combined with traffic meant that it was a full two hours before I arrived in Yea. Having lost my scarf I was freezing cold, the newspaper which I wrapped about my kneck failing to adequatley serve its purpose. So after lunch in Yea, and with a revised, more humble plan, I headed north and at Kanumbra turned west into the back roads that lead through Gobur, Creightons Creek, and on to Euroa. From there I headed out to Strathbogie and then finally - after previous failed efforts - found the sealed road that lead from there to Merton and down to Yea.

Just before joining the Melba, here is the view looking from Christmas Hills out onto Yarra Glen.

Here is the township of Gobur.

Near Creightons Creek I was drawn to explore a side road. You can see how green the mid-winter land is:

The land flattens out somewhat just before Euroa.

Here are some photos as I rode into the mountains on the way to Strathbogie. It was very cold up there, as it is above the snow line.

As the day merged into dusk I headed down a back-road from Strathbogie, hoping it would connect with the main road back to Merton. This road was quite long and visually eventful, and I almost feared as I rode it that it would fall dark and that I was on a road to nowhere, as so many of these roads are. I stopped at one point, where I found a small weirconnected to a creek. In the distance in the first photo you can see a toilet block. It suggests to me that camping might be allowed, so I might come and stay here. I have already picked out a plush self-inflating mattress and a swag-style tent by which I will set up on my bike for cheap touring.

As I rode along during the day I had thought several times to stop and take a photo, but it had occured to me that, as a still, this scene would look no different to many others I had photographed. The flux of things in motion is an irreducible part of the beauty I experience on my rides, and that is part of what makes the motorcycling experience an irreducibly wonderful thing. It is through this motion (as well as the exposure it involves) that the experience of the landscape which it offers is unique.

Later this week I hope to go see a member of my club who has offered to introduce me to sidecars. I have been offered of these

for $1500, which I intend to hook up to the SR500. This will add a new dimension to my riding, and will allow me to explore endless stretches of dirt roads (or light Mallee sand roads) with ease and in any weather. On every ride I often want to turn down an unsealed road, but cannot do so for any great distance on two wheels because I am not very good on the dirt. I look forward to a new side of riding being opened up.  I also look forward to bringing friends along on my rides, to share with them what it is that makes me so passionate about riding. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yarra Valley and Acheron

I did a half-day ride today, from midday to 6pm. I did academic work until 3am last night and then couldn't sleep much, partly through my usual insomnia, partly because my cat kept trying to sleep on my face (which I assume is an act of affection, not aggression?).  So I arose very tired at 11am instead of starting out early.

I headed north via the national park to King Lake where I had lunch, Then I headed south-east for Healesville taking Chum Creek Road. Continuing through Healesville I did the Black Spur. All of these roads are well-known and popular with motorcyle riders. I must admit that, after years doing only half day rides (the arbitrary absurdity of which I never noticed) I am a little over-familar with these roads and they don't excite me in the way that new roads, more isolated roads, or northern country, does. So when I finished at the Spur and rode through what, before the fires, was Narbethong, I was tempted to keep heading north and to ride somewhere in the Eildon district. However it was 3:30 PM and I had two hours of light left. So I rode The Acheron way that connects Acheron (near Narbethong) to the base of Mount Donna Buang and Warburton. I was going to continue all the way through, including the dirt section, but as I neared it the road became wet and greasy.  My rear tyre began to slip about. And so I turned back the way I had come, from Healesville taking the Old Healesville Road home.

Here is a photo in Toolangi, on the way to Chum Creek Road. I love the way the forest flattens out with a clear floor, and the trees become giant and straight all for a momentary stretch.

Just prior to the Black Spur I came across this, seemingly put out for display in front of an art gallery. I wonder if it was a victim of the fires? 

You can now see Maroondah Reservior from the Black Spur.

Here we are on The Acheron Way. As I said, perfect blue skies, and a hint of warmth.

Some video

Again using the camera's delay, here I am riding through The Acheron Way

I had been talking about The Blair Witch Project the night before, a film the memory of which makes me shudder. Out on my own, in this quiet winter place, I was having 'fun' along this road trying to unnerve myself with thoughts of it whenever I pulled over. Then I saw this...

A nice bit of fun for a small ride. I also spent the time reflecting on how I want to utilise this blog, and developed a plan following completion of my thesis, which will probably involve local (post-settler) history, Australian literature, local aboriginal myth and metaphysics, my own philosophy, and a trip through the centre of Australia. The idea is surprisingly cogent despite its disparate-seeming aspects. More on that some other time.

If you enjoy exploring place and story and landscape in writing or other art, I suggest you watch this documentary film which happened to be on when I returned from last week's ride: Spirit Stones.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Romulus, My Father

A book which is already a classic of Australian literature is the elegiac memoir Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita. Gaita is an internationally renowned philosopher, and in my opinion one of the best philosophers living. He spends half the year teaching at Kings College, London University, and half here in Victoria, especially at his home near Baringhup where he grew up. That is just outside of Maldon in central Victoria.

In 1998 Gaita published Romulus, My Father, a book which was the development of the elegy he gave at his father’s funeral.  He transformed and published it at the encouragement of friends.  It is currently on the VCE list of books.  I wrote a masters thesis on it, a kind of moral philosophical literary criticism, as a part of my broader project of translating the methods of philosophy into the practice of psychotherapy (see here for my blog about philosophy applied to depression, anxiety, relationships and so on).

There is so much about this book that I love, perhaps because there is so much that resonates with things which go deep in me: a sense of gratitude for my parents; and the humanised descriptions of the Australian landscape.  Something in the latter connects with my earliest and most precious memories, of the the morning and dusk colours in the sky and on the distant, suggestive horizon; and of the warm, red dust under my shoeless feet as a young child living at my grandmother’s farmhouse in the Mallee.

Motorcycling is a re-connection with the landscape which approximates to that wonder and openness which I felt as a child. It re-connects me with those memories in ways which give them a new shape. A memory is not a static thing, but something we constantly reshape, giving it new meanings which seem to become intrinsic to it, for a time. 

It is as though the land has shaped my very core.  My memories constitute moments when the land, natural and humanized – scrubland, paddocks, small towns pregnant with the past - entered into me in a wash of colour and smell and light.  An expansive, Australian light. The space and place and people which have shaped me and which continue to live in my language and in even the ways I notice things, mean that when I get on my motorcycle, enter a freeway, and head north into the country, I am returning home as a return deeper into myself which is at the same time a place somewhere out there. Through motorcycling I have somehow found myself. And yet never quite – I roam about and no place is ever truly ‘here I am’. That is my condition.

Here is a passage from the Romulus, My Father

“At the beginning of the summer of 1957-58 [my father] allowed me to ride the Bantam, at first only in the paddocks, but later on the roads and eventually to Baringhup. […] Riding the motorbike that summer, through the hot yellow grasslands of central Victoria and around the expansive waters of Cairn Curran, wearing only shorts and sandals, crystallized in me a sense of freedom that I possessed earlier, but never so fully, and which I always associate with that time in the country. I felt I could do anything provided I was respectful of others. The law and other kinds of regulations seemed only rules of thumb, regulative ideals, to be interpreted by individuals according to circumstances and constrained by goodwill and commonsense. From my father and from Hora I had already acquired a sense that only morality was absolute because some of its demands were non-negotiable. But I was too young to be troubled by that. I was eleven years old, riding my father’s motorbike to collect the mail and visit friends, yet no one was troubled by this breach of the law. It left me with a sad, haunting image of a freedom, impossible now to realize, and which even then the world could barely afford.”

Gaita’s father did not own a car for a long while and got about first on a BSA Bantam, and later a Sunbeam. I am guessing that the Sunbeam was an S7, which had fatter tyres compared to the more standard tyres of the S8.

“We travelled everywhere by motorbike. I was particularly proud of the Sunbeam. It was a fine machine with tyres as thick as those on a small car and driven by a shaft rather than a chain. Although my father rode at speed and often dangerously overloaded it, he was always conscious of how inherently dangerous motorbike travel is.
‘They only have two wheels,’ he reminded people.
Anxious for my safety, he decided I was more likely to slip off the back pillion than he was to crash and fall onto me, so until I was eight I sat on the petrol tank of whichever motorbike we happened to be using.
He wore a long leather coat, leather gloves, leather helmet and goggles. I wore an army greatcoat which trailed half a metre on the ground, with newspapers protecting my chest against the cold, a leather helmet, mittens and goggles. My father parked his motorbike outside the cinema wherever we were, and I was embarrassed as he dressed me in this outfit in full view of the crowd which gathered on the footpath to talk about the film for some time after it had finished.”

No motorcycles compare to big British bikes in my mind.  That low growl or pulsation, and the spin of a heavy flywheel at low rpm. Unlike the Japanese motorcycles with their high-rpm power and prowess, and incredible smoothness, all of which invites technical prowess on the road, the old British bikes invite a different experience. The gentle pulse of a big single, one beat per telegraph pole, draws you into greater communion with the bike but also with the landscape. As opposed to the hurried scream of a modern multi-cylinder, these old motorcycles have an expansiveness about them which invites an expansion of awareness and contact with the scene through which one moves. And that is essential to motorcycling as I love it: the experience of the landscape in which you are moving as a deep constituent of the experience. There are other passages in Romulus, My Father where Gaita evokes the beauty of that landscape through which I spend so much time riding, and this is another reason that I connect with the book so much.

“Conscious of […] the fact that I was the only boy in the area who did not kill rabbits even though they were a destructive pest, I took my father’s rifle and went to a hill on the far side of Cairn Curran to shoot rabbits for our dinner and for the dog.
I reached the hill in the mid-afternoon. For the first time in my life I was really alive to beauty, receiving a kind of shock from it. I had absorbed my father’s attitude to the countryside, especially to its scraggy trees, because he talked so often of the beautiful trees of Europe. But now, for me, the key to the beauty of the native trees lay in the light which so sharply delineated them against a dark blue sky. Possessed of that key, my perception of the landscape changed radically as when one sees the second image in an ambiguous drawing. The scraggy shapes and sparse foliage actually became the foci for my sense of its beauty and everything else fell into place – the primitive hills, the unsealed roads with their surfaces ranging from white through yellow to brown, looking as though they had been especially dusted to match the high, summer-coloured grasses. The landscape seemed to have a special beauty, disguised until I was ready for it; not a low and primitive form for which I had to make allowances, but subtle and refined. It was as though God had taken me to the back of his workshop and shown me something really special.
It was inconceivable to me that I should now shoot a rabbit. The experience transformed my sense of life and the countryside, adding to both a sense of transcendence.”

I referred in another essay to the notion of a “summer-coloured humanism” and attributed it to Gaita. His sense of this landscape informs a summer-coloured humanism which, because of the conditions of human life, is also a tragic humanism. These two forms of humanism are present in the passages I have quoted when taken together with the following, which shows how the experience of the landscape can come to inform the way we make sense of, and live in, the world as well as 'in' our self. This passages refers to a visit the fourteen year old Gaita makes to his father who has just admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital, having fallen into insanity under the weight of the protracted sufferings and tragedies which the book describes.

“The hospital represented a foreign world to me, one whose beliefs were shaped by ideas I instinctively felt to be in conflict with those that had enabled me to understand the events of my childhood. I could no longer see my father’s illness just from the perspective of our life at Frogmore. Strange though it may sound, my sense of that life, of the ideas that informed it, was given intensity and colour by the light and landscape of the area. The hills looked as old as the earth, because they were rounded by millennia and also because the grey and equally rounded granite boulders that stood among the long yellow grasses, sharply delineated at all times of day by the summer sun, made them look prehistoric. More than anything, however, the glorious, tall, burnt-yellow grasses (as a boy they came to my chest and sometimes over my head) moving irregularly against a deep blue sky, dominated the images of my childhood and gave colour to my freedom and also to my understanding of suffering. In the morning they inspired cheerful energy of the kind that made you whistle; at midday, in partnership with an unforgiving sun and alive with insects and other creatures, they intimidated; but in the late afternoon, towards dusk, everything was softened by a light that graced the area in a melancholy beauty that could pierce one’s soul, as it did mine on the day I went in search of rabbits, and many times thereafter.
Religion, metaphysics or the notions of fate and character as they inform tragedy are suited to that light and landscape. The assumptions of psychiatric medicine, affected as they are by psychiatry’s debunking of metaphysics in its long struggle to become accepted as a science, were not […].”

Gaita is right: there is something in the landscape which, while fundamentally non-human and neutral with respect to meaning, yet – as a kind of contradiction of that thought – illumines an irreducibly humanist sense of life. It is at odds with the ideas, arisen from Europe and city life, which seek to reduce humans (reduce them to biology, to mechanics, or to whatever basic substance is scientifically fashionable). Perhaps it is that the city – a landscape almost purely constructed out of ideas - encourages us to become lost in ideas, to find them supreme even when they ought not to be.  Whereas in the country ideas easily come up against a greater domination: the natural landscape, against which their stubborn clamour may be silenced or humbled.  Humbled by the sun and distinctive heat in some part of the country, the colours and the smells and the threats and all the fertility and desolation which it chooses to offer us and which often we must involuntarily suffer. The beauty and the harshness of rural Australia will not let us reduce the universe to an idea, and neither will it let us reduce ourselves to an idea of something less than fully human, as psychiatry and psychology have often invited us to do.

My rides refresh in me, in a quiet and accepting way, this deeper sense of what I am. The moment I become surrounded by the domination of concrete and structures upon my return to Melbourne, the balance shifts against its favour. This is a part of why I ride.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drunken service and winter gods....

Another week, another ride.  Bertrand Russel said that 'The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time'. It is also said than a book is like a mirror: if an ass peers into it you can't expect a saint to look out.  So if you find Russell's notion shallow then you ought to look a bit deeper! But, to return from the mire (or martial arts) of ever more-profound sayings, how many other day-long fulfilling adventures will typically set you back $10 for lunch and $20 for fuel while the rest is free?

I rode alone. Leaving home just after 10am I headed up the freeway past the airport, and before Sunbury I turned left to Digger's Rest. There was no wind and again it was a cold but hearteningly clear, blue, winter's day. Later as I passed through Kyneton after lunch I was to see the temperature gauge in town read 10 degrees. It is lower when you are exposed and speeding through the cold air. But from the start I huddled within my sheepskin and leather and was warm. I was intending to explore new roads west of the Calder freeway. But first my petrol tank was half-empty and so I decided to make a stop once outside the city, probably at Digger's Rest.

Digger's Rest has no petrol station except the one I passed coming into town and to which I returned. Having no proper signs, no indication of brands or octanes or prices, I had passed it thinking it was abandoned and now used as a wrecked car yard.  Being the only place in town I double-checked and found it open. As I pulled up at Digger's Auto an old man - or was it a woman? - came out from among some wild cacti and called to me to use the other bowser. As I pushed away from the original bowser I saw that it had no glass and was rusted. It was about 11am at this point. As the old man stumbled over to me I thought, "He's drunk!" Then I chided myself for my assumptions about this poor bugger who probably had suffered a stroke or some other disability.  But no: he was drunk! And he insisted on serving me. I averted my eyes as he pointed the petrol nozzle in my face and fell sideways into the bowser with a complaint-cum-laugh.  When he finished he took me into a dirty old shed and, amidst the usual old-man-shed's broken mechanical rigmoral and rubbish was an Eftpos machine and a display of potato chips.  The drunk man proceeded to tell me all the details of his life and of his family's lives; both the bare facts and how he felt about them, as well as a fine-detailed report. As I rode away I thought about how bad an idea it was to stop at a place which looked like a post-apocolyptic set from Mad Max.  I expected the questionable fuel to clog the carburetturs at any moment. And then I thought about how silly that whole thought was: what an experience! 

I planned to head west and find roads travelling north to Maldon, however I had to turn back due to the current blitz of road works on bridges on small back roads which are currently the bane of my navigations. Up to Gisborne then Bullengarook and west on a road the map claims is sealed, only to find it was not. It was hard-packed clay however so I decided to follow it for a distance to see if the tar would re-emerge. It didn't but I enjoyed a pleasant sortie before returning to Gisborne.

East of Gisborne I decided to folow wherever the roads might lead and to approach intersections with arbitrary whim. I got lost in a tangle of back-roads and discovered an area transplanted from rural England, through which I puttered along.  I soon found myself at the turn-off to the Mount Macedon Memorial Cross. This place was cold, and I was even colder, exhaling white clouds.

The Macedon Cross was erected in the 1930s to commemorate "Australia's sons". 

Nearby was a lookout with a plaque commemorating the ascent to this place by Major Mitchel in 1836 with a view to seeing Port Phillip, in the light of which he named the mountain Macedon, after Phillip of Macedon. I'll let him tell the story This photo does no justice to the expansive map-like view of the land spreading near and far:

As I walked back from the cross I nodded to a rather committed older cyclist who was puffing his way through the chilled thin air. I rode to Woodend, a short but substantial enough distance, went straight and ordered my lunch at a bakery and, as I sat down to wait for it, a mere few minutes after having pulled into town, I looked up to see that cyclist standing there smiling. This man is clearly a fast rider.  Afterwards I rode to Tylden, Kyneton, outside of which I took some photos on a dirt road.

As you can see it was a fine winter's day. It was meant to rain but all I saw was a constant exchange of rich grey clouds and then deep blue skie, the effect of which were constant bursts of winter sun. I had worried earlier that bringing photography (well, my attempt at pointing and shooting) to my riding would create a kind of attachment to "capturing the moment" rather than flowing through the moment, empty handed and present.  But as I rode I found myself noticing the colour and angle of the light, as it sat on the hills or spread with softened brilliance in its own abstract colours in the sky. Photographic attention deepens your attention and appreciation. 

I headed north on empty roads to Redesdale. Before Mia Mia I saw a sealed road and followed it.

The road stretched on and on

but there was much to see

The road lead me to Burke and Wills Track. Here is a photo on that 'track' just before I entered the forest, which later took me to Lancefield and directly south past the airport and into Melbourne.

One of these days I'll make it to Maldon. The day was filled with so much that I have not mentioned. I arrived home at 6pm, and aside from taking the odd photo (many from the seat of the bike) I had not been off the bike since finishing lunch at 2pm, in motion the whole time. 

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Short Video

You might recall Marlon from a post below. He came past my house today and we tested out a new custom-made CDI on my SR500, which a guy on the SR500 Forum has developed. Anyway, it's nice to see a video of my bike and hear how nice it sounds! (-even if the video is a bit blurred.) This is the old British sound I want from a bike; it feels so nice when you're aboard. The warning I give to Marlon is based on the fact that the countershaft sprocket is barely held on! Live dangerously, Live greasily!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meandering through Macedon, Mitchell and Mt Alexander...

The title lists the main shires which I passed through today on a very pleasant all-day ride. The first half was with a friend Mike, who has had his 1980 SR500 since new. We rode north to Wallan, Romsey, then up the Burke and Wills Track, from Mia Mia to Sutton Grange, and then headed for Maldon but I misread the map and we ended up in Kyneton. Both of us realised early on that a turn had been missed but neither of us cared because the roads were so damn nice! Winter, blue skies and sunshine all day! There were so many things I would like to have captured on camera on the ride before lunch, but I was enjoying the flow of riding too much and decided I would return for a photography-focussed ride in a week or two. But we did stop along the Burke and Wills Track to check out what looked like a WWII memorial, and turned out to be a commemoration of the first Australian flight of the first Australian built aeroplane in a paddock within the immediate vicinity. The date: 16 July 1910...99 years ago almost to the day. Here it is, with Mike:

It is said that:
"To ride alone is good for the soul
To ride with company is good for the heart"
I always emphasise when I ride with others that we are all free to do our own thing, and after lunch Mike decided to head west and home, and I east and home. I did about 200km of back roads amidst lush winter landscapes of hilly sheep country constantly decorated by great prehistoric granite boulders.

Empty back roads and green winter countryside:

I thought I'd try adding some video:

Winter sun:

There were a lot of abandoned, and especially tumble-down, old homesteads and houses...

I would never experience these places and these days were I not a motorcylist.