Monday, May 31, 2010


It is said that to ride alone is good for the soul; and that to ride with friends is good for the heart.

I chose to lay aside soul-work for some new winter heartening. So my friend Rosy and I spent yesterday on the road. We followed in the footsteps of Burke and Wills, Major Mitchell, and the gold diggers.

It was a day pregnant with the ghosts of pioneers. Do you know who flew the first Australian-made aeroplane in Australia?

No, it was not Harry Houdini at Digger's Rest. He was a foreigner, in a foreign aeroplane, and he wasn't even the first to fly in Australia.

The first Australian-made aeroplane flown in Australia was made and flown by the Duigan boys, at Mia Mia. Its construction was based on...a photograph of the Wright brother's aeroplane.

That was July 16, 1910. When, almost exactly one hundred years later Rosy and I found ourselves flying past the place on our motor cycles, how could we not stop?

Later we sat in the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, upstairs in a private room on armchairs drinking coffee. The building, both in facade and furnishing, is Art Deco.

Above and below, are images found on the internet - I did not think to photograph the place. If I had, even the toilets would not have been spared.

I feel close to a friend when I ride with them, particularly when following them as we weave through the hills in formation. It is a wonderful way to spend time, alone together.

We made south for Daylesford in terribly strong winds, then west for Woodend in the wet, then south down the Calder Freeway in the freezing cold, to meet with Fee and enjoy a hot dinner together.

Oh!, I do enjoy a good day of motor cycling!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mark B's Retro SRs

One of my favourite blogs of late is Mark B's Yamaha SRs and XTs Random Photos which is a collection of Mark's large library of SR photos, which he uploads daily. I am particularly interested in the retro-style SRs he shows. Below are links to some of them - click on each letter.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Swan Hill with Fee

Fee and I travelled by motorcycle to Swan Hill this weekend past.

It was my uncle's 60th birthday. He is dying of cancer. This fact was not mentioned at the party, but it was fortunate that we had this opportunity to gather around him. He's universally liked, and deservedly so.  And I am quite sad to see this happen to them both. I'm also sad to know that a character, in both senses of the word - a good man; and an interested and larkish fellow - is leaving the world.

Fee is not up to long trips on the bike, which gave us the pleasant excuse to divide the trip in two, and stay Friday night with my aunt in Bendigo. On the way up we stopped for lunch in Romsey. It was cold - that fine wintry day when smoke hangs like mist, evoking warm cottages and scones. Instead we ate chips and gravy!

Afterwards Fee said hello to some sheep in a paddock by the road.

The man who owned the small supermarket evidently owned the sheep, and weirdly he came outside in a huff to have a go at us. I rose to his occassion and he backed off, but if he had continued I might have suggested he put up signs, right there on the public roadside: "Do not look at these sheep!"

The next day we set off for Swan Hill, where we were due for lunch.

I enjoyed this ride, but Fee did not. She enjoyed it even less when we encountered the remains of the locust plague. They hurt when they hit, in that instant before they explode like paint balls.

At one point Fee anxiously motioned me to pull over, then jumped off in a huff: her visor had been splattered with a stinking locust carcass! We had nothing with which to wipe it off, so in her agitation, to the confusion no doubt of passing traffic, she got down in the wet grass and wiped it. I could do nothing but grab my camera and shoot!

Fee took the opportunity for a photo session of me.

We stayed at my mum's Saturday night, and Fee caught a 6am bus Sunday morning, to avoid another day on the motorcycle.

I left at midday, heading west out of Nyah West.

Along the Chinkapook-Nyah West Road I encountered my beloved salt flats.

The salt flora:

Stumps settle in odd shapes in this landscape. Here, a wild Mallee pig

There were more slat flats to be encountered on the way to Sea Lake. One was a system of lakes and rivers. It was beautiful, but I rode on in order to enjoy it in motion, rather than stopping to look. It is important to balance capturing the scene, with enjoying the un-clutchable flow of things.

At Chinkapook I stopped to admire the ghostly tennis courts. As much as being an experience in the present, when something is left sitting ramshackle since its use in former days it manages to evoke the spirit of the days at which its architecture hints. That's why I call these courts ghostly.

From Chinkapook I rode south: Sea Lake, Birchip, Corack, Teddywaddy, choosing back roads all the way. When my fuel became low I was forced on to the highway in search of the nearest main town, Charlton. From there I took the Calder Highway toward Bendigo, with a sign telling me home was 245km away.

The ride down the Calder was cold indeed! Freezing! When I took a turn-off for more petrol, I was riding through thick fog. My fingers didn't work properly at the service station, my throat hurt, and I almost forgot my $10 in change - the cold had entered my head.

So I have decided that in winter I won't be doing those long trips which leave me starting for home (Melbourne) from Bendigo after dark, which was common over summer. In fact, I think the long-distance rides along endless straight roads might become less of a habit. I did a lot of them, but it was due to the novelty of the Hornet 600, after years of old bikes on which I avoided highway speeds. I am realising how much I love central Victoria, with its winding hills and small towns appearing around corners. And the part of the Wimmera and Mallee regions that I love to ride regularly is the stuff at its edges - the riverina area, or the forests at the edge of the deserts, with bush and sweeping roads. Nyah is not flat - you can see that in the picture above. Whether it is a straight road on hills, or gentle open curves back and forth, it is quite different from the stereotypical endless straight and flat highways. And this is the interesting thing about this landscape, and Australian landscape in general. It is not at all uniform such as we often imagine. The Mallee landscape is a patchwork of many kinds - many different landscapes, related to one another in the way family appearances are, but as with family similarities, there is real difference in each individual member. There is not one essential characteristic. When I ride I love to seek out the different and the new.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The CZ fails but Honda does it

James Devery is a young friend of mine who bought himself a two-stroke Czechoslovakian motorcycle which is nearly twice his age. He fiddled with the wires and rode the thing straight up the Hume to NSW and back, in the week of heat that preceded Black Saturday.

The CZ has "character", so James has not ridden it much. Though he has gone from an ignoramus to a skilled home mechanic in a short time. Here it is:

On Monday last, James and I went on a ride. We intended to wander about the hills between Daylesford and Maldon. The little 175 handled the freeway well, though it left me worse for wear from my position behind, drinking the blue smoke it emitted.

Just south of Tullamarine Airport, James pulled over.  The bike had failed in some way.

You check the gearbox oil-level on the CZ by unscrewing a bolt in the case: if hot oil pours out, there's enough in it. ...a simple yet strange motorcycle! We stood there scratching our heads, turning eccentric bolts, watching oil leaks and strange smoke for a few minutes, while cars accelerated past us at 100kph.  We later learned that his clutch had decided that, now the electrical system was sorted, it should self-destruct.

Suddenly a light truck pulled in. I was getting ready to wave the driver on, when his grinning face revealed Craig, of Mischief Makers, a custom bike fabricator. It was like a TV show where the young bucks get themselves in trouble, and the cool older guy happens to turn up and save the day.

So James' CZ returned home via Craig's truck. After I ferried James himself home, I set off (it was now 1pm) to take the Eastern Freeway out to Kinglake, where I had lunch, then Flowerdale, Strath Creek for Coffee, Broadford to visit an aunt and cousin I have not seen in years, and home down the Hume Freeway.

At Flowerdale I explored a new dirt road, Spring Valley Road.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day of the Tumbleweeds

There were moments today when I had to snap down my helmet visor fast to avoid a face-full of locusts, the tired dregs of that plague bouncing with restless depression. Later, when the air formented with a meeting of the warm and cold front, thousands of baby tumbleweeds made their dash across the road before me. Everything was in motion. But despite the small pulses and darts, the effect was of lazy movement. Of warm rain and places never before seen and yet known.

I returned to Lake Eppalock, between Redesdale and Axedale. I followed each road until it ran out of tar, or until the gravel track came to an end. On the dirt and gravel at speed on a sports motorcycle you glide along, always ready to go down, but you are much more stable than you realise...if you keep your hand steady. You can feel the lack of grip, the slide across so many marbles. The right technique here is never to back down. If things start to go hay-wire, increase the power; power your way out of it. A certain faith is required, which becomes habitual confidence in time.

Later I was to race a semi-trailer truck on the dirt. We were on a long detour road, and he was approaching me from behind. I did not want to sit behind him in his dust. I did not want him to sit  right behind me in case I fell and was trampled. The road surface was good, so I looked into the distance and opened it up. It felt liberating: I am making friends with the dirt, that previous barrier to so many possible explorations.

But that was later, and back at Lake Eppalock, the water was not to be seen at first. I rode off the edge of the boat ramp and found an anchor.

The bush in this area is scraggy, sparse. It is Bendigo goldfield country. Like the anchor above, things weigh on the Earth's surface, they are planted, held. This feels good.

In places the landscape is lush. Fish brim in some of its waters.

The ground at the boat ramp was smooth white pebals and sand, and as I almost lost the front of the bike a number of times, I retreated to another entrance to the water, near a general store.

I feel some kind of deep endearment to general stores: standing on their own like that in the bush, old. Perhaps it is the effect of David Malouf's construction of the Keen's Crossing General Store and the lives held by it, but it is something more and I think some people will feel the same as me. There is a lot of life that has happened here, through passing by. Not big dramatic things. Just moments of happiness on a sun-filled day in 1983 as a girl enjoyed an ice-cream, and one overcast day years earlier, as somebody stopped to call the garage in Axedale to come tow their Morris Minor. I chatted with the patron as I ate and then made my way down a road which aimed at the water I couldn't yet see.

When I found the life of the lake down there, it was magnificent. I was riding the basin of what was the lake, which is now bare and treed. The drought has stripped the earth back to its essentials. The wind was blustery in a way which silences everything. And here, yellow sand, and sand-stone, and the lake in a crater, so that you are standing on cliffs over-looking an expanse.

In the water are dead gums - God knows how long they have sat there - and boats. There is an island, joined to the land, which you look at and decide you will ride to in a moment.

You can see the Hornet's top-box and handlebar poking above the cliff.

I decided against riding to the island when I met the slope I would have to descend. I promised to come back here on the SR500 and explore these many rough tracks, to see where they lead - some occasion waiting for me up ahead, that will not take place without me.

Returning in the direction, roughly, from which I'd come, and further along, I found a sign that I was meant to be submerged in a good swimming area:

With a promise to return, I headed north from Lake Eppalock to Gornong, then down Barnadown and east to Muskerry and again down. These towns typically consisted of a disused public hall. Sometimes they were a mere road-sign.

On the Barnadown-Knowesly Road I found a marker:

A track which was hidden from the eye of the road led from this marker and I followed it. It was a fairytale place - I travelled the track through a forest of green

to a billabong

The I made south.