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.

1 comment:

  1. When we immerse ourselves in Variety there can never be a dull day.