I’ve loved cycling here, both in the east and west of the country and am now really sad to be leaving. The slow pace of travel and the way bikes open conversations has meant we’ve seen lots and met the most wonderful, friendly and generous people. We’re struck when arriving in small town Australia on the immediacy of communication, a cultural lingua franca that exists, and then find ourselves hearing about people’s life stories as we have coffee. Perhaps it’s the legacy of ‘Empire’ that has left such strong cultural roots and affinities. Even with local idioms and accents, there’s an openness and frankness that’s common that I’ve not experienced elsewhere.
Australian’s are well travelled and know much about the world outside their own. There are strong family ties back to Britain, Europe and Asia. Coins and stamps still have the image of the British Monarch. People always ask about the impact of ‘Brexit’ and the new British Prime Minister. They know far more about where I come from than I do about them and here.
The country feels so big, new and undiscovered. We visited the Immigration Museum in Melbourne and were struck by how this part of the Australian story is still also unfolding. In the Wheat Belt, west of Perth, the history of settlement, distant piped irrigation and the hardship of early farming life can be seen everywhere. It’s only a grandparent’s generation away and the old railway lines, discarded rusting machinery and decayed farmsteads speak much of their endeavours.
We return to Kuala Lumpur shortly to see family before heading to Vietnam and Cambodia for a differing cycling experience. Hopefully we’ll get some warmer weather, after the Australian winter, and a new local food variation after so many delicious pies!
Used to haul logs to the railway heads.
This could be an Antony Caro sculpture, representing a fossilised industrial artefact. Instead it is one of several exhibits at the Forestry Park in Manjimup.
The massive thick rusting metal communicates the weight and power needed to shift trees.
About to head north from Perth to Darch. Last day riding bikes in Australia.
A beef satay and beef steak pie from a bakery in Bunbury and eaten at the railway station. Dreadful weather – cold wet and windy. A train ride back to Perth will be a pleasure.
Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne; Perth, Wheat Belt, south Western Australia.
Distance ridden – 4,016km
Days riding – 37.5 (lots of half days)
Average daily distance – 107km
Longest day – 147km Nelson to Port Fairy
Punctures – 1, at Narrung
Mechanicals – 1, rear gear cable snapped from Perth to York
Best camp – French Man’s Creek and Contos
Pies – 23
Best Pie – Wood Wood
Other touring cyclists – 2
Touring cyclists are a rare if not dying breed. The two we met were a Japaneese lady at Perth East station just arrived in Australia and a man cycling the Munda Biddi Trail who we were introduced to in Pemberton.
Since replacing my batteries on my ‘speedo’ in June 2016, before riding to Cornwall in the UK, we’ve ridden 5,033km. We clockup on rest days 30-40kms easily pottering about and seeing things which are not included in the above total.
‘Bad but good’ from Balingup General Stores. We camped at the town’s oval as we head north back to Perth.
Yasmin ascends the mighty Karri, on steel pegs hammered into the side of the tree, to reach a forest fire lookout post.
There are many Australian house types but there’s one we see that I really like that’s nicknamed ‘The Groupie’. In Pemberton the saw mill built for it’s workers a variation of this house, which is bigger, as in the 1922 photograph above.
They are simple single storey dwellings, a corridor down the middle with the living room and bedrooms off it but opening directly into a rear parlour or kitchen. The fire places and stove were traditionally all to the outside walls. All have front verandas to give shade and additional outside living space.
Pemberton’s streets are still lined with them and we stayed in one care of the YHA. It looked like this although the interior layout had been altered.
Norfolk Island Pines we see everywhere as ornamental trees across Australia, marking street corners and avenues with architectural conical features, caricatures of trees as if someone had drawn them. In the picture above, the Pine sits defiantly in the foreground of Pemberton’s saw mill which was originally set up in 1913 to harvest hard woods from the Karri and Jarrah forests to provide timber sleepers for Australia’s transcontinental railway. The line needed approximately 1.4 million sleepers to carry the rails across the country. The mill still operates and we were fortunate enough to catch a guided tour whilst raw logs were being processed for timber.
Our guide had worked in mills all his life and was able to give us both a history of logging and a guide to the timber processing we witnessed. Visits to factories and places of production are always interesting, different from many contemporary places of work, as things are actually being made, sorted or being put together. The mill was no different. Progressing along an elevated walkway above the band saws, rotary saws, planers, separators, and flat bed conveyors moving differing sizes of logs and then timbers through the mill, we could see everything. We wore high visibility vests, eye protection, hard hats and ear protectors as otherwise the noise of the machinery would have been deafening.
We were surprised to learn that only about 40% of a harvested tree can actually be used for it’s timber. Having seen the massive Karri and Jarrah trees in the forest this was depressing that such tall and elegant trees could be so ‘wasted’. The Karri can grow as high as 80 metres and is one of the Earth’s largest living organisms. Feelings of depression were to increase when our tour party was told that most of the timber currently in production at the mill, that we were seeing, was for tiling battens for the roofs of old houses in eastern Australia. Apparently these roofs are failing as they were originally battened with Pinewoods that are not as long lasting as the Karri and Jarrah which, as they age, become harder. The battens are 32 x 50mm. It’s like making match sticks from a European Oak.
Before leaving the UK the main concern of friends and work colleagues was, I discovered, about how to keep clean and orderly on such along road trip away from home, pedalling a bicycle and with minimal clothes and comforts. The answer after 3 months in Australia is as follows:
- The three basic sets of clothing, underpants, socks and t-shirts, does work. One set you wear, one set is drying or being cleaned and the remainder is the ‘reserve’.
- Washing clothes is simple. You take your laundry to the shower and as you wash yourself you wash your clothes. Underpants make excellent soapy flannels.
- The clothing needs to be of manmade fibres, light weight and quick drying. I tie them to my cycle panniers and they dry in the wind and sun as I ride the following day.
- There’s been the odd occasion when the above daily cycle doesn’t work, for example when we’re away from clean water in the back of beyond or when nothing dries as the weather has been super wet. Then, we try and make the clothes we wear last a bit longer as being a bit grubby really doesn’t matter.
- Toilette – we carry a washing bottle and use it.
- Showering – always in the evening as this cleans away the road grime and keeps the sleeping bag liners good for longer.
- Shaving – I shave most evenings if there’s access to hot water after I shower. I’m determined not to turn into a gorilla.
- Toe and finger nails – they seem to grow like crazy. We clip them regularly.
- Hair – I’m letting mine grow. I can’t shave my head every week so I’m currently looking a bit Julius Caesar or the Duke of Wellington which means a bit ridiculous. But I don’t care.
- Laundrettes – there was a time earlier when I seemed to live in my orange fleece top. I rode and slept in it and there was no way to get it cleaned properly in the daily ‘shower’ cycle. We use laundrettes when we can or the generosity of friends and Airbnb hosts to get a ‘deeper’ clean to our clothing more generally.
- Medicated talcum powder – a great refresher to sweaty parts.
- Sun cream – ESSENTIAL – we wear it everyday.
- Moisturiser – we use a lot of it in this dry climate. Legs, hands and face more than daily.
- Teeth – the usual tooth paste, manual toothbrush, floss and TePe.
- Underarm deodorant – yes, but I sometimes wonder why I bother.
- Thermal drinking cups – we drink everything from them – water, teas, milk and wine – we ‘Steradent’ them to stop them getting scuzzy.