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Old 10-08-2012, 12:36 PM   #1
platypus121 OP
CT.110 NZ
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia


( Being an account, presented in many parts with divers characters and scenes, relating a history of Birtles IV and Rider who,
in their forays through the Land, ever sought to espy the elusive Koala and to shun Pastries of Interesting Content )

Major Players, in order of appearance :

Glitch : Facilitator and chronicler of motorcycle tours.
Gudrun : Spouse to Glitch, cook extraordinaire.
Crystal : Seasoned outback traveller.
Birtles : CT110, young at heart and nimble of limb.
Bernard : Foreign traveller, first companion of Birtles.
Grimpeur : Climbing bear, second companion of Birtles.
Peggie : Lucky peg number 96, first advisor to Birtles.
Ringie : French wristband, second advisor to Birtles.
Lyall : Farmer, now retired and resident in Forbes.
Kaye : Spouse to Lyall, and a maker of excellent tea.
Kota : Japanese cyclist, a mighty battler of winds.
Mrs Mac : Baker of Pastries of Interesting Content.
Koala : Mythical beast.


In which Birtles begins a Journey and sees a Castle.

Pete’s done a sterling job. Amongst other things, Birtles now has new wheel and steering head bearings, new tyres
and tubes, forks that are drained and refilled, even his headlamp is polished. He’s looking like he will do the
lap of the continent with ease - and Birtles might make it as well.

Born in 2007 and now with 28,353 on the odometer Birtles is no spring chicken but Pete reckons he sounds sweet, and I agree.
Check out how Pete prepared Birtles at

A few trial runs into the Dandenongs and Birtles performs well until he splutters, looses power and then falls silent
as we are climbing to the summit. He starts again easily but the process repeats every time his nose is pointed up.
Back to base, where the carb is cleaned and the electrics are checked by substitution until the problem seems to go away.
But, maybe it was just water in the tank as later it briefly occurs twice more. When it does, I ask Soichiro’s forgiveness
and decide on a kill or cure approach. Birtles gets the berries (two large punnet’s worth - you know the ones, the ones
with the really big, ripe strawberries on top and the smaller ones sneakily hidden underneath) and that cures the problem.
Perhaps it took a while to purge every bit of moisture?

On go the other fittings. Pack, panniers and racks have come off a CT at home, so they are quick bolt-on jobs.
The front rack is well worth fitting as it’s perfect for the tent, giving easy access to the item that is usually the first
to be unpacked and the last to be packed each day.

Air NZ, or rather one of its pompous employees (aka “that bastard”) at the luggage check-in had given a thumbs down
to the XR250 tank even though there was documentation to show it was prepared to the airline’s requirements.
I flew out, tankless, while Sue investigated getting it on a cargo plane, but at $450 freight and dangerous goods inspections
at both ends ($150 in NZ, Australian charge unknown) it was not an option.

The white tank in this photograph is courtesy of Tim, another person without whom the trip would have
been a slow-starter - thanks Tim!

Positions are found on the over-loaded frame for Birtles’ companion and advisors. Grimpeur is zip-tied to the handle bars,
Peggie is pegged to the speedo cable, and Ringie is stretched around the speedo housing. They are getting vocal
about what lies ahead - “Climb, climb!” urges Grimpeur; “Ride ‘till die” Peggie chants, and “ … …” , a tangible
silence from from Ringie, who refuses to speak unless addressed in French.

While staying with Pete and Goodie I meet Christal, Pete’s mum. She is an inspiration with accounts of her outback travels.
Four times over the Gibb River Road and visits to so many of the places I hope to see. Her enthusiasm is infectious and
I understand why Pete has such a love of travel. With all the help, interest, and good wishes from my hosts, the Melbourne
riders, and those on the AusTouring site, this trip is no longer just a private amble around the continent. I feel like part of a
team in which I happen to be the one tasked with the riding. It’s a pleasant feeling, but one that brings with it the responsibility
of being worthy of all that help.

Christal pipes me off with a German folk song, the same melody that Elvis pillaged for his song “Wooden Heart”.
The original German words are more fitting than those of the crooning King: ”Must I then, must I then, leave the village,
and you, my dear, remain here?”

Yes, I must, I must. How can I ever return if I never depart? Christal’s salute is returned and I quietly hope to be a
fraction as bold as she has been in her travels.

Down the street with one hundred meters safely completed - just a few more to go. By the look of the brake light,
I’m already stopping for lunch.
(Photograph below by Pete)

Pete has suggested a route to take us through some nice areas as we head towards Lake Eildon. Comprehensive directions
are not enough for one who gets lost in a mall, and it’s not long before there’s a wrong turn over the Brisbane Bridge
in the Yarra Ranges.

A helpful local directs me to the Acheron Way where the damp hill roads going towards Mount Donna Buang are a treat.
Birtles is in his element with no other traffic to push him beyond his comfort zone on the twisting, gentle climb.
Cool mists, condensation on the visor, and the buzz of excitement that starting a new trip always brings.
"Climb! Climb!"

Over the top to Marysville through avenues of tall straight trunked eucalypts flanking the way. The kangaroo might
be a common metaphor for this land but the eucalypt would be a better one. Thriving naturally from the alps to the
scorched interior and so common that they go unnoticed, they provide shade and shelter, their wood has built houses,
bridges, railways, furniture, and fuels the weekend barby, their roots hold the hilsides together, their leaves feed the air and
their litter feeds the soil. And, best of all for me right now as I pass between them, they just look so magnificent.

Between Marysville and Buxton the forest gives way to open pasture land with blue skies overhead. Mists evaporate,
temperature rises. At Buxton Birtles gets another occy for his spare tyre which needs extra restraint. I consider one
for my spare tyre as well, but the bum-bag is doing an adequate job so far.

At Alexandra we head back into the hills via the Maintongoon and Sonnberg Roads, on winding gravel leading to Lake Eildon
and Bonnie Doon. The end of the Maintongoon Road has a familiar little cottage right next to the high tension lines.
I check to see if the Kerrigans are there, looking up contentedly at the lines and revelling in the tranquility, but the place is
empty - they must be back in Melbourne at their other Castle.

Lake Eildon is just across the road and over the water floats the soothing sound of an outboard motor at full throttle.

The old railway has been converted into a rail-trail paralleling the road bridge over the now brimming lake. Birtles can’t
resist a quick squirt along it when no-one is about.

Last time I saw the “lake” there were 4WD tracks and trees over its bed and the locals were mumbling about the evils of irrigation.
That’s the same road bridge in the distance.



The thong-tree is new - amazing how quickly they grow. Those red ones look like they are ready.

I don’t even look for a tent site at Bonnie Doon. By four o’clock the sun has lost all warmth, the clouds have thickened, and a
get-under-cover-asap instinct drives me to a cabin for the night. Later, when rain lashes the windows, and the temperature
falls to minus 2, I stop chastising myself for taking the easy option so early in the trip.

There are many ways to amuse yourself in a cabin. One of my favourites is called “Boomph” in which players take turns
plugging in ever more appliances to the same outlet - you’re out if your turn blows the fuses. Someone's started a game already.

It’s been a slow day to start the trip off, just 185 kilometres, but they have been varied and interesting. I am starting to see
why the southern Victoria roads are held in such high regard by motorcyclists.

... To be continued ...
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-08-2012, 01:10 PM   #2
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In which Birtles reaches Corowa

Melbourne to Corowa : (interactive)

Day two starts wet and cold, through Mansfield and onto the Old Tolmie Road, a must-do on Pete’s route.

Then, the Tolmie to Tatong Road which is a must-do from my own list. It has Kelly connections as it passes close by Stringybark Creek where
Ned promoted himself from likeable larrikin to half-hearted criminal. The Kelly Tree that saw the deed stands near the spot where Lonigan, Scanlon
and Kennedy were discomforted by Ned and his lads. I reach out and touch a bit of living history, until a plaque spoils the ambiance. This is a mere
replacement, the original witness was chopped down. Now, who would do such a thing? Mrs Kelly would be jolly annoyed, I can tell you!

Even without the original tree it’s thought provoking to be standing close to where Ned’s life path took a turn that provided the country with one of its
first and probably most widely know characters. As I wander about I run my hand over some of the older trunks and wonder if Ned sat under or leaned
against these very trees while planning his rebellions.

Out of the damp forests and into the cleared land, through Molyullah and Greta South.
More Kelly country, all looking very green and pleasant.

Guess where this guy is from.

Quickly through the built-up areas around Wangaratta as we are aiming to end today at Corowa after a loop through Peechelba, Yarrawonga and
Mulwala, seeing both sides of the lake that forms the border. Sad to see the remains of trees drowned when the lake was filled - a few good men
with Stihls would be appreciated today by the boaties that have to weave between the dead trunks.

Dinner in Corowa with David and Helen has been arranged by Nev and Jo who have ridden up from Melbourne. David and Helen are Ulysses members who
have ridden widely, including tours in India. A great meal followed by much bike talk, during which it is revealed that Nev and Jo did the Postiebike Challenge
back in 2004 …. is no-one is safe from the attractions of high exhausts, red plastic and a powerful engine?

Hey Jo, look what I found on the interweb. Bet you wish you still had the Little Red Machine rather than that silly old BMW.

To be continued ....

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-08-2012, 04:35 PM   #3
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Location: The Dandenong Ranges, Vic
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Great stuff!


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Old 10-08-2012, 10:17 PM   #4
platypus121 OP
CT.110 NZ
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia



In which we muse on dangers, escape dangers, go thirsty,
learn to be safe in the kitchen, and meet a very nice horse.

Google Map - interactive

North of Corowa it is time to practise taking photographs of
converging lines as there will be a lot of them shortly.
It’s hard to do much photographically with a straight road - and
with 7hp the motorcycling options are also limited.

Caution … musings ahead …

No worries with limitations, though, for in Australia there is never a
dull moment. Bubbling away at the back of the mind are dozens of
fearful warnings about potential dangers lying in wait for any who
make a single false step. Dare to veer off the officially approved course
by just a few meters and you’re a gonna for sure. Yes, even on this
well engineered, straight, sealed road north of Corowa there is an
arsenal in readiness, waiting for the call-up.

Just some of what could happen out here …
1) get bored by the long road / fall asleep / roll into grass / bitten by snake
2) wombat wanders onto the road / hit wombat / fall off / bitten by snake
3) white line flashing by is hypnotic … fall asleep / hit wombat / etc.
4) two large Cokes from the last roadhouse want to abandon ship / stop /
walk a modest distance from the road / bitten by snake / fall asleep
5) stop at lay-by for a rest to avoid falling asleep / hitting wombat / etc, and …
(fill in your worst nightmare - someone at some time has been warned about it for sure).

My dread is of being abducted by Swedish hitch-hikers.

There is a bottomless well of advice and it’s bucketed out by anyone
who knows the country (and even by those that don’t) to warn of the
dangers of the land and of what to be wary. Warnings start with the
obvious and sensible - heat, distances, road trains, Barrow Creek,
Australians. Then they move on to a list of creatures whose names
are traditionally paired to the word “deadly”. It is a really long list, but
we must skip over it for there is something so much worse: the “Most-Deadly” list.

The M-D includes snakes, sharks, octopuses, crocodiles,
fish, and spiders, in fact, any living thing can qualify for M-D status
if it meets either of these criteria :
1) has the ability to kill, paralyse, and / or permanently disfigure
anything that makes physical contact
2) has received so much imaginatively bad press that just its
sighting sparks eradication campaigns.

M-Ds are hardly ever seen, but their mind-control control over visitor
and native alike dictates the what, where, how and when of all activities,
from using a toilet (Red-back!) to swimming (Stingers! Sharks! Rays!
Stonefish!) and everything in between.

And yet, despite all the fear and loathing, despite all the well-meant,
extravagant advice …. there was no warning about the real and
present threat on the horizon.

No-one. No individual, no club, no regional body, no travel agent,
no government service, no tourist organisation …..
Nobody warned me of the terrible dangers lurking in Urana … …

... the Giant Silo Spider !

… and the Carnivorous Power Line Pigeons !

Keeping a safe distance from both hazards and increasing our
speed a notch or two, we escaped to the flooded areas north of
Urana where spiders and pigeons were
unlikely to be living in great numbers.
Where are the sun bleached bones and dry riverbeds?

Not at Merriwagga, 70 km north of Griffith, that’s for sure.
The “Old School Caravan Park” is run by Mel whose sideline is
converting pushies to electric power.
Great facilities and friendly reception here.

Neither Mel’s pushies nor his park are what put Merriwagga on the map.
The pub does that with a bar so high that a mounted stockman may
collect his beer without leaving the saddle.

The tallest bar in Australia, they do say, though disbelievers from
Queensland question that claim and have been known to arrive with tape measures
to prove the matter one way or ‘tuther …. and then leave, disappointed.

All evening the struggle goes on to order an orange juice, but all is not
lost as there is a plethora of other things to do in Merriwagga.

Those who are too short to reach their drinks, or lack a horse, can feast
on Rosalie’s range of exceptionally good (check the label) pickles and jams ….

… or stand outside to watch the sun set over the silos, keeping a
watchful eye for spiders … and pigeons ...

… or, if there were still light enough, they could view the second of
Merriwagga’s contentious claims to fame. Forget Blackall as the home of
the Black Stump. What is Blackall’s stump anyway? Just a big lump of
wood the surveyors used for steadying their instruments.

Now, Merriwagga’s Black Stump is much, much more interesting,
being the remains of a woman whose clothes caught fire while she
was cooking Hubbie’s dinner over an open fire.
Hubbie returns home after a hard day’s graft, fully expecting to see a
tasty lamb roast and three veg on the table. Instead, he finds the Missus
reduced to “a black stump” by one of history’s more unusual cases of
spontaneous combustion. Her remains stand dutifully before the lamb
roast as if checking its progress, but by now the once juicy joint is little more
than a tragically overcooked crisp, well beyond salvation for the table
and hardly worth giving to the dog. Luckily, though, some of the vegetables
are still edible, if a little on the crunchy side, and serve as a light snack for
Hubbie as he contemplates the scene before him.

Throughout the inquest Hubbie stuck to his story and swore that if he
ever remarried the second Missus would have a proper stove to cook on.
It would be worth it, after all, no point in wasting a second perfectly good lamb roast.

The late Mrs Carbon is no longer on display, but her memorials - a steel
sculpture and a picnic area - are there outside the pub, reminders to us
all of the terrible dangers of failing to maintaining sound health and safety practices in the kitchen.

There is also a really efficient barbeque for those who just won’t be warned.

Didn’t we say there was never a dull moment in Australia?
Still, we are a bit peeved that this business of catching fire was
another danger that we were not warned about.

On a happier note and for animal lovers … this is a Merriwagga horse.
Name, age, and gender unknown, but it’s very friendly and Birtles
thinks the sun shines from his rear.

(Mentioning the horse in case anyone who is passing through
wants a drink at the pub but has forgotten to bring a step ladder).

Life on the road isn’t all beer and skittles, sometimes it’s just bread and water.
To pack down small, this bread has had its volume reduced: take a fresh
sliced loaf, divide it in two, rewrap the halves and compress them.
On the spot jogging with one half under each foot is the most efficient method.
The loaf reduces to about a fifth of purchased size and
with few air pockets left it stays fresh for ages. Individual slices can be
peeled off like pages of a book. Just add some warm water and there it is,
a quick lunch for the busy tourer.

A previous trip with AusTouring members brought home the importance
of food to the bike tourer, with meals being photographed as enthusiastically
as was any scene. In this report we will try to satisfy the food-lover with
photographs, such as this, of the trip comestibles.

Camera numbering puts this mine between Merriwagga and Cobar.
There are so many mines that memory fails as to exactly where it is, but it
did impress as being really rather large.

Cobar Information Center advises that, yes, there is plenty of
accommodation in the town, but, no, there’s no point trying any of them
as they will all be full. The logic is unassailable - they are full because
they are always full! Every cabin, room, hall, bus shelter, woodshed and
Wendy-house overflows with miners who in turn fill every
parking space with their Troopies and Cruisers. But, there is a huge
empty field of unpowered tent sites, each one up for grabs, so I hastily
hand over $27 and rush to peg a spot before the one other tenter claims it.

Memory is pin sharp on that Cobar tent site. Two thermals on top,
thermal leggings, sleeping bag with thermal liner, riding jacket over it
all … and still a wee bit nippy despite huddling around the LED tent
lights powered by Birtles battery. No, camping is definitely not popular
in Cobar - I’m guessing that if the price fails to deter campers, the weather
at this time of year certainly will.

To be continued ...

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-08-2012, 11:41 PM   #5
Joined: Jul 2009
Oddometer: 53
Looks like you had an awesome trip. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
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Old 10-10-2012, 01:49 AM   #6
platypus121 OP
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Originally Posted by Brainflex View Post
Looks like you had an awesome trip. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
Thanks, David.
It was an adventure, that's for sure !
We'll have to get together to do the East Cape once the weather's improved.

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"
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Old 10-10-2012, 02:31 AM   #7
platypus121 OP
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Birtles vs Australia


In which the roads are long but not winding, Birtles is plagued by wind most foul,
and an old art form is observed.

Cobar to Cunnamulla ....

That's not much to look at, is it? Here it is again in satellite view ...

Service roads run alongside the highway south of Bourke. Good enough to ride on at
Birtles’ speed, but always a risk of punctures from the occasional glass and metal debris.

Bourke was closed … no tennis today, thank you.

… and definitely no pole-dancing.

Leaving Bourke.

Since crossing into NSW the wind has been against us, literally. When it’s
full-frontal our speed is reduced to a wide-open-throttle 50kph. Birtles struggles
to make progress, then when it changes to the side he shows off his dancing
skills by waltzing left and right in time with the gusts, cutting a dapper sine-wave
path down the road. The big test is to remain on our half of the road when passing
shelter belts of trees as the alternating gusts and lulls force Birtles into an even more
vigorous dance - possibly a two-step.

Crossing into Queensland at Barringun the wind becomes a relentless gale and we stop
frequently to take a break from it - and to laugh at the fences and sheep being blown over.

In amongst it all there are calm spots where it would be hard to keep a kite up, and
the temperature is rising.

After the last food-related post there was a veritable flood of requests
for more in the same vein, so here it is. Compressed bread is nice, but when it comes
to fine food I have to confess to being a true gourmet. Below is another handy road food
tip, a bit more upmarket this time - Sandwich Thins. In packets of six and resembling
thin buns, they are lightweight, cheap, and last well. Their main advantage is that each
thin is pre-sliced, thus saving an awful lot of time when it comes to adding a filling.
Peanut butter improves them …. anything improves them!

I like Cunnamulla. Hard to say why - perhaps it’s the music in the name.

“Dream with ya heart and not ya head”
Good sentiment - pity about the spelling
Sounds like one of those sayings that we thought would change the world, way
back when we were seventeen - remember?

- “If you love something, set it free”
- “You are a child of the universe”
- “Never trust anyone over thirty”

In the back blocks, people make their own fun, and it’s great to see that
the ancient art / sport of stone stacking is alive and well out here. Starting in 17th
century Scotland as “stane stook” it became more popular than tossing the caber or
even haggis hurling, but lost popularity in the 20th century when radio broadcasts started.
This one is just a beginner’s attempt. We hope to see better examples as we move
into more remote areas.

Another NZer ?

Whatever the attraction of Cunnamulla, this guy likes it enough to stay

Us? We’re off to Eulo and points West …..

To be continued ……
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-10-2012, 10:45 PM   #8
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Yep. a run around the cape would be good fun. Something I want to do this summer. I wonder if we can rope in some other mugs errr keep folk on tiddlers.
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Old 10-11-2012, 10:14 PM   #9
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Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia

In which there are Sparkling Jewels, a Town’s Tourist Industry is put in danger,
there are two welcome Finds, and Birtles suffers a sorry Mishap.

Cunnamulla to Quilpi
A: Cunnamulla B: Thargomindah C: Toompine
D: Quilpi

Go 66 kilometers west of Cunnamulla and you’ll find yourself in Eulo where the
processing of opals from the Yowah fields is the lifeblood of the town.
This miner’s house doubles as his processing plant and shop.

I wander around the opal exhibits and have a coffee. Lesson for the day is that
Yowah opals are formed differently from Lightning Ridge or Coober Pedy opals.
They are geological oddities with amazing colour displays - but not enough for
me to join those who spend big money on them.

“A carat of good opal is worth more than a carat of good diamond,” I’m told.
I buy a very small one from the hundreds being sorted.

With no middle-men it is just $5, tiny yet perfectly formed, with a display that puts
a diamond to shame … … maybe I could fall in love with opals after all.

The four images below are from the Yowah Opals website : At the lower right is opalised wood.

Lake Bindegolly, between Eulo and Thargomindah where there
are good riding tracks around the lake.

Plenty of pelicans about, too. I’d like to see Jack Sparrow ditch his budgie and
get one of these babies up onto his shoulder - that would make him a real pirate in my book.

Before Thargomindah there is a reserve for a string of mud springs called, very
sensibly, Mud Springs Reserve. The springs once served as release valves for
pressure build-up in the Great Artesian Basin. Irrigation bores now replace this
function. Each spring has created around itself a dough-nut shaped mound
3-4 meters high.

In front of this mound is a more advanced example of stane-stook. This one appears
to be a Grade III attempt - good enough for competitions at regional fairs and exhibitions.

Emus are great fun. They add yet another element of uncertainty to travel in the
outback. Here, a couple on the right side of the road look across to two more on
the left side of the road. They are waiting until we get level with them before they
start playing their favourite game. It’s called -

“Hey, Let’s all run to this side of the road! No, that side! No, this side! No, that side!”

Peggie shouts encouragement to them - “Run ‘til die! Run ‘til die!”

Thargomindah is great fun too, once you learn how to spell it. Birtles reckons it is
even better than Cunnamulla and, although I’m still undecided, he may be right.

It is a tidy town that has everything you would need or want for a comfortable,
if quiet, life in the country. We can’t figure out why it’s not over-run with Grey Nomads
and retirees - perhaps it’s too far from their usual North/South migration routes.
The shire operates the caravan park, so good service comes before profit and this
really shows. It is well maintained, spotless, and run by friendly and helpful people.
The $40 cabin that lures me away from the tent for the night would have
cost $100 in most other areas.

When I hear the manageress talking about London, Paris and Thargomindah as
if there is a close link between them, I ask her to please explain. The local claim,
a foundation stone in the town’s tourist drive, is that these were the first three cities
to have electric lighting. Hmmm … she speaks with an Irish accent, she has red hair,
she probably can handle it … so I tell her about Reefton, a NZ town that also claims
to be first town with electric lighting.

In Thargomindah this is heresy, I might as well say that the Earth goes around the Sun.
Will she summon the Inquisition, set me alight over Birtles’ fuel tank? No, she has
heard foolishness like this before, takes it calmly, and looks at me with quiet tolerance and pity.

“I’ll check that on the internet” her mouth says.

Her eyes are much more eloquent - “ Woe, for Truth is not upon this man. I must
redeem him from his blasphemy. I must Search, Search the Word of Google Almighty
and bring the misguided one back into the Light of the One Truth!”

When I next see her there is a neat pile of printouts on her desk. They bear out Reefton's
leadership in the electric lighting matter and expose Thargo’s claims as a mere fantasy,
a fragile house of cards on fraudulent foundations.

As the one who has seen a local town deprived of its glory, the chance to set the
record straight, to elevate Reefton to its rightful place, is offered to me - I must take
the printouts to the electricity exhibition and prove the displays wrong.

Maybe I’m a lazy bugger, but it would take interest, energy and misguided patriotism
to undermine the town’s claim to fame and I just can’t be bothered. Thargomindians
have a lot invested in the lighting story - all those displays, pamphlets, exhibits - and
they are happy with it. Let sleeping dogmas lie, I say.

Or not. The way those printouts are being straightened and filed, the locals may soon
hear the sound of cards crashing down.

Our best find in Thargo … Thargomindah Caravan Park cabins.
I don’t know if these are the best value in cabins Australia, but it would be hard to better them.

Our second best find in Thargo … Marmite !!!
There were 12 x 250g jars stacked here, a couple of cartons of them out the
back of the IGA. They are sitting on a small fortune!

Marmite is a NZ product that has a dedicated following. It is the type of spread that
you either love or hate, but if you love it, you love it with a passion. My brother lives
in the US and he gets it sent over from NZ - $7 for the big jar, $35 for the postage - that’s
how people feel about Marmite. So, when the only factory that made the stuff burnt down
last year, production stopped and what was on supermarket shelves disappeared overnight.

Some of it is reappearing on Trade-Me and sells at quite a mark-up. At the time of
writing there are 214 lots of Marmite for sale - two typical ones below.
Buy at $2.75, sell at $34 - pretty good profit. The wise ones are hanging on to their
stocks for a year or two until 250g jars of Marmite have reached $200 a jar.

In an attempt to boost the local economy, I do some calculations on how much
profit there could be for the shopkeeper if she ships her supply to NZ, but she is
unimpressed - she’s probably been talking to the caravan park manager.

It is fortunate that the body is so well prepared by nutritious foods such as Marnite,
as today Birtles faces dirt roads. We could get to Quilpi on sealed roads past
Nocundra and through Eromanga, but that is 389 kilometres compared with
195 kilometres, 91 of them dirt, if we go on the direct route over the Dowling Track.

Track (noun)
1. A rough path or minor road.
2. Australia only - Unsealed road ranging from freshly graded dirt highways as
smooth as a new motorway, to goat tracks able to be traversed only in dry weather
by 4WDs with winches and sand ladders. Note that the term ‘track’ does not automatically
imply suitability for vehicular traffic of any type.

We consult the boys. “Climb, climb” urges Grimpeur, pulling forward against his
zip-tie restraints; “Ride ‘til die” shrieks Peggie, gripping the speedo cable more
tightly in anticipation; “… …” agrees Ringie through tightly closed lips.

That settles it - the Dowling Track it is.

My photographs of the Dowling are deceptive. They show what looks like a
typical dirt road, but this one has a surface like cracked glaze and is rock hard.
The area must have been flooded and when it dried the surface cracked open
similar to drying mud on a lake bed. The cracks are big enough to get Birtles’
forks pumping as if he is on corrugations. Unlike corrugations there is no magic
speed at which they smooth out and we progress at 50kph or less, stopping
every few kilometres to give hands a rest from the hammer blows coming
through the handlebars …

… and to pull the front mudflap off the wheel. Quite alarming the first time
it jammed, the screech it makes sounds much more serious than just a rubbing flap.
No matter how many times it happens, when that noise erupts the immediate
response is clutch in, engine off and stop asap.

Towards the end of the ninety-one unsealed kilometres we strike something completely
different … a pair of traffic lights. The second one is about two hundred metres further
on at the other end of a short strip of new sealing.

There has not been another vehicle for more than an hour and I can see the whole
of the controlled area. We stop and wait for the red to change anyway as we are in
Queensland now - there could be a surveillance helicopter hovering about just waiting
to catch a naughty rider. A bit of a smell wafts up into the helmet as we wait and
I assume it is the new wet tar.

Wrong ! At a pub between Thargo and Quilpi we pull over and park outside the
entrance door. As I get off, I see petrol running from the tank area and over the engine.
There is a bit of bubbling on the cylinder head but no flames. Birtles gets short shrift
and at a run is pushed away from buildings and cars. First thought is that the tap has failed.
That would have been preferable to what it really is, a split down the left side of the tank.

By the time the tank is off birtles, there is only a litre of petrol left. It holds eight litres and
the 120 kilometres to Toompine would have used about four of those, so three litres has
gone over the engine. Birtles remains calm and points out that we should be thankful,
first, for the split being on the left - if on the right petrol would have gone over the plug,
and second, for the tank under the seat - it is full and will easily get us to Quilpi.

Top: The split cleaned out, area around split roughened up.
Middle: Knead-It plastic steel forced into the split.
Bottom: Layer of Knead-It over whole area.

Patching and testing the tank took a bit of time, so no photographs of the rest of the day.
Tomorrow we fill the tank - how good is Knead It ?

To be continued …….

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-14-2012, 02:26 PM   #10
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Birtles vs Australia

In which Birtles’ troubles continue, there is a change of direction, and help comes from afar.

Quilpi to Brisbane:

Overnight the Knead-It has become rock-hard hard, but from the front end of yesterday’s repair the split has grown
a further couple of inches. Looks like the vibration has created a weak area running along the length of the tank.

Time to re-think how to proceed. The plan had been to head west from Quilpi then north on the Diamantina Development
Road and through Jundah to Winton. About 680 kilometres of remote roads where losing the contents of the main tank
again would be a wee bit of a nuisance as distances between refuelling points are beyond the range of the under-seat tank.

How much more will the split spread?
Will I enjoy it if another split starts on the spark-plug side?

I decide the safe thing to do is replace the tank. Using the-state-by-state listing of Australian motorcycle dealers that
back home I had downloaded onto the tablet, the few bike shops “nearest” to Quilpi are phoned, hoping to find someone who
can point me in the right direction. I also call Pete back in Melbourne to let him know that progress might be stalled for a bit.

Nearest is in quote marks because there really is nothing close to Quilpi if what you are looking for is a tank from a twenty
year old motorcycle, and the number of wreckers in outback Queensland who may have a tank is small.

With no good news from the bike shops, the only sure place of getting a tank seems to be Brisbane where if all else fails
I can get a small one from 1-10 in Caboolture. Joe can supply a five litre bolt-on tank - not big enough by itself, but by
also squeezing a five litre can in the pack it would do the trick.

There’s a call from Pete, he has located an XR tank, and do I want him to send it? My view of cellular communication
devices changes momentarily from strongly negative to mildly tolerant and by the afternoon the tank will be on its way to
the Brisbane address I give Pete.

In my mind at this point, shooting across to Brissie for the tank seems no big deal - Quilpi is in Queensland / Brisbane
is in Queensland - and there is a pretty much straight line route through Charleville, Miles, Dalby and Yarraman.

When I look at maps of Australia, I have to keep reminding myself of how much bigger it is than New Zealand. Something
like this helps to make it clear that Australia really is “A BIG C<” …. and that Quilpi to Brisbane is 973 kilometres,
not an overnighter on a Postie.

Another Knead-It job is done on the new split. The Postie tank alone does not have enough capacity, so at least part of
the XR tank’s capacity is required. It will not be fully filled to lower stress on the repairs - if it can carry four litres that
should be enough to get between petrol stations.

While the filler is hardening the rear tank mounts are made more shock absorbent. The lady at the Quilpi hardware
shop helps with this. I explain what is needed - some high density foam or rubber strip to create a cushion between
the tank and its mounts - and she becomes really involved, scouring the shelves for anything that might work. She comes
up with a number of items ranging from large plumbing washers to a doormat. The doormat is the one - it
has a rubber backing and when strips of it are wrapped around the tank mounts and held with zip-ties they form shock absorbing cushions.

We top off the Postie tank and put four litres in the XR tank and gingerly set off for Brisbane. Five kilometres out of Quilpi
and the repair is holding.

Stopped by a billabong, under a shady tree. No jumbucks here, though.

When Q provides long-drops at rest stops, they mean what they say! Those last few steps could make all the difference
if you were desperate - after a couple of Mrs Mac’s products, for example.

The motorcycling routine of checking both mirrors every minute or so has to be speeded up on Birtles. At 65kph other
vehicles catch up quickly so the checking is done at least every thirty seconds - just a quick glance - and it’s still surprising
how quickly the view in the mirrors can go from showing an empty road to a close-up of Kenilworth grille. To this ritual we
now add a tank inspection, running a hand over the split area and checking the glove for petrol. Each time the glove
comes up dry We become more confident that the Knead-It will hold and over the trip to Brisbane the check list becomes a mantra -

“Right mirror, Left mirror, Tank checking, Glove,
“Right mirror, Left mirror, Tank checking, Glove,
Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, ….”

About Australian place names I have learned this: however I say them, it will be wrong.

Shep-ee, She-pee, She-pie, Chep-ee, Kep-ee, all possibilites . Sometimes the local pronunciation is so far removed
from the rules of phonetics that I wouldn’t be surprised if the locals probably call this place Cheeps … or Westminister.
I’ll never know, as in the rush east there is no time to explore Cheepie, or even catch a glimpse of it as it’s set far off
the road, but the sign does give me something to wonder about - what is there, apart from the name, that makes Westminister
Simply Unique ?

A little further on we did find something unique, a roadside pub without its walls covered with items discarded by passers-by.

Instead, it had artwork, all done on old tools, and pretty good it was, too.
The saw was too big to fit in the pack, and Birtles hates just strapping things to the outside as this ruins his aerodynamics,
so we left it there and just bought a coffee instead….

… which we drank at a table covered with a painted circular saw blade - see the table cloth through the centre hole?

Nice campsite at Mitchell

Making up alternative meanings for road signs is helping pass the long hours at low speeds.
This one’s easy - Emergency Ladder on Side Road.

This one says it all:

The loads on trucks in the Roma / Miles area have me puzzled until I see all the waste cotton along the sides of the road.

Reflections on Myall Creek at Dalby

Kaimkillenbun sign inspires Birtles to put on a burst of speed as we approach Brisbane.

Home of a disappointed farmer -

The crest of the Great Dividing Range before the slow descent towards the east coast.

For several kilometres over the twisting roads we avoid black spillage on the road, thinking it is effluent from stock trucks.
Just before Kilcoy, the spillage stops and there is a large truck stopped at the side of the road. The driver is inspecting
the fuel tank from which a last few drops are dribbling out. He really needs some Knead-It, but the little I have left will not be
enough for his huge tank, so we pass by, giving him a sympathetic wave. We lost only a few litres - this guy has made a
significant contribution to OPEC.

At Kilcoy the Yowie has its own park. When I photograph a statue of the local equivalent of the Yeti, Birtles
insists on modesty and covers the Yowie’s intimate items with a mirror.

Who can pass a windmill without admiring its elegant simplicity ?

She still hasn't quit ?

We head towards 1-10 so Birtles can see his mates and so I can check the tank Joe has just in case the one on its way
from Melbourne is not a goer. At lights in Caboolture a HD pulls alongside and the rider starts asking questions. When
I tell him we are going to 1-10 he says “Follow me”, and edges in front. At the green, he heads off slowly so Birtles
can keep up and pilots us all the way there. That is a nice gesture - even though I knew the way already. I make Birtles
promise to stop bullying HD’s.

Joe gets his mechanic to have a tinker with Birtle’s cam chain and I get a new headlight globe as the Dawson has done that in as well.

And then there is no longer any need to create mental diversions - the Bruce Highway provides that well enough as we
head a little south to where the tank is being sent, Sue’s aunt and uncle in Burpengary.

Public holidays in Queensland delay the tank for a couple of days, so there is plenty of time to give Birtles a good going-over,
and to fix a broken wire in the loom where it goes around the triple tree. He gets a wash and looks very smart ….

…. a bit like me in the pair of knitted bootees that replace my riding boots when indoors.
Very comfortable, must get the pattern.

The replacement tank has similar mounts and goes on without a problem.
No leaks, Birtles has full tanks and new oil, it's ....

"Climb, Climb", "Ride til die", "... ...".

Ok, Ok, you lot, I was just about to say ... it's time to take off the booties ...
tomorrow we will start heading inland again.

To be continued ....
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-16-2012, 05:31 PM   #11
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia

In which we hear bells in the forest, abuse the faithful, laugh at cemeteries, and meet one tough bastard.

We head inland on the D’Aigular Highway, soon turning off onto
the picturesque Neurum road.

Display of large wood carvings at Goody Park.

Top of Lake Somerset at Villeneuve.

Through Kilcoy again and onto the Jimna Road, heading up into the hills.
Almost no traffic and an easy surface give us time to enjoy the bush
settings, and we stop several times just to listen to the birds singing in the eucalypts.
I think they are Bellbirds: if they are not, they should be - sound
just like little bells, all tinkling away happily.

Being out of my usual environment sharpens the senses. Back home
if I stopped in a forest and the birds were chorusing, it would probably
not even be noticed - here each new sound or new vista rushes into
the senses and stands out fresh and clear.

Tracks head off into the bush every few kilometres with no sign as to
where they might lead. That is too much of a temptation for Birtles, and
one of them has to be explored. As we get further from the road there’s
another temptation, to just sit in the grass (amongst all the MD’s) and
become part of the scene - hard for Birtles with all his day-glow fittings.

Over the Great Dividing Range again and the land opens out into gently
rolling pasture stretching to the line of hills on the horizon. It could be
savannah land anywhere in the world, except for the ever-present eucalypts
and the occasional Kookaburra that brand this area distinctly Australian.

Iconic …. !!

Moronic …. !!

It takes all sorts, and the world would be a poorer place without a variety
of people, but I’d rather be without this looney with his endless supply of
metal rectangles, red paint and limited range of expression. His efforts
have been seen nailed to trees through NSW and Queensland, and at
each one I wished I had a ladder and a claw hammer.

Since I didn’t, a bit of post-trip photo manipulation is the best I can do to
lessen my distaste for the evil tree-mutilator.

Ban Ban Springs, where in the long ago the Rainbow Serpent came to
the surface and created a spring that still runs today. A plaque lists the
further activities of the Rainbow Serpent and the significance of the area
to the original inhabitants.

I usually go all gooey and New Age-y at a site like this, but all I see
here before me is a spring - there is no mystique, no aura, no feeling
of being somewhere special. This may be because I read that, some
years ago, a larrikin levelled the area with a bulldozer and the whole
area was later reconstructed. So now the spring has become like the
Kelly Tree - it marks the spot, but only as an impotent understudy
of the missing original.

Welcome to Trev’s Place, Gayndah.

Urgent corrective podiatry needed at Mundubbera

Road signs for cemeteries really do need a bit of extra thought.
The pairing of a cemetery sign with “Dead End” or “No Exit” is often seen.
Maybe it is deliberate, meant to cheer you up a bit when you visit the graves.

Munduberra carefully avoids the cliché ….

Funny ‘ol things are cemeteries.
In them we are all levelled, literally and figuratively, yet segregated
burial plots strive to ensure the divisions that religion created
in life are not healed in death.

This is the ancient lungfish which gave its name to the nearby locality of
Ceratodus. Once found in local waters but now only on a mural in Munduberra.

Birtles fraternises with the Big Boys who are lounging at the side of the
road, making eyes at every passing Italian car.

Another cemetery, another laugh.

The things you find at the side of the road!

This puffball has found a niche all its own. It grew further off the road
as well, but right on the edge of the tar seal seemed to be the preferred place.
It is so fragile that just a touch with a boot and it will disintegrate, yet it
grows through the stones, pushing them and the tar aside. No doubt it
already has a scientific name, but I called it Globuli Toughbastardus.

Mini volcano created by ants.

Nature studies will only delay us so long.

Tomorrow we head for Theodore, Springsure, and then the Dawson Development Road.
Reports from locals about the DDR are not very encouraging, but, as one admirer of Birtles told me :

"It's a Honda - it will never fail". I think that is what's called blind faith

To be continued .....

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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Old 10-16-2012, 09:39 PM   #12
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Location: The Dandenong Ranges, Vic
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Originally Posted by platypus121 View Post
Since I didn’t, a bit of post-trip photo manipulation is the best I can do to
lessen my distaste for the evil tree-mutilator.

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Old 10-18-2012, 10:55 PM   #13
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Location: AUS
Oddometer: 1,861
Fan-bloody-tastic....what an AWESOME read!
Got the whole home-tribe glued to the screen here, waiting impatiently for updates.

Go, Birtles, Go!!
A Dozen Years Of Adventures
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Old 10-20-2012, 09:04 AM   #14
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia


In which Birtles traverses the DDR, Teddies fail to impress, we visit a House of Horror,
and small Creatures create a big annoyance.

After a disturbed night I wake feeling unrested. Outside the ambos are working
quickly and quietly to remove the bodies of three campers who fell to the Koalas
last night. Next to Birtles’ front wheel the lifeless body of a Koala looks as if it has
had a blow to the head - Grimpeur’s fists are bloody and his usually well groomed
fur is ruffled.

“Fought til die” Peggie proudly explains.
“… !!!!!! …” exclaims Ringie.
Grimpeur is deep in thought - a Koala, even a savage one, is a relation.

We make a quick exit from Springsure to avoid being delayed by police who are
arriving at the scene of the attacks.

The Dawson Development Road starts well enough but quickly degenerates to
a state that has me remembering the tank-cracker track out of Thargomindah
but the scenery more than compensates for the road.

There are bare grasslands and thick clumps of trees, dried riverbeds and flooded
paddocks, and always in the distance are the escarpments and cliffs that never
seem to get any closer. Cores of old volcanoes push up from the plains up like
pimples about to burst, pulling my eyes into the distance. Under our wheels, an
ever-changing surface pulls them back again. We are riding over rock and dirt
and sand and mud, sometimes singly, sometimes in combination, it is always
changing and always trying to deflect Birtles’ wheels from the straight and true.

Major Mitchell passed through here on one of his explorations in 1846. I know
this must be true because between the sign and the road you can see droppings
from his camel. I’ve spotted his camel's droppings all over the place and am
really impressed with how the Major and his camel got to all those places, especially
as there were no roads in those days.

We are riding over what once was the wagon route from Springsure to the
Barcoo, constructed in 1866. Since then (the billboard half way to Tambo
informs me) the road was upgraded in 1874, 1877, and lastly in 1879.
That could explain what we now encounter, the worst surface yet, one that
started its life as soft mud, was rutted by 4WDs while still wet, then dried out
and had the ruts filled by drifting sand - tricky.

Still, there’s nothing that a hearty meal can’t make right. The compacted
bread idea has been extended to raisin bread. Tasty, but goes a bit squishy
when it is being compressed and the slices don’t separate cleanly.

I’m pleased that Wills’ grave is far from the road so that the morbidly curious
will not disturb the peace and drop plastic bags from their raison bread all over
the place. I pass up the side trip and settle instead for imagining what could
be done if I had that ladder.

T 120
Whoo-hoo, halfway there!

More escarpments, still looking as if they are the same distance away from
me as they were a hundred kilometers ago.

Almost in Tambo and the road is getting better all the time.

Attached to the dingo fence ….
“Macropod Harvesting” / “Harvester” …. who are they kidding?

Nine and a half hours after leaving Springsure ….

… and we know what’s in Tambo, don’t we?

Here’s a clue …

A Teddy Bear factory anywhere seems the most unlikely of things. That there
is one in Tambo seems downright improbable, yet all the advertising says it is
there, right on the main street.

I’m looking forward to seeing a room full of clattering, industrial size sewing
machines with skilled operators bent over them, all concentrating on getting
each limb realistically curved, each stomach convincingly stuffed, every growler
securely installed, each pair of expressive eyes stitched on in the anatomically
correct position.

Then there will be the shelves filled with finished bears, all unique, sitting attentively
in rows waiting for that special someone to walk into the factory.

The reality is a small shop with a workbench that doubles as sales counter, a couple
of household sewing machines, a handful of (understandably) un-adopted bears in
unnatural positions, and a distant and disinterested woman who seems to be the
only employee. The last time I felt so disappointed was when I was six and my parents
said I couldn’t have a saxophone for christmas.

To reward Grimpeur after his effort last night, I buy him a bumper sticker:

“When All Else Fails, Hug Your Teddy”.

Close by is Fanny’s Rest Stop, run, as often seems to be the case in country towns,
by a backpacker, and in this instance an Irish one. Coffee and various home-mades
are consumed to test Fanny’s advertised claim, but it is impossible to draw a conclusion
as the raisin bread from earlier may have been interfering with the experiment.

Scientific investigation over, we ride off into the sunset.

And spend the night at Tambo Caravan Park where we meet Lyall and Kaye,
caravanners from Forbes, at a campfire get-together organized by the park manager.
Not really my thing, discussing caravan hitching, annex erection, and reversing
techniques, but the manager was friendly and I go along for a few minutes just
to prove willing.


Birtles has fuel for about 400 kilometres, but we top up whenever we can. At Blackall,
home of that other black stump and just 100 km from Tambo, we meet Clive who is
heading west for a tour on his HD. His load of camping gear is mostly well aft of the
rear wheel, held on by some very small occy straps and some very big luck. Clive heads
off before me with that eardrum shattering thrumble beloved of HD riders and
despised by the rest of the planet.

Birtles putters out of the serviced area a few minutes later, after stopping for a
pigeon who didn’t hear us coming.

This guy, Larry I think, watches us go by from the top of his post, so we go
back and return the compliment.

Man-made sculpture : Eagle and nest / metal.

Nature-made sculpture : Dead tree / wood.

Isisford has turned its disused shops into displays.
The grocery is fine, no problem at all, nothing scary here.

But, avoid the bakery if you are of nervous disposition, it is definitely in the Twilight Zone.
Baskets of realistic loaves in the window invite you into a dim world where oven doors
hang hungrily open, old baking tools look like they intend a lot more mischief than
turning a loaf, and mannequins watch your every move, moving slightly in the corner
of the eye then freezing when you look directly at them. Dust on the mannequins would
show that they are just displays, but these guys are clean of anything that suggests immobility.

This place has me looking over my shoulder - it’s enough to make a screaming child quiet
and a quiet child scream.

Ma is sharpening something out the back, she’ll be back soon.
Meanwhile, meet the Baker Boys and their Sister …

Spot the odd-one-out ?

Isisford river-side camping area.
The number of people at free campsites always surprises. Would they be here,
spending money in town, if there were no campsite - I wouldn’t. A small town
without a free camping area is really loosing out. Free-campers are the scrooges
of the nomad world, but they still have to eat, drink, refuel, and buy the latest
Woman’s Weekly to catch up on what Camilla is up to.

Allen and Judy, Taswegians, doing the mainland.
They invite me to breakfast - two cups of coffee don’t bode well for mid-morning.

Not your typical country person … (most have their fridges inside)


Crikey! What a hard luck story, this guy is really down on his luck, poor bugger.
I feel so sorry for him (especially the empty fride bit) that I go in to give him a
helping hand or at least a consoling word or two, and find that there is at least
one good thing left in his life - his dogs are alive and can run really, really fast.

At Ilfracombe the "mechanical mile" display of old machinery and farm implements
along the main road is not a mile long - “mechanical kilometer” just doesn’t have the
same ring to it - but it is well worth wandering along if you like heavy metal.

The head winds are at work, doing their best to slow Birtles. I worked out a way
to estimate frontal wind speed using ear sensitivity. My helmet needs me to put
in ear plugs at about 70kph in calm weather: today they were called for at about
45kph, so frontal wind = 25kph. (patent pending)

Burn-off crews are taking advantage of the wind, firing the strip between the road
and the railway line, using the road as a fire-break.

“Summer-time, when the livin’ is easy”
Kites, circling through the smoke and watching for anything escaping the flames.

Into Longreach from the east, the first things to come into sight are the town’s
two trademarks - the Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum.
Saw both from the outside only, but that was enough.

But I did look long and hard at the sculpture of the cowboy outside the Stockmans
Hall of Fame, especially at that arm holding the saddle over his shoulder.

It is 36 degrees, I’m down to the bare minimum of protective gear …. and …
my hair changed today. I started the trip with hair short enough that a haircut
on the road would not be needed so there has been a lot of head shaking and
twisting to stop hair bristling against the helmet. Today there was none of this.
Has there been a sudden spurt of hair growth - was it Allan's breakfast?
Has the heat made my hair limp and flexible - or expanded the helmet?

There was a down-side to this new found comfort - I now sport helmet hair,
long enough that, after a morning of manipulation by the helmet lining, it forms
eye-catching, though never appealing, shapes.

It was in the early stages and a quick trim would nip it in the bud, but that would
mean a return of the bristling. No, better to stay comfortable, let it grow and live with
the consequences - which really weren’t so bad. So what if people look you in the
hair and not the eye? So what if after looking you in the hair they smile to themselves,
turn to their friend, and then they both look you in the hair and laugh? Strange really -
if I were a punk rocker with a nose ring and “Johnny Dole and the Scabs” tattooed on
my forehead they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Reckon they must be envious of my carefree life on the road.




Further off road

Just how Mick the caravan park manager at Winton, who otherwise appears to be a
decent bloke, can say this is a full caravan site without laughing beats me but it is a
good learning experience - I discover the joys of pitching a tent over an ants’ nest.

Birtles gets new oil, chain adjusted, and a nuts and bolts inspection. Battery voltage
is next to zero under the lightest load, maybe charged to death by the long distance runs.
No wonder my 12V charging systems don't work. Nothing in Winton, ditto Boulia tomorrow
for sure. Birtles will have to wait until Mount Isa the day after tomorrow for a new battery.

The ants invade, the tent is covered. They are unable to get through the insect mesh -
unless I want to get in or out. They post guards at the zip so that every time I touch it
they signal the troops and hundreds dash in as I dash in. Sometimes, for a change,
hundreds dash in as I dash out, however, any combination of movements involving
ants dashing out seems to be against their philosophy.

As the light fades, Ringie and Peggie, convinced of Grimpeur’s power after the Koala
incident, and impressed by his still bloody fist, stay close to him for protection as ants
make their way over Birtles.

To be continued ……

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

platypus121 screwed with this post 11-12-2012 at 10:01 PM
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Old 10-22-2012, 03:08 PM   #15
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
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Birtles vs Australia


ACT 10 : Winton to Three Ways Road House

In which we survive the Min Min Lights, enjoy a hotel meal, see floating hills and
two big chimneys, agree with Brian, and there is a decision.

Been a bit remiss with maps. Here is the route to the end of Act 10.

( Melbourne to Corowa has been generalized a bit: for the exact route
of this section, see )


The wind blows the ants off Birtles, and all that is moving with him, as we start
along the Kennedy Development Way towards the Hamilton Hotel ruins, 78 kilometres
before Boulia. (Development Ways must be further up the roading ladder than
Development Roads as this way is sealed, albeit in single lanes in places).

This is a road of many names. As well as being the KDW, it is also Highway 62,
and most excitingly …… The Min Min Way …….

Yes indeed, it’s a strange road, a mysterious and surreal road, a path to be trod
only by the bravest and most foolhardy, a road that haunts any who take it lightly.
Oh yes, the Min Min Way, where unearthly balls of light are said to …….. well, anyway,
just read the sign below ….

Allen, back at breakfast in Isisford, told me about this road, this strange road … etc.
He said he had expected at any moment to see John Wayne riding by as the middle
section was so like the scenery in Western movies. Now, seeing John Wayne out here -
that would be surreal.

Before we are able to meet Mr Wayne, we pass “The Grove”. I had to wonder … did
the farmer name it as an act of defiance, a rebellion against nature’s miserliness with
trees in this area?

Then, just like that, 168 km from Winton we are upon the Middleton Hotel, a welcome
sight after so much empty space.

Last night I had phoned to see if there was fuel at Middleton. There is, but only in
amounts that can be hand pumped into a jerry can and then transferred to the vehicle
as the electric pump was broken. Birtles is topped up using this method and I am
asked how much I think it was - we agree that it was more than four, but less than
five litres. Such is the slow and easy-going approach to life here. Cost per litre is the
same as at Winton, so no price gouging here.

Opposite the hotel another old building is jokingly labeled "Hilton Hotel". Maybe they
haven’t heard of the Hilton chain’s tendency to sue over the use of the “H” word, or
more likely they have, but are not bothered being so far from anyone or anything else.
Even after just an hour I have a feeling of being separate from the rest of the world, that
Middleton is real and everything else is so distant that it has no importance any more.

That could be the heat as today the helmet has been getting warm inside, what with
the extra hair. As a precaution there is an increase of calorie intake with a counter lunch.
Very nice it was, too.

Do I chance it and head off the road to this Point of Interest?
How far away it is, or even what it is were never discovered.

As the temperature rises, so do the hills on the horizon - or at least they appear to
do so, becoming separated from the ground by the same refraction that causes
mirages and the Min Min lights.

It’s a lonely delivery route for a postie out here.

Cawnpore Lookout.
We waited for at least 40 minutes, but Mr Wayne did not ride by.

Hamilton Hotel ruins rest stop. Plans to stop here overnight were scuppered by
the wind. It was so strong that even behind the shelter I couldn’t get the tent up,
so it’s on to Boulia.

Old machinery parts recycled as a station name stand. Without these markers
we would pass farm entry tracks without even noticing. Giving instructions on
how to get to a station with a marker like this must be simple and clear -
“215 kilometers past Winton, turn right at the 1948 Chevy driveshaft that’s
holding up a bifurcated nangler bobbin, then down the track for 267 kilometres”.

Sun-bathing lizards want to play chicken with Birtles. Both are moved to safety
at the side of the road but I suspect they return as soon as we leave.

Boulia water tank and windmill

I have a mission in Boulia - to find a Wadi tree. Way back in Corowa when we
had dinner with David and Helen I learned of their interest in rare Australian trees.
The rarest of these is the Wadi. Boulia school is meant to have a specimen in its
grounds. We find the school, we find the school grounds, we find the trees:
which one is the Wadi we cannot say. But, since we have seen all the trees,
we must have seen a Wadi.

Excellent ! That’s one more to tick off my bucket list.

Boulia Emergency Services, ready for the next flood.

Dajarra, half way between Boulia and Mount Isa, another place I thought to stay at,
where neither the windswept camping area nor the tiny green corrugated iron
rooms at the Dajarra Road House ($90) are inviting.

When I filled up at Boulia this morning, I asked whether there was much at Dajarra.
The reply was - “Haaa!”. As replies go, this one displayed an economy of words,
but it did paint a clear picture of what was to be expected at Dajarra.

A longer reply might have gone: “Well hi there, stranger, in the heyday of the
railroads, Dajarra shipped more cattle than any other town in the world.
Then the road trains killed all that off and now there’s not much there, just a
road house and a school.”

But what a school! 42 pupils, 2 teachers, 5 teachers aides, 1 administration officer,
1 cleaner, 1 grounds person, and 1 principal - one employee for every 3.8 pupils.
Were all those ex-cattle wranglers from the good old days re-employed in the education field?

Birtles insists on riding on the Donohue. We do about a kilometre of it so he
can cross that off his bucket list.

Gibber plains occur every so often. Their polished stones glittering in the sun
like fields of glass chips do terrible things to the camera’s metering system.
Definitely Ray Ban territory.

That’s better, F11 at 1/250

We buy a new battery for Birtles at Bike and rider in Mount Isa where there is a HD
being loaded into the back of a people carrier. It is Clive from Blackall who has has
punctured his rear tyre. No-one in Isa had a tyre for it so he flew back to Brisbane,
drove his van to Isa, and will finish his tour with the HD in the back. Not sure why he
didn't fly back with a new tyre.

Mount Isa from the town lookout.
Sometimes a single structure represents a city. The Eiffel Tower for Paris,
the Opera House for Sydney, and for Mount Isa it’s these two huge chimney
stacks at the mine’s processing plants.

Overhead whistling kites circle in the updrafts. Dozens of attempts to finally
get one in frame and in focus.

Crows wait on the lamp stands until a bird beneath finds a tasty morsel, then they
dive on it and steal the food. This one is starting his attack.

Mount Isa caravan park has many permanent residents and one tells me he has
been there for 27 years, during which time two wives and four children have all left
to live elsewhere. Got to be a moral in there somewhere.

This one’s set up for the long haul, too, by the look of those potted plants.

Three days is just a blink of an eye to the long-termers, but that is what I book in for.
Long enough to do what I want to do in “The Isa” - look for these fellows, trilobite fossils.

About 30 kilometres into the back blocks west of Mount Isa on the Mays Downs
road is the Templeton River. Anyone with a hammer, a cold chisel and a bit of patience,
can find fossils of trilobites along the dry river bed.
The photo above is of trilobites I collected on two previous visits to the Templeton.
It’s a huge thrill to split a rock to reveal a fossil laid down at least 250 million years
ago, and I want more of it.

There is a hitch - although mining companies do have ways of getting their thrills,
they don’t include fossil hunting and have placed a manned barricade across the
start of the Mays Down Road. The road is a public one, but the area has become
of interest to the mine, and entry is by written permission of the company.
An application can be lodged, says the guard, might get a reply in a couple of
weeks, might be lucky.

How much ore do they think I can smuggle out on Birtles?

High on my list of camping principles is never to stay longer than necessary at any
place that restricts my fossil hunting, so back at camp I donate the new hammer and
cold chisel to a guy at the next site and shorten my stay. The mining company’s
autocratic behaviour has brassed me off so much that purchasing the latest Australian
Woman’s Weekly is delayed until the next town.

In the early hours of the morning the new owner of a hammer and cold chisel arrives
back at his tent, noisily packs up and leaves, but not before informing any awake
(or woken) at that hour “Not staying in this bloody hole!” Something must have
really brassed him off too - though he didn’t look like a fossil hunting type.

Having got equipped and primed for the hunt then not being able to go ahead
with it is frustrating, so I put the thwarted hunting skills to work at the rest stops
on the way to Camooweal.

This shelter is new, so my quarry was not to be found here. Older shelters on the
other hand provide a rich hunting ground for what I am looking for - the best
graffito I can find.

There are walls, roofs and posts full of the usual stuff -
“Jacko loves Amy”, “Bing and the boys were here”, “Amy loves Bing”.

Some give hard-won advice -
“Don’t break down here it’s a mother of a hot place”.

Most are short and to the point, a few are more descriptive -
“Cracko, Cilla, Phil and Tessy heading to Brissie in the bangwagon”.

None, though, sum up the unspoken doctrine behind every road trip
better than Brian does …

Probably weeds … look nice anyway.

State #4 falls to the power of Birtles.

As we enter the Northern Territory our usual speed is now exactly half the speed limit.

Took a while to work out what the SH stood for. As the long straight roads drag on
we decide what it really means … “Sh*t, still 400 km to go!”

At Barkly Roadhouse we met Bazza who is riding around Australia on a pushbike.
Birtles' motor stalls in disbelief, I fall at his feet and tell him he is a Hero.
Anyone who can average 100 kilometers a day on a pushie for months on end,
through heat and rain and flies and road trains is a Hero with a capital letter.

Back at Mount Isa I met Lyall and Kaye for the second time. The third encounter
at Barkly RH calls for a photo. It takes precise timing to release the shutter at the
exact moment both are blinking !

The BRH camp area has shade and concrete pads for caravans, so it is an ideal
place to fit the fresh back tyre that until now has been a passenger, and to give
Birtles a good going over.

A slow start the next morning. Bazza is already heading for the gate while I load Birtles,
and even a busload of touring couples are ready to go, queuing along the side of their
coach, and inching forward as two-by-two they climb aboard. The wives look happy,
the husbands look like they would rather be back home mucking around in the garage
with the Black and Decker.

Low cost cattle grid.

Broken brain-like structures litter the sides of the road. They are the smashed remains
of termite nests, knocked down when the verges are mowed.

A few kilometers from BRH the tour coach overtakes. Before the rumble of its diesel
motor at the rear drowns it out I hear singing and imagine the scene inside.
Happy wives are in the aisle seats, leaning inwards to get a better view of Damien,
the effeminate (but really rather sweet) tour guide who is leading them through
“Roll out the Barrel” for the second time. In the window seats silent husbands lean
forward, fixing their eyes on the road ahead in the hope of getting a glimpse of any
hitch hikers Brian may have overlooked. On the straight road the bus remains in view
for several minutes, but as it eventually winks out into the heat haze I catch the distant
lilting strains of “We’ll Meet Again”.

Much further down the road than expected, Bazza appears as a day-glo green blob
floating above the asphalt. A quick chat and I leave him to his work - he should be at
Three Ways by the close of play tomorrow.

Birtles and I are there now, at Three Ways, a busy yet lonely place at the junction
of the Barkly and Stuart Highways where the walls display bumper stickers asking
“Where the F##k is Three Ways?” Birtles doesn’t want another sticker. He already
has a Tallest Bar one from Merriwagga and “When All Else Fails, Hug Your Teddie”
from Tambo.

The reward for running these outposts is a monopoly on passing trade - which means
the trade from every person who passes by, as few pass 3W without stopping. It’s the
only game in town and there are vehicles to top up, bladders to empty, and stomachs to
fill with food that has yet to receive a tick of approval from the Healthy Heart Foundation.

Without roadhouses like this, whole tribes of nomads would be hungry, bursting, and static.
They hold all the cards and, through price tags that startle the unwary, let you know that they
know it (and don’t give a damn if you know that they know that you know).

They may be essential, even offering cunningly worded bumper stickers and seven
varieties of fatty food, but no traveler stays for long. With vessels full or empty according
to need, he moves on, escaping heat, flies, and boredom. Backpackers are the
exception, working towards their next stopping point, dreaming of the day they can
afford to make it to Brisbane, Uluru, Darwin, or to fly home. They all but run the
roadhouses, which is fine by me …. “Pump three - six dollars fifty, please” in a
Swedish accent makes three hundred kilometers of corrugated road bearable
and proves Brian had the right idea.

I stay longer than needed. My warm Burger-With-It-All becomes a cold
Burger-Without-It-All when the contents spill out, four ways, but there is something
more important than eating to do here. For days, I have been trying to reach a
decision: logic, emotion, and meditation have searched for the answer and failed.
Now there is only one thing left to do, I go outside to where Birtles is waiting.

“If all else fails …”

In full view of the KTM riders in colour-coded gear, and the diners looking up
from their Burgers-With-(or possibly Without)-It-All, I lean over Birtles’ handle bars and …

… Hug my Teddy.

To be continued …………..

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

platypus121 screwed with this post 11-12-2012 at 10:07 PM
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