Where to begin in a country the size of a continent? At the top of course. Tropical Darwin in the monsoon. Soaking. After four drenching days I was collecting two of each species and enough wood to make my ark.
Battle out south on a road rough chiselled through thousands of desert kilometres; a straight gash joining horizons. Great to be moving. I am carrying food, camping kit, 10 litres of water and 10 litres of extra fuel. Like driving a tank. “You have trouble staying upright with all that?” I grimace back. Only those driven from the lush edges live here: the natives harried by genocidal settlers and gleaming eyed prospectors. The desperate and the dreamers. Towns ribbon strasse the highway, dust in every cranny. An infrequent trinket of modernity glares incongruity, like finding a stainless steel brush set in your grandmother’s toilet.
Every shop is turned towards selling booze. This just too bad to face sober. Outback boys celebrate their roughness, revelling in the harshness—coarse words, beery jokes, two ton trucks. You’re no one if your 4WD doesn’t have an orange light on it. I make my self-deprecating quips to the guys. I hint at the shared experience of life’s futility and its tragic-comic potential. They stare back. These are chips off the old block. In this desiccated land, showing weakness is as odd as Perrier water. They are straight to the point, weather-beaten grey, red. They are granite.
Hundreds of cockroaches live in the wall latrine. They feast on my contribution, as welcome as the next man’s. Their chosen mode of locomotion is breast stroke. What a life.
Australians take their leisure seriously. They haven’t gone through quite the same de-regulatory experience as back home. Thus they still get their weekends. Unfortunately, they haven’t gone through the multicultural campaigns of the 1970s and 80s either; formerly pleasant encounters turn sour as the subject of the original inhabitants come up. I shuffle and look at my feet a lot, coward that I am.
Three days straight-line ride to the giant red oddity at the centre. It is weighty and peculiar. As sun sets the car-parks are full of white hire vans waiting on the miracle They’ve built a town to accommodate the pilgrim millions. But the postcard symbol is mostly brochure promise. Nigel and Fiona may have come all the way from the home counties to share the epiphany, but it looks to me like they’re waiting on the emperor’s new clothes. Red becomes ochre, becomes grey and we go home the same.
A shock to see buildings over three storeys. There’re women with severe blond hair and silver jewellery. In a pleasant Adelaide campsite next to the river I wake at seven to the bad-tempered shrieks of cockatoos. I like it. The warm autumnal days and crisp clear nights are perfect.
I attend a small demo against the war outside parliament. Even the organisers can’t hide their disappointment. To add spice to the V8 racing on the other side of town the air force provides some low level fighter jet action. The pilots buzz the demo. The speeches are drowned in noise. It’s tasteless and disheartening.
From Beachport I ride to Bordertown. The south is peppered with these literal settlements. I am enjoying the clean well-organised cities of Australia’s population centre. Melbourne is a well-provided for multi-ethnic city with excellent food and wine. A Mediterranean climate with northern European civic values is about as good as you can get. It’s a fine life they’ve made for themselves down here. It really is veranda beer and barbecue living. They do say :”good on yer”. They don’t say “strewth”.
Backpackers are a very different breed in this land. Mostly English, they just watch TV all day. It’s like a sickness or something. They put it on first thing in the morning. Like they can’t exist without it. Come all the way around the world and watch TV. I mean.
Three weeks of rain conspires to ruin my experience. Life under canvass loses its charm. In Nambuca Heads I return to the campsite after my evening meal to find the tent blown away. Next day I ride to Sydney to say hello, and it responds “give me all your money now”. So I just keep riding. Just three hours in the city I came to Australia for. You do strange things on a motorbike.
Bladder full, tank empty. Time to reverse the situation. Ambrose is one of those family run road houses that won’t last the decade. A single loo, with the strong smell of piss. A short flush doesn’t do it, so, cursing the penny-pinching plumbing installed by the petit bourgeoisie, I press again. A long dark strand slides slowly from under the rim. Disgusting. And then, and then, no it can’t be, it articulates and pulls itself up. Jesus. This, as they say, is some clever shit. “This might sound odd” I report back, “but there appears to be something living in the toilet”.
Overconfidently, “That’s Freddy”. “Right, Freddy”. I let a silence fall. She’s kind hearted enough to fill it: “Freddy the Frog. He lives in the dunny”. All perfectly normal now.
“Surely some people get the fright of their lives?”
“Yes” she smiles wistfully, pausing on their darned foolishness, “there are some screams. We always know it is Freddy”. I am in a David Lynch movie now, laughing manically, more than a little glad I didn’t meet Freddy recumbent peering down. Once, she explains, we cleared out all the frogs. A lady took them all the way to Gladstone. “Two days later they were back. Same ones. Very territorial are frogs.” I am loving this. Softly she adds, to no one in particular “You know who your frogs are”.
After adding the barrier reef to my short list of spectacular things in Australia I was at, but didn’t see, I fly out of Brisbane to San Francisco.
In fours weeks time my bike joins me.
Next HU Events
- Brazil: Feb 22-23
- Germany: May 29-June 1
- HUBB UK: June 19-22
- NEW! Canada Maritimes: July 4-6
- USA Colorado: July 11-13
- Ireland: July 18-20
- Canada West: Aug 21-24
- USA North Carolina: Sept. 4-7
- Canada Ontario: Sept. 11-14
- NEW! UK - Haggs Bank: Sept. 19-21
- USA California: Sept. 25-28
- Aus Queensland: Oct 3-6
- Aus Perth: Oct 10-12
- Aus VIC: Oct 24-26
- NEW! South Africa: Nov 14-16
Horizons Unlimited DVD Special - it's time to Get Ready!
Northerners! The weather outside is frightful, so what better time to start planning your next adventure! To help you get started, for February we're taking 30% off the Get Ready! DVD in the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'GETREADY' on your order when you checkout.
10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!
NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!
Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!
New to Horizons Unlimited?
New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!
Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.Read more about Grant & Susan's story
What turns you on to motorcycle travel?
Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!
Books & DVDs
All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.
Membership - Show you're proud to be a Horizons Unlimited Traveller!
Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events such as this one (18 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.
You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.
MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!
Story and photos copyright © All Rights Reserved.
Contact the author:
Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.
Hosted by: Horizons
Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!