TRAVELING THIS BIG COUNTRY ROUND
It’s what most people dream of doing – riding (or driving) around Australia. I suppose it’s the ultimate motorbike tour; at least without venturing overseas anyway! And that’s what Steve, who’s been a good mate of mine for about 30 years, decided to do. Steve retired a little while ago, so he now had the time to do the trip. Now, while we might all dream of riding around Australia, I’d guess that not many of us would dream of doing it on a Suzuki DR650! But that’s the bike he has, so that’s the bike he used. When he bought the Suzuki, having been without a bike for a couple of years, Steve said he had no intention of riding around Australia. He thought he’d use it just for short rides around the local area, with the occasional short trip thrown in. But, being retired, he started thinking about doing the big trip. And I’m pleased to say he has now done the ride, and survived to tell the tale. As did the Suzuki. On any bike I reckon it’d be quite an adventure, but you’ve got to admire a bloke doing it on a big trailie! So I’ll let him tell you all about it. What do you get when you combine a childhood dream, early retirement and a brand new Suzuki DR650, very kindly purchased by The Child Bride as a retirement gift? You get a happy punter who starts to plan an around OZ trip, that’s what! Hmmm, obviously she didn’t want me moping about the house and getting underfoot! Having been retired medically unfit, it took many months before I started to get back to what I considered normal. Initially the DR saw very little use but as the months progressed I started to ride it more often and enjoy the riding more; and so the plan was hatched. The concept became more concrete when I saw information in several magazines about The Long Ride, a fundraising event for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, leaving each capital city and ending in Darwin. This seemed like a good way to start the trip; and so now I had a commencement date to work towards. 19th April 2007. The bike was delivered new with a Ventura rack and bag and I soon added a Ventura headlight protector. Still a few things needed modification. Firstly my son, Mitch, made extensions for the mirrors so I could see something other then my elbows. A kind truckie had pointed out that when I had something on the rack he could not see the brake light, so Mitch also added a repeater brake light to the bottom of the rear guard. The pathetic fuel capacity of 13 litres was never going to be adequate, so I ordered a 30 litre Safari Tank through Jamie and Harry at Bikecare in Newcastle. They also suggested heavier front and rear springs. Jamie has been my mechanic for many years and Harry had recently crossed the Simpson on a DR650 so I was not going to argue with their advice. Harry also kindly donated a set of brackets he had made which kept the throw-over panniers out of the wheel and away from the plastic side-covers and hot exhaust. Harry and Jamie fitted the tank, springs and a 1 tooth smaller front sprocket. The smaller sprocket lowered the gearing slightly, which would help propel the bike and it's extra load. Standard gearing is quite high anyway, so it didn’t effect the intended cruising speed. Then I fitted the pannier brackets. For those of you who read the free magazine Cycle Torque, yes, this is the same Bikecare and Jamie they use for dyno tests etc. I also acquired a set of Pollisport hand protectors which not only protected my hands but also the levers and grips, in case the bike fell over. A cheap watch attached to the handlebars, a pair of Roo Shoo Whistles, plus a service, the fitting of heavy duty tubes and a new set of Pirelli tyres almost finalized preparation of the DR. The last addition was "Lucky", the bear, who was lovingly attached to the shaft of the left rear vision mirror by The Child Bride, Ann. Being one to use what I have rather than purchase new gear, I had Ann modify an antique set of Gearsac trailbike throw-overs and a tank-bag I already had so that they fitted securely but were still easy to remove and replace. With the Ventura bag facing forward and a few things on the actual rack I figured carrying capacity was sufficient. I had rejected the idea of carrying camping and cooking gear in favour of staying at caravan parks, hostels and pubs, with the occasional motel thrown in when I wanted to spoil myself. Shared accommodation of a high quality had been arranged by Lynn Clout, one of the participants in The Long Ride, so I knew I would be fine till at least Darwin. But after that I would be on my own. I had purchased a new OGK helmet not long before planning commenced and Ann had arranged a pair of Draggin’ Pants when she bought the bike. Existing Spider gloves and Spider boots were to be used, and I also had leather pants and a Rivet jacket with removable liner to press into service, so things were now ready for departure. The photo on the left shows me and the bike ready to leave. And so the trip from Newcastle to Newcastle began. The first stop was Quirindi, where I had arranged to meet the infamous Mr. Smith of motorcycle journalism fame. He turned out to be every bit the character I had expected and I spent a most enjoyable hour or so with him. A very wise and witty man. I spent the first night at Narrabri before taking off to meet the other Long Riders from Brisbane at Roma the second night. While filling the bike at Moree (I now knew I could ride 500kms before hitting reserve), I met another Long Rider planning to meet the others at Roma, Graham Toole on his Honda Deauville, so we traveled together. After joining the rest of our group at Roma we proceeded with them through the centre of Queensland, into the Northern Territory and on to Darwin. Distances each day varied as the need to house such a large group prevented us from staying overnight at many places. Most days we rode around 500kms but a couple of days approached 700kms. One day was only 177kms. (After the first couple of 500km days Steve sent me an SMS saying, “I should have had a training-programme for my bum!” – Elwyn). I had never visited these parts of our great land before and found many interesting places; including The Qantas Museum at Longreach, The Tree of Knowledge (which some low-life has poisoned) at Barcaldine, the city of Mt. Isa (which was reminiscent of Broken Hill where I had spent 3 happy years in the mid ‘70s), The War Cemetery at Adelaide River, and the sights of the many towns and cities we passed through. Here are a few photos of some of the places I visited. Originally, when the group left Roma, there were about 50 of us, but by the time we reached Darwin, with the riders from all the other capital cities now joined in, the group had increased to about 200 bikes. (SMS from Steve: “It’s a long way to Darwin on a DR650!” – Elwyn). The first one is of the group at Winton. Winton is famous as the birth place of Qantas, as well as the place where Banjo Patterson wrote Waltzing Matilda. The locals describe the history of Qantas by saying that it was "conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton, and grew up in Longreach". The song Waltzing Matilda was written at nearby Dagworth station, and first performed in this very hotel. There are tourist-centres dedicated to both Qantas and Waltzing Matilda. This one is of the sign at the Tree Of Knowledge, at Barcaldine. The tree was the main meeting place for townspeople and used to be known as the 'Alleluia Tree' because the Salvation Army used to meet under its branches. In 1891 Barcaldine was the scene of a shearer’s strike, with a meeting held under the tree. In May of that year about 3000 striking shearers marched under the 'Eureka' flag to put forward their protests against poor working conditions and low wages. The shearers strikes were broken by the NSW and Queensland governments, who sided with the business interests, and 13 of the leaders were arrested and sentenced to gaol for three years. Following this the unions and others formed the "Labour Electoral Leagues" which later became the "Labor Party" and then the "Australian Labor Party". The photo on the left is of the Walkabout Creek Hotel which stands beside the highway at McKinlay, in central Queensland. It was, of course, made famous by the movie Crocodile Dundee. Many scenes in the movie were shot at the hotel. (Remember the scene in the bar when Mick Dundee first comes in?). The town was busier then that it ever had been before or since! Because of the film it has now become quite famous as a tourist-attraction. This next photo is the Adelaide River War Cemetery. Adelaide River is 116km south of Darwin on the main road to Alice Springs. During the Second World War, Adelaide River was the headquarters of a large military base, and the war cemetery was created especially for the burial of servicemen who died in this part of Australia. After the war the Army Graves Service moved other graves into it from isolated sites, temporary military burial grounds, and various civil cemeteries in the area. The cemetery now contains 434 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War. Many of the towns put on special events for us. At Roma we were treated to a very tasty dinner at the local gun club, a parade by local school children and a free breakfast at the Bakery. Mt. Isa arranged a parade through the city by the Long Riders followed by dinner at the RSL Club. We were also invited to the Dawn Service and breakfast on Anzac Day. We had special dinners in our honour at The Qantas Museum, The North Gregory Hotel at Winton and some of the caravan parks we stayed at. A very enjoyable experience from a social point of view and very few problems with interaction between the diverse members of the group. We arrived in Darwin on Friday evening and had 2 full days there before leaving Monday. I got to see a Darwin sunset at the official End of Ride Dinner and managed my own motorcycle tour of the city sights after spending Saturday morning getting a minor service completed on the DR. I found Darwin oppressively hot and humid but still quite pleasant. (SMS from Steve, describing Darwin: “Bloody hot!” - Elwyn). I’m sure I would acclimatise to the heat if I spent more time there. The Long Ride finished in Darwin and most participants were either sending their bikes home by truck and flying home, or heading home the short way because of commitments such as work (poor beggars!). I had no such constraints so I rode south to Katherine then turned west, now traveling by myself. I traveled through Kununurra, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing and then Broome. (Steve called me from Halls Creek, and described it as, “Hot as hell!” – Elwyn). I had finally reached the west coast and started to feel like I was turning towards home. As my wife and I intend to tour Australia by car next year the ride was the thing. There seemed little point in major sightseeing excursions as I would be covering the same ground in 18 months or so with Ann. There are also the issues of security for gear when the bike is parked; and the need to carry vast quantities of protective clothing when not actually riding. Coming down the West Coast the only detour I took was Denham and Monkey Mia. Seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Monkey Mia has a great reputation however I have since discovered that there are other less well known places where one can swim with the dolphins; but I enjoyed the experience. If you do visit the area I can only suggest that Denham provides plenty of comfortable accommodation at vastly reduced prices to Monkey Mia and is only 26kms or so away. Much better value! The photo on the left shows the bike at rest outside one of the typical places I stayed at on the trip. I was due in Geraldton for the DR to have a major service and receive a new rear tyre. I spent two full days in Geraldton enabling me to clean the DR prior to this service and have a bit of look around. The dealer very kindly loaned me a Nissan Pintara for the day while the work was carried out and this made life easier. Ann had decided to fly over and meet up with me on the trip. Leaving Geraldton on Friday morning I was due to meet Ann at Northam that evening so decided to take a bit of a shortcut and leave the highway. The detour was not well signposted but I found my way to Northam via some interesting back roads and a quaint little town called Toodyay. Having met Ann at the rail station we carried her bags to the hotel and then explored Northam on foot before eating at a local restaurant. From Northam, the next day I rode to Kalgoorlie while Ann traveled by Coach as the train had broken down. Her trip was further delayed when the coach also broke down! I struck the first wet weather of the trip on this leg. I also passed numerous Ulyssians who were going to the AGM at Coffs Harbour. (Steve considered going to the AGM and putting himself up for the award for furthest distance traveled to get there. When they’d inevitably point out that Newcastle to Coffs Harbour wasn’t very far, he’d say, “Yes, but I went via Darwin and Broome!” – Elwyn). Ann and I met at the caravan park Saturday evening and then spent Sunday walking the length and breadth of Kalgoorlie / Boulder prior to her flying out on Monday morning and me continuing east on the DR. I rode only the short distance to Norseman which gave me time to photograph the Camel Sculpture, made from Zincalume, at the entrance to Norseman (as per Ann's instructions!) and check the bike over before the Nullabor. I chose to cross The Nullabor in relatively short easy stages and stayed at several roadhouses along the way. All provided reasonable accommodation and meals at reasonable prices. Most also had luxury rooms available if you wanted them. The roads are rather flat and featureless but I enjoy these open spaces. There were plenty of road-trains, B-doubles and “grey-nomads” in campervans or car / caravan combinations to share the roads with so I never felt lonely. (So a "grey-nomad" on a bike mixing it with other "grey nomads" in cars! - Elwyn). By this stage I was starting to feel as though I was getting close to home. I gave the DR a quick check before retiring and was ready to depart for Broken Hill the next morning. Having ridden the Great Ocean Road on a Suzuki GS500E a few years ago I had decided to visit friends in Broken Hill on the way home and complete my trip via Wilcannia, Cobar and Dubbo rather than Adelaide and Victoria. (This led me to light-heartedly accuse him of "cheating" on his around-Australia trip, because he’d “left off the whole bottom / right corner!” - Elwyn). Having spent a day and a half visiting, I left Broken Hill facing a 700km day to Trangie where my accommodation was arranged. I have traveled this road many times, both by car and motorcycle, but I always enjoy it. After a very pleasant stay at a caravan park off the highway at Trangie I arose next morning to complete my journey back to Newcastle. The trip had taken 34 days and I’d covered a total distance of 12,800km. I met some memorable characters on the trip. Tex O’Grady came on the Long Ride as emergency mechanic, having given freely of his time and skills. He rode his Suzuki Hayabusa and was accompanied by his faithful friend Bundy, a blue cattle dog I think, who rode on the tank on a special pad. She has her own goggles and vest and is apparently speed-rated to over 200kph! Unlike Tex she was well behaved and quiet when we shared a cabin with her (sorry Tex!). Tex was interviewed by an ABC journalist after the mass ride into Darwin. Hmmm, I wonder if Bundy may have been a better interviewee? During the parade at Roma one of the locals darted home and returned on a 1920s direct-drive Waratah 2 stroke (probably a bit like the one in the photo – Elwyn), and proceeded to make riding this machine look easy. Tex had a ride and discovered it was more difficult than his Hayabusa to control! Waratah motorcycles were manufactured by Williams Brothers in Sydney from 1914 to around 1948. They were mostly assembled using British components. They were Australia's longest-running motorcycle manufacturer. I met several cyclists who were pedaling in the middle of nowhere, including two Irishmen who were biking from Perth to Sydney. I do a bit of cycling myself but these sort of distances and conditions are a bit too harsh for me! A Policeman called Stainless visited us at the caravan park at Charleville and gave us a very enlightening talk on outback travel. He shared his considerable knowledge with us in a manner that was easy and interesting to listen to. I met Yamaha XJ1300 rider Tom at Tennant Creek. He is a serious long distance tourer, traveling about 65,000kms per year! He has a very professional-looking alloy fuel tank under the rack at the rear. He made it himself, and it holds 10 or 15 litres and is joined into the bikes original fuel system, giving him an enormous fuel range. Another of the Long Riders was Barry, who left us before Katherine as he had done that trip previously. Whenever I came upon him he was on the wrong side of the road! When I queried him about this odd behaviour he claimed it helped even out tyre wear on the long straight stretches by utilizing the opposite camber of the right side of the road. Having seen him almost being taken out by a BMW that was overtaking him I preferred to replace tyres more frequently! I had enough to concentrate on without adding the need to keep a wary eye out for vehicles coming up behind so I could move back to the correct side of the road for them to pass safely.
A few comments that may help those contemplating a similar trip. MEDICATIONS. If you take any regular prescription medication and are planning an extended trip it is a good idea to take the prescriptions for all medication and to have extra prescriptions filled before leaving. Some smaller pharmacies in remote locations may not hold what you require. You need special prescriptions from your medical practitioner to enable you to get multiple repeats of prescriptions at one time FERAL ANIMALS. Be aware that there are plenty of roos, emus, goats, camels, cows, sheep and other critters waiting to throw themselves under your wheels. The Roo Shoo whistles seemed to be noticed by many of these animals and for $5 seem like a good idea. I did not exceed 110kph very often and rode at lower speeds when the vegetation came up close to the roadside. It is also wise to avoid travel between dusk and dawn as this is the time you are most likely to become involved with the wild life. BIG TRUCKS. Road-trains are very long and it takes extra time to overtake them and extra time if they overtake you; so be careful. They are out there making a living so be considerate. When a road-train approached me from behind I used my left blinker, moved slightly to the left and slowed down to let them pass as quickly as possible. 99% of the drivers acknowledged my actions, and of the hundreds that overtook me only two exhibited any impatience. FUEL CAPACITY. Any bike that can travel about 300kms on a tank should be OK unless you plan to travel off the beaten track. If so, you will need to consider either a bigger tank or at least a 5litre plastic fuel can. MAINTENANCE. If you are doing your own maintenance you only need to take appropriate tools and parts. If your bike is under warranty and you are planning on having your bike serviced you might like to do some research and phone calls before leaving. For example, I found the Suzuki Dealer in Broome had no mechanic! I also took a spare genuine oil filter and O-ring just in case. It goes without saying that any dubious parts should be replaced before departure. Included in my spares were tubes, globes, electrical and duct tape, wire, chain lube, some kero and a paint brush for chain and general cleaning (stop laughing you mongrels with shaft driven bikes!), and various nuts and bolts. SECURITY. As I traveled by myself for around two-thirds of the trip, I took a GME brand EPIRB with me. This is an electronic emergency beacon that can be set off if you are in trouble to guide rescuers to you. I had some dramas obtaining mine but GME went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting me so I can recommend their service. I also carried a small battery-operated CB radio. WATER. Hydration is important in the outback. I used a 1.5litre Great Outdoors brand hydration pack which I wore on my back, under my jacket. The tube was directed out of the neck of the jacket and I could place the tube in my mouth and have a drink quite easily while riding. I also carried a 750ml drink bottle. I think there are 2litre hydro packs available, and with a drink bottle or two would be adequate for road riding. Heavy going in hot conditions would require extra water. HELMET MOD. I would also suggest you make a sun visor for your helmet. Mine is made from black contact that I purchased from my local hardware store. You will find that the sunlight in the mornings and afternoons can be blinding and a visor is very helpful. The width is dependant on the helmet so I suggest some experimentation well before leaving to get a good compromise. This is a good idea anyway. So, there it is; Steve’s story of his around-Australia trip. Quite an adventure! As he mentioned, Steve stuck mainly to the highways, avoiding the tourist-spots. This, as he explained, was because he intends doing the trip by car in the not-too-distant future. (He also came home through Broken Hill to visit friends etc). For most people though, I think you’d be wanting to enjoy some of the extra sights, like the south-west corner of Western Australia, which I’m told is very pretty, and of course the roads through Victoria and up the eastern coast. Anyway you do it though, it has got to be a great adventure! (Especially on a big trail-bike!). Thanks, mate, for the great story! (Words and photos all by Steve; except for the title-image and the Waratah bike; and a few details I inserted for the photos).
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