RUSS AND STEVE’S TRIP TO TARAGO
(And The Old Bloke’s Too – Except He Didn’t Go)
It’s strange how places you’ve never heard of, or only rarely heard of, will suddenly start popping up all the time. That’s what happened with The Loaded Dog Hotel. I’d heard of it, but only vaguely. Then the name started popping up all the time; and it made me curious. And that curiosity eventually led me to organising an over-night trip to the famous pub. But before we get to the trip, I’ll describe the destination. It’s a favourite drop-in pub for bikers, which is I think how I’d vaguely heard of it. There is also a fascinating history of baushrangers. The first time I heard it mentioned in detail was at a concert I went to. The support act was Felicity Urquart, a rather demure-looking country singer. She told a story of performing at The Loaded Dog Hotel. She described the hotel as being out in the middle of nowhere; and a favourite haunt of bikers. When she stepped out on stage there were about 70 burly-looking bikers in the room. She felt a bit intimidated until she discovered they were all fans of her music and had come to see her perform. She talked to them afterwards and was inspired to write a song. The song is called “Two Wheels” and it really picks up on the biker lifestyle; and the typical blues-feel music. I like it! (Click here to see the video-clip. Oh, and she doesn’t look quite so “demure” here, more “biker-chick raunchy”!). Then the name kept popping up in conversations, or ride-destinations I heard of with some group rides etc. I mentioned it to a couple of friends, and they’d heard of it too. So I went on the ‘net to find out a bit more about it. And it got even more interesting!
WHERE IS IT? WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
The Loaded Dog Hotel is at Tarago, about 40km south of Goulburn along the Braidwood Rd. I’ve been along that road a few times in the car, so I’ve actually driven past it. I vaguely remember it – probably because the pub is about all there is in the town, apart from a few houses. It's on the corner of Braidwood Rd. and the road that turns off that to Bungendore. The photo here was taken from Bungendore Rd. looking towards Braidwood Rd and the pub. As you can see the main entrance is on this road.
Like other places in that area, there is a bit of history with the pub, history that, as I mentioned above, involves bush-rangers; and in this case, a shooting that happened right inside the pub. You can read the whole story on the web-site (click here to go to the history page), but briefly the story goes that bushrangers Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner, together with their gangs, were holed-up at the hotel. A couple of young blokes from Hall’s gang got into a fight that resulted in one of the other bushrangers pulling out his gun and shooting one of the young blokes dead. To avoid attracting attention (presumably from police or anyone who might report it to police!), they decided to bury the dead young man inside the hotel. So they pulled up the floor-boards and buried him under the floor near the fireplace. The story goes that his ghost still inhabits the old pub. Hmm, cue the scary music!! The history of the area is quite interesting. Before Canberra was established as the nation’s capital, the Braidwood Road was the main road into that area, connecting Goulburn to places like Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Braidwood. And Tarago was a significant town along that route, with a thriving business centre including stables for the Cobb & Co coaches, a loading dock for wool, and various other shops etc. The photo on the left was taken in the 1920s. And here’s an interesting fact. A little closer to Goulburn is another small town, Lake Bathurst; named after the nearby lake of the same name. But Lake Bathurst was originally called Tarago. And Tarago was Lake Bathurst. The story goes that when maps were being drawn up for the new railway line that was to go through the area, someone got the names mixed up, and the maps were printed with the names reversed to what they actually were. Showing a typical Government solution to the problem, the authorities of the time decided it was easier to change the names of the towns than to re-print the maps! (I’ll bet they wouldn’t get away with that today!).
Today Braidwood Rd is “the back road” into the area; with the Federal Highway of course being the main route to the Canberra region. However it is the natural route to travel from Goulburn to Braidwood and down the Clyde Mountain to Batemans Bay. Also, many people, particularly motorcyclists, use the road (through Bungendore and Queanbeyan) as an alternative route to the Snowy Mountains; rather than going down the Federal Highway and through Canberra. Just why it has become a popular biker’s pub I don’t know. Some pubs are just like that. You probably know of some in your area; pubs that, for some reason or another, become popular places for bikers to visit. And once the trend has been established, it tends to snowball, drawing increasing numbers of two-wheeled travelers and day-trippers to its welcoming doors. So, having discovered the rich historical significance of the place, and having a liking for trips into the country, I decided it would make an ideal destination for an over-nighter on the bike. Oh, yes, there was one other thing that attracted me; it was cheap! Just $40 for bed and breaky.
Russ, and his brother Steve, are riding friends and also readers of the web-site. I knew they liked country areas, so I thought they might be interested in joining me for the trip. They were, a date was fixed and we all booked in. Then a couple of weeks afterwards, I realised I’d goofed; I had a prior commitment on that weekend! Ah, I felt stupid! We tried changing the date, but with weekends getting busier for us all, we weren’t able to line one up when we were all free. Russ and Steve were still keen to go, so they did the trip, and I stayed home – feeling a bit silly! I should mention the bikes. Russ was on his new Suzuki Gladius, which he had fitted with an AirHawk seat for the trip. (The seat, even with sheepskin cover, is still a little on the firm side for longer trips). Steve was on his Honda VFR800. The Saturday dawned overcast with heavy threatening skies. A bit of a concern, but as Russ said, “If we get wet there’s a warm shower at the end of it!” As it turned out, they didn’t get any rain at all on the trip there. Goulburn was the lunch-stop. Scheduled to be at the famous Big Merino, but the eateries there were crowded with weekend travelers, so they went into town and found a good café. Finding the Braidwood Road from Goulburn is not particularly easy; you’ve got to know where to turn. (Yes, there is a sign, but it’s easy to miss if you’re concentrating on traffic etc). And yep, they missed it and headed out along the Federal Highway. (If I’d been there I could’ve led them the right way!). Near Collector there is a road leading to Tarago; so they took that one. I’d looked at this road on the map and considered it as a return route, following the bushranger theme and visiting Collector, but the map showed it was partly unsealed. A phone call to the friendly folk at the Loaded Dog confirmed this. Russ said the dirt section was about 10km and not too bad. “It just got the bikes dirty!” Steve added that the riders got pretty dusty as well. As I mentioned, there’s not much at Tarago, apart from the pub. Russ said, “There’s nothing to do there if you don’t drink.” He said that the pub itself is very neat and clean; and they met some friendly people in the bar. Steve said, “It’s a quiet little country town, but we had some goods laughs with other riders in the bar on Saturday afternoon. We talked to one bloke who was on his way to Philip Island for the MotoGP. He’d come from Mackay! Quite a ride!” Russ told me of one bloke who called in for a drink. Well, several drinks, as it happened. He said the bloke had 6 or 7 beers during the time he was there, then calmly got on his bike and rode off. Russ said he was obviously a “seasoned drinker,” as he was still talking and walking okay. He would’ve been well over the legal limit though! They were surprised to find that the girl behind the bar knew nothing about the historic bushranger murder. When Russ asked her about this, and the rumoured ghost, she didn’t know anything about it, although said, “Room number 7 is supposed to be haunted.” Here are a couple more photos. They left early next morning, heading along the road they’d missed back to Goulburn. Russ said this section of road was, “The highlight of the trip.” It was through very pleasant country scenery, with rolling green hills, in some places clothed with the brilliant yellow of blossoming canola fields. The road is a bit bumpy though. In a recent article, legendary motorcycle journalist Lester Morris described it as, “little more than a tar-sealed motocross track.” (He was riding a scooter, it should be noted). But it isn’t that bad; Russ said it was “a bit bumpy” but not a problem. (The AirHawk helping out, no doubt). They got a bit of rain at Marulan on the way back, and the roads were wet for most of the trip from there. Steve noted that, “Coming down Macquarie Pass is scary when it's wet and has lots of leaves on it.” They enjoyed the trip. It wasn’t an exciting destination, by any means, but it was an easy ride, and they enjoyed some friendly chat and some pleasant country scenery and hospitality. I wish I’d been with them! Thanks Russ and Steve for the story of the trip, and for the photos.
IF YOU WANT TO GO
Okay, a couple of tips if you live anywhere within riding-distance and decide to go there. Firstly, you don’t have to worry about your bikes while you stay there. Bikes are locked in an enclosed yard around the back with a couple of guard-dogs. I suppose that’s what you’d call “secure parking”! (It probably also ensures you don’t ride off in the morning without paying your bill!). The tariff is “per-person”, not “per-room”. So if there’s two of you it probably isn’t especially cheap. Oh, and perhaps check you’re not booked into room number 7! One final suggestion from a woman I know who has spent a bit of time in the area, as her sister lives there. She suggests not staying at Tarago, but going on to Bungendore, which is about 30km further. I’ve been to Bungendore a few times. Although still a small town, there is a lot more to see, including some small shops, a leather-goods shop that is fascinating, and a wood-work shop displaying craftsmanship and prices you just will not believe! As she says, you can still call in to The Loaded Dog and spend some time there, indulging in the atmosphere and the history. Then ride on to Bungendore for the final destination. That sounds like a good idea, actually. Now, where’s that diary…..
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