There will be plenty more to come from my blog, including highlights of the trip and some of the lessons I learnt along the way. When I get home to England in the New Year I’ll be looking for a publisher too. But for now here are just a few photos from the past week (more to let you all know that I’m still alive than anything else). I’ll have more time for a good blog in the next week or so.
There are some other Cycling To The Ashes related things if you follow these links:
Please remember that I am still trying to raise funds for The Lord’s Taverners and the British Neurological Research Trust. The running total is about £60,000 which means there is still £40,000 to go. So if you have enjoyed my blog then PLEASE donate and help me reach my goal. Thank you! Oli
Laci and I have fallen behind our vague schedule in the past few days. A combination of some stunning Queensland hospitality in towns like Longreach, Barcaldine and Tambo, unseasonal rains and illness have meant we now have a serious challenge on our hands if we want to reach The Gabba by the 24th November. There is no time to rest up. It’s a race to Brisbane. There’s no time for a proper blog either, so just a couple of interesting photos from the last few days.
Big thanks go to to Naomi and Carly for bursting our ear drums with their cheers on the way past yesterday, and for stopping to say hi and introduce themselves today – and helping us with filming some cycling. Good girls. I wish more good-looking, cheerful female drivers stopped for a chat.
Whenever I tell people I’m cycling through Australia they always say ” be careful of snakes”, or “be careful of spiders”, or to be careful of something else. It’s true, Australia is like Jurassic Park, but happily this is the first snake I’ve seen here. It was dead when I found it, likely run over by a 53 metre road train.
It’s lunch time and I have covered 60 gruelling kilometres. Gruelling because of the wind. It is a south easterly, I’m heading south-east and every pedal wears me down. I just want to lie down and sleep, or at least escape the wind, but there is no shelter. At times I struggle along at 8 or 9 kph. On more than one occasion this morning I turned around and pedaled in the opposite direction, just for a laugh, and to see how easy life would be if I was heading to Perth. Yes, I discover, Perth would be a preferable destination.
Unusually for lunch time, I sit down on my bike helmet and write a diary entry (Outback Lesson #1: Never sit on the ground because something will nibble or sting you). I feel compelled to write an entry because I am angry. Not five minutes ago, a car towing a trailer approached me and began veering towards me, crossing the white line separating us, and heading straight for me. I swerved off the road on to red dirt and watched as the driver sat on his horn and raised his middle finger as he passed me. He looked feral, but I was still baffled by his most unusual greeting. There are some strange folks in the Australian outback, but I’ve not experienced downright idiocy until now.
Continuing after a few peanut butter and jam sandwiches I feel disillusioned. Cycling alone, it is easy to take random acts by passing motorists to heart. As a wave, a smile or a cheer can brighten up a morning, I discover that an idiot trying to mow me down has a dampening effect on my mood. His lunacy has made me wary of all passing traffic (which, granted, only amounts to one or two cars an hour). I resent the fact that he has made me think twice about waving at other motorists.
But my sombre reflection doesn’t last long. Twenty kilometres further down the track I pass my first road sign to Brisbane. It announces in small, beautiful, welcome white letters that I am a mere 1,695 kms from Queensland’s capital. To be sure, it’s an emotional moment. When I was sweating my way across the sub-continent Brisbane seemed a distant dream. Even when I was in Darwin, Brisbane seemed a way off. I told myself I was nearly there, but locals reminded me I had some pedaling to do. I sit down for a break next to the sign and consider that when you set little targets for yourself, and keep passing them, then you’re bound to reach your goal. When I set off from London I didn’t know whether I would make Brisbane. I suppose I still can’t be sure, but the odds are in my favour now. 1,695 puny little kilometres. 17 good days on the bike!
The Brisbane road sign got me reminiscing – one of my favourite saddle pastimes – about some of the people I’ve met and things I’ve done since leaving London, from the young Frenchman who gave me his grandmother’s vegetables on my only morning in France to the Eritrean refugees we stayed with in Khartoum; the German mountain biker who set me a treasure hunt on my way out of Frankfurt; my first evening in Turkey cycling into the former capital, Edirne to the sound of the sunset call to prayer; pedaling into Dhaka amongst 300,000 cycle rickshaws; my first view of the Bay of Bengal; four weeks of getting naked to dry my clothes in countless Turkish petrol stations; dusk encounters with packs of wild dogs on the Anatolian plateau; sleeping in army barracks, police stations and shops; tasting countless national dishes; listening to 12 lions devour a bush pig outside my banda in Kenya; cycling out of Damascus in the snow; climbing Mount Longonot, high above the Great Rift Valley; sleeping under the milky way in the Nubian Desert; practising my laughing club moves with the Calcutta Communist Party on election day (they lost); dancing with a TV star’s bodyguard in a Khartoum music store; negotiating Ramadan in Malaysia; Aussie steak and Bundaberg Rum in Jakarta; sailing into Darwin harbour after seven days at sea; reading books under moonlit outback skies – and that’s just for starters.
A few days later, and I find myself in Winton, a historic outback town famous as the birth place of the unofficial Australian national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ by Banjo Patterson. I pitch my tent next to a hair salon and head for the Tattersalls Hotel to find some grub – a friendly road train driver told me it was a ‘bloody good spot for a decent feed’. It sits on a corner, wooden and imposing, illuminated by late evening sunshine. A few local characters sit at the bar berating the government and talking weather, water supply and sport. The sport they’re talking about is cricket, because Australia are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, again, against Sri Lanka in the first one day international. The barmaid is a Kiwi with an English accent, thanks to six years managing a pub in Broadway, Gloucestershire. A good looking young lady introduces herself (in French) to me as ‘Wind Flame’ (a name born from a spiritual experience her mother had on the east coast of Australia in the 1960’s) and invites me to sit with her and her husband (they saw me cycle into town). I ask why she is speaking French. She explains that she has been massaging crew and participants in the French version of TV reality show Survivor. They are currently filming in the barren landscape a few kilometres out of Winton. Back at the bar an eighty year old woman launches into a twenty minute monologue during which she details her road trip from Cairns to Mount Isa, before rushing upstairs on to the veranda to take a photo of the sunset. The publican, dressed in khaki shirt and ball-crusher denim shorts, is an avid cricket fan, amateur environmentalist and professional ‘yarn-spinner’. Throughout the evening locals come and go, and we chat around the bar on subjects ranging from surfing (a top surfer died of Dengue Fever today in Hawaii – I’m grateful to have fully recovered) to Australia’s lack of ancient architecture, party line telephones in the bush and ‘remittance men’ (those paid by their families to go to Australia and stay – normally the unwanted black sheep of the family). The Australian hotel experience is a highlight of a visit to the outback.
At closing time I wander down the deserted main street to my tent, the publican’s words echoing in my ears: “She’ll be a bloody hot one tomorrow.” I wake the next morning (today) to a hot one, alright. The temperature has been unseasonably cool during the past week, but “she” is rising now – 38 degrees by mid-morning. I am waiting in Winton until tomorrow lunch time, when Laszlo arrives from Hungary via Brisbane on a Greyhound bus. He is cycling with me to Brisbane, filming all the way (we arrive at The Gabba around lunch time on 24th November, the day before the first test). My solo adventure is over, but in truth I haven’t thought about it much; I’m just looking forward to having some company on the road. At least there’ll be two of us to fight off reckless outback drivers.
A few folks have asked about my Naked Cycling Campaign. Well, we raised a fair bit, but not the 5,000 pounds needed to get me cycling naked for a day through the outback. I tried! 😉 Also, special thanks to Ed Clarke and the Charles Stanley Stockbrokers Cup winning cricket team who donated 200 pounds (a year’s worth of fines!) to one of my charities this week. If you would like to donate, helping me inch towards my target, then you can do so here.
Brunette Downs is the largest single lease property in Australia, and one of the largest cattle stations, covering 12,500 sq kms and over 3.5 million acres. It is a station with a fascinating history – well known Australian cattle thief, Harry Redfearn, or “Captain Starlight,” drowned in one of the creeks in the north of the station in 1901 and is buried at the very spot. The annual Brunette Races draws huge crowds from hundreds of miles around, and this year celebrated its 100 year anniversary.
During the mustering season, from March to October, 50 staff rise around 5am, most of them heading into paddocks of up to 750 sq miles to muster cattle. Those left at the station do a range of jobs from looking after the 180 bore holes that provide much need water for 100,000 head of cattle, cooking for camps, gardening and flying choppers and aeroplanes to help the mustering process.
It was a fantastic place to spend a few days, marvelling at the sheer size of Australia, and learning a little about the outback way of life. The station is larger than some countries; suffice to say, during my three days here I have barely scratched the surface, but here are just a few photos of the place, its people and its bulls!
The yard outside the main buildings is vast itself – choppers and aeroplanes regularly land and take off, and an annual cricket match takes place here – shame it wasn’t scheduled during my visit.
Some stations use only modern mustering equipment – motorbikes and helicopters – but the Brunette team still opt for the versatile skills of a horse too. On our muster at the southern tip of the station, some 60kms from the main buildings, we took two trucks, two horses and three dirt bikes. It was suggested that I follow up the tail on my push bike…..but I didn’t. 35 knot winds buffeted the chopper all day. Rented by the hour, my guess is that a chopper doesn’t come cheap, but it was the clear winner in mustering efficiency.
Woody(pictured) has been mustering at Brunette Downs for four years. He sent three young jakaroos to muster a mob of 600, while he and the chopper pilot, Lachie, rounded up 700 head of cattle – all in a morning’s work.
Once the 1,300 (all bulls) were in the holding pen, some 700 were yarded for drafting later in the month. The best bulls will be given access to heifers to breed. The rest will be culled and sold for beef.
When the mustering was over, I was offered a ride back to the station buildings in the chopper. The Barkly Tablelands are definitely best seen from the air, although when I asked Lachie how many hours he had under his belt I would have preferred him to say 400 rather than 10.
The workers on the farm range from young workers….
to old-hand, experienced cowboys….
and passing cyclists doing their best to fit the cowboy mould but failing abysmally….
I am left Brunette Downs last Tuesday morning bound for the Barkly Homestead on the Barkly Highway. Since then I’ve been heading east, stopping at another cattle station, Avon Downs, for a couple of nights where I experienced a largely liquid diet. The headwinds have been relentless. I left Avon Downs yesterday and right now I’m lying under a mosquito net looking up at the stars and clearly visible milky way, and about to nod off after covering 100kms from Camooweal in Queensland. Tomorrow I reach Mount Isa, the first proper town since Darwin nearly four weeks ago.
Please keep donating to my two chosen charities. Only 60,000 pounds to go now!
I suppose my first week cycling south from Darwin was re-acclimatisation. There is a lot more to this cycling expedition lark than purely saddle time. After a few days off in Singapore, a couple of cricket matches in Indonesia, a week on a cattle boat to the land down under and three more days spent preparing in Darwin, my fitness had begun to desert me.
The first week was uneventful, if only because I was a semi-fit mess pedaling a busy highway, and each evening saw me semi-comatose and asleep before sunset. On the morning of 6th October though, on a whim, I decided to leave the Stuart Highway in search of the outback proper. My experience began to improve as I headed east on the Roper Highway towards Roper Bar. There is plenty to tell, and against my better judgement, I’ll tell a lot of it here – let’s call this a bumper blog, courtesy of my diary notes.
Wednesday 6th October – Mataranka towards Roper Bar – 75kms
If there’s a road less deserving of the grand title ‘highway’ than the Roper Highway then, well, I would be surprised. First 40kms out of Mataranka (real life location of the book, ‘We Of The Never Never’ by Jeannie Gunn) is single lane, poorly maintained bitumen, about the width of an adult Taipan snake and two thirds the width of a car. Then it’s 135kms of corrugated gravel – imagine cycling across a corrugated tin roof covered in sand and kangaroos. The ‘highway’ runs east from Mataranka all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria, but I’ll be turning off tomorrow when I reach Roper Bar after about 175kms. Roper Bar sits in the south east corner of Arnhem Land, a historically significant Aboriginal area roughly the size of France. As I came onto the gravel, I passed a road sign indicating: “Warning! Gravel Track. Road driving skills necessary.” I thought road driving skills were necessary on most roads, not just crap ones. Excited to be in this country though, as reading great book called Hell West & Crooked – Tom Cole’s account of his life as a horse breaker, buffalo and crocodile hunter and genuine wild-man in the Northern Territory in the 1920/30’s. Writing 50 years later, he says: “Arnhem Land, even today, is one of the most remote spots in the world.” Carrying two days’ water at the moment (17 litres for drinking and cooking) so bike is heavy. Camped by the side of the road, incredible sunset, a million stars and the milky way – plus ca change….
Thursday 7th October – Roper Highway to Roper Bar – 101kms
Thought sunset was good. Sunrise was better. Not bothering with tent’s outer shell at moment as rain seems unlikely, so watched the sun from behind the mozzie net until about 6.30am and then got up and went home…to the road. Flies are hellish first thing, reckon I had over a hundred scattered all over my bags and face / shoulders most of the morning. Studied their movements for a good half hour – they seem to sit, then rub themselves on my skin, then rub their hands / front legs together furiously before rubbing their face. Glad my sweat is of use to them – disgusting creatures. Reached for my fly head net for the first time – felt like a plonker but it worked. Road very potholed and bumpy in places all day. Bloke pulled over about lunch time. “You look like you could do with a coke mate!” He reached into the fridge beside him (all drivers have fridges here, obviously) and pulled out an ice cold coke. Bruce was his name. We chatted for a good half hour, about buffalo hunting and the plight of the local Aboriginal population. Read some of Hell West and Crooked at lunch time and came across the line: “…a billy can of tea and damper and I was overflowing with the milk of human kindness.” Bruce’s gift of a coke is the modern equivalent I suppose, but equally welcome. He told me his wife and daughter (Kris and Emma) were following him about an hour back. As I pedaled on, a car pulled up and it looked like a mother and daughter inside. I scared them by shouting across, “Hi Kris, hi Emma!” They didn’t have a clue who I was – until I explained. Plenty of wild animals knocking about – brumbies, donkeys, kangaroos, wedge tail eagles, the odd buffalo and flocks of bright green parrots. Dropped into Flying Fox cattle station just off the ‘highway’ to fill up my water bottles. Reached Roper Bar exhausted to find it wasn’t a town like I expected, but just a small shop servicing the local Aboriginal communities. They told me the next town or village on my route is Camooweal in Queensland, over 1,600kms away – that’s John O’Groats to Land’s End without a village or town. Not too many trees between here and Camooweal either. Big country, Australia.
N.B. ‘damper’ is an outback bread, made from self raising flour, almost any liquid, sugar, salt and is cooked on coals. I have eaten it since and it’s good.
Friday 8th October – Roper Bar to Tomato Island – 40kms
A few things to see around Roper Bar, not least the bar itself, a river crossing that was first used by Ludwig Leichardt, the German 19th Century explorer, and then by those who built the Adelaide to Darwin Overland Telegraph line some years later. I cycled across the bar through water perhaps 12 inches deep, onto Arnhem Land, and had a swim in a small pool with an Aboriginal lady and her white husband. Just before I cycled back they said they had seen a 6 metre crocodile not far from the bar last week. Bit nervous as I cycled back! Now heading towards Cape Crawford on dirt / sand, about 380kms south through Limmen National Park. Hadn’t been on the road 20 minutes when a truck and trailer pulled up. Inside were three men – they looked like miners. The driver chirped up, “you f****** stupid b******. ‘Straaaya’ looks small on a map but it’s a bloody big paddock once you get here! Especially on a pushie!” With that he jumped out and reached into the freezer on his trailer and handed me a can of coke and two large bottles of iced water, muttering something about me being a ‘bloody bar steward’ as he did so. He said he’d be driving back through in a few days and would give me more of ‘nature’s fine wine’ if I wanted. I thanked him for his kind welcome, and welcome gifts, and carried on. The road, if that’s what it was, got worse throughout the day. I had to get off and push when the sand got too deep. I fell off twice, once cutting my foot on a sharp stone and using my first aid kit for the first time since Africa. Progress was slow. The temperature rose to 47 degrees in the sun. My mood was lifted when, 4kms before Tomato Island, a spot I had been told was suitable for camping, I spied a water hole that covered half the road, and seemed to be the product of a natural spring nearby. It was the size of a double bed but more wet, about a metre deep and crystal clear. I washed, brushed my teeth, filled up my water bottles and cycled onwards to Tomato Island, which curiously isn’t an island at all. Camped 100 metres from the Roper River – crocodiless rarely venture more than 50 metres from rivers, so I’ve been told.
Saturday 9th October – Tomato Island to Towns River – 90kms
On the road nice and early, carrying only 10 litres of water today because the road is so corrugated. Saw first tourists for a few days. German couple were under the shade of a paperbark tree eating melon. They offered me some and I accepted. Heaved the bike through deep sand most of the day, jumping off occasionally to push for a kilometre or so. A grader was supposed to have been along this track only last month, but evidence suggests otherwise. My right eye was useless by the end of the day due to dust, and my left wasn’t much better. I reached Towns River just before sunset – not a good time to cross rivers in the Territory because crocodiles begin to get slink back into the water about then. I wanted to get across though – I was told about a safe camping spot on the other side, complete with bush toilets! Left my bike at the top of the hill and wandered down to the submerged crossing. I saw a crocodile immediately and it came out of the water no more than 15 metres from me. It was a saltwater croc – not the less ferocious freshwater variety – and perhaps 5 metres long. I turned, ran, picked up my bike and cycled furiously from where I had come. I pitched my tent about a kilometre from the river. There’s no way I’m crossing the river tonight. Bit shaken, and wondering how I will get across the river in the morning. Cooked my dinner in the middle of the road in case a car came – wanted to ask for a lift across. Car didn’t come.
Sunday 10th October – Towns River to Butterfly Springs – 85kms
Every rustle last night made me nervous. I didn’t know if there were other creeks running off the river, and therefore crocs. Rose with the sun and waited for a truck / car to pass. It was 10am by the time some fishermen came along, and I hauled my bike onto their truck for the 30 metre crossing. I expect they thought I was a pathetic pommie, but I didn’t care. In all the excitement I forgot, until around lunch, that today is my anniversary; one year on the road – it’s not been a bad way to spend a year! Beginning to think of the end now though, certainly. Only 44 days until I reach Brisbane! Land was more varied today. Red sandstone escarpments rose from the plains, trees thinned out and I enjoyed the views. There were about 10 creek crossings though, and I didn’t relish them. I was aiming for Butterfly Springs where I could swim. About 10kms out I saw something that surprised me; another cyclist! His name was Greg, he was cycling around Australia , clockwise from his home in Perth. I wanted to chat for longer, but wanted to go for a swim before dark more. Reached BS a sweaty, dusty mess and sank into the pool, enjoying the cool water until all light had gone and I had to feel my way back to the camping spot and pitch my tent. Jana and Sebastian, the ‘German melons’, were there too. I enjoyed an evening in their company. They cooked pasta for me and we chatted about our respective travels, their 4×4, my bike and their travelling dog, Bounty.
Monday 11th October – Butterfly Springs to the Southern Lost City – 30kms
I lazed around this morning, chatting with the Germans, swimming and reading. I had a feeling I had nothing in my legs, and I was right. I only managed 30kms along an increasingly treacherous surface before falling off the bike in heavy sand opposite a track sign-posted ‘The Southern Lost City’. I took it as a sign, so to speak, and meandered along the detour, setting up camp just below some impressive red sandstone rock formations. Again, I found the Germans there. I’m sure we are the only tourists in the area, and I’m also sure they think I’m stalking them, but they seem not to mind – could be worrying in itself. Early start tomorrow so about to nod off, shortly after sundown (7pm).
Tuesday 11th October – Southern Lost City to Borroloola – 130kms
Rose before the sun today. Huge day on dirt planned – 110kms south to Cape Crawford and a coca cola. Began to pack up around 5.30am and saw, to my horror, that my bike rack had snapped where it had been welded previously in India (and before that in Turkey). Didn’t even notice it last evening. Tried to use cable ties to support the weight but it wouldn’t work – I’m carrying about 50 kgs at the back, with water supply. Thank heavens for the Germans! I would have had to wait perhaps a day or two for another passing car if they weren’t about. Decided there was unlikely to be a welder in Cape Crawford, so tied my bike to their bull bar and they took me on their route to Borroloola – completely the wrong way for me, but the only feasible option. Once there, found a mechanic who promised he would weld my bike rack on this evening, so left my bike with him, to pick it up first thing. Camped with the Germans – delicious barbequed bratwurst for dinner. They threatened sauerkraut but I persuaded them out of it.
Wednesday 12th October- Borroloola to Cape Crawford – 110kms
Borroloola is a pretty grotty small country town, given a sad face by the hundreds of drunk aborigines stumbling around. Turned up at the welder’s yard at 7.30am: “Oh yeah, sorry mate, don’t have any gas, so couldn’t weld your bike.” I fought back rage and took the bike to another mechanic, Harry Fischer – long grey beard threatening his belt buckle, legs like match sticks and far too short shorts – who did the job ‘no worries’ in under five minutes for $10, even throwing in a few cable ties. I cycled back to the campsite where the Germans were tucking into leftover bratwurst, said my goodbyes and pedaled off towards Cape Crawford – 110kms in 6 hours, some sort of record for me. Lucky I detoured to Borroloola – Cape Crawford is not a village and is not a town. The only thing in Cape Crawford is the Heartbreak Hotel, presumably named so because it is so far from anywhere at all. I didn’t see another person on the cycle here, barely a kangaroo either. I was lucky to arrive just after a group of fishermen from Queensland. Their truck has broken down and they have to take it to Borroloola to get it fixed. As a result, they were attacking the Heartbreak bar with no little enthusiasm, and invited me to join them. Generous fellows, them and others – 9 or 10 beers later I slept very well in my tent, so well that I didn’t wake up when it started raining. The tactic of disregarding my tent’s outer shell backfired horribly, resulting in a soggy tent interior in the morning.
From Cape Crawford it was back on bitumen, south towards the Barkly Homestead some 377kms away. But I’m not there yet. I stopped at Brunette Downs cattle station on Saturday, the North Australian Cattle Company and Elders having arranged a bed for me here – and that is where I am now. It is a fantastic place! The next blog, already written, tells of my time here helping out with a spot of cattle mustering, yarding and riding choppers. Some great photos too, some of which you can see on my facebook page already – the others will be up on flickr.com soon.
36 days until The Ashes – circa 2,750kms to go! Please keep donating to my chosen charities, and encouraging others too.
If you moved to Indonesia, if you loved cricket, if you couldn’t find anywhere to play cricket and if you lived next to a green mountain, what would you do? You’d carve off the top of the mountain and create one of the most beautiful cricket pitches in the world would you? Right you would.
I’m only curious. You see, that is what Kiwi Robert “Baldy” Baldwin has done at his home in the stunningly beautiful volcanic hills south of the former Dutch colonial town of Bogor. I say town – 2 million people live in Bogor, but that constitutes a town in Java, so densely populated is it. Baldy moved to Java 35 years ago. A long time cricket lover, he recently hacked off the top of a mountain to create a level playing field across from his house, and has since christened it the Graeme Yallop Oval – named after the former Australian Ashes captain because of his heavy involvement with the ground, and with Indonesian grass roots cricket. One of the only grass wickets in Indonesia, the ground sits perched on the mountain with sheer walls of earth (or when it rains, mud) on all sides. The drive to the ground is so steep and in such poor condition that it took us four attempts to climb it in a heavy duty 4×4 (the government are paving the surface in the next few weeks). The two storey wooden pavillion sits across a deep valley 50 yards from the boundary. Baldy hopes to recruit some local bamboo miracle workers to build a bridge that will provide surely the most stunning walk from / back to a cricket pavillion in the world. You simply have to see this place to believe it.
The ground has seen some pretty decent players too. In May this year Glen McGrath, Robin Smith, Nantie Hayward, Chris Cairns and Graham Yallop graced the venue. All who attended the game we had at the ground when I was in Java would be forgiven for demonstrating a muted sense of anticipation in light of previous visitors, but I am grateful that they didn’t show it. I couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.
Early afternoon rain was promised on the day of the game, so an early start was ordered. Unfortunately a number of players were coming from Jakarta, and the normal one hour drive from the capital turned into a four hour epic because of the Muslim Festival of Idul Fitri that marks the end of Ramadan and brings life and colour to every inch of every street.
The rain held off until the final few overs with the Jakartans needing over 20 an over to win. In Java, when it rains, it pours. When the first specks of rain fell we retreated to the pavillion and watched as the heavens unleashed ferocious rainfall that rendered play impossible, and turned the ground into a swimming pool. Because of it’s position high in the hills, the ground does dry quickly, but on this occasion nature defeated us, and a draw seemed a fair (well actually quite unfair) result.
Drinking beer and eating barbequed steak in the pavillion, I watched the clouds roll over the surrounding volcanoes. I can’t believe there is a more unexpected, and more beautiful ground anywhere in the world….except possibly, and amazingly, the competing ground down the road (see below).
Thanks to all who made it, and especially to Will Symonds, captain of the East Indies Cricket Club, for spotting my bike ride written about somewhere in the first place, and for getting in touch to suggest a visit, and to Baldy for inviting us to have a game at his incredible ground.
A filmmaker came up from Jakarta to do some filming on the day. Thanks to Nikko for this fantastic footage. Sorry about some of my commentating, and for using a cell phone on the field of play.
Baldy’s ground isn’t the only private oval near Bogor. Long time Dutch resident Taco has created a ground that is the equal of Baldy’s. His marvellous wooden mansion sits like a pavillion at one end and the local boys tend the ground with homemade lawnmowers, and occasionally take to the field to give Taco some batting and bowling practice. On my visit 5 of us had a game of cricket and later on Taco (who has held high positions in the UN and has a PhD in Agriculture and Development) and a few of the local boys gave me a guided tour of the local fertile valleys, trying to teach me how the locals used the abundance of water to their advantage. What a great place!
More photos to come soon! I left Darwin on Monday and headed south. As you read this I’ll be on the road from Pine Creek to Katherine about 300kms into the Aussie leg. I’ve faced some pretty stiff headwinds the past week limiting my speed to under 10kph at times, so progress has been slow. Internet access will be intermittent as I head further south and then east, so excuse periods of quiet on twitter and facebook!
Stone the crows, ya flamin’ mongrel! Darwin’s as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. What a ripper though, a real bewt! Some of these locals are mad as cut snakes, a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock, but nothing the odd knuckle sandwich won’t sort. She’ll be right, bloody oath. No worries mate.
Yes, that’s right. I’m in Australia.
Finola, the Danish cattle ship I boarded in Lampung Province on Sumatra on 15th September, docked in Darwin harbour late on the 22nd. I celebrated my arrival by picking every last microscopic pebble out of my bike tyres – Australian quarantine is nothing if not strict and the officer who inspected my ride was, well, a moron – and, after being dropped off at my sponsored accommodation by (sponsor) Ashley from the North Australian Cattle Company, I headed for a watering hole to remind myself what it’s like to sit in a proper bar, with proper beer. I ordered a VB Draught and decided it was the worst beer I have ever had. Within five minutes I was wholly depressed. As I propped up the bar and watched a brawl play out near the dance floor (presumably one bloke thought another bloke had a cooler whole body tattoo than him, so decided to punch him) it dawned on me that the ‘exotic’ part of my trip is over. Bar brawls regularly feature during nights out back home and it’s no different here. Having travelled through many countries some might consider less civilized, I haven’t got close to seeing a fight. Now I’m back in ‘the civilized west’ and drunken fighting has returned. How sad.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t be more excited about the journey ahead. 4,000 kms of bush is waiting to be cycled. I am stocked up with food for a while – peanut butter, bread, vegemite, raisins, rice, dry garlic, sweet chili sauce, Fishermans’ Friends. In about a week’s time I will be in Mataranka, in the heart of the famous Never Never. I leave tomorrow (Monday) bound first for croc-free swimming holes in Litchfield National Park. But before I look ahead, I’ll tell you a little bit about the journey from Indonesia.
I boarded Finola at 5pm on the 15th and was soon fast asleep, tired after a few glasses of Bundaberg rum the night before thanks to Dick Slaney, the Elders man who arranged my passage to Australia. I woke up at 6am and the cattle was still being loaded onto trucks and taken to the nearby feed-lot. It took 14 hours to unload the 1,900 head of cattle – that was a pretty long shift for the stockman and 12 Philipino crew who oversaw the affair. But we were on the way later that morning, taking an empty boat back to Darwin to pick up the next 2,000 lumps of beef. The sea was calm, the sun was out and I enjoyed some time in the shade reading, writing and sleeping.
Things changed that night, when a 20ft swell appeared and didn’t relent until 50 miles from Darwin, a week later. Initially reading was out of the question, writing too. On the second day out of Lampung I just lay in bed, jumping to the port hole and pressing my nose against the window every few minutes when the boat lurched. The fridge and chair in my cabin, not to mention all my belongings, slid from side to side making sleep difficult. Recently consumed meals rose from my stomach and seemed keen to exit via my mouth – I held firm. The accommodation was all at the front of the boat meaning that when the bow soared into the air and slammed back down again, the contact often made the noise of a gunshot that rendered sleep impossible. I found comfort when I spoke to the captain. A grumpy old seadog with tattoos (the last of which he got aged 15), a bushy moustache and ever-present sandals and socks, he told me he barely slept during my time on the boat – it was the worst weather he had seen in years on this stretch of water. He jokingly blamed my presence. And that’s coming from a man who has been at sea for 45 years! Good timing Oli. Still, at least I got over my fear of boats.
As I got used to the swell, days began to follow a pattern. I would sleep until 9ish, making myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast before settling into a movie before lunch – the DVD collection on-board was unexpected but very welcome in the conditions. The Mess Man rang the crew’s mess (nicknamed Manilla) when lunch was ready and I would head below deck to the officers’ mess to tuck into some surprisingly good western food. If the Danish Chief Mate and Icelandic Engineer weren’t sleeping then they would be there too. Both over 60, generally they just moaned about life at sea. After lunch I would head up to the bridge and chat with Paulino, the Philipino First Mate, study the ship’s charts and ask him ignorant questions. Then it would be another couple of movies because reading made me feel sick. Dinner was at 5.30pm and then I’d head to my cabin and try and get some kip. On day four I found out that necking a couple of allergy tablets makes sleeping very easy – not sure how healthy it is but I slept well that night.
And while I relaxed, watched movies and wondered how people live at sea for months at a time, the 12 Philipino crew members worked. They cleaned for 12 hours a day. Because Australian quarantine is so strict they had to make sure the boat was spotless upon arrival in Darwin. They were always at work by 5am and in bed by 7pm, emptying the boat of cow poo, manure and food. I was surprised on the last day when they re-painted the entire deck. It can’t be much of a life, 6 months at sea followed by a couple at home with family. One of the reasons I began my bike ride was because I wanted some fun, to see the world. These Philipino workers were just the latest example of people I have met who don’t have that choice – speaking to them helped to put my journey into perspective.
It was a great little mini-adventure and I’m so pleased I didn’t fly. I am very grateful to Elders, the North Australian Cattle Company and the Danish shipping company Corral Lines for letting me hitch. Elders explained that it is not something that any of the companies generally do, so I am grateful for their sponsorship. But now it’s Sunday evening. I’ve got an early start towards Litchfield in the morning. I’m apprehensive about this leg as it will be a tough one. But at the end there is a cold beer waiting for me in Brisbane…only about 60 days away now!
Pic below – all my kit in Darwin, ready for most things the Outback may throw at me!