Rylstone Cowboy, horse racing while travelling

Have you ever given up on something?  As in say “WTF”?  I must admit, I have.  Sort of half way into the motorcycle safari at one of these ‘driver reviver’ stops, cold waters of despair washed over me.  The busy serving people,  from the local Lions Club, are concerned about budget cuts she said, and she made a cup of coffee with half a spoon of International Roast.  I was shocked, no I was devastated, half a spoon?  To really appreciate the roast, the deep hidden flavours of the coffee bean hidden in a cup of International Roast, you need at least two spoons, heaped ones that is.  I always make a $2 donation; those poor people work in their free time, all for a good cause; I was sadden when the elderly gentleman, in quite a stern voice, clearly disapproving of my request for a ‘strong’ cuppa said “Budget cuts mate, we get only half the coffee we used to get.”  Good heavens, I thought as I tried to appreciate the half spoon roasted coffee with fat free milk (if it is fat free, why is it more expensive than full cream?  Eish man) it seems the Global Financial Crisis finally hit Australia as well, in driver reviver coffees.


Aladdin, hiding there since the Global Financial Crises


someone once lived here…

As I got back on the motorcycle I decided to adjust my approach to seeking the best International Roast in this glorious land.  Budget cuts and all, the ‘driver reviver’ people are always very busy; showing lost grey nomads where north is on the map, the cleanest toilets in Scotland and other important stuff; they never have a moment free to chat.  Not unfriendly, it is just the nature of their job, busy busy.  The next best thing would be to seek a Coke Zero* in the local water hole, hopefully a small dark pub in an old dilapidated Royal / Imperial / King’s Hotel.  I started to fantasise about the bar lady, with one fluid swoop ripping a frosty glass out of the fridge, scoop a few blocks of ice into it, and then take a piece of lemon, squeeze the juices with her nicotine stained fingers into the glass, before pouring the Coke Zero into it.  You would taste the local air, water, and her nicotine fingers in the ice-cold cool drink.  Yes, that will be my new approach!


Not the best pump in town…

The twisty roads motorcyclist love, and their insurance companies hate, are well represented in the Central Highlands of NSW.  The riding there is fantastic; Bylong Valley Way (According to the bar lady, the sealing of the route was commenced in 1950 and completed in April 2009, quite quick for any government job she thought) is magnificent for motorcycles, the cornering tight, and the kangaroos suicidal.  Normal winter weather would make this heaven on earth, but this was mid summer, and the ambient temperature would make sinners reconsider.  I needed a glass of Coke Zero, a twist of lemon and a bathroom to wash the bugs out of my eyes.  The beautiful village, it is quite breathtaking, of Rylstone had several options for such pleasures.  I normally ride through a town, looking around, weighing my options, rather than parking right at the first waterhole.  The tree lines streets offer oasis in the summer heat.  Locals nodded their heads in greeting as I rode through the streets. Finally I parked opposite the Rylstone Hotel, an outdoor sign promising cold beers.


Russian Police recruit here

A greying bar lady with beared stark blue eyes behind her rimmed glasses, stared at me as I walked in; another bloody biker she must have thought.  I asked for a Coke Zero, she looked at me coldly and said “Diet Coke will do!”  “OK, no problem!”  A clear winner in the Russian Police friendliness contest, that is for sure.  Horse-racing was the feature on local TV, and the sole customer was an elderly gentleman, sporting a tweed jacket and an Akubra hat, looking a bit under the weather; lost a bit on horses the bar lady said, and is now afraid to go home.  I tried to strike up conversation with her, but it never got on the way.  Finally the horse-racing man looked up from his much loved beer.  “I am a local businessman here, I know the area, watch out for them bloody kangaroos, they are everywhere.  Are you German?”  Quite surprised by the statement and assumption I said; “No, no I am from Rockhampton, Central Queensland.”  “They sure speak funny there…” The bar lady, clearly not in the mood for horsing around, asked where I was from originally, and surprise surprise; their local (visiting) vet is a South African.  She don’t like him much, thinks he is a smart Alec.


Open for business, a cut above the rest



On my way to Rylstone, NSW

The man, fumbling his pockets, I presumed for a smoke or some money to buy another beer looked at the bar lady.  “Did you take it?”  She stared at him, spin his car keys around her finger, “Yes I did”.  “I am a local businessman here, and she takes my keys.  God forbid.  I know this area.  Bloody kangaroos.”  She rolled her eyes, filling my glass with the rest of the Diet Coke.  I turned to the guy and ask how long will it take me to reach Bathurst, where I want to spend the night.  Haven’t been there for years he said, don’t like it much.  The road is full of them bloody kangaroos; I need to be very careful on a motorcycle he said.  I paid up, took my gear, and greeted them; the gentleman looked at me over the rim of his beer glass, then tipped his Akubra hat and said “I am a local businessman, I know this area, beware of them bloody kangaroos, they are everywhere mate!”

*I have long ago given up on asking for coffee in a pub/bar. People think you are an escapee from the asylum. Coke Zero is quite an acceptable drink in the days of RBT’s.

6 January 2013


‘The piano has been drinking, not me’ (Tom Waits, 1977)

Most people who frequent with me, at work or during play, will know I am a pretty casual and forgiving person; open and free about my points of view, ideas and opinions.  My Nigeria MOPOL* policeman and guardian, God forgive me, I forgot his name always said, “My master is not very economical with his mouth”.  Back then I was not sure what to make of it; him a devout Muslim, and always had fiery debates with Maurice my driver, an equally devout Christian; I had to prevent violent civil strife erupting between them in some godforsaken part of Nigeria.  So, tonight, here from a quiet motel room in “The Kidman Wayside Inn”, I have a few confessions to make.


Confession time…. I am ready to spill the beans. Are you?

No, I am not gay or have not joined the Greens, but sadly and much to my own disappointment, I cannot sing.  Not for the life of me.  My father was gifted with a golden voice (as Leonard Cohen sings); he always encouraged us to sing, but I got some other talents, like serviette folding, or drying dishes, from the talent queue.  I vividly recall during a primary school concert, we re-enacted the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  All the little kids, who did not get on of the divine roles** as either Joseph, Maria, the three Wise Men, the Inn keeper, the Angels or the donkey (it was a prestigious role, to play the donkey), sang in the choir.  My three cousins, my brother, and I were all in that choir.  One day, during practice, the dear old teacher Mrs Molly de Wet walked passed the Barnard cousins and stopped.  She looked traumatised; with respect she said, “The boys who do not want to sing, do not have to sing” I became a palm tree, waving my leafy green arms in the wind next to the crib resting the Baby Jesus.  It traumatised me for decades.  As a consolation however, many years later, I am learning to play piano.  Not very well, only just as a matter of fact I can dance with the ebony and ivory, much better than singing the praise of the Lord.


The only place where ‘Australia’s got talent’ where willing to audition me.  Kings Plains.

People with golden voices aside for the moment, I always admired people who can walk into a room, break into conversation with anyone, and minutes later, arms around the shoulder, chat like old friends.  Since I live in Australia I really struggle to do that; I can happily talk to people I know, but with strange people, uh-oh…  Fear grips my tongue, ties it in a knot, and makes words come out wrong.  Riding long quiet stretches on the motorcycle today I dissected the possible reasons; It was either palm tree next to the Baby Jesus’ crib, or it has to do with my Japie*** accent and English being my second language.  Many people simply do not understand me when I am sober.  Combined with that, is my deep-seated fear of being rejected, so I will never ask strange people if I can take a photograph of them, even after a hearty discussion, and much pleasantness.  A specific goal of this motorcycle safari was to address both these fears in one shot.  Let my record of this journey be the judge.


In a room filled with strange people, I feel like this wind pump near Wombat, pass Young.

Leaving Bathurst early on my way to Wagga Wagga allowed me time to consider the ideal spot of a relaxing breakfast or lunch while on safari.  I always have these romantic ideas of stopping at a small cafe, with white chairs and colourful cushions under willow trees, a cute waitress, serving me small French croissants filled with vanilla cream; when accepting my payment throws her arms around my neck, asks me to steal her away on my magical journey; alas, I keep dreaming.


Kelly (not her real name), from Estonia working away her babalaas, on her short-stay student visa, and loving Australia

Riding south on the Olympic Highway is a pleasurable journey; plenty of small villages and towns for a stop, stretch the legs and my regular twenty push-ups next to the motorcycle, stunning the unfortunate locals.  The best place to meet interesting people will always be the corner pub, or hotel.  It will most certainly sport the name of the village, or be a Royal, Kings, or Railway Hotel, just like in Africa, where the colonial times are only remembered in the hotel names.  Down a slight hill into Mandurama placed a curse on my thirst, there was only one place.  The Royal Hotel, promising cold beers, hot meals, and POKIES.  I stopped, put out the side stand, and walked in.  A few regulars, all older men tired and run down after years of slog and disappointments, actively betted on horses and did not even look up.  (I did not even know you get a horse and greyhound race betting vending machine in pubs and bars, connected to the Internet, on which you can place bets!  An absolute bloody disgrace, but then, I do hate gambling.  If Australia has a curse, it is not drink or “illegal maritime arrivals” as Minister Bob Carr and other Labor politicians now calls boat people, the curse is gambling, it is a cancer).  Err sorry, my bitch for the day.


The Royal Hotel, Mandurama, kitchen closed, but the beers go with Baileys, if you play the horses.


Pink in her hair, and her car. Pink is her colour.

In The Royal Hotel Mandurama, the bar lady with pink hair, had black stripes put in for Christmas, just for fun, for a laugh, pours me a Coke Zero in a frosty glass filled with ice.  The resident horse expert, a dwarf, sits in his special high chair, drinking beer and Baileys Irish Cream, fresh from a 500ml bottle.  The barmaid laughs, says it is pint sized like the dwarf, a late Christmas gift from the other punters, “he is only a tiny guy, pint size”, and all laughed in a really nice manner.  She tells me; she has only been at The Royal in Mandurama for a year; she move up from The Royal Hotel in Lyndhurst, when it closed down.  She likes the new joint, it is jolly as she put it, and she has found a man here.  Just before I could gather enough courage to ask if I can take a photograph of her, the dwarf fell from his chair, the Baileys’ kicked like a horse.  The pink haired lady rushed around the bar counter; lifting the dwarf with great care and compassion; it suddenly struck me who the man she found was.


The piano has been drinking, not me (Tom Waits, 1977). Cafe Royale promises it all…

Lyndhurst, for those who care to study maps, is a mere 6km south from Mandurama on the way to Cowra.  The Royal Hotel, still beaming some former glory is now being turned into a backpackers and holiday accommodation venture, where they will serve wood fired pizzas and Mexican foods in Cafe Royale, but apparently no bar so the bar lady left for a new life, 6km northwards.  My presence in this three-surname town, daring to aim a camera at the Cafe Royale sparked frenzy under the residents.  I swear I could hear curtains being ripped open, then closed, and within a few seconds the owner, with thick glasses and a Harley Davidson style moustache arrived.  His well-used Isuzu UTE’s tray was filled with plumbing and carpenter gear, pieces of wood, copper piping and electrical tools.


Charlie Brown: “Every boy should start the day with 30 push-ups”, so I do. He was a wise man that Charlie Brown.

He clearly meant business, friendly enough, and quite a talkative man in his mid sixties, with a severe nerve disorder.  He reminded me of a taxi-driver with similar condition I once had in Kuala Lumpur; the owner of Cafe Royale lifted his shoulders, blinked twice, touched his left ear, then his nose (both with his left hand), pushed up his thick glasses, sniffed, then pulled the glasses down with his right hand, and repeated.  Shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down.  He explained, his brother and him had a similar Royal Hotel in South Australia, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, sniff sniff, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, and later one in Victoria, but the economy was bad, and they bought this one, after studying tourism trends.  Shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, sniff sniff, right hand glasses down, shoulders down.  He politely declined to have his photograph taken, he just does not trust this Gillard government, spies everywhere, and with the Internet and digital cameras, his image can be on the Prime Minister’s desk in seconds.


Following the secret spy internet line to Canberra. This is where all my digital photographs go. Be careful he said, you do not know who to trust these days…

He invited me inside; it was quite a stately structure, with an amazing array of furniture, carpets, bar equipment, electrical fans of every conceivable form and function, tall ones, short ones, think stemmed ones, and fridges some stocked with food, others with cool drinks, humming away.  I immediately liked the place; in contrast with the Royal Hotel in Mandurama, it had an ambiance, and some mystery of crooked deals, gold nuggets in tobacco satchels, feather clad prostitutes, and rough men drinking glasses of straight bourbon.  He explained, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, this is all their goods and equipment, salvaged from their other Royal Hotel ventures, and some left-over stuff from the closure of this Royal Hotel.  In the corner stood a white, upright piano, I walked over and opened the lid.  The owner, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, said “not sure what to do with that, sell it?  Do you play?”  “Not much, I haven’t played in a few years.”  My right hand’s fingers rolled over the black and white keys; it sounded all right to me.  “Play something,” the man asked.  Now what the hell would I play I panicked, stage fright! I remember the one tune I can play, an Afrikaans children’s folk song ‘Bobbejaan klim die berg’, translated ‘baboon climbs the mountain’.  I started playing the tune with my right hand only, he, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, looked pleased.  The piano was in quite a good nick, not even one key out of tune.  He pushed a chair towards me; I sat down, played (not without a few false notes and errors, but it flowed), and sang along.  The hall filled with the sound of ‘bobbejaan klim die berg, so haastig en so lastig’, translated something like ‘baboon climbs the mountain, in a hurry in a haste’.  I played and sang as much of the song I could remember.  He smiled, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, and say “It will stay right here then” and gave me an ice cold Solo from the fridge.


I was once told, that if an angel sins, she turns into a rock, and plummets to the earth. This must be a very bad place then.

*MOPOL, short for “Mobile Police” is a paramilitary arm of the Nigerian Police force, also renting out their protection services to foreigners, business owners and VIP’s.  Small advice is to always befriend your MOPOL, and gain his trust.

**The role of Jesus the Baby was never given to any kid, it was always a nice healthy looking baby doll, wrapped in a white blanket.

***Japie is the casual reference to Afrikaans speaking migrants to Australia.

(2 January 2013)

Being Charley Boorman or Ewan McGregor (the fat one)

“Goodness, you aren’t Charley Boorman, that motorcycling friend of Ewan McGregor are  you?”


Even town planners or motorcycle rides I hope


An old hippy lady, wiry and thin, wrapped in the compulsory multi-coloured sarong, with a yellow skin tone after decades of smoking heavily, looked at Big Bertha (my BMW motorcycle), “No you can’t be, you’re not blond and you have too little gear”.  I just walked out a lovely little French coffee shop in Denman NSW, when I spotted the hippy lady and her slightly pokey husband, both in their mid sixties admiring the Big Bertha.  She laughed hard and loud pointing to the caveman, walking man, BMW GS riding man evolution sticker on the top box.  He greeted me by commenting on the motorcycle, and by shaking my hand, which I quite liked; it is a proper and appropriate manner of salutation in most civilised countries.  “Living the dream mate, I always wanted a BM like this, boxer engine, thousand cc’s, drive shaft, real mean machine”.  His wife chipped in “Those English boys, that sexy actor, what’s his name again?  Ewan, yes, Ewan McGregor, that is it, and his fat friend, they really knew how to go for it.  That trip through Russia and Mongolia; We watched every episode on DVD, didn’t we?  Is it the same bike?  We loved it, didn’t we?”  Oh God I though, I am being referred to as the fat friend, quite a blow to my ego, but a quick look at my Xmas waistline made me think I do resemble Charley Boorman.


For Gerhard Koekemoer, a beautifully restored Suzuki in Denman NSW


I just love a goal where they welcome you, and the window has no bars in front.


Full moon rising over the Cathedral in Bathurst


Perfectly restored VW Kombi, 1955 model, in the “grudge” look. Walcha NSW



Interesting opposing energies, I am not sure what the answer is…


The gates are closed, the winds of change have blown…


While families in fashionable European cars less frequent the secondary country roads Jan Cilliers suggested to me, it is heaven for motorcyclists and motorists with a slightly sadistic streak or an adventurist side.  It is on these routes that you encounter people from another dimension, interesting, differently adjusted true people; not the vanilla political correct urbanites who drive around in a Toyota Prius, telling the rest how we should life out lives while they sip a soy latte.  I was feeling slightly dehydrated, in the mood for a cup of International Roast or similar, a homemade pie and a Cherry Ripe; I pulled onto the grassed sidewalk in Bylong, opposite a small shop and filling station sporting inviting signs, “Happiness is not a destination, it is a journey”, “Handmade jams and preserves for sale” (‘Handmade’ always amazed me, would other people make it using their feet?).  The owners, two ladies, quite observant and curious about me, my journey, where I am from, both stated that kangaroos is a menace on the road this time of year.  The cash taking lady brewed what would soon be the second worst coffee I had in my life, military years included, her partner told me the handmade chicken and salad sandwiches is a must.  Witnessing her slick and controlled hand movements with an enormous kitchen knife made me decide that the purchase of such a freshly (handmade) sandwich might be in order and the right thing to do if I want to leave this hamlet, thinking of “The secret is in the sauce” part in Fried Green Tomatoes.


In Sofala, with a sister town in Mozambique, the Australian town was the first gold mine town in NSW. Now it is a small tourist town, a bit like Pilgrims’ Rest. 

A well-used Toyota Hilux UTE driven by a local farmer and his young son seated next to him pulled up, to fill their huge red quad bike on its tray with fuel.  “Crash often?” he asked, pointing his head towards Big Bertha.  Shooting a white lie to heaven I said “Never”, putting behind my recent muddy road experiences in Queensland.  He pushed his huge white Akubra hat backwards, rubbed his forehead, nodded to his son, and said “Mate, on this road, with all them potholes, grey headed tourists and farkin’  ‘roos*, it will be sooner than later”.  Such nice, charming people, the locals I thought.


Farm house and outbuildings, King’s Flats towards Cowra


Like, when you are invited for dinner by that cute girl you recently met, and she tells you this home cooked lasagne is her Sicilian grandmother’s secret recipe, but not only does it look like concrete and cardboard, it but tastes like it as well, I was trying to swallow the horrible coffee and handmade chicken and salad sandwich with dignity.  It was difficult.  Slowly, like a naked man out of his lover’s bedroom window when her husband walks in, I tried to slid away against the shop’s window and wall towards the council’s waste bins a few metres away, but I swear I could hear sandwich making lady sharpening her kitchen knife.  I used all my mental energy on moving so quietly, swiftly and invisibly towards the bin; to not attracted attention and the revenge of the sharpened kitchen knife, I was nearly run over by a metallic gold Honda CRV, and then by a second, exact copy of the first CRV, both with heavily tinted windows and personalised number plates.  The first car, stopping in a cloud of dust produced three elderly grey-headed gentlemen in light coloured attire, in wind-up doll fashion, walking with military purpose straight from their CRV to the second one, which produced three grey and purple haired ladies with enormous sunglasses, just like Dame Edna’s famous pieces.  The three ladies, in synchronised rhythm stated “we needed to turn right Evan, right not left Evan, can’t you read your GPS Evan, we needed to turn right at the previous crossing, we need to go to Moree.  We should have driven in front, and we will now be late and in danger on the awful road with all the potholes and kangaroos…” and all three ladies nodded in sync, like parrots on a stick.  Moree is about three or four hundred kilometres to the north, they are well and truly of their track.  The verbal exchange went on in a spectacular fashion, like a snippet from a Mr Bean or Peter Sellers comedy, I even glanced around for hidden TV cameras; and quickly seized the opportunity and deposited the coffee and chicken with salad sandwich in the bin. 


The farmer and his son must have thought this is the Day of Reckoning, and it was not what they thought it would be, and with a great puff of diesel smoke and shaking heads they disappeared in the opposite direction.  The male driver spotted me, must have seen the astonishment in my eyes, and waved to the three ladies with Dame Edna glasses inspecting the handmade jams and preserves, and said “My wife and her sisters, and their husbands” as he pointed to the two other blokes, both looking solemn.  “Darn GPS, such a complicated piece of technology.”  I was still scanning the periphery for hidden cameras, as this scene that played before my eyes was just too weird and make belief.  I could see nothing, suspicious.  The only rapid movement was the elderly gentleman walking with his TomTom GPS in his hands, showing the route to his wife.  As I pulled the helmet over my head, the sandwich lady approached me from the back and said, “You didn’t like our sandwiches did you?”

* ‘roo is short for kangaroo in rural Australia


That sagging feeling, a bit like my “suspension”. (Sofala NSW)



Recycled zoo on way to Singleton, I think I lost the town’s name…


Part of my daily routine. Four sets of twenty push-ups per day. People find it strange, but no-one has challenged me on a push-up competition yet…

Riders on the Storm

“Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm

Into this house we’re born

Into this world we’re thrown

Like a dog without a bone

An actor out on loan

Riders on the storm…..”

(The last song recorded by Jim Morrison and The Doors before he passed on)


“Riders on the Storm”, in Urbanville, before the rain started

 In a few days, since my motorcycle safari departed from Yeppoon, I started this love – hate relationship with my motorcycle GPS.  Apart from being user unfriendly (apparently it was designed in Hungary by a team of mutant dwarfs; the touch screen user interface was written by Russians for the Mongolians, who they hate, and it shows; the machines, its maps and touch screen interface was then adopted for Australian conditions by a Chinese hay farmer), it keeps on putting challenging deviations on my planned routes, like turning from the perfectly correct highway onto a dust road, taking me over a mountain on a goat track, or crossing a crocodile infested river where no bridge exist.  Struggling with the route the GPS proposes and the preferred meticulously planned one, while nursing a soft babalaas* next to the busy Pacific Motorway is a sure way to test my sense of humour. 


Beware of the GPS prescribed route, it may be to the left of the trees…. 

In a strange attempt to do soul searching, I planned to retrace the Beaudesert – Woodenbong mountain pass, where I had a slight mishap in a spectacular manner during my motorcycle safari from Yeppoon to Adelaide in April 2010.  This time around, I wanted to ride the mountain pass, and beat the bends.  The GPS had other plans.  After, what felt like circumnavigating the proposed starting point of this route, the town of Beaudesert, three times following back roads and soon to be constructed roads, I just had it.  Trying to make a quick U-turn on a narrow gravel road made the bike slide in the mud, falling over in slow motion effect, the BMW on top of me.  I spoke in a variety of languages, mostly not fit for family time TV.  As I struggled to pick up the heavy bike in the mud I though why the hell am I doing this?  Why am I riding a bloody motorcycle during my Christmas holiday, through harsh remote areas on my own?  Why can’t I, like normal well-adjusted citizens, go to Melbourne to watch the cricket, or if that is not exciting enough, finally paint the outside of the house? 


If you need a drink, Fast Eddy’s the man (between Tambourine and Beaudesert)

A farmer, slashing the grass on his road reserve stopped and helped me out.  He was quite surprised to see me there; the road he said was closed a long time ago, and is now only used by the local residents.  


In drier moments, sporting my Che bandana, to catch the sweat, or rainwater before it hits my eyes 

Knowing my intended destination, the City of Armidale, is more than a day on a fast horse to the south, and encountering kangaroos on the road at dawn doing 100kilometres per hour is not that entirely romantic, so I called it quits.  I’ll ride that road another day.  Lady Luck was shining on me; as soon as I found the official bitumen road that will take me to the New England Highway, and Armidale, it started to rain; as if Noah had recently completed his Ark, and all the animals, in pairs of two where safely on board.  The temperature dropped from 30degrees Celsius to 17degrees Celsius in a matter of minutes, but the brave one pushed on, brushing off pouring rain, low visibility, and slippery roads.  Too much in a hurry to don my raingear, which is at the bottom of my bags, I told myself “ag man, it will be over in a few minutes”.  Three hours behind schedule, being in rain for the last one-hour, the City of Warwick, also know as the City of Roses, appeared on the horison. 

With rhythmically clattering teeth I stopped at the Shell / McDonalds in Warwick, filling the bike, jumping up and down to drain some water from my soaked riding gear.  Enough of cold wetness and miserable miscalculated safari routes I thought, time for a hot coffee and a scone with cream and strawberry jam!  On Boxing Day, the City of Warwick had other things to do; the only place open that may supply such culinary delights was the McCafe. 


Warwick Shell and McDonalds on background. 

I stopped in front of the neighbouring McDonalds, spotting a wet but immaculate Stealth gunmetal grey Harley Davidson V-Rod with matching matt black leather saddle bags, a serious set of pipes, and the biggest rear tyre I have ever seen on a motorcycle.  It is wider than Denmark.  The Harley was both impressive and intimidating, until I saw the owner.  About 30centimetres taller than me, muscular as in a gymnast, long curly blond hair going grey, in tight leathers and the expected tattoos, she is a seriously attractive woman, even for one in her late fifties perhaps early sixties.  She puffed a smoke and, as the first Harley rider to ever return my salutation as a non-Harley rider, she simply said “G’day mate”. 

The McDonalds was a beehive of activity.  Teenagers all dressed in pimples and formal suit, sporting similar black and purple colour coding, slurped their milkshakes.  Pretty giggling teenage girls with too short dresses for my heart made me focus on the drinks and pastries menu.  Apart from drowning my helmet under the automatic tap in the men’s hand basin, nothing could spoil my expectation of tastebud delight as much as a McDonalds scone, so I drowned it in peanut butter and strawberry jam.  Escaping the festive mood inside the eatery, I stepped out to the open air sitting area, pouring the last water out of my helmet, and then sat down for the scone.  The Harley lady was seated just beside me.

I was as curious as herded cats, so I started chit-chatting, saying her bike is very nice, asked where did she ride from, did she get caught in the rain, where is she heading etc.  The normal Cecil Barnard both boots in the mouth opening conversation.  She slurped her mango smoothie with sophistication not commonly found in a McDonalds, looked at me in a way that would make James Bond shiver in fear and said, “Why do you ride?”  I was completely thrown by the question, by her soft sexy voice, an English accent, and piercing blue eyes.  I felt a bit like that rabbit in the approaching car’s stream of headlights.  “Uhmm, I guess I like it” I tried.  Attack would be best here, so I asked, “why do you ride?”  She smiled and said, “I ride because I have to”.  Not wanting to sound nosy I replied, “oh, you mean, you do not have a car, so you ride the Harley as a means of transport?”  Clearly a master of the conversational art, she started discussing motorcycles, riding in rain, dickhead motorcar drivers, P-platers who text while driving (I encountered two in just one street block this morning), and asked why I bought a BMW.  We had a splendid conversation; clearly both of us enjoyed it. 

Then, in a blink her eyes turned dark.  “My husband bought the Harley, it was his dream Harley. He always wanted a custom built one.  He ordered the purpose made pipes, the Stealth gunmetal grey paint job, the oversized wheels.  He was forever talking about us riding to Melbourne, and riding around Tassie, even New Zealand.  But we never did.  We never had time, always the business, always the responsibilities.  Then one morning while exercising on his pushie, he died.  He died of a heart attack, just like that.  He was super fit, healthy, he died before he could ride the Harley”.  She smiled at me,  “I ride to remember him, and I ride to honour him.  We moved to Toowoomba in 1976, we just arrived from the UK, and liked it in Toowoomba over Brisbane and the Coast.  We never had children, but it was enough to have him, and for him to have me.  When I ride his Harley, he is with me, so everyday I ride, everyday he is alive with me”.

She picked up her helmet, matching colour to the Harley, looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and said, and I try and remember the words the way she said it, “people ride motorcycles for a reason.  You don’t just ride a bike.  You either ride away from something, or you ride to remember something, or you ride in search of something”.  She pulled on the helmet, took her leather bag, turned to me, and said, “You have sad eyes.  Why do you ride mate?”

* balalaas is an Afrikaans word for hangover


Why do I ride?


Wet and Dry in the rainy season

Setting up and packing for my long distance motorcycle safari on unknown roads and ever changing weather conditions turned out a subtle combination of a challenge and an art.  Fitting two weeks of clothes, camping and cooking gear, biltong and droëwors, camera and computer equipment and myself on the machine needed careful item selection, planning, thinking, packing, and repacking.  Truly ‘practice makes perfect’.

In preparation for the motorcycle safari I’ve spent considerable time in the male personal product aisle to check out and compare the lightweight toiletry options for the travelling man.  As I prefer the smooth clean-shaven look to the rugged war ready Islamic face, the plethora of shavers, shaving gel/foam, shaving brushes, and other vibrating or sharp-edged face scraping tools amaze me, especially the price. The wet-and-dry battery operated models appeal the least, mostly due to the amount of red wine I can buy for the same money. I opted for a five pack Gillette Mac III blades,  ‘King’ shaving gel and a small tube of Factor 50 anti-insect, anti-wrinkles, post-shave sunscreen for the normal male skin type. This, with a packet of 24 Disprin, two tubes of anti-perspirant deodorant roll on and some foot powder completed my cosmetic selection. No bulky vanity case full of tubs, creams and lotions for the motorcyclist on safari.

Camping and cooking gear comprised the usual sleeping bag, self inflating mattress and small tent; a well travelled but never used before lightweight, quick drying all natural bamboo fibres, good for the planet and dolphin friendly body towel; a small, ancient, worldly well used Italian Caffettiera, perfect for the roadside espresso and my army dining set all individually sealed in a “zip-lock” bags made the packed kit.  The laptop, iPad, cameras, tripod, and assorted power cords and back-up disks went into a backpack, which, as per its intended use, had to fit on my back.  The evening before my departure I was quite impressed with myself for fitting everything on the bike and in the backpack.  Sadly, early the next morning, on my departure I discovered the backpack pressed against the tent and sleeping bag sack, making riding the motorcycle impossible as my nose was squeezed to the screen, and my body to the fuel tank.  Hastily repacking everything, leaving behind some items previously considered essential, including rain covers, packing straps and a packet of large size Glad Snap Lock Reseal Bags; I finally headed out of Yeppoon on my safari.


The worst of winter is just over

Riding west from Rockhampton in December would always be in sweltering heat, and it was just cooler than hell.  Some parts in Central Queensland had the mercury pass 37 degrees Celsius, breaking quite a sweat, especially in a riding suit with long johns and long sleeved woollen riding t-shirts under it.  My stop in steaming Roma convinced me that most of the fresh produce I had would be dead by heat in the next day, and that I had to consume everything today, or get some mean mother form of cooling system going in the food part of bike’s panniers, which by itself are strong water/dust and noise proof aluminium boxes.  That day’s journey ended in St George, with huge thunderclouds building in the sky, signalling some heavenly relief from the persistent heat. The camping site in town, although on the banks of the Balonne River had few trees, rock hard and boiling hot red soil to put up a tent, so I took the soft option: A motel room sporting an artic style air-conditioning and a laundromat to wash all the smelly clothes won the day, regardless of my thin budget. Having space in the motel room allowed me to repack all the bags, panniers, and the camera backpack.  Out went the MacBook into the right-hand side pannier, all the chargers, and notepads into the left-hand side pannier and the iPad snugly into the top box pannier.  The only things left in the backpack was the three cameras and lenses, and that is strapped on the rear seat, no longer on my back.


Thunderclouds packing on


Cooling of with rain clouds gathering (Balonne River, St George)

When you grew up on a farm, and many years in a row saw your father’s mealie (corn) crop withering and dying in heat and drought, an approaching thunderstorm is serious cause of celebration.  So the motel owner, his wife and two young waitresses joined me on the verandah to toast to rain, and rain it was.  The region received between four and six inches of rain, the beautiful smell of wet soil swept through the air, and pools of rainwater everywhere.  Riding east towards Goondiwindi had its moments as I had to cross four areas with strong flowing water at least thirty centimetres deep across the road, which is a bit of a different exercise on a motorcycle.  It was huge fun anyhow, and boys being boys, I turned around and did it again, each time at increasing speed until my protecting angel told me to grow up.


One of my favourite politicians, Senator Barnaby Joyce’s office in St George.


On the banks of the Balonne River, just before the storm


Serious John Deere tractor ready to take on the wet soil. In St George they plant cotton, mealies, wheat and have many cattle and sheep.


When it rains, water everywhere! Quite an experience on a motorcycle if the water is flowing strongly…

Into Goondiwindi got me pass as sign stating ‘boerewors’ for sale, and all behold, it was Afrikaans people who own the butchery, selling meaty stuff I like. This is where all trouble started.  With Christmas and other festival days in mind, a few kilograms of boere wors, bag of droëwors and some biltong was acquired and stuck into a small coolbag in the top box.  With a small wolf hunger, I looked around for a nice place to buy lunch, settling for a place selling freshly salads and grilled fish in the main street.  The sun beat down on the asphalt, small mirages forming on the shiny aluminium panniers, confusing the eyes. Ice is what I need, to keep the boere wors cool and calm.  So, a fat packet of freshly made ice found its way into the coolbag in the top box, keeping the boere wors cool.


On the banks of the Moonie River, the famous Nindigully Pub where the annual buck and spinster ball takes place, offering free beer, yesterday


This is a serious party spot. The waitress is from Latvia and could have been a beauty queen, the Coke Zero was cold and the entrance road muddy and slippery.


Post and Telstra on an island, but so are we?

The rest of my journey, to reach the beautiful town of Warwick, was wet and wonderful.  It rained for many kilometres, hard thunderstorm rain, pelting down on earth and its inhabitants.  I was soaking wet as I rode into town, the thick clouds removed any doubt on staying in a motel, which at $95 was a dry song. While unpacking, and much to my horror I discovered the cameras in the backpack were soaked in rainwater.  In the room the machines were quickly pulled apart, the batteries on one side, the lenses on another and the cameras, face down on fluffy towels.  I was considering going to the local hotel for a nice pub dinner, meet the locals, making small talk, discovering their life when I spotted the large freezer compartment in the fridge.  An ideal place for the boere wors then!  Streams of water and drops ran of the top box as I opened it up.  The calamity of the cold boere wors struck me.  While the sausages were spared the heat, my iPad was not spared the drowning.  It was floating facedown in ice-cold water in the watertight top box.


This is where all the wetness trouble started….. The boerewors was fantastic however….

I spoke in a variety of coarse languages, kicked the wall, pulled my hair, but the iPad was wet and very dead. I could not believe my stupidity, leaving the iPad in the top box, that it shared with a not so watertight coolbag filled with ice cubes….  As I tried to resuscitate the iPad, shaking the water out, putting it in a plastic bag with moisture absorbing granules, turning the room’s aircon to “dehumidify”, and sticking it in the sun for two days, all to no avail I thought back on what I left behind under my carport in Yeppoon: A packet with of large size Glad Snap Lock Reseal Bags, of a size that would have individually swallowed the iPad and cameras, and kept it beautiful and dry indeed.


Very wet iPad basking in the sun, with moisture sucking granules to dry it out (All removed from the plastic bag to demonstrate the issue)

As all my maps, planning, and photographs was stored on the iPad, it was a double whammy, gone is the machine, and gone is a lot of work and planning.  Quite glum I walked into Carindale’s Westfield Apple Store, and walked out with my one and only Xmas gift to myself, a new iPad.  The next stop was Coles for a packet of large size Glad Snap Lock Reseal Bags.


Wet and wonderful! Looking back on the safari so far, it is a blast.

Breaking bread with people

In pumping heat, about six hours into my motorbike safari, I stop next to a tired looking Corolla, bonnet up, its grey haired owner staring at the engine with a weary face. He comes on the inland route, all the way from Townsville to Harvey Bay for Xmas with the grandkids he tells me. Quite a big drive for one day given the distance, heat and speed limit I remarked, calculating it as about one thousand four hundred kilometres. After a brief discussion about the fan belt, leaky radiator and a flat mobile phone battery he waves me off, too proud to accept any help but a brief yarn. Not that I, with only the bike and four litres of water, had much more to offer. As I pulled away, promising to send help from Rolleston he stared at my departure with a flash of desperation on his face.


Entry into Rolleston, clouds packing in the dry sky


I rode into Rolleston, a mere smatter of a place, only to learn its last general dealer “a bit of this & that and drapery” had its closing down sale in June 2012. The Choice Filling Station includes a SPAR convenience store that sells almost everything, including fake reindeer horns, a variety of frozen foods, ice creams, freshly ground coffee from a machine, and take away foods but no Corolla fan belts. I was overcome with despair for the old guy next to the road, he reminded me so much of my father, proud but drained by a lifetime of hardship.


‘A Bit of This & That’, sadly now closed

The shoppers and staff, all jovial with Christmas fever, barter and chat, making jokes and eating copious amounts of ice cream inside the shop, it is freezing cold with a big air-conditioning system keeping everyone happy, and their wallets open. A short fat and loud version of Father Christmas with a real white beard, shouting “ho-ho-ho” after every sentence, is quiet for a few seconds as a young beautiful, well endowed and scantily dressed Spanish tourist gets out of a camper van and walks into the shop. The Father Christmas man whispers says “holy fuckin’ moly” under his breath, also witnessing the size of the tourist’s boyfriend who then just walked in as well, shirtless and muscular. After a few moments of quiet admiration, happy noise and talk return, Father Christmas tells me not to worry, the old guy will be towed into town by one of the many farmers, surveyors or mining people in the region. Someone will surely help.


The Choice servo and SPAR with ice cold air-conditioner and happy people

About eighty or so kilometres south of Rolleston lays the Carnarvon Gorge National Park, a series of impressive sandstone canyons and gorges. Overnight rain and cloud cover in that region makes for wonderful motorcycling weather, Not chasing anything, I turned off the A7 Carnarvon Highway onto a narrow and curvy bitumen road, towards the Gorge, delighted in me spotting mobs of emus and wallabies in the fields. (Yes, that is what you call a group of emus! A mob! Not a flock, or a swarm, or even a pack of emus, no a mob. So also for kangaroos and wallabies, although kangaroos may be called a troop). Thank you Brett Bacon, a bit of free education on my safari. I was less delighted by the Brahman cattle, who would wait until you are right next to it, then to dash across the road, just like in Africa. Different passports did not give them any more road sense.


Warning of rains to come? They must have missed the Mayan end of the world…


The rain and the mist does not help to take a good photograph, but this is the entrance towards the National Park.

The last fifteen or so kilometres is a wet and slippery mud and gravel road, making me nervous but I remember the rule of gravel/dust/mud and sandy roads “look up, open up”. It works, also available in theory. The sheer beauty of the place made me stop in bewilderment, taking many photographs from the iPhone with soft rain cooling me down and making the road even more fun. I booked, for a wild $15, a campsite in Takarakka Bush Resort, a quiet, and beautiful place. It is truly a splendid place, tranquil and serene, luscious with plant and animals, the ideal place for a snooze, a rest, some walks, camping/safari style dinner and squaring up with fellow travellers. The manager tells me peak season, April to October brings six hundred people per weekend. I feel lucky, only about ten families.


In this case “stock” means animals, not shares or the watery stuff you put in a soup.


I always knew! Father Christmas is a biker! Entrance to a farm on the way to Carnarvon Gorge

The little shop is well stocked with basic tourist and camping items, with a better,  more luxurious variety than the Choice / SPAR in Rolleston. People come and go through the shop cum office; the visitors and staff are happy and chatty, a bit like the office in Yeppoon, sharing their day’s experiences. Thinking of the sadness for dinner in my tin of tuna, four well-squeezed peaches and a mug rooibos tea, I give in to my inner evil twin and buy a nice thick Brahman steak, a bottle of Shiraz and a smile. Tonight is party time! Time to meet the Joneses!


My 22 year old Sunseeker Isodome tent! Went around the world with me, and a few others… What a fantastic campsite.

I was the first to set up in the communal kitchen, sparse but functional and clean. Pouring a medicinal glass of Shiraz in my well-travelled stainless steel goblet felt nearly so exciting as kissing that first girl behind the tuck shop in high school. I wonder how she feels about red wine?  The Joneses did arrive, firstly in a Swiss couple from Emmental,  with their typical Swiss precession, their multi-purpose tools, and politeness, telling me about their time in the Kruger National Park. Then a flamboyant old Latvian Australian, with his shirt unbuttoned, sporting a few silver and gold chains and a huge belly. He is a bit like a fairy godfather, showing tourists around for the fun of it. His guests were a slightly bewildered American couple, half his age, dragging bags of beautiful fresh food along, all to be cooked. We all chatted, sharing cooking oil, lighters for the gas stoves, exchanging stories, and suggestions, typical of such a tourist place with a communal kitchen. A young couple, the bloke sporting a Mohawk style haircut, his very pregnant wife, and two kids joined the kitchen area, but keeping to themselves.

As I enjoyed my second dosage of Dr Shiraz’s medication, the grey old man, owner of the boiling Corolla joins the cooking, dragging in a plastic bag with hastily purchased SPAR food. I greet him, but he ignores me, perhaps he did not recognised me, I looked very different, freshly showered and in normal clothes, he focussing on his loaf of white bread, a tin of tuna, and tin of baked beans. I could sense his unease, the accidental tourist. The Latvian and Americans drank two bottles of Californian wine, braaiing steak and boil mealies, the Swiss eating a stew kind of thing, and me with my family size steak, all having a jolly good time. I offered some wine, no one, probably out of decency of fear of its healing properties, took it up. I walk over to the Corolla man, softly offer him half of my massive family sized steak, which he quietly declines, shaking his head, saying he loves white bread, tinned tuna and beans.

The American girl, from Thailand originally, is studying towards her MBA, so we exchange some ideas and thoughts. Her boyfriend works for Rupert Murdock’s News Corp, FoxTel in LA to be exact, and they discuss the future of the print media with the Swiss, who are engineers in a hi-tech publishing house. The Mohawk guy told us in no uncertain terms what he thinks about capitalism, money and the media, his wife quiet, cutting sausages for the kids.  It was quite an interesting turn of events; the Mohawk guy is clearly intelligent, and could keep his point of view, but nothing too serious. We all agree on recycling, and that we should build energy efficient houses, and grow our own cherrie tomatoes.


Damian Hooper, an intellectual bogan, as he calls himself. Great guy, good conversation! Not so sure about the hair….

As the evening progressed, a mellow happiness settled in. It started to rain again, forcing me to dash of to put my tent’s roof, running into a mob of wallabies in the dark, me nearly screaming out of fright, quickly regaining my composure, as a big white hunter from Africa does. We all wash up, and people retire to their campsites. The Corolla man shuffles his shopping bags, he will sleep in his car he says, and he did not plan to spend the night here, he cannot really afford to spend the night in the campsite. He tells me the car is ok now, the short fat Father Christmas sorted him out after he was towed into Rolleston by a SANTOS Land Cruiser. He said, he think he will reach Harvey Bay now, no worries, and if the offer still stands, can he please have some of the steak for breakfast, white bread only would not last him for the journey.


The road in and out. This is a sandy bit, the rest was slip sliding away on mud…

“as calm as an ice cube”

Planning and preparation normally prevents a catastrophe, but it is not guaranteed. I need not even refer to the war in Afghanistan is an example. Today in the office was mind numbingly hectic as Mr Barnard tried to finalise each and every project in the eight hours before departure. Planning and preparation? Not on my plate! As we say “no worries mate”. 

Back home it was quite a different story. Traveling gear and electronic kit was laid out on every possible flat open space in my house. Ready for the picking and packing. Being a first generation gatherer, the various open spaces in my dwelling is occupied by friendly things. Mostly valuable art to my opinion, pieces from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ugandan and Zimbabwe.

I love my things and the memories it harbours, but it consumes space. A bit like that “space” created by the holiday in France between your body and the borders of your clothes. That space you have not yet reclaimed after it was hijacked by the cheeses, breads and duck livers you enjoyed there.

So the final packing start. Quick glance on my personal weather station (thanks you iPhone) tells me the winter gear, woolen jumpers and heavy overcoats kept since my days in Holland will not be needed. So the dinner jacket and handmade leather loafers from Antwerpen. Next was the cooking utensils. The Weber Baby Q would be overkill on the bike, so the esky and the fold-up table and chair. Through the week I weeded out “stuff”, down to a measly few items. Suitable for a pauper. One military style dinner set, in neat polished steel (thanks to South African Defence Force), a Swiss army knife and a stainless steel wine glass. Toothbrush that doubles as boot polisher and hairbrush, (OK OK Joke). For added luxury during the nights I did include a small goose feather pillow, thanks to BA Business Class.


As Bruce and I sipped a few glasses of “Slippery Fish” chardonnay, admiring my packing skills, he entertained me with a few that got away. Not slippery fishes or red hot girls, no roof-top tents, camper trailers, assorted pots and pans, and even a motorcycle. My neighbour is a seasoned traveler. His 4×4 and camper trailer is worth more than my house, and looks it too. He has been around Australia more than me to the local bottle shop. One glance at my stretchy straps brings shock and horror to his face. Exactly such straps cost him his fridge from the trailer. “Rather use wire and duct tape than those mate, that is crap”. So off to Supa Cheap I go the next morning, get the real stuff. My tent and sleeping bag will remain with me. I hope.

The final moment, the moment of reckoning for me, the planner and preparer beckons. The bare essentials, the four pairs each of undies, socks and t-shirts, the Vietnamese first-aid kit with anti-malaria tablets and a mean nail clipper, duct tap and a yoga mat in one bag. The inflatable mattress, tent and sleeping bag in another. 


Bruce and Jenny, my neighbours left bright and early this morning in their new 4×4, inland to Mt Isa, and he left me struggling to get the new straps to work. A small glass of calming Shiraz did not lead to a Damascus experience, nor any further insight into hi-tech bondage. No wonder I have such a slow love life. This man! He is no good with bondage.  I revert back to my stretchy straps, all the way from South Africa. It may be crap, but I understand it. Big Bertha is loaded, and ready for adventure.Image

So tomorrow morning, as the kookaburras fire their first good morning sunshine salvo, Big Bertha and I will head south-west. We will cruise through Mount Morgan, then have a cleansing coffee (International Roast, with two sugars) at Dululu before we head inland. I will keep you posted. 30,820kilometres marks the start of Kalahari Ozzie’s safari into Australia, looking forward to touch 40K