I spend the past week doing the Menindee Lakes and Darling River run in the New South Wales Outback. It was my first serious Outback sojourn on the moto, but it wasn’t that serious, there are many other significant tracks to explore in Australia, but that would take another whole level of preparation, including expensive mods on the moto (and proper Outback tyres!)
The good thing about exploring NSW Outback currently is that it is relatively cool, there is lots of water about, and the Menindee Lakes are full, as are the rivers and wetlands. This is because of La Nina, the ‘big rain’ that comes after long dry periods. And with the big rain, come the birds and the wildlife and Outback becomes almost hospitable.
I stayed in Menindee for one night, camped on a beach next to one of the magnificent lakes. The best thing about Outback towns is the proud, worldly pub, such an important institution, and this is where I learned about the best roads to take and the best towns to visit.
I decided to do the Darling River Run, a 1000 KMS Outback road that follows the Darling River to Bourke and beyond. Outback roads have a volatile personality and can change at any time, lurching from calm to belligerent, from serene to egocentric. The road itself is an A-B type of road, and there is also no intersection with the river, only at the towns, which I found disappointing. Still, at ‘towns’ like Tilpa (one of the most isolated places I have ever been), there is a friendly Outback pub and plenty of places to camp on the river, as there are in other towns like Louth and Wilkania.
I think the thing I liked best about this trip was ‘nothing’, the vast panes of nothingness and solitude, which is unique in an epoch when it is difficult to be alone.
One of the few fun things permitted during the virus-restrictions in Australia was fat-motorcycling for exercise. Sure, you could not go far at first, but after a while, you could ride a lot further than your local supermarket or bottle shop.
This is a long, day-ride I did from Melbourne to the high-country, past Lake Mountain and Woods Point. It was a terrific ride; twelve hours of slow reflective, staccato riding, as no overnight rest-stays were permitted. Â During lock-down I am sure that my brain shrunk due to lack of stimulation, so getting out into the spacious mountains with tight-cornered, dirt roads lined with huge shedding eucalyptus trees, and lakes and rivers, and devoid of tin-cars was expansive (to say the least). It was freezing cold and the moody dirt road was all-consuming, but I developed a fresh perspective on this fabulous state beyond the deep, reductive ruts of the inner-city.
Riding up the Black Spur
This is one of the most popular motorcycle routes in Victoria; from Melbourne to Marysville through the Black Spur. There are usually lots of tin-cars, but today there were few.
Marysville to Woods Point Road
This road is pretty special, remote, mountainous, and again no cars. After the turnoff to Lake Mountain is gets pretty wild, and it is only sealed until the Warburton turn off
Marysville to Woods Point Road (dirt!)
This part of the journey was the most difficult, up over the top of a mountain on a narrow dirt road, through a dense forest. And I didn’t see anyone, apart from a couple of 4WDs from the hunters and fishers crew.
Woods Point is a pretty amazing place; remote, only accessible by dirt roads, and with a large pub called the Commercial Hotel.
The road to Jamieson passes next to the river and goes past the salubrious Kevington Hotel
Jamieson to Eildon road
The road from Jameson to Eildon traverses the Eildon national park; about one hundred kms of windy, meditational road free of the heady-clutter of Modern life (except for the moto, I like its clutter). This road was sealed all the way with slow, meandering, but disciplined corners. A very big day in a very big world where people are getting smaller and smaller.
The Christmas period in Australia is the traditional road trip time. Straight after fat Christmas dinner, millions of Australians pack up their car, campervan, boat, and 400-litre Eskys and herd-off to a beach or river or forest somewhere to empty the Eskys and fill their bellies. This is a predictable Australian pilgrimage, worshipping the mercurial god of hedonism; thus, it is not hard to guess where they are going and go somewhere else.
Pub 1: Narrandera, Star Hotel
The first stop of my journey was Narrandera, a place that no one visits. This was a five-hour ride from Melbourne, which always ends up being eight or nine hours as I tend to stop all the time looking at nothing in particular. The ride was straightforward, not too long in the distance, and the A39 through Nagambie and Shepparton was free of Eskys. But the challenge of the day was the heat; the temperature climbed to 40 degrees, which was new territory for me. I stopped and took the lining out of my jacket, opened all the vents, and drank a litre of water. But the water didn’t seem to help as an hour later I needed another litre. This was the theme of the day, stop to drink some water.
I arrived at the Narrandera, Star Hotel early evening. The building was spectacular, as large and more critical than Old Parliament House. It had 22 rooms, but only 4 were habitable as it was in the timeless process of being converted into a lodge (I was saddened to hear that it hadn’t been licenced since 1972). I settled into my regal room connected to the colossal balcony and watched the latest episode of The Crown on Netflix
Pub 2: Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel
I woke early the next day, well-rested in the stately room and continued my journey down the A39, Newell Highway. The day was again hot; I was almost drinking as much water per hour as my bike was petrol. I arrived at the Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel early in the stinking-hot evening and had a couple of frenzied beers in the bar before checking in.
The hotel room was small, the tap in the pissy-sink leaked, and the huge creaked fan didn’t do what it was supposed to do. The pub had seen better days, but at a similar price to what I was paying for pub accommodation many years ago, who is complaining. I went to the local supermarket, bought some dinner, and sat under a tree.
It was here that I felt very alone and existential,
realising it was just me and my little lunch-pack and the road-narrative of the
next pub. Still, it could be worse; it could be the narrative of the same pub and
the same lunch pack day after day. I was glad to have an exit strategy.
Pub 3: Bingara Imperial Hotel
Today I rode through the magnificent Pilliga Forest and the town of Narrabri on the way to the Imperial Hotel Bingara. Bilgara is an extraordinary place, protected by B and C roads; it is a town where only curious travellers go (as opposed to the industrial-hedonists pasted to the coast).
I went straight to the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness from a young German backpacker, obviously in the know. The town is home to the Roxy Theatre and cafe, one of the most magnificent examples of art deco architecture that I have seen.
In Lismore, I camped and partied at a festival called Tropical Fruits, an LGBTIQ festival for Suzuki V-Strom 1000 riders. It was a lot of fun, I stated for five days, but I prefer the freedom of the open road.
Pub 4: Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel
I left Lismore at 7AM, and I didn’t arrive at Dubbo until 7 PM. This was the toughest ride of the whole trip, and I am unsure why I planned such a long ride on my itinerary (and even booked the hotels in advance). I went on the B91 (Armadale Road), which traversed several national parks, including one ironically called Guy Falks National Park. This perhaps wasn’t the wisest idea given the temperature reached 40 degrees by 1130AM and this was during a state fire emergency.
Still, I checked the apps and asked other bikers on forums, and the road was okay (but I checked today as I write this, and it is closed). Today, I went along many isolated roads there the traffic was light and the towns few. The Blac Stump Way, the Premer Hotel and Barmedan were the places that I recall. These are places that I am unlikely to visit again.
The Castlereagh Hotel was a tough, working man’s hotel and the lady at the bar told-me-off for booking my room online. I ordered beer and the roast of the day (beef) and checked into my room. The room was small, but pleasant enough, complete with pissy-sink and fan.
In the evening, I heard a ruckus downstairs
and went out on the balcony and saw the local cops put some of the drinkers into
the back of a paddy wagon. A local
ritual I presume.
Pub 5: Beechworth: Tanswell Commercial Hotel
Today’s ride from Dubbo started out very hot, about 40 degrees by 10 AM. I regretted not leaving earlier, but then the temperature dropped significantly just after Parkes, which was welcome. But what was not welcome, was the bushfire smoke, so thick that visibility dropped to 150 meters. This was a spooky, reflective day of riding, I could hardly see a thing, and I was on some serious B and C roads. At a town called The Rock, visibility was down to about 100 meters, which made the journey slow and torturous.
I arrived at the last pub of my journey,
the magnificent Tanswell Commercial Hotel in Beechworth late afternoon and
settled into the front bar. Beechworth was thick with smoke and no one was about,
the only activity was at the Tanswell Hotel. There was a hillbilly band playing
and the crowd was friendly, in an almost desperate, apocalyptic way. I drank too many beers this evening, thinking
they would be the last.
I woke well-rested and rode home on the
instrumentalist Hume Freeway for three hours in the rain.
During the year, I bought a sparkling new moto, a 2019 Suzuki Vstrom 1000, which is a major step-up from the bullet-proof 2008 Suzuki GS 500 that I had been rinding too many places that it wasn’t meant to go. I have been itching to take it on an adventure ride since I bought it and I thought that riding 1600 kms to go to a party for NYE seems like a good start. It’s a long way for a party, but half the fun is getting there through the windy B and C roads in the south-east of Australia. It will be hotter than hell on the road (and maybe a few bush fires), but there are some beautiful towns along the way where the beer is bottomless and that narratives boundless.
I have a bit of time on my hands and I will be in the slow lane staying at grand county pubs along the way, many with long bars and huge balconies adjoined by tiny rooms. These pubs are such a special part of Australian rural life; the centre of their communities. Many have seen better days and their accommodation is under-utilised, but there are a bunch of ways to book them now (even Air BB), and they are much better than the soulless modern alternatives.
Here is my itinerary. I will blog along the way. If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Have a great Xmas and NYE
27 December, Narrandera, Victoria, Star Hotel
28 December, Coonabarabran, NSW, Imperial Hotel
29 December, Bingara, NSW, Imperial Hotel
30 December, Tropical Fruits Party, Lismore, NSW
31 December, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
1 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
2 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
3 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
4 January, Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel, NSW
5 January, Beechworth, Tanswell Commercial Hotel, Victoria
6 January, Walhalla, Victoria (camping, no pubs damn!)
Uluru is a massive rock in Central Australia. Some say it is the biggest rock in the world; some say many things. I was sceptical about seeing Uluru at first as it reeked of instrumental tourism, a place defined by the outcome rather than the journey (in teaching, we call this constructive alignment).
So, I started the unaligned journey in Fitz-Roy (the illegitimate centre of Australia), rented a car in Coburg, strapped in my excellent co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador, and set off for The Rock. I had done some superficial research before I left, so I knew it was a very long way and that it was hot, but both these things are comfortably intangible until you actually live them.
Day one: Port Fairy
The first day we drove along the coast to Port Fairy, a bucolic, old village a few hours from Melbourne. We did not want to overdo it on the first drive, to ease our way into the dawn-to-dusk driving essential in the never-ending Outback. The Victorian coast along the Great Ocean Road is gorgeous; long white beaches, sandstone cliffs, and roads languidly winding through the forest. The problem is that the Great Ocean Road attracts many urban modernists that find anything other than straight-lines confusing; 60 K.M.H. becomes 20 K.M.H., break lights gleam through corners, and turn-out bays for slow-drivers are ignored in favour of a mechanical industrial rigidity that holds everyone back.
Thus, a 300 KM journey took most of the day, and we did not arrive in Port Fairy until early in the evening. We pitched a tent in a well-serviced caravan park (caravan parks n Australia are usually pretty high standard with lush grass and free bar-b-ques) and took off to the local pub for beers and pool.
Day two: Adelaide.
We perhaps drank a little too much on the first night, and I had a restless sleep, so I was tired, grumpy, and thus worried about how well-equipped I was for a full day driving. Still, after a bucket of espresso and some breakfast, I felt a lot better, and the stretch of road from Port Fairy to Adelaide was again gob-smacking with a lot less timid urban modernists attempting to drive, so we covered a lot more kilometres.
The highlights of the day were the township of Robe, and Coorong National Park, a thin strip of coastline with untouched beaches and an abundance of sea life including Pelicans and giant fibreglass lobsters. We stayed in an Air B.B. this evening, in a rambling, dilapidated house in a nowhere suburb of Adelaide and had a good nights sleep. Still, I was a little nervous about the long drive ahead to Coober Pedy, the start of the Australian Outback.
Day Three: Coober Pedy
From Adelaide to Coober Pedy is a very long way, and fortuitously our eccentric Air B.B. host gave us a large flask of black coffee, which was effortlessly drunk by the first stop in Port Germein. The road out of Adelaide hugging St Vincent and the Spencer Gulf is pretty grim, a sort of battle between provisional Australian Modernity and arid desert flatland. Still, Port Germain had a dignified sense of decline and the longest pier I have ever seen. And it was beginning to get hot, very hot, a harbinger of the apocalyptic Christmas heat-wave we were driving into.
We arrived in Coober Pedy early in the evening to witness the sunset over the hotch-potch Opal mining town with the anthill landscape beyond. Like many hotels and houses in Coober Pedy, our accommodation for the evening was under the ground to escape the Martian heat. Our motel keeper was straight out of Wolf Creek (a reference lost on my Ecuadorian companion). We had to wander around a few dark mine shafts before finding our room, which was literally a hole in the ground. But still, we had a wonderful nights sleep, and I would recommend sleeping in holes to anyone.
Day four: Uluru (Xmas Day)
This was the most demanding day of driving as it was the longest distance across the somnambulant plains of the Australian Outback. The highlight of the day was nothing, thousands of kilometres of nothing, the happiest place on earth as there is no need to compare yourself to anyone else (except that Wolf Creek bloke in Coober Pedy, he was a bit scary).
We stopped at a rustic, deserted truck stop for Xmas dinner of ham and salad wrap and a bottle of red. It was apocalyptically hot, around 42 degrees Celsius, but this did not seem to matter as our first Outback Xmas was pretty special, a long way from Santa Claus.
We arrived at the Uluru resort early in the evening, pitched a tent, and drove the twenty kilometres to The Rock. Seeing Uluru for the first time is dreamlike; most world icons are pretty banal once packaged by consumers, but not Uluru; there is awe-room for the instrumental tourists and everyone else. We got as close as we could and had a picnic of supermarket roast chicken and red wine and met a cute young couple from France and Ireland and watched The Rock change colour at sunset (from bright orange to ochre to brown).
Day five: Uluru
This day was a rest day, at least in terms of driving. We had found ourselves in the middle of an extreme temperature heat wave in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Thus we were up at 6 AM as the temperature was in the 40s Celsius by 11 AM (and the park rangers closed many of the walking tracks because of the heat). We did the four-hour walk around the rock, which was pretty special as there are many informative signs about the importance of certain aspects of The Rock to various aboriginal peoples. I particularly liked how climbing The Rock has not been entirely banned by the Aboriginal owners, even though it would be easily achieved. It is left to the individual to decide; thus, it becomes a reflective choice and virtue ethic, a much more powerful learning experience than merely banning Modernity.
Day six: The Olgas
The Olgas are another weird rock formation close to Uluru. Today was hotter than hell, so we were up early morning to do the Vally of the Winds walk (or the Valley of heat with no wind walk). I liked the Olgas even more than Uluru; there were fewer people, it was more scruffy, and the few tourists that were there mysteriously knew where to stop on the track; their leash only stretches so far, I suppose. We sauntered past them and did the complete Olga circuit with my broken hiking shoe flapping, aggressive blow-flies buzzing, and the big-heat sucking at my body. It was one of the best short walks I have ever done.
When the Venus temperature reached 462 Degrees Celcius in the afternoon, we went to an unimaginative bar called The Outback and drank beer, played pool and chess, and sat in front of a giant fan that did not help in the slightest.
Day seven: King’s Canyon
The drive to King’s Canyon from Uluru is long, about four hours of arid, shrubby land. The Outback is not a desert, it is dry and scorching, but there are many forests and shrubs and waterholes for animals to quench their thirst. The moving sand-dune type of desert in South America and Africa is quite rare in Australia, with most of the vast interior of Australia covered in sparsely wooded and grassed planes.
We pitched our tent at the King’s Canyon campground that was virtually deserted; the Outback is too hot for most people this time of year. We spent the afternoon in the only pub for about 500 KMS and escaped the heat with chess, pool and beer into the early evening. Some Dingos decided to have a howling match during the night, metres from our tent (and I wondered if Dingos only take babies).
Day eight: King’s Canyon
Today we woke at the crack of dawn and made our way to King’s Canyon. The circuit walk was challenging in the heat but spectacular; the track has an initial steep climb and then meanders its way around the canyon edge with rich ochre outcrops of rocks and desperate plants clinging for their life. When it rains, waterfalls cascade into the gorge, which seemed hard to believe in the height of Summer. Deep in the gorge is a long, dissident waterhole that attracts all sorts of in-the-know bird-life whose calls echo on the canyon’s steep walls.
Day nine: Alice Springs
The next day we went to Alice Springs. There was a shorter route to Alice Springs from King’s Canyon, but like many roads in the Northern Territory, it required a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle and our city car may have fallen into a pothole and disappeared. So six hours later, we arrived in Alice Springs, to a cute 1970s caravan in the desert about 14 K.M.S. outside of the Alice. The caravan was a welcome reprieve from camping for the past five nights (thanks Air B.B.). In the evening, we explored Alice Springs, an ugly Modern town wrestling with the environment (it is no Palm Springs). Still, it has some pretty good supermarkets and air-conditioned malls where most people congregate to escape the heat. We purchased some steak and beer, went back to the caravan, and settled in for the evening.
Day ten: Alice Springs (New Year’s Eve)
Today was one of the few days on the trip that didn’t involve driving (or so we thought). Our Air B.B. host had suggested a water hole for swimming, the fabulous Ellery Creek Big Hole, which ended up being 80 K.M.s away (a short distance in these parts). The drive to the hole and swimming in it took most of the day, which didn’t seem to matter as the hole was worth the drive and a welcome reprieve from the relentless heat.
In the evening (N.Y.E.), we went to the nasty Lasseters Casino (only because I had seen it in the movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), and then a cheesy Western Style bar was the only two options in town, it seemed. But as we stayed 14 K.M.S. outside of town, we didn’t drink much alcohol and instead got some takeaway beer and went back to the caravan, which seemed sensible to do given the hostile appearance of the local constabulary.
Day eleven: Coober Pedy (again)
The drive back home seemed daunting, and for the first two days, we covered the same territory. But 10 K.M.S. effortlessly turned into 100, and 100 turned into 1000, and before we knew it, we were in the same underground room in the same motel. The same Wolf Creek bloke greeted us, and in the evening, we explored the Mad Max town relishing in the post-apocalyptic future.
Day twelve: Laura
The road from Coober Pedy to somewhere else is tough; it is
flat, dull, with few distractions except for moments of lucid self-reflection (and
But if there was one thing that made the long-drive home worth it, it was the pleasant town of Laura in South Australia. It has a grand, broad, and laconic main street straddled by shops in various degrees of decline. We stayed in a stately old stone house with tastefully decorated rooms (and air-conditioning). We bought a bottle of wine from the local pub, some fish from the supermarket, and cooked up a feast. This was the first genuinely comfortable place we had stayed in the whole journey (again, thanks, Air B.B.).
Day thirteen: Dimboola
The drive from Laura to Dimboola was a leisurely one, the B-roads along the Clare Valley are winding and uneven, passing through many towns with slow speed limits (and places to buy coffee and cakes). It took most of the day to get to an A road and back into Victoria.
We arrived into Dimboola in the Wimmera region of Victoria early evening and pitched a tent under a tree and a noisy flock of cockatoos near the Wimmera River. We then sauntered to the legendary Victoria Hotel. This vast expanse of Victorian splendour has an overly friendly front bar and a dining room in the rear, along with a warren of rooms bursting with Victorian bling. It has a huge veranda overlooking the town claiming its place as the most essential institution for miles around.
We had a shepherds pie with chips and salad and a beer or
two or three before we made it back to the cockatoos.
Day fourteen: Fitzroy
The last three or four hours back to Fitzroy were tough as I was tired, and the driving had lost its adventure. It was an A to B sort of a drive, instrumentalism again wasting my time. We arrived back home to Fitzroy (the centre of Australia) mid-afternoon.
Overall, it was a great introductory adventure to the Outback, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes litres of coffee. I am looking forward to driving the Oodnadatta Track or Birdsville tracks one day soon.
I suppose that an interesting thing to think about is who would benefit from a history of ephemeral and interest group political communication within Australia? There is the process to consider ie.. How has political communication penetrated the main stream and how has it been successful? Lobby groups and radical groups may fine this information of benefit because they may not have the money to penetrate the mainstream media. There are also success stories to consider. ie. What was once a lobby groups or a radical group may now be the mainstay of mainstream political communication. And an interesting issues to consider is how has public culture facilitated political communication especially in terms of newer communication mediums such as the Internet. How is public culture being protected as a means to facilitate protest and ephemeral communication which is a vital component of a vigorous democracy?