ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stan James was born in
Having just scraped through the Leaving Certificate exam (partly due to
an appendectomy 6 weeks before exams began) and undecided on a career to pursue,
he became an actor in a theatre company performing for WA schools. There were no
Oscar nominations but the almost constant touring sparked his wanderlust.
The school kids loved him, especially in his guise as Mooney, an
apprentice wizard (Harry Potter; eat your heart out) but realizing that he was
no Laurence Olivier either in looks, stature or talent he retired before the
critics could boo him from the stage.
He spent the next few years hitch-hiking around
Stan is currently unattached. He is the proud father of two
university-student children and lives in the south-eastern suburbs of
returned to the west in 1976 and being unable to find work in Dongara moved to
1977 I began a 24½ year career with the Australian Taxation Office from which I
retired in late 2001. Along the way I acquired, in order, a mortgage, a wife,
two beautiful children (a boy and a girl) and a lot of experiences, some sad,
others downright depressing but many very funny.
the first 9 years I worked in debt collection then in 1986 I moved to field work
and continued in that area until retirement.
1994 we transferred to Townsville and I lived there until my return to
wrote the original draft of this story in 1977 but it languished in a bottom
drawer until recently. Sadly, over the years the photographs I took and all but
one of my diaries have been misplaced, but the tale of my travels is accurate
because it was written soon after the event and with the help of the now-lost
transcribing the original draft to computer for editing I was reminded of many
things which occurred during my career with the ATO and decided to include some
of them where they appropriately fit into the story. They are fresh in my mind
and unlike the diaries, have not been lost in the mists of time.
digress only occasionally though. This is first and foremost the saga of my life
as a pedaller.
(PART SAMPLE ONLY)
sun blazed down from a clear sky and the strong wind raised clouds of fine
stinging dust as it rolled dried clumps of wild onions across the road.
Squinting my grit-filled eyes I looked ahead to where the grey road became lost
in a shimmering heat haze.
was painfully slow. For what seemed to be the millionth time I swiped viciously
at a fly and shifted my tender backside, trying to find a part that had not been
sat on recently. My throat felt as dry as the
far to Tennant Creek? My tired mind asked the question over and over again,
unable to cope with anything other than the basic requirements of survival,
which at the moment consisted of reaching my destination so the torture would
stop. I glanced at the odometer. Still 25 kilometres. ‘Oh no!’ I thought
despairingly. ‘Am I going backwards?’
pain in my posterior became unbearable, and rolling to a stop I stiffly
dismounted and sprawled in the meagre shade of a scraggly bush. It’s amazing
how delicious lukewarm water can taste when nothing better is available and as I
drank, some semblance of mental normality slowly returned.
fatigue plays funny tricks with the mind and the situation was by no means as
desperate as it may have appeared. Apart from exhaustion and a sore arse, all
was well. The bike was hanging together and food and water supplies were more
I remounted my trusty steed I consoled myself with the thought that I would be
in Tennant Creek before the pubs closed. A cold beer would go down very well …
idea of touring by bicycle had come to mind some years earlier, but I had
abandoned it as being not very practical. While working the 1973 crushing season
at Pioneer Sugar Mill outside Ayr,
kept my intentions a secret, preferring to perhaps talk about the deed after it
was done rather than before. The laughter of friends and workmates if I didn’t
accomplish what I said I was going to do would have been unbearable.
bike was likewise ordered in secret from a dealer in
job at the mill was called ‘floorman’, a fancy title for what was
essentially a glorified labourer. I was responsible for four of the seven mills
in the crushing train, keeping them clean, ensuring that the correct amount of
water flowed onto the cane as it was crushed, keeping the pumps which carried
the cane juice away operating, cleaning up any spills, and most of all ensuring
that the mills did not choke and stop the crushing process. A choke occurred
when too much cane came through at once or it was too wet or too dry and went
over the top of the rollers instead of between them. I also had to watch the
cane as it fed through. If there was a problem where the cane was tipped into
the mill and the feed became light or stopped altogether it was necessary to
stop or cut back the water flow so that when the cane feed resumed it was not
too wet, causing a choke.
was fairly easy if all went well, but bloody hard work when we had a choke or a
mechanical breakdown. Then it was all hands to the pumps, so to speak,
frantically digging the jammed cane out of the mill to clear it and get crushing
under way again as quickly as possible. The excess was slung over the side and
later fed back into the mill a shovelful at a time, usually by yours truly and
in addition to my normal duties.
who has worked in a mill will know that they are fired by the crushed cane
residue which is known as bagasse. Anyone will also know that, apart from oat
dust, bagasse is probably the itchiest substance on God’s earth. On the
crushing room floor I was surrounded by steam pipes and hot water which, allied
to the naturally warm temperatures outside, made for an exceedingly sweaty
working environment. By the end of each shift I would be covered by a
not-so-fine layer of bagasse dust, scratching like mad and sprinting urgently
for the shower.
lay further hazards. The living quarters were built in an H shape, with rooms
down the long legs and the ablution block and laundry across the centre. The
bathroom was inhabited by small green tree frogs which apparently took a liking
to the grotty green walls, perhaps under the impression that they were some sort
of foliage. One of their favoured roosts was in the shower stalls and as the
steam rose so did they, moving higher and higher up the wall. I always showered
with one eye cocked on the other occupants because sometimes the steam drove
them to leap off the wall to seek sanctuary elsewhere, often landing on the
unsuspecting showerer. I don’t dislike frogs but it is highly unpleasant to
have a cold clammy body land unannounced upon oneself when one is least
even greater hazard was those which sought refuge under the rims of the toilet
bowls. They were apt to leap from their hiding places onto any dangling
masculine parts, causing the seated bloke to become unseated very quickly. After
a couple of unpleasant experiences I made a habit of checking the throne
carefully before taking up residence on it.
big advantage of seasonal work for me was that as a shift worker alternating
weekly between 8 am – 4 pm, 4 pm – 12 and 12 – 8 am any overtime was paid
at double time. Most of the overtime resulted from the failure of a ‘mate’
to turn up for work. ‘Mate’ was the name we used for the worker who took
over our position on the next shift. In the event that my ‘mate’ didn’t
arrive I would work for an extra 4 hours and be relieved by the man I had
earlier relieved. Should the man before me not come in, I would be called in 4
worked all the overtime I could get and as my living costs in the single men’s
quarters were subsidised by the mill I was able to save most of my pay for the
adventures I was planning. It also gave me ample time during the off-season from
January to June or July to pursue those adventures.
finishing the crushing season I caught a bus to
two days of frantic preparations I was ready to move on December 19th
1973. The day of my planned departure dawned bleak and wet and I was very
tempted to linger until the weather was more agreeable but, eager to be gone, I
decided to brave the wintry conditions.
final loading problems took all morning to sort out and it was 1.00 pm by the
time I left
the uncomfortable conditions, I made quite good progress that first day and
covered 53 kilometres before camping for the night at Aratula. It was already
apparent that the five speed hub was not geared low enough for pushing up many
of the hills and the thought of having to tackle Cunningham’s Gap was not
particularly exciting, as unfit as I was then. I chose the five-speed because
the gears were protected within the hub. All bikes with a greater number of
gears used the Derailleur system with the gear cluster exposed to the elements
and I believed that it could be hard to maintain and keep clean in the
environment through which I intended to travel.
the end of the day I had to walk up nearly every hill and my legs felt weak and
wobbly. By morning, of course, my leg muscles were stiff and sore and my knees
felt three times their normal size. Once the initial discomfort had worn off I
was rarely troubled by it again, apart from a mild soreness at the start of a
ride or after a particularly hard day. My knees never complained at all.
putting up the tent in a grassy spot reasonably protected by trees, I spent the
evening yarning to a fellow camper who worked for the MRD. Although it was cold
and wet I was snug and dry in my tent and woke to hear the steady patter of
raindrops on the roof. Reluctant to face the day and the wetting I knew I was in
for, I burrowed deeper into my bag hoping the rain would go away, which it did
first few kilometres of the day’s ride were through easy rolling country but
as I began the climb to Cunningham’s Gap conditions deteriorated rapidly. Rain
poured continuously from a leaden sky as I sloshed along in water-filled boots,
walking up a road that was becoming more like a river every minute. I was very
quickly wet to the skin and thoroughly miserable, and in the next hour and a
half covered only about four kilometres. Assistance arrived in the form of an
empty semi-trailer which gave me a lift to the top of the Gap where I stopped to
dry out and have lunch.
the afternoon the rain stopped, but the road verges were very wet and slippery
and caused many near spills as I moved over to let traffic pass. It was here
that I first experienced a problem which was to plague me endlessly. The average
motorist appears to have little or no regard for other road users. His
philosophy seems to be ‘I’m alright Jack’ and he will blithely barge
through in the face of oncoming traffic forcing a cyclist off the road if he is
foolish enough to want to use a small portion of it. Because of this I spent
much of the afternoon sliding around on the muddy verge fighting to keep bike
and body from falling into the water filled drains.
diary records that I arrived in
you tell me the way to the caravan park please?”
mate. Go out the front door, turn right, go down the street to the next
intersection, turn left, take the first street on your right, second to your
left and you’ll see it straight ahead. You can’t miss it.” I wonder how
many times people have used that good old standby ‘you can’t miss it’?
it poured with rain for most of the night only stopping just before dawn. The
tent was reasonably waterproof but my sleeping bag was quite damp and
uncomfortable by the time I packed up. Beneath clearing skies I aimed the front
wheel south towards Stanthorpe and by mid-afternoon was feeling the effects of
the strong sun on my face and arms. For the moment the danger of drowning or
going rusty was over, and my major problem now was to avoid being frizzled to a
was still a problem and at Dalveen I decided to go through my gear, take out
everything that was not absolutely essential and send it home. This yielded five
kilos of ‘garbage’, but the problem of sending it home was not so easily
solved, the stationmaster being a thoroughly unpleasant and unhelpful character.
do I know this is yours?”
do you mean?”
come in off the road and ask to send a bag to
you want to look at it that way, I could have stolen the bike and everything on
I suppose so, but I don’t like it, I don’t like it.”
don’t have to like it. Just send the bag please.”
about twenty minutes of this it became clear that I was wasting my time so after
letting fly with a spate of uncomplimentary words in which I suggested very
strongly that certain of his ancestors may not have been married, I grabbed the
bag and marched back to the bike. This paragon of Public Service (or should that
be ‘circus’?) efficiency and helpfulness added insult to injury when, as I
strapped the bag to the carrier, he offered me a piece of rope with which to tie
it on. I didn’t take it. In my fury I would probably have strangled him with
it. Advising him to “stick it up your arse,” I pedalled angrily off down the
anger was soothed by a pleasant five kilometre ride through green paddocks along
a road overhung by tall shady trees. At Cottonvale I again tried to relieve
myself of the extra weight but as it was now after hours on a Friday afternoon
the stationmaster who, according to his assistant was a ‘bit of a bastard’
would not permit the young man to re-open the station.
was getting late so I determined to reach Stanthorpe that night and try to
despatch the bag from there in the morning. This proved to be a good decision
and the remaining 16 kilometres was covered in 50 minutes. I had already
discovered that the bike was very fast downhill and at times I was travelling at
50 km/h. It was an exhilarating ride and I arrived feeling cheerful, the
troubles of the day forgotten.
camped that night in the back of the caravan park caretaker’s station wagon,
at his invitation, and the bag was despatched the following morning. The bike
handled much better, and my confidence and spirits soared.
next day I rode the 60 kilometres to Tenterfield in six and a half hours over
many hills and against a strong headwind. The surface of the road was very rough
and I found it hard to keep a reasonable speed. My hairiest moment of the day
came when an interstate bus zoomed past with barely 60 cm between us and I
almost collided with it as it took the side wind away. I made camp at a very
pleasant caravan park under one of the many weeping willows.
of my earliest discoveries was that cycling, particularly in cool or cold
weather, gives one an enormous appetite. My main meal – generally steak –
was usually taken in the evening and I invariably finished a day’s ride hungry
enough to ‘chew the arse out of a running bull’, as I once heard a big
appetite succinctly described. The T-bone steak I had that evening was one of
the best I’d ever eaten but being still hungry at 2 am I adjourned back to the
nearby roadhouse for a late supper – or perhaps it was an early breakfast.
took a rest day to give me time to check the bike over and allow my arms and
stiff leg muscles to recover. The new gear cables had stretched and needed
constant adjustment. Several annoying little rattles had also developed and I
checked all nuts and bolts, tightening them where necessary.
on the road, I averaged a steady 7 km/h and during the afternoon a gent in a
rather battered Holden pulled up as I sat by the road enjoying a smoke and
offered me a lift. Thanking him politely, I declined. He had hardly left when
another car containing three young people from Glen Innes pulled up and that
lift was accepted. I was quite surprised that they were so enthusiastic about
living in the country. It seemed that most young people wanted to leave the
country and head for the big cities. All expressed a desire to live and work in
Glen Innes and lamented the fact that there were not more jobs to keep them
lift ended at Guyra and I set out with about 30 kilometres to go to Armidale. On
the whole I made good time, although the 5 kilometre run down The Devil’s
Pinch was slow going due to the very rough road surface and the not very
efficient brakes. About 8 kilometres out of Armidale, the sight of a roadhouse
caused my stomach to rumble and growl in anticipation. The pleading noises were
impossible to resist and I gladly gave in to them.
was almost dark when I got back on the road. By then I was feeling the effects
of the 95 kilometre ride and the goal of reaching Armidale that night no longer
seemed so important. The Cycling Tour board of management made a unanimous
decision to camp at the first reasonable spot I came to along the road. As I
walked through the long grass outside a farm gate looking for a flat spot on
which to put the tent, a car and a motorbike came out the gate and pulled up.
you okay?” the beard on the bike enquired.
thanks. Just looking for a camping spot.”
worry about it,” said the beard. He pointed to a house a couple of hundred
metres across the paddock. “Just go over to the house and see Ros.”
I dislike staying with people I meet along the road. It upsets my routine and I
am sure it upsets theirs. But as with any rule there were bound to be exceptions
and on this occasion I was glad I accepted the invitation. Ros greeted me warmly
and I soon felt at home.
Day passed quietly and pleasantly enjoying the hospitality of Ros and Bob Beaton,
a renowned ornithologist. His enthusiasm for his work was contagious and I
enjoyed looking through some of his extensive collection of bird books. I was
also grateful for the protection from the driving rain, and it was not until
late afternoon that the sky began to slowly clear.
on the road the following day the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I
was still unfit, my body stiff, sore and sunburnt and I moved slowly and
painfully. The upward trend of the road seemed never ending. I was thinking
about calling a halt for the day but as there were no suitable camping spots I
kept moving slowly, until I found myself at the top of Moonbi Hill. Downhill at
last! It was a thrilling ride to the bottom 5 or 6 kilometres away, and gave me
a stop for a drink, I stood by the road contemplating the hills ahead. A car
drove past then stopped just beyond me and a young couple emerged and walked
towards me smiling.
must be Stan,” the young man said. Nodding, I awaited further developments.
were told to watch for you.” The short attractive blonde spoke this time.
turned out to be friends of Bob and Ros and when they left the Beatons earlier
that day he had instructed them to keep an eye out for me. After a bit of a
conference I accepted a lift to
me say here and now that I was no purist who insisted on pedalling the whole
way, except for my later ride across the Nullarbor. Being lazy by nature I was
quite willing to accept a lift when the going got difficult, although there were
exceptions at various times. This of course brings us to the question of why I
chose such an energy-consuming means of transport. I’m still figuring out the
answer to that one.
into the centre of
spent the next few days visiting friends and headed south on New Year’s eve
I thought. ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ Examination of the back wheel
showed it was very badly buckled and when I looked more closely I found a broken
no! Damn and blast it!”
those early days I was very wary of travelling with a broken spoke in case it
did further damage but as time passed I realised I could keep going even with
two or three broken, depending on how badly buckled the wheel was. Be that as it
may, I backtracked to
spoke was easily replaced and I was ready to move on January 3rd.
Tired of having to look over my shoulder to check for traffic, I also fitted a
mirror. It was invaluable and saved my life on more than one occasion.
packing of the tent was the signal for the rain to start, and the first hill I
came to in
the rain, the ride through the park was delightful and I sang cheerfully as the
kilometres flew by. The exit from the park at Otford came as a beautiful
surprise. The road emerges from dense bushland to a superb view southwards along
the coast to
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