The Riders

It’s really awesome meeting other adventurous souls, so I thought I’d write a post about a few people I’ve come across lately and also not so lately. All these people seek adventure on a narrow saddle atop two wheels, one of them using a bike to transport her family to and from town.

I met “B” a while ago…maybe six years. He rode past my house one morning and the cool guy I’m married to said, “look, there’s a bike dude with packs and stuff.”. I jumped up and ran over to B, who was now standing in his bike frame checking out the river. “Hi!” I exclaimed. “Come to my house for breakfast. I live just there. I’d love to hear about what you’re doing and where you’re going.” I could tell I’d kind of freaked him out. “it’s ok,” I added, “my husband is at home too and I just made a loaf of bread,” I said, hoping I hadn’t scared him into pedalling off as fast as he could, while also making a physical effort to stop myself from jumping up and down on the spot.

Since then, B and I have stayed in touch and we catch up whenever he’s in the area on a bike tour. He never stops having adventures by way of his bike. He’s a private and very quiet guy and I feel privileged that he let his guard down long enough to allow an over-the-top extrovert into his life. I think the fresh bread won him over.

This is B”s touring bike the last time we met up for coffee in Woodgate in 2021:

When I saw this cool mum, I just had to take a photo of her and she agreed to let me post it to my website. She had her entire gaggle of kids with her and used her bike to transport everyone from place to place. She said she had the bike custom made in Europe. It was quite expensive, but much cheaper than a car and the kids really loved it. Imagine the cool stories the kids will have to tell in the futre about how they got around when they were growing up.

This is in the Bundaberg CBD:

I don’t have a photo of “K”, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination. I met him a few weeks back in Coles in Bundaberg. I noticed him because there was no way not to: he had his touring bike inside the supermarket, using it as a trolley for his groceries as though it was what the rest of us should be doing. Of course I had to ask him what he was up to.

While the rest of the shoppers gave us an extra wide berth, I asked him all about his trip and where he was headed. He gave me a few details and we swapped phone numbers to stay in touch. He’s been texting me with updates and has made his way to Agnes Water, which is where I had planned to ride in February this year, but didn’t get my bikepacking system sorted out in time. “I’ll send you some photos of my spear fishing adventures while I’m in Agnes,” he said in his last text. I wonder if he’s still using his bike as a shopping trolley?

I came across Geoff and Gerard on their touring bikes not too far from my house. I snapped a heap of photos of them on my phone, which has since died and I lost everything stored on it. Luckily we swapped contact details and Geoff has emailed me a few times with updates and photos of he and Gerard doing awesome stuff all over the place.This is a photo they took in a place called Hampden Smelter. Geoff said it looked like Mordor. They were on a trip in the Mt Isa area and flew with their bikes to get to their starting point, which I thought was pretty cool:

Then of course, there’s me and Fatty. I love riding through the sand. It’s hard, but not quite so bad after it’s been raining. I got a new job a while back, so I haven’t had much time for doing too many outdoor adventures, I’ve had to pack my usual 200km (on bike and foot) per week into my one or two days off, which is why I picked the soft sand ride when I could’ve just gone on a more compacted and formed track. Hopefully next weekend I can take off on a longer adventure. This is Fatty on the sand track. This track is around 4.5km long and here Fattyis about a third of the way along. I love the looks I get from people in 4WDs along this track! They look at me like they can’t believe I’m riding where they are struggling to drive:

This is also a great place to ride, which is part of the loop I do when I tackle the soft sand track. This is the cool guy I’m married o on his fat bike, which is nowhere near as awesome as my Fatty:

If you are in Woodgate and want to try riding a fat bike, let me know and I can hook you up.

On my fat bike I am unstoppablE

(Image attribution unavailable, but sourced from Pinterest)

Looking for Old

I love finding old stuff in the bush. I found this old bridge a few weeks ago after talking to a mate about putting our kayaks in above the weir on the Gregory River. He’d told me about a property that had access to the river, but I couldn’t get to it, so I thought I’d just keep driving and heading towards where I thought the river might be. I was so damn excited when I found this at the end of a road near Redridge:

It’s the original traffic bridge across the Gregory River. It’s over 100 years old. The year of construction (1920) is stamped on one of the walls:

So, I contacted the Childers Historical Society to see if someone can help me complete a submission to the State Heritage Register. The bridge is still intact, even though the timber has decayed. It’s an awesome example of bridge construction from that era. There wouldn’t be too many of these still around.

I also found this cool old bridge in Farnesfield:

I went to check out the other side of the road (this creek runs under the road) and found this:

I looked for the swagman, but he and his ghost were not about. There was also no jumbuck. Still, it was pretty cool.

A while ago someone parked a small cart in the bush on the Melaleuca Track. They’d tried to pull it by hand to the campsite (6km), but piked out after about 2.5km. It was only that I was looking at the cart that I noticed this, which is a really old surveyors mark. You can’t see it in the photo, but there is a large metal screw in the bottom of the scar:

Then, about 3 weeks ago, I saw this, which I was really happy about. I’ve been walking past this for years, but it was only after QPWS moved a few fallen trees off the track that it became visible. I was pretty sure it was an Ingidenous scar tree, so I sent this picture to an Indigenous mate and he reckons it is a scar tree, so hopefully I can contact the local Traditional Owners to let them know they’ve got this tree in the area.

I called the tree Yggdrasil, which I learnt about from reading a book called Overstory, and pat its side whenever I go past now:

I was riding my fat bike a while ago and found this awesome specimen in the bush near Redridge. It’s an old bakery van from the days when people used to have their hot bread home delivered. Some of the sign writing is still visible on the side. It says Kellys Hot Bread:

I get to find a lot more stuff than most people do because I go to places that other people don’t. Plus, looking for old stuff gives me a rush, which probably isn’t what gives other people a rush at all! It’s an amazing feeling to round a bend in an old track that widens up to reveal a dilapidated old shack full of aging and broken furniture; the owner long since dead and gone. My heart picks up speed at the first suggestion of the glint of sun off broken glass until the butterflies arrive in my stomach and the words how cool is this, how cool is this are tumbling repeatedly from my mouth. Standing inside the old I can’t decide where to look first and I wonder about who the people were, how they came to be here and why they left and no one ever came back. Momentarily I am sad for the vacuum their departure has left, but then am once again commanded by my unwavering curiosity towards all the things I can never know.

Come Hiking: $27

5 days

4 nights

Approx 100km

Cooloola Great Walk

Image: Cooloola Great Walk (from Queensland.com website)

Leaving from Rainbow Beach end

Date TBA, but from 12th April onwards

Cost is $6.75/night/person ($27 on QPWS booking site), plus any associated transfer costs

You won’t need a lot of experience, but you will definitely need to be fit and committed to completing the entire 100km. I’m not carrying anyone out!

Image: I’m not doing this! (Credit for image: click here)

This is a remote hike that requires self sufficiency and you will need to carry all of your own gear in a pack on your back. This will weigh somehwere in the vicinity of 10 – 20kg. You will be responsible for your own water, your own food and its preparation.

I am more than willing to help anyone who needs a hand with stuff, including advice and any recommendations, I just wanted to make it clear than while I am an experienced hiker with eco tourism qualifications, this is NOT a glamping experience and you will be responsible for your own health, safety and any other requirements.

There are a few companies that charge people for this hike. This company lists it as $1095 per person and all you get is your food and the camping permits. That means that the experience and the food is worth a whopping $1068!! Gees, the food would want to be bloody top shelf for that price. Not sure my indian sachets would cut it:

Image: I love these things! They are so freakin’ yummy. You can get them from supermarkets, but the best ones come from Indian shops (Gits Ready Meals). They are all around $2.50 – $4.00 each.

I have a few hiking items I can lend people, but this is a list of basic requirements:

  • Hiking pack (this needs to have some kind of frame. If you can bend your pack , it has no frame and isn’t any good for hiking long distances).
  • Tent
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Mess kit (you know, stuff you use to eat. Include a stove here if you want to take one)
  • Snake bite kit (At least one good compression bandage)
  • Personal light
  • Toiletries
  • Water and water bottles (inlcude water filtration if you want to filter water. I don’t normally bother if it’s tank water)
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Good shoes/boots

Image: Hiking gear. Trangia stove in foreground. Helinox chair and poles, Wilderness Equipment tent.You don’t need expensive gear like this. I only have it because sponsors gave it to me.

A cheap dome tent (not a pop-up one though) from KMart will work fine, or if you want a cheap entry-level hiking tent, check out Snowys. Wild Earth is another awesome outdoor store in Qld. There’s also heaps of good second hand stuff for sale on Gumtree and ebay.

Some stuff you can share, like water filtration, stoves and tents, so not every person needs their own personal item if you are willing to share these things. Sharing stuff also means you can carry half each to reduce each person’s load.

This kind of thing takes a fair bit of dicking around to organise logistically because you have to work out where to leave your car, how to get to the trailhead from where you did leave it, and then at the end, ummm, how do I get home?? So, what I’m saying here is that if you are interested in coming along, we’d have to sort these details out. I can fit (read: squash) 4 other people in my car.

Image: This is a tidied up version of what dicking around looks like. Of course, this doesn’t capture the ten hours I’ve invested in the whole thing or phone calls and emails I’ve made and sent to ask questions about car storage, transportation, etc, etc. It’s easy to see why a lot of people just pay the thousand bucks for a tour company to do this for them. It would save a lot of hair-pulling.

Contact me on this website or send me and email to let me know if you’re interested:

talulasweetie@gmail.com

Image: Me on the last long distance hike I did (450km).

The Australian Story

What is our real story, and who decides?

After starting to read my umpteenth Australian memoir (Beauty by Bri Lee) I got to wondering what our real story is, and also wondering who are the keepers of that story, of that very important story, that story that not only tells of what happened, but also writes the path of the future. With this in mind, which stories are the ones that matter? Are they they stories told by Bri Lee in Beauty, Matthew Evans in On Eating Meat, Anthony Sharwood in From Snow to Ash? Are they stories told by Tim Winton in Boy Behind the Curtain, by Susan Duncan in Salvation Creek, by Kirsty Everett in Honey Blood? Are these stories the most important, are these the ones that matter the most? Who can tell, I certainly don’t know, but I do wonder…

If you care to delve into the Australian story we’re being told in books like these, you will see that these stories have been chosen, not only for their message, but because there is something particular about the writer that matters to the publisher, and this has nothing to do with the importance of the story. The writer is “connected” in some way to something or someone deemed largely important by Australian society, and definintley by the publishing industry: The Olympics, journalism, glossy magazines, literary fiction. But what is this telling us about the rest of the stories, the ones we don’t get to hear?

This is telling us that our stories aren’t important and don’t matter unless we are “somebody”. I wonder how many memoirs are rejected by publishers not because the writer is bad at the craft of writing or because the story is boring, but because they are simply an everyday person. This is telling us that only people who are important have important stories to tell and everyday people should be quiet and make way for those already in the spotlight. This is saying that suicide, cancer, loss, rape, abuse, disability, addiction, death, destruction, resurrection and success are only meaningful when that path is navigated by a journalist, an Olympic hopeful, someone “important”.

All of our lives matter. All of our stories matter and all of this makes up the collective Australian story and all of this, not just a privileged selection, should write on the wall of our futures. So, I urge you to consider the stories that aren’t being told the next time you pick up an Australian memoir. If your nextdoor neighbour had a great life story to tell, would it be their book you’d be holding in your hand at the library or bookstore? Not likely.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It shouldn’t be this way.

But, I don’t know what to do about it. Do you? (aside from self publishing, which is an expensive and often unworkable and non-viable option).

Bri Lee has an upcoming book called Who Gets to Be Smart. I wonder if there is any transferable wisdom for consideration when we ask, who gets to be published?

Short Story Excerpts

I have a heap of short stories that I’ve written over the years. Here are some excerpts of those.

The Piano and the Glacier

Caring went out into the world. He got up against evil and apathy and decided to take back his place, his future and the dreams that belong to everyone. He rode a platform into the ocean and played his music across the ice. He furrowed, frowned and cast a shadow across all of them, all of us, but still it did nothing to stop the swathe.

Caring was never enough. Playing pianos to buy gifts of inspiration and the ignition of guilt was never going to end deceit. Deceit was a tough monkey because he’d grown faster than Caring. He had to because his brothers were so tough on him. He learnt to stand his ground right from the start and he was never interested in looking back nor did he know how to look forward.

What is it of pianos? A cruel juxtapose? An irony? What? Caring couldn’t tell. It was about feeding egos and showing how one man is smarter than the next because he understands how a pianist’s mind works. Why does that matter? What do ice and pianos have in common? Neither of them have humanity.

Caring can’t win. He can’t because he’s alone. We all have our own Caring, but it’s applied the wrong way and to wrong things. We Care about this, about that, about what they think, but we don’t, nay can’t, Care about what happens next. Ten years is too far and twenty years further. None of it, none of it can mean anything to us now.

Pianos and ice, and the sound of cracking ice. What can Caring do with that? What? There seems such a pointless movement if you watch what Caring does so closely. No shadows, not night, only day. He waits because he knows not what else to do. He’s alone. He’s alone. He’s always been alone because that’s the way all living things die.

RFID

It took around 6 months for total uptake of the human chip. People were enamoured by the convenience. I don’t need to carry my wallet anymore, all my medical records kept in one place, no more car keys, my Facebook status gets automatically updated, I love it. We were astounded by our brilliance and experts forecast a future where the chip could offer even greater conveniences than the ones we currently enjoyed because carrying a wallet had been such a burdensome affair and availing us of the need to do so left us with so much more spare time to live a meaningful life.

I had to stop shopping at the big supermarkets. They would no longer accept cash. They became RFID only, so did service stations. A year in and there was pretty much nowhere to go if you were anti-chip. There was no way to pay bills and there was no way to even get a job. I was fired when I refused to become “integrated” as it was called.

I moved to the hills where I built a little shanty from scavenged timber and iron. I’d always been good with a slingshot, so I was able to shoot down  birds and rabbits and I had a little garden with sweet potatoes and herbs.  I only went to the edge of town to keep an eye on things. To watch what was happening , to see if there was any changes, any reversion to the old way of doing things. Two years in and it was just as it was when I left it.

It was on one of these trips that I met Jonas. He only had one arm.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“Oh, you know, I was de-chipped,” he said with a wry smile. “Sometimes they’ll gouge your chip, but if they’re in a hurry, they’ll just cut off your arm or your hand. Thieves that is. The ones who don’t have RFID scanners. They want your money and your ID, so they want your chip and if they don’t have their own scanner, then that means cutting off an arm or hand. Guess I’m lucky the government decided not to embed chips in peoples’ foreheads like was originally planned. I suppose the outcome wouldn’t have been quite so positive for me if things had gone that way. I can still get by without my arm, but life without a head is a little difficult,” he said.

“Jesus, fuck!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah. Jesus, fuck,” he said back. “What are you doing on the periphery anyway? Shit! You’re not an agent are you?”

“What? No, an agent, no, what’s that?”

“You know, one of them. Making sure everyone is integrated. I’m not anymore see, didn’t want to go back to that. They’ve got these roving agents now, walking around with scanners, making sure everyone is integrated. Nearly everywhere now is within range of a high gain antenna, making it easy to track all the integrated and single out anyone who isn’t. The high gain is being built out there on Hammock Hill. Probably won’t be finished for another 6 months, but still, I had to get out before then. Word is, something’s up.”

“Something’s up? What do you mean?”

“Word is that some researchers in America have found a way to access everyone’s DNA through the chips.”

“What would be the point of that?”

“Genocide. Ethnic cleansing. White power. Call it what you like. No one wants to believe it though. It’s too hard to go back to carrying a wallet, keys, having to turn your car on with a set of keys. No one wants that, so they just pretend like everything is OK, even though they’ve just been scanned by five different agents at four different check-points on their way home from the office.”

The Extortionists

A bird flew down from the top of the neighbouring building. I watched it alight on the grubby awning. It’s wings drew around it’s body and it gave a shudder as it settled into the smut. The city was unbecoming and ugly. This was nothing new of course. I’d always found it thus. It couldn’t move me the way trees, grass and mountain sides could. I was never at home here.

Oip! Tim’s sharp cry alerted the bird and it took flight. I watched as an errant feather glided down from the space above me. I wondered if it would miss its home too. I didn’t have time to dwell on that because Tim was at my side, shoving me sideways and poking me hard in the ribs. He didn’t mean it, well, at least I don’t think he did. He smiled at me in his oily fashion and I smiled back, not entirely pleased to have my observation of the bird interrupted.

“What now eh? He asked.

“Dunno”, I said. I really hoped he didn’t press me. I felt my shoulders bunch and I tried to prevent my jaw from doing the same. Sometimes I can be too obvious and it gets me in the shit.

“Aw, come on Sel, let’s have it then. You wanna see what the beach is like today don’ cha?” Tim said.

I really didn’t, but I nodded passively and started walking in the direction of my unit.

“Yeah, I knew you’d be in it!” He said, punching me on the arm. It was meant to be friendly punch, but it didn’t feel that way. My mood wouldn’t let it. I had to refrain from punching him back because I knew if I did he wouldn’t get one on the arm.  I didn’t like to think what would follow.

I’d been hanging around Tim now for six months. It had been the worst six months of my life. It started when my uncle died. I never knew the guy, but for some reason, he’d left me all of his money. There was a lot of it and that’s where the problems started.

Tim was part of a crew of new wave extortionists. His breed scouring death and probate notices, taking notice of who was who in society circles and worming their way into a target’s circle of confidence.  I had been his target because my uncle had been a famous and ridiculously wealthy man. I never realised it before my uncle died, but there are some things that money just can’t buy

I guess that’s not entirely correct. Tim was too stupid on his own to extort anything from anyone. He was what his crew would call The Main Player. He was the guy on the street, the guy in the bar, the guy offering up a parking space. He was the guy always there. He was there so much that in the end, I never even noticed him, taking him for part of the furniture. 

We met on a flight to Sydney. Straight off I felt like I knew him from somewhere, but I just couldn’t place it. I told him so and he nodded at me, smiling. We shared a cab to the city and after that he was just there. There all the time.

At first I didn’t mind. I’d never really had a lot of mates, so having someone who was so damn interested in every little thing I did or said was kind of nice. Made me feel important. Made it feel like I mattered.

That was why I didn’t balk when Tim asked me for a loan. Sure I’d said, how much.? He only wanted a thousand. Something wrong with his car he claimed. Funny, I thought ,I’d never seen him drive nor had I even stopped to think about how he got around.  I pushed it aside and withdrew the money from my account. He was grateful and I was happy that I was able to help him out. After all, he was my mate.

Things got weird after that. Tim started showing up with another guy. He said it was his cousin, but I didn’t believe him. Right from the start I could tell there was something amiss about the new guy. He had a moustache and it set me on edge.  The angle of it was wrong, tilted like I felt the situation was becoming. The cousin, Ram, started hanging out with us all the time. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching me, evaluating everything I did.  It was more than just the moustache.

Still all the World

Henry watched the sun float through the kitchen window. It sat in his daughter’s hair and seemed a moment to merge with her, making her like itself; intangible and free. She looked up at him from her blocks and smiled a grin filled with little-person teeth. He smiled back and felt his heart nestle down into his chest as though all of the good things in the world had come to live inside him. He loved the world in that moment and never believed another bad thing could happen.

Sarah was born in May. It was cold then. Too cold for May. Early frosts had already eaten the front garden and Henry was aware of the path slippery with melted ice as he carried Sarah towards the house for the first time. “Careful.” Henry said to Sarah’s mother, Nella as she navigated her way through the ruined flowers.  “Yes, Henry. You worry too much,” Nella responded.

As it turned out, Henry didn’t worry too much, because as he mounted the steps and went about inserting the key in the door, Nella slipped on a patch of ice yet untouched by the sun.  A small noise escaped her lips as she died on the ground.  

An autopsy revealed an aneurysm; burst when Nella’s head struck the concrete path or perhaps moments earlier,  causing her to lose her footing on the ice. The doctors couldn’t say for certain, but it made no difference to Henry; he knew better. I t was his impatience that had killed Nella.

Why didn’t I hold her arm? Why didn’t we put Sarah in the pram? Why didn’t I wait until the afternoon to pick them up?  I shouldn’t have been in such a rush. I should have known. I should have known! If I could just get her back, I’d make everything different. He wanted to bargain with God, but God wasn’t listening and thoughts like these chased Henry through the years. He hated himself for what had happened to Nella, but he hated God too. The image of Nella at the bottom of the stairs hung in his mind’s eye like a tarpaulin covering his world. But if he forced his mind to focus on Sarah he could feel the tarpaulin lifting and he was able to glimpse the edge of happiness once more. 

Sarah, blocks and the sun were what mattered now. Henry watched her and his spirit continued to lift until it felt as though he was the ceiling looking down on all things below. He could feel himself rise even further , above the roof and tree tops until he hung over the neighbourhood with the entire street in his view.  Sarah below was carved out in beautiful relief and as he hung on the wind he continued to watch her play with the blocks. As always she favoured the blue ones over the rest.  She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he wanted to touch her face and smell her hair, so he reached out and found himself at once back in the kitchen surrounded by his everyday things.

As Sarah grew Henry found that he could watch her from above, even when he was not physically near her. He could see her working on her sums at her desk in school. He could see her eating her lunch and he one day he watched her push Jayjay Keely over in the mud. He laughed then, but when he saw how upset Jayjay was at the state of his pants, he wished he could take this laughter back.

“No, Sarah, you stupid! Not my school pants, not my school pants!” Jayjay yelled, wiping at his backside in big panicky motions. Fat tears rolled down his cheeks and in that moment Henry glimpsed a wavy, refracted image of a kitchen he didn’t recognise. Angry faces leered forward and he saw Jayjay pressed into a tiny space between cabinets. His hands covered his face. Henry could almost taste Jayjay’s fear.  No! Henry wanted to shout, but he found he could say nothing.

Henry couldn’t bring himself to watch Sarah the next day. He was too afraid of what he’d seen in the refracted kitchen. What did it mean?  He thought, but he put it aside because he had things to deal with. There were clients coming to the house later and Henry had to tidy his office to make way for their presence. Greif counselling seemed to tether him to reality in the same way that watching Sarah from above was able to.

 In the years since Nella’s death Henry had attempted to make peace with himself through the study of grief. He strove for personal forgiveness in his pursuit of understanding. He needed to know how grief came to rest in him like a physical weight that he could not shift, all the while crushing him, driving the spirit from his body more each minute, hour, day year. He had to know how a non-physical condition could become so physical in its effects on the body.

 Through four years of harrowing university study Henry began to shift the weight of grief, piece by piece. Afterwards, he almost felt free again, as though every breath he took was laced with a promise of tomorrow.  He got nearly all the way to forgiveness, only of himself, but not of God. None of his clients knew this of course. This he kept only to himself.

As Henry watched the last client walk down the path he was struck by a wavering image of Nella. He recognised it as the day he’d brought Nella and Sarah home from hospital. “Nella!” he yelled. But, Nella didn’t notice him in the present, only in the past and she said, “Yes Henry. You worry too much.”

“Nella!” he yelled again.

“Dad?” Sarah asked in a small voice. She was at the gate, school bag slung over one shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

“Sarah! Oh, love, it’s you.” He exclaimed as he rushed down the step to meet her. He picked her up and hugged her and the school bag tightly. He could smell old vegemite sandwiches in her squashed bag and a few strands of her hair brushed against his cheek.

“Dad, put me down. It’s embarrassing when you do this. I’m in grade five now you know. Other kids in my class think I’m weird when you pick me up and hug me like this.”

“Sorry, my sweet. It’s just so good to see you,” he said and he meant it.

“What were you doing anyway?” she asked

“Oh, nothing. Just waiting for you to come home.”

“The cops came to school today, Dad.” Sarah said

“Oh really, what for?”

“They came to our class. Asked us about Jayjay.”

“What about him?”

“He’s gone. Didn’t come to school last week and now no one knows where he is, even his mum and dad.”