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A Vision Splendid

By Graham Andrews

My stay in Canberra was long enough to assemble the bike, attach the four panniers, and I was gone, to spend the first night at the Cotter Camping Ground just west of the city.

Over the next two weeks I would cycle over 1000 kilometres through western New South Wales, the Riverina, part of the Murray Region, then through the Victorian Goldfields to Ballarat. There, I would join the 2008 Great Victorian Bike Ride as a volunteer for another 600 kilometres of riding over nine day through Western Victoria and the Grampians.

But for now, I was riding north, along a quiet, scenic and rather hilly road to Yass. Already the distant horizons and the wide open spaces were giving me that sense of freedom that comes with cycle touring.

Soon the small towns began to click by, as I turned towards the west. There was Binalong, the district where the writer Banjo Patterson grew up. He went to school there, and lived on a property nearby – Illalong. I thought of his character, Clancy, from the Overflow Station about four days ride to the north. Clancy went droving along the Cooper, but on a bike, we can all be our own Clancys, riding along the Murrumbidgee, or perhaps the Murray.

Then it was on to Harden, the home of the famous light horse used during the Boer War and the First World War, and Cootamundra, the home of the wattle of the same name, and the birthplace of Donald Bradman. There’s his house, and an adjoining property, preserved as a museum to Australian cricket, and the Captains Walk in town, depicting Australian Test Cricket captains. Cricket! I must stop here!

Over the next day or so, the undulations gave way to the plains of western New South Wales.

The next town was Junee, a town that came to life in the late 1800s when the railway was extended to the area. In this town, there is the railway square, the wide streets, historic houses and friendly people. Junee. I’ll be back soon.

Then it was on through Wagga Wagga … Lockhart (the veranda town) … Jerilderie, the only town in New South Wales the Kelly gang of bushrangers visited. There’s a 16-point-of-interest tour in Jerilderie that visitors can take.

Over three days, the Kelly gang held up the police station and locked the constables in their cells. They cut the telegraph wires and caused a few problems at the post office. And at the bank, they withdrew large sums of money, but not their own. There’s the newspaper office where Ned hoped to get his now-famous Jerilderie letter published. It was, but one hundred years later. The full story of the Kelly vacation is revealed in a series of plaques outside each of the buildings of interest.

On to Deniliquin and through the endless, treeless plains of Western New South Wales. And further west. Then there were trees – river red gums. These were the first significant trees I had seen in several days of riding. I must be near the Murray River, approaching Barham. I pulled off the road to take a photograph, and both tyres looked as though they had just come from an acupuncturist’s clinic. The tyres were full of thorns. Acupuncture. Three of the needles cured my complacency.

Then I crossed the Murray on the single-lane bridge that connects the two States. Sixteen motorists waited while one cyclist rode into Victoria, to ride through towns that had been built on wealth, and huge gold nuggets, and alluvial finds. The towns were closer together now, and of different architecture, and interesting features.

Between Wedderburn and Dunolly, there is a road (about five kilometres from Wedderburn) that takes the visitor to the Melville Caves – an outcrop of boulders. The area was named after the bushranger. It’s well worth the two-kilometre detour and the climb to the top to view the area far ahead, and see the effects of the dryness that had been part of the ride for several days. Then it was on to the historic towns of Dunolly … Maryborough … Talbot.

My last night of this part of the ride was at Clunes, just north of Ballarat. Films have been shot at Clunes, including Ned Kelly (well, one version of the story), Mad Max and others. The main street was closed because of filming. Today, it was … Drumsticks – The Ice cream! This advertisement will no doubt be shown on commercial television over the summer months.

At Clunes, I was able to reflect on the ride – the warmth the people of the small towns had shown me, the friendly smiles, the motorists and the truck drivers who had waved as they passed.  I thought of the highlights of the ride – the interesting towns, the wide open spaces, the wheat fields, the colours of the countryside, the sense of freedom. There was the accommodation – the occasional country pub, but mostly camping in my bivvy bag under the stars. This was 5000 star accommodation!

But now, as I closed my eyes, I thought again of Clancy, who ‘sees the vision splendid of the sunlight plains extended, And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars’. Tomorrow, I would join the Great Victorian Bike Ride, where I would meet up with those I had met on an earlier ride, and make one or two new and lasting friendships.