July 21st-31st, 2001
Started with 11.5 liters of water today since needed water for two days. Bike was thus heavy, which worried me a bit about the back wheel, but all was fine. Overcast during the morning. Saw a brief beautiful red sunrise before sun climbed over the cloud deck.
Grasslands starting out, but mostly short scrubby trees mixed with occasional boab trees. Termite mounds looked like someone had used a giant spoon to glop out large chunks of mud.
Long subtle grades, starting with uphill from Fitzroy Crossing, so hard to tell why my speed was slower, until started going down the long downhill. At 43 km was a turnoff to Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, the back route to Derby via a 4WD route and the Gibb River Road. At 87 km was a midmorning snack stop at a rest area. Five caravans stopped for morning tea while I was there. Checked the wheel and all was still fine.
Leaving the stop, some caravaners offered me a ride, after hearing of the wheel. No thanks, will try riding first. At 100 km, more cattle and looked like a small slimy pond. At 122 km, a car stopped to offer me a refill on water. Took them up on the offer and topped up my Camelbak. They had done some of their own cycling and gave me contact information for an aluminum welder in Broome. My front tire seemed flat, so pumped it up.
Not much further was a small roadside pullout with a large boab tree. It was hot as the sun had come from behind the clouds, so this looked like a good place to camp in the shade. Pitched my tent and read my book for the afternoon. Checked later, and found my front tire flat again. A thorn puncture (can't complain as this is the first flat in Australia).
Decided to ride again to make certain the tire was good. Broke camp,
packed up and rode to a rest area 22 km further on. This one also had a
huge boab tree in the center of the small pullout. Came just at
sunset. Six caravans/campervans parked overnight.
Clear skies, so I expected it to get hot today. Last few days of clouds have been unusual, but welcome with cooler temperatures.
Today long straight stretches of road going through low scrubby trees. Some gentle grades and light winds from behind. Many road trains with four ore trailers passing. Otherwise, quiet traffic and reasonable roads.
At 59 km was a turnoff to Derby (42 km). Wheel looked fine, but decided to bypass the town just to be safe. A pickup truck stopped, "have you seen my little black dog?". Apparently, had jumped off the back. Rougher road and slight hill to climb over and was at the Willare roadhouse.
morning, but roadhouse looked inviting and a cool place to stop on a hot
day. After some recent longer days, also ready for an easy day. Relaxing
afternoon by the roadhouse. Quite a bit of pass through traffic.
My wheel made it to Broome!, I did too. On arrival, first stop was tourist bureau and second was the bike shop. They have a wheel builder in Perth who will build a 36-spoke wheel and send it up via truck on Wednesday. Hopefully, will arrive on Friday. In mean time, some "Broome time" to explore this town.
Left at first light again. Landscapes today were similar: scraggly looking trees without leaves, spear grass, three types of termite mounds and mostly dry creeks. Not many boab trees today. There were subtle variations in the amount of open grassland or types of termite mounds, but no overall pattern. Road surfaces mostly smooth with some small bumps.
A sequence of bridges to cross the Fitzroy including one lane Willare and Minnie bridges. Surprised these fairly recent bridges would be built for only one lane of traffic. Many noise birds as I crossed the rivers.
At 60 km, a rest area. Last of the overnight caravans leaving as I made a breakfast stop. Made good progress cycling along the scrub and was into Roebuck Roadhouse at 130 km, at noon.
At roadhouse were Brendan and Wendy. They also left home on March 1st and are cycling around Australia for 9 1/2 months and raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation. It was fun comparing notes with them of our somewhat similar trips. They were leaving Broome and now heading southbound. Wouldn't be surprised if we leapfrog a bit later on.
Roebuck looked like an ok place to stay, but Broome was calling, assisted by a tailwind. The road turned into headwind, last few kms, but still nice to get into Broome.
Broome looks like an interesting, isolated town. Nice beaches, small
shops and the largest town around.
July 23rd - Reflections and observations about Australia and aborigines
After riding through NT and a thousand kms of WA, following are some of my perceptions of the situation in Australia concerning aborigines:
First some history. Until about thirty years ago, the history of Australia was written mostly in terms of convicts, settlement and exploration. It was as if the continent was empty and thus ignored the inhabitants who had lived there for 10s of thousands of years before. Those inhabitants had spoken and written language (e.g. rock art), were nomadic and survived in some pretty harsh country. While settling Australia, Europeans were sometimes brutal in their conquest of aborigines, sometimes hunting them like animals. Many died from new diseases. History also includes events such as "the lost generation" where children were taken from aboriginal homes and forcibly assimilated with foster families.
I can't help but draw parallels with experiences of Native Americans, where there is both positive history (think of pilgrims & indians sharing Thankgiving) and negative history (think of buffalo and indian hunters on the plains). However, unlike Native Americans, aborigines were not forced onto reservations. Some perished, some displaced and some stayed on their historical lands.
In the outback, a sometimes symbiotic relationship existed for a while at the some stations. Aborigines lived around the station, worked during peak times and were provided with some food and $. This stopped in mid-1970s when courts ruled that fair wages must be paid. As a result, many aborigines moved closer to these small outback towns or their own communities. (Perhaps also big cities, but just not as visible there). Places I've seen large concentrations of aborigines include Camooweal, Elliott, Katherine, Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. Typically, one sees small groups along the streets either walking or sitting in small groups. I see a few working in shops, but even in these towns almost all the workers in shops are white.
As history has been rediscovered, the Australian government has put more $$ to support aboriginal needs such as legal help, health clinics, schools, ... I've still observed one aboriginal gentleman picking through trash in Katherine for food.
The extra $$ has caused some backlash, e.g. I heard parents in Larimah remark that if their children were aboriginal, there would be a school or clinic in town. There are some in Australia with more extreme views. Australia seems remarkably white (particularly compared with SF Bay area or for a country so close to Asia) and has political history of a "white only" policy in some area, and has political movements (e.g. led by woman named Hansen) to take advantage of this. However, this seems to be the fringe and not the center.
A very visible cause for resentment is alcohol abuse amongst aboriginals. Where many aboriginals are out on the streets, it is visible if there is a drinking problem. Towns such as Katherine or Mount Isa have stories and letters about how to control this, such as having specific drinking zones. In Fitzroy Crossing, the motel was right next to a lively bar with many aboriginals around. It seems like a mixed bag here, as I've also seen many aboriginal communities policing themselves with "no alcohol" rules prominently posted.
In the last twenty years, Australia's high courts have ruled on land claims. These claims were filed in accordance with historical British common law to show that "traditional owners" did not abandon the land, but instead have a recorded history of settlement and ownership of certain lands. Not all those claims have been reasonable (e.g. claims for 1/3 of NSW including choice parts of Sydney), but many have gone through and are going through the courts, with mineral rights a particularly tough issue. A few areas of claims such as Kakadu have then been leased back to the government for use as parks.
Australian politics is still working through a "reconciliation" between white and aboriginal Australians. Included are such issues as whether a "sorry" is due and the nature of this reconciliation. Now some observations and perceptions I've made while cycling in this area:
This is what I've perceived and observed so far. Some similarities, but also differences from what I've seen in the US.
Today a chance to see some of Broome. Walked out to Town Beach and saw mud flats at low tide. Tides of some 7-8 meters occur here.
Broome is best known for the pearl industry. Prior to plastic buttons, this area provided some 75% of the world's mother of pearl. Advent of plastic caused a dramatic decline, though it has been coming back recently with pearl farming in the area.
The Broome Historical Museum is one of the better such museums I've seen (no pictures though). A very interesting history of pearl gathering. For example, prior to mechanical pumps the limit to which a diver could go was about 20 meters. After mechanical pumps started about 1910, the number of divers injured or dying from the bends increased dramatically. In 1914, 33 died from the bends, most of them Japanese divers. I visited the Japanese cemetery and saw some of the graves. Deaths from the bends decreased again after the town got a decompression chamber to help revive divers.
Broome was hit by Japanese bombers on March 3rd, 1942. About 8000 refuges were evacuating from Indonesia via flying boats. Many of the casualties were Dutch refugees caught in the flying boats in the harbor. Broome was hit three times after that, though not as severely.
The center of Broome is Chinatown, a block-sized area with shops, a bookstore, pearl shops, internet cafe and restaurants. I finished with my other books, so restocked on a few books here and otherwise relaxed.
In the evening, went to the old Sun City theatre downtown. An outdoor
theatre with canvas deck chairs to watch an old Marilyn Monroe film (Some Like
it Hot). Was fun, particularly to see the moon up on right of the screen.
Today took a bus tour to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. Tunnel Creek was particularly fun. We took a large 22 passenger 4WD bus, with twelve of us on tour (10 Australians, 1 Swiss and myself). Initially rode back to Willare, passing three cyclists coming inbound for Broome.
First stop, Willare Roadhouse for a brief break. Next stop, "The Prison Boab Tree". A large hollow, boab tree. Legend has it that it held prisoners and aborigines who had been kidnapped. They were locked inside for temporary detention. Also here was Myalls Bore, longest stock tank in the southern hemisphere, water for 500 cattle at a time.
From the prison boab, we headed westwards on the Gibb River Road. Road was narrow and paved initially before switching to gravel. An hour and a half along this road, we came to Windjana Gorge.
Windjana Gorge was carved out of limestone reef about 60 meters high. A sandy bottom in the gorge with many freshwater crocodiles in the sand. Cooler temperatures in the shade.
Another 30 km brought us to Tunnel Creek. As the name suggests, the creek goes through a tunnel for 750 meters underneath the limestone before emerging again. One wades through the water and across sandbars through this tunnel. In middle of the tunnel, it gets dark enough that we had to carry torches (flashlights). It was a fun experience!
Back to the bus and slowly made our way back to Broome with a dinner stop in
Willare. Total distance was 800 km by bus and 14 hours for the trip.
Another easy rest day in Broome. Six km from town is Gantheaume Point with a lighthouse. Also here are several dinosaur prints only visible at very low tides (<1.5 meters). This morning at 8:20am, the tide was 0.8 meters so I set off cycling to the point. Much of the route was a bumpy badly corrugated dirt road, slow going, but still there by 7:30am. Climbed down the cliffs and searched for the prints. With imagination, lots of different holes could be dinosaur footprints! Fortunately, over the next hour an additional twenty tourist helpers arrived and we soon reached a consensus on the likely prints.
Riding back upwind on the gravel road, breathing dust as vehicles passed, and then further to Cable Beach. Cable Beach is a beautiful sandy white beach. Camel rides are supposed to be available here, though didn't see any yet.
Back to town, and took a tour of the Pearl Luggers Museum. A guide nicknamed "Salty Dog" gave an interesting and entertaining history of the old Pearl Lugger ships as well as the process of using hard hats to dive for mother of pearl shells. By mid-1970s the process had been refined enough so that a boat would slowly pull four divers across the oyster beds on lines to gather pearls at ~$AUS 1.00 per shell. That industry later was replaced by the current cultured pearl industry.
Rest of day wandered further around town, checked internet, read and
otherwise relaxed. Hoping that wheel will be ready tomorrow.
On the road again, after time in Broome. Bicycle wheel arrived this morning and cycled a short distance after lunch.
This morning a time for errands. Laundry, sending mail, checking the net and stocking up at Coles for provisions. Typically, on the multi-day rides, I pick up extra fruit, juice, crispbread, peanut butter and cheese. Got a good supply for the road ahead.
Broome Cycle and Scoot had said to stop by after 11am to check on the wheel, so I was there promptly. Stopped in and the wheel was ready. This wheel had 20,000+ km of touring in the last three years and now had small cracks coming from at least 14 spoke holes (all on the drive side). I've left behind wheels in some interesting places including the Alaska Highway, Newfoundland and now Broome. I also took apart the wheel and mailed the hub to my parents.
the road again! Nice to be riding. A slight head wind, but otherwise
easy riding back out of Broome. Reached the Roebuck Roadhouse in mid
afternoon. From here it will be 286 km to Sandfire, with no water expected
along the way, so want to start fresh in the morning.
Today riding from an area of 80 cm rain per year to the Great Sandy Desert with about 20 cm of rain per year. Before I started cycling Australia, I had guessed that Broome to Port Hedland would be the most difficult section. So far, been pleasantly surprised and even had tail winds for much of the day. Australians I meet generally think the Nullarbor from Perth to Adelaide is toughest, so we'll see...
Started with sixteen liters of liquids, ten on the bike and six on my back. Brekky at the roadhouse, interrupted by short darkness as they switched from one generator to another. Slow riding, could definitely notice the extra weight.
After 10 km, trees went away and crossed a grassy area for the next 15 km. Cattle grazing and giving the bike a strange look. Just as a head wind started, the road turned and became more tailwind. Trees again, though they kept getting shorter and sparser for the next 50 km. Occasional turnoffs for stations, though none closer than 10 km from the road.
Stopped briefly at 76 km. A camper was stopped and a man introduced himself as a structural engineer. "Any mechanical failures?" He seemed very interested as I explained my wheel problem, but had a disappointed look on his face when he realized the wheel had already been replaced.
As I approached 100 km, a turnoff to Barn Hill Station which has a campground. Trees getting bigger again. At 117 km, was the Shamrock Fruit Stall. They sell local rock melons, watermelons, tomatoes and also cold drinks. Nice place for a lunch stop.
At 120 km was the first rest area, but I kept going so as to split the distance to Sandfire Roadhouse. Tail wind went away and became more variable. Definitely ready for a break on reaching the second rest area.
In the evening, shared campfire and company with three sets of caravaners,
two from South Australia and one from Victoria. Perhaps 15 caravans total
Sandfire was named by an early explorer's description of it being so hot the sand was on fire. Fortunately, today cooler and even some tail winds. Last night was first night in a while that I needed to zip up the sleeping bag.
Waited for adequate light and then set off down the road. Saw five kangaroos this morning. Trees gradually became shorter and at 90 km there were none for the next 10 km as the route came along the Great Sandy Desert. Turnoffs to a few stations, but otherwise not much along the way.
Reached Sandfire Roadhouse in time for lunch. Half a dozen peacocks around, including several up on the roof. Lots of pass through traffic with many caravans heading for the popular 80 mile beach another 45 km down the road.
Relaxed in the afternoon, read, updated web pages and looked around the roadhouse. Peacocks sure make a lot of noise. Overall, an easy ride today.
Two years ago, there was an American cyclist, named Robert Bogucki, that set
off from around here to travel overland through the Great Sandy Desert towards
Fitzroy Crossing. Forty-three days later, they found him alive in the
middle of the desert. One interesting story I found on the net is here.
There was some fuss later in Australia about who should pay rescue costs for
what essentially was voluntary stupidity. His family later made several
contributions to WA Search and Rescue as well as footing costs for their own
search. What surprises me is that Bogucki would have cycled here via
Fitzroy Crossing, and thus must have been aware of the harshness of the area.
A correction from yesterday: I found out that Sandfire was named more for the colors of rock and reflections, than the heat.
Got brekky when the roadhouse opened and headed off. Mostly short shrubs today with occasional trees. Some places one could see for considerable distance across the shrubs. Sand dunes closer to the Indian Ocean. I've been seeing more flowers, purples and yellows.
At 45 km was a turnoff to Eighty Mile Beach (10 km of unsealed road). Caravaners the night before last relayed a conversation they'd overheard there. A bloke was on the phone bragging to his mates back home, "...and there are lots of topless women out sunbathing at Eighty Mile Beach." He added, "...and lucky for you, most are over 70!" I didn't go verify the topless situation at Eighty Mile Beach, but the caravaners had also shown me many colorful and interesting shells they had collected there.
At 80 km, a few gradual hills to cross. Fortunately, mostly tail winds today. At 100 km, a caravan was parked beside the road changing a tire from a blowout. Last 38 km, a few gentle hills and then came to Pardoo Roadhouse.
Many of these roadhouses have budget accommodations named "dongas"
(sp?), for about $AUS 40 per night. Basic room with bed and air
conditioner. With two beds, no room for a bike. Tonight had one bed,
so bike fit inside. Otherwise, a caravan park and tent sites. Pardoo
Roadhouse has seen ~five bikes pass through this week.
Tough cycling today. A combination of distance, bumpy roads and head winds added up. Today, light, variable winds, but the last 30 km was mostly against the wind.
Late yesterday afternoon, a cyclist from Channel Islands, UK came to the roadhouse. She had started in Perth, cycled to Geraldton and hitchhiked to Broome and was now cycling back to Perth. She was in "express" mode to cover distance and ride to Perth quickly. Nice to compare notes and interesting to see the variety of styles of touring.
Roadhouse opened at 6 am and I was there to get brekky before heading off. Cyclist from Channel Islands still drying her tent, but expected to set off after me. I didn't see her again after that.
First 30 km was cattle country again. "Watch for wandering stock". Seems like it takes these cows a while to figure things out. Hence, when a road train rushes at them, they mostly pause and stare...enough time for the road train to pass. However, for a bicycle, the pause is followed by a "flee" instinct and they rush off into the bush.
Low shrubs starting out, but route today had considerable sections with mostly low grasses and some shrubs. The types of shrubs changed some as well. This region, the Pilbara, is known for huge mineral extraction facilities and rugged terrain. After 50 km, was a turnoff to Mount Goldworthy. From here, a rail line and power line for the iron ore, followed the road for most the way. Some rough rock outcroppings. Mostly cross winds at first.
At 60 km, water in De Grey River. A small rest area. Road works on the bridge. Yesterday, I had complimented someone from WA Main Roads about roads generally being better than in the US. However, roads today were rougher than most in Australia.
While I was paused for a rest at 80 km, a caravaner I met at Sandfire Roadhouse pulled up as well.
At 103 km, a turnoff to Marble Bar which boasts, "Australia's hottest town", with a record of over 160 consecutive days over 100°F (38°C). Otherwise, mostly grasslands, shrubs and some fire burn areas. Cross winds seemed like they were coming more from the front.
At 130 km, a small aboriginal town, then 10 km further a store and caravan
park. Yea! Got a cold drink and some food before setting off towards
town. Last 10 km went along Cargill Salt works. Very industrial
looking with rail lines, iron ore, storage tanks, etc. Went right downtown
to the tourist bureau and found a motel. A bit of a dive, but wonderful
location. Can go right out back to see shipping channel, iron ore
ships. Signed up for an iron ore tour tomorrow.
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