Anzac Day 2018 I wanted to ride someplace quiet and beautiful. I chose the area around Goulburn, New South Wales.
This is the telling of that journey in words and pictures. I’ve split each day into three pieces – the story, some history, and the details (of route, accommodation and food).
Sunday 22 April 2018
Some Café has a rustic glass display case full of baked goodies. The menu is short but full of finely described temptations. The coffee is spot on. I’ve ordered poached eggs, with sourdough, roasted heirloom tomatoes, and crispy bacon. It’s like being in the city in the country.
Sourdough, poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, bacon: yum.
I slept 9 ½ hours according to my Fit Bit. I was tired and the room was quiet and dark. I made the most of it.
I’ve been warned there is a big climb today. Super steep, but paved and short. I was warned by the publican last night. When he still played footy he’d run it in training – but never made it to the top. A cyclist, here at the café, has said the climb is only 500 metres but a bit of a bastard. I’ll take his word. The whole distance to Gunning is only 22 kms – so, worst case scenario, I put a thumb out and someone takes me up the hill. More likely, I push, than breathe, push, then breathe. I’ve done that before.
This café is a funny sort of crossroads: a mix of village and Goulburn locals, area farmers, Canberra-types on a Sunday drive and longer-distance motorists passing through. And, of course, more MAMILs.
A farm dad with his two-year-old just came in – the kid’s shirt exactly matches his dad’s – heavy maroon work shirt with a turned-up collar. He’s wearing little boots too. Adorable.
It is a hill, a steep hill – but I ride it making three or four, maybe five, stops along the way to catch my breath. I’ve ridden worse hills, in harder conditions. It is hard but fine and, as such things ever are, a good metaphor for the challenges of life – one pedal push at a time, take your breaks, catch your breath, then go again.
The day turns overcast not long past the crest. The bitumen ends and I face 20 km of unpaved road. It’s a mix of pretty good and kind of bad. It is undulating but mostly downhill and I ride my brakes more than I pedal. It is quiet and beautiful; only half a dozen vehicles pass in either direction. I feel strong, competent, and healthy. I’ll give that hill this – if you want to know how healthy your heart and lungs are, ride up that.
Rain catches me just as the pavement resumes. I only have five (mostly downhill) kilometres to go so, although it’s raining heavily, I don’t bother with the rain gear. I arrive at the motel a bit damp and before check in time. I’m grateful to find the motelier at home and that she allows to access my room early.
The rain clears by the time I set out for lunch.
Gunning is a bit more substantial than Collector. There is a main street lined with shops, most of which seem to be occupied, and there are two cafés to choose from. I’ve gone the first for lunch today, knowing I’ll visit the other for breakfast tomorrow.
The coffee here at the Marino Café is pretty bad – much too hot, but the lemon slice is excellent. And the burger was very good too.
From the café I wander up Yass Street past the exotic deciduous trees gloriously leaved in reds and golds for autumn.
I notice that the Cenotaph at the Post Office lists three Sheridans who fell in World War I and another three who served. Other families had multiple entrants as well.
Ever since I spent time riding through some Western Front villages where Australians fought in France I have been much more attuned to the power of these cenotaphs. It breaks my heart that so many men (and boys) from this little place signed up to fight for King and Country only to die in muck and mud or desert sands or on rocky beaches and be buried in foreign soil where no one who knew and loved them was likely to ever visit. Cenotaphs are the symbolic graves of these fallen sons, brothers and husbands. So, I’m moved to think about how devasted the Sheridans would have been to lose H. H., S. H. and W. H. And how grateful they must have been to get E.E., F.P. and J.R. back home.
Let me break the illusion of telling this story in the present tense for just a moment.
Since returning home from Gunning, I’ve found Harry Heaslip Sheridan and William Henry Sheridan on the Australian War Memorial website. Harry was a 24-year old farmer, serving as a driver in the 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, when he died of pneumonia in France on 29 April 1917. He is buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetary, Nord Pas de Calais. Wimereux is 16,861 kilometres (10,477 miles) from his home. William Henry was a 22-year old labourer – almost 23 as his mother noted on his Roll of Honour card (she listed him as having been 22 years 11 months) – serving as a Lance Corporal in the 35th Australian Infantry Battalion when he was killed in action in France on 8 August 1918. He’s buried at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.
Here’s a photograph of me with William’s grave at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery – a selfie I took on my visit on 9 September 2015. That’s his headstone in the red circle.
And a bit closer.
Initially he was buried at an isolated grave near Hamel. Like many of the victims of that war he had been buried where most convenient, and quickly, in hopes of sparing his living comrades the bad things that can happen when the dead are left lying in the open.
William’s father was already dead when his mother gave consent for his enlistment on 15 March 1916. She needed to do so because he was 20 years and 6 months when he enlisted, 6 months shy of the age of majority. He stood 5’ 9.5” (177 cm) when he joined in Goulburn.
Of course, I didn’t know this when I was looking at all those Sheridans on the cenotaph – now I do and it’s under my skin. I feel a nebulous thread of connection to William and, even more so, to his mother, Elizabeth. I didn’t actually visit William’s grave but I’m probably among a very small number of people – quite possibly a group of one – who has noted William’s name on the cenotaph, visited the cemetery where he is buried, know some little something about him, and have connected the places through my travels.
Harry and William were not brothers. Their cards were completed by different people – Harry’s by his father John T. Sheridan (his mother, Emma Sheridan, had predeceased him) and William’s by his mother Elizabeth Sheridan. But they both attended Collector Public School. So, it’s interesting they are on the Gunning Cenotaph.
Now I’ve looked again at my photo of the Collector Cenotaph and they are listed there as well.
I knew none of this on my afternoon wander around Gunning but the Sheridans were on my mind as I explored the town.
I’m back at the motel by 3:30 pm and spend three hours listening to ABC Jazz, reading, and napping. At 6:30, I head to the Telegraph Hotel for dinner.
I’m feeling good, a little tired but in a good way. I haven’t read or looked at or heard any news since Friday morning. Nine News was on at the pub but well into the show – so bullshit ‘news’. It’s nice not knowing.
Seventy plus kilometres tomorrow, 19 of them unpaved.
This area was originally home to the Gundungurra people to the north and the Ngunnawal people to the south. It’s possible the town name of Gunning comes from one of the local languages’ word for ‘swamp mahogany’.
Gunning had a population of 659 on census night 2016. Of these, 13 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. 89.6% of Gunning’s people were Australian born with four German born and three from Papua New Guinea. There are 19 people with Dutch ancestry – 9 with fathers born there, 11 with mothers born there. Four people speak Thai at home, the same number Auslan (Australian sign language), three German, 3 Polish and 3 Mandarin. I find these facts curious – the different coloured tiles in a mostly homogenous mosaic.
The region was first explored by Europeans in 1820 and Hamilton Hume settled here in 1821. He and William Hovell left from here in 1824 to discover an overland route to Port Phillip Bay – where Melbourne is now located.
Hume was born in Seven Hills, Sydney in 1797 – the son of the Commissary-General for NSW. William Hovell had an interesting career. He was born in England in 1786 and began his sea-faring career at the age of 10. He settled in Australia in 1813.
Gunning is another town which was once on the Hume Highway but it seems to have fared better for the by-pass than Collector.
I had breakfast at Some Café in Collector – bacon, eggs, toast, tomatoes, coffee ($19)
I rode 27.59 kilometres (per my bicycle computer) along the Collector Road from Collector to Gunning, turning left on Yass Street to reach town.
Lunch at Marino Café was their burger ($10.50), followed by a lemon slice and coffee ($8.80).
Dinner at The Telegraph Hotel was fish and chips with a salad ($15) and a schooner of Resches ($5.50).
I stayed at the Gunning Motel in a clean, fresh, comfortable double room with a good shower, bar fridge, coffee/tea etc ($75).