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).
Saturday 21 April 2018
A grupetto of MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) encircle an outdoor table littered with the debris of their post-ride breakfast. They show no more than a passing interest in my laden touring bike. I wonder if any of them are farmer MAMILs? Maybe.
The people here have a Balmain meets Balmoral* vibe about them plus country people in for a fancy breakfast in the sort of clothes my ex-mother in law favours: culottes and floral print tops designed with the modesty and comfort preferred by some women of a certain age and sold in chain clothiers with outlets in regional centres.
A very helpful woman at the tourist office agrees with the concerns about motor traffic voiced by the woman in the motel last night. She gives me a brochure of “cycle touring trails” – the suggested routes link the towns I am already planning on visiting but along longer and more unpaved routes than I’d originally planned. I’ll have a look at the maths this evening. I thank her for her help and peddle out of town. Yay!!
The first bit (see the map and details below) is a bit busy, then I turn onto a quiet, paved, undulating country road which is perfect.
I stop for a break at the Saint Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church. The foundation stone was laid 18.02.1883 by Bishop Lanigan. The church sits near the intersection of a paved and unpaved road, surrounded by fields and paddocks. It’s a beautiful, lonely stone building. The doors are locked and there is no sign of regular services. A small tired-looking fibro home sits between the church and it’s graveyard. It looks lived in, but no one appears to be home right now.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed so far today, in no particular order:
Bugs – the sound of them: cicadas and crickets
The sound of my wheels on the road
Breath – the sound of my own breath. It’s a thing we so rarely hear. My life is often loud – city sounds, office sounds, tv, music – but when it is quiet the noise of my own brain fills the silence. Riding, quietly and alone, my brain is busy enough with navigation and carrying out the habits of riding as to, otherwise, be silent. In that silence, I can listen to my own breath. And I can feel my lungs expanding and contracting, my heart pumping, my muscles driving me onward. Time slows down and expands. I am outside the daily maze of doing and planning. I am. It is the simplest state of being and also, for me, ever more elusive – to just be.
Confused Cows – I approached a herd of them on the road and tried to ride through, which effectively herded them onward. Their owner was in a ute on the far side, he came through the mob and asked me to follow him as closely as possible. Which I did – they were used to cars and parted for us. Bicycles, they’d never seen.
I have been in Collector for a couple of hours now and I haven’t heard an American accent yet.
Ahead of my trip I was talking excitedly about the places I would visit. A work colleague was dubious of the fun and diversions I would find in Collector – it being a small village. I looked up the population from the Census and discovered this odd quirk that there were 3 American-born people in Collector, and four whose parents were born there. From which I sleuthed that it was probably a five-person family where mum and dad, plus two of the three kids had been born in the US (and both the parents’ parents were likewise born in the US). I said I’d amuse myself in Collector by trying to find the Americans. But, now that I’m here – well, I haven’t heard any American accents.
It was just about a perfect day’s riding and it was so nice to be back underway again. That’s a how it feels – like I’ve taken something up again. Even though it has been almost two years since my last tour.
A writing colleague, who has read some of my midlife gap year blog, wonders why – why I would go off and ride my bicycle long distances by myself. Part of the answer is like the old answer of the mountain climber – because it’s there. Why do I ride? Why wouldn’t I? I ride because I am never as free as when I ride, I am never more independent, I am never more present. I have all I need, right here, on my bicycle. I don’t need any petrol or electricity. Most things that might go wrong I can fix. I can move across the face of the earth at a good pace using nothing but the energy generated by my conversion of food and oxygen. Locomotion, independence and self-propulsion give me a feeling of freedom and joy and pride, I guess, a bit – which comes from propelling myself across the face of the planet under my own steam and feeling my lungs and heart and muscles doing the work and being totally up for it.
I’ve had two beers, a meat pie and some potato chips here at my home for the evening the Bushranger Hotel. A group of heavy metal band members and friends have stopped in on their way to a gig in Canberra. It’s funny how people who would probably be pretty anti-uniform functionally wear uniforms.
Time to take in the sights.
My workmate Michelle, who grew up in Forbes, was dubious of my plan to get to towns early so as to have the afternoons to explore and simply be in these places. “You won’t find much to do in Collector” she warned. She was right, of course, there isn’t much to do but that’s nice, just the same.
I have a look at the memorial for Constable Samuel Nelson, which is right next to the pub (see more in the history section below) walk down to Some Café, where I’ll eat breakfast tomorrow, and the Collector and District Cenotaph, I take on board the lay of the village from the nearby, and rather weathered, map billboard. I walk a loop of town wondering what it would be like to live in so small a place. Through my city-apartment-dwelling, commuting-to-the-City, working-in-an-office eyes, it looked pretty appealing – the quiet, the space, the clean air. But what would I do if I lived in such a place? Or even Goulburn? What work would I find? What friends?
I pass the Collector Memorial Hall and the St Bartholomews Catholic Church. I go as far as the overgrown and underused sports ground before circling back past the Collector Public School and arriving back at the hotel.
As promised, nothing to do, but nice just the same.
Collector and District Cenotaph
The kitchen has opened. I’ve ordered the chicken schnitzel and am reading Papillion at the bar. A local couple, who seem to be somewhat recently arrived in town, are chatting with a heavily weathered local character about getting set up with some chooks when they get back from holidays. After they leave, the local character and the publican take an interest in my book and we have a conversation along the length of the bar about it. The local character is a voracious reader, it seems, which pleases me. And the bar keep mentions the movie with Steve McQueen – which I’ll have to watch when I get home.
It’s 9pm and I have retreated to my room to crawl into bed and read myself to sleep.
*Balmain meets Balmoral references two Sydney suburbs. Balmain used to be a working-class wharf-focused suburb which has long since been gentrified by people who began the process as hippie artistic types and, over time, have become very comfortable baby boomers living in houses which cost next to nothing when they bought and are now worth multi-millions. When Balmain was working class, Balmoral was staid and middle-class and now it’s staid and rich.
Collector, which is in the Upper Lachlan Shire, was home to 313 people on census night 2016, and is half-way between Goulburn and Canberra. Its name may be a corruption of an Aboriginal name for the region, colegdar.
The original Hume Highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne went through the village and, until the bypass in 1988, brought passing trade to village businesses. There are now, as best as I could tell, three retail businesses in town – the hotel, the café, and a wine-tasting room.
The first European to settle in the area was Terence Aubrey Murray (1810-1873) who arrived in 1829. He later took up ownership and residence at Yarralumula – which is now Government House in Canberra.
His story is kind of interesting. He was born in Limirick, Ireland to a Roman Catholic family. His father, in the Army, was posted to New South Wales in 1817 and later in India. In 1825 he moved his family to NSW to take advantage of land grants being offered to military officers. Two years after their arrival a then 19-year old Terrence Aubrey Murray acquired land in the Collector area.
He became a parliamentarian in 1843 and served in various elected roles until his death in 1873. He was seemingly well-read, well-respected and liberal-minded for his time. His life was marred by all manner of financial and personal craziness. In his later years he became quite a heavy-drinker and developed cancer. He died in a Darlinghurst rental and was buried at St Jude’s in Randwick.
One of his children, Evelyn Mary Matilda Murray (1849-1928), once widowed moved to England where her daughter attended Cambridge University and she, Evelyn, became a suffragette. She died in London.
The Bushranger Hotel was the site of the shooting of Constable Samuel Nelson on 26 January 1865 by John Dunn, who was a member of Ben Hall’s gang. Presumably the hotel was called something else before this bushranging incident took place on the premises.
There is a memorial on site which was erected on 26 January 1965.
Dunn, who had turned 18 in December 1864, was acting as look out as Ben Hall and John Gilbert were holding up the hotel. He killed the sole local police officer when he arrived on the scene – shooting him in the face and chest. Australia likes to romanticise bushrangers and vilify colonial-era police officers – and while there’s something tragic in John Dunn’s short life – he was hanged the following year for his crime. Constable Nelson was a father of 8 – I imagine that the life of his widow and their children was pretty tough indeed.
I rode 45 km today from Goulburn to Collector
Braidwood Road was like a 5/10 – not good, not bad. Not super busy. Not quiet. Then the Currawang Road was perfect – well paved, quiet but not desolate. Undulating but never a daunting climb. Lucky Gap Road was an unpaved mixed bag –pretty lumpy in parts then, elsewhere, excellent.
In Collector I stayed at the Bushranger Hotel – it’s also where I ate lunch and dinner.
The hotel was built in 1860 and feels like it in good and bad ways. The one-person at a time but shared bathrooms have been recently renovated; the rooms a bit less so. My room ($50) had a double bed and two singles – I was told one of the singles had the best mattress, so I went with that one. The windows weren’t to the outside but the enclosed veranda which is part of the private residence of the publicans.
It was sufficiently clean and the bed comfortable enough that I slept 9 ½ hours so that’s pretty good.
For lunch I had a home-made beef pie – it was fine, but not great – and a schooner of Resches ($12); for dinner – chicken schnitzel with veggies, mash and gravy and a beer ($28.50).