WARNING: This posting contains coloquial Australian and should not be read before 9pm. If you may be offended by strong language, please switch to another blog.
Still with me....good. The day I left Rockhampton I decided to leave at 8am, a late start, but I had breakfast with Monika and Samuel and 8am slipped past easily, so it was 9:15 before I got away. I consider myself very lucky to be traveling and meeting so many good, kind people, people that provide me with such wonderful hospitality, expecting nothing back in return, it's uplifting, I can tell you. Finding my way out of Rockhampton was easy, I had only just left the town when I got a hard whack in the right side of the head, just above the ear "Shit! what the #!@% was that?". Seconds later squawking and flapping around my left ear told me I had been hit beak first by a very agressive Magpie, this one knew all the tricks in the book and was using them, for a couple of hundred metres I had to watch for traffic from in front and behind as well as keeping a close eye on my attacker and ducking and the last moment. Magpies are becoming a real pain in the arse, as well as the head, so if there are any magpies reading this, in future make your nests further away from the roads you plonkers! I was passing through cattle land, a railway at my side. Trains passed every one a whopper. One passed, then stopped, so I measured it at 1499m, 1.5km, wow! Imagine the fun we would have at home with trains that long, "Due to circumstances beyond our control this train will be arriving 1 hour later than scheduled. 2nd class passengers at the rear of the train will be 2 hours late.", or perhaps "The train leaving Euston platform 2 is about to arrive in Reading. Those passengers wishing to disembark at Reading should walk to the front of the train". Ok, so the ones here are goods trains. The day was overcast and warm, perfect cycling conditions, it didn't matter that I had set out late, I could cycle through the afternoon in comfort. For the next 3 evenings I had decided to try 3 free campsites, not matter what they were like, good or bad, to get a feel for what they are really like. The first one was a gem, right beside a large river with only about 6 aother caravans there. Once the tent was set up I just sat there and contemplated life, I felt totally content, a great feeling.
The morning dawned as the previous day had finished, overcast, so another perfect day for cycling. The terrian was becoming more hilly through woodland where I passed more signs for Koalas, but never saw any. I arrived at campsite at about 2pm, very different to the previous night. It was beside the road, but I could tuck myself far enough away to be comfortable, there was already a camper van and a caravan here . As I was about to set up the tent the old guy from the camper van came over, he was only about 50m away, but it took him about 2 minutes to walk across, he looked very frail, I hoped he would reach me as I had just seen an ambulance sign say it was 37km and I didn't fancy going that far with him strapped to the back on the bike. "Are you thinking of camping there?" he asked, all gums, I don't think he had a single tooth left, "Yes, I think so" I replied. "There is going to be a really fucking bad storm tonight, if I were you I would sleep in the shelter over there, you wont even have to put your tent up and the lights are on all fucking night". It still surprises me just how bad the language is of some of the Aussies, especially in the older generations, this guy would have been well into his 80s. "Where are you from?" he asked "England", "Fucking India?", "No, England", "Yeah, India", "No England, UK", "Where?", "The UK", by now I am pretty much shouting, his hearing isn't that great "What?", "The UK, you know Great Britain", "Great where?", "Sydney" I said, "I come from Sydney". He changed the subject "I travel on my own, it's the only way to travel". No sooner had he left than the old guy from the caravan came over, probably in his 70s, but spritely in comparison, "You are not going to camp there are you?", "I was thinking I would, yes, why?", "Have you got a fucking death wish or something", "No, what's the problem?" I asked, "Never...NEVER camp under a fucking gum tree, they just fall down and you are fucking gone.See that big one over there, well all the branches have fallen off. I have seen big trees like that on dead still days, they just fall over, for no fucking reason at all. You are better off over there under the mango trees". That was right beside the 2 vans, I didn't fancy that, so I said, "It's ok, I will take the risk", "Well, leave a note with somebody because you will be fucking dead by the morning, there is going to be a fucking storm tonight". "Well if I die I will leave everything to you", "What the fuck am I going to do with a bike, me lungs are fucked, I smoke too much. That's my father over there, he is fucking 93. Wants to die on the road he does". Well if he drives like he walks his wish will undoubtedly come true, I just hope he doesn't take to many with him when he goes. So I ended up camping there under the gum trees. After a while I fancied a chat, a little more entertainment, so I wandered over and before I had even got to the younger guy "There is going to be a really fucking bad storm tonight. There are only 2 things that frighten me when I am camping." "What's that?" I asked, "Camping under gum trees and fucking snakes. One came out of the bush one, one of the most deadly in Australia, if you get bitten by them you need to get to the...well, there is no point, you are fucking dead. It was a fucking huge cunt, BANG!, I shot the bastard. It was over 8 feet long. For a laugh I took it into the local bar and said 'Does anybody know what one of these are called?', well you have never seen a bar empty so fucking fast in your life". We chatted about all sorts, he was Major Ron Warwick (photo), and proud of the Major bit. We talked about various things, spiders was another topic. I asked about the dangerous and common red backs. He went into his van and came out with one, in fact he gave it to me, thankfully set in plastic like a paper weight. "That's a big bastard mind, they aren't usually that big". (You can see it in the photo album). When I took a photo of him he said, "Don't get too close, you will break the fucking camera". "Where are you heading?" he asked, "Brisbane" I told him, "Well it's a fucking good job you weren't there 2 weeks ago, they had a fucking terrible storm, hail the size of fucking golf balls, outside of town the hail was the size of fucking cricket balls". It's true, they have been battered by the worst storms in 25 years though I am not sure about the hail bit, 150 houses have had to be totally demolished, 100s of others are badly damaged. I always seem to miss the really bad weather, it's always just before or just after me. Somebody's dog peed on my tent, but I just let it go ahead, it was a big male Rottwieler, I fancied it jaws around my legs even less than a Magpies beak in the head. Thanksfully the owner came over and washed it off without being asked.
By morning it turned out that the Major had been right and wrong. There had been a storm overnight, lots of thunder lightening and rain, but I was still alive. I checked the gum trees, they were all still standing, though despite no wind lots of twigs and bark had fallen, I will heed his advice in future if the weather looks bad. I stopped for a break, it was Saturday and the roads were pretty quiet. Once on the go again vehicles started to pass, they just kept coming and coming, constantly for about 20 minutes. Lorries thundered past inches away, not the slightest drop in speed, it was like being on a busy road in Britain, but at least traffic slow at home. Even a passing police car waved at me to get off the road, I yelled back "WHAT?" and carried on. To me that summed up the attitude to cyclists over here, and probably the same attitude is the reason for so many roadside crosses on roads that are not really that busy. It was terrible, I hated it. In Gin Gin I stopped at a garage for water and asked why it was so busy, there had been a bad accident further back at Miriam Vale and the road had just been reopened. For the first time since near Katherine I passed a cyclist heading the other way, he was Terry from England. He was heading for Darwin, everything looked brand new and bought from Halfords. He had a mountain bike with all the luggage on the back, no water bottles on the bike. He was a character though. He wanted to catch a snake and eat it, so he asked for my advice, so I told him how to open a tin of beans instead. He also wanted to wrestle with a croc. Well the freshwater ones aren't too bad, they wont attack humans, but I still didn't fancy his chances. He seemed ill equiped to get through the outback, but fully equiped for a grand adventure. He had no stove, so I asked him how he managed and it turned out his favourite food were the fruit cakes available at Woolies and Coles. I love them too, I always carry one and it will last me about 4 days. The 3rd free camp area I would not normally have stopped at, little more than a village park, but I had said I would to gain the full experience. I was latched onto by a guy, he was just passing originally and visited me 3 times overall, I thought he would never go, but the 3rd time he brought me a great big pile of chips, I scoffed the lot.
At dawn there were 3 other vans nearby, I hadn't realised I had company. The sun was shining, the sky clear. I soon passed through the sleepy town of Childers, well it was 7am on Sunday morning. Childers is where in 2000 there was a fire at a Backpackers Hostel that tragically killed 15 people. Whilst still in town it happened again...."Ow shit!" This time I got both sets of claws from a Magpie in the back of the head, I wasn't even wearing a buff this time. Generally I love the birdlife here and the sound of the Kookaburra laughing is like no other bird I have ever heard. I still search them out when I hear them laughing, but as yet haven't seen them, though I have this vision of them rolling around on their backs, claws holding their stomachs as they shout out "Stop, stop, it's hurting me". The road had been hilly for the last few days, but now it was flatter, I was passing through planted forest for the first time. I had intended to visit Hervey Bay, but in the end couldn't be bothered with the 50km detour, so I made my way straight to Maryborough, where I am couch surfing with Maria & Michael, their daughter Gen and dog Harry. I arrived early, about 12:00 and was soon glad of it as the afternoon was vert hot and still. They live in a wonderfull Queenslander house (photo), about 100 years old, that is old for Australia. It's a wonderful house and I had been really keen to stay in one of these houses. It's all wooden, single storey, but on stilts giving a huge storage/general area underneath that is lovely and cool as a light breeze goes underneath. Once again I was instantly made so welcome. So what was the reason for me coming here. I loved some of the suggestion you gave me in your comments, but Aoiffe, the cuddly Koala place is in Brisbane, and Jacs and Nick, I had no idea about the Mary Poppins connection, but now I know I shall go and visit thingy-me-bobs birth place a little later on. S got it right, it is the first bellringing tower that I have passed since crossing the channel. Maria had found out that ringing was at 5 tonight rather than 6 due to the Christmas concert in front of the town hall at 6pm. Maria and her friend Helen took me into town, but there was no ringing at all as the tower captain was involved in the concert, but I got to see inside. On the lower floor of the detached tower was a museum about the bells with CCTV of the ringing chamber and bell chamber, all immaculate, inside and out. Then another ringer turned up and I did get a little ring on just 3 of the 8. Maryborough is also the first place in Australia to have bells installed, cast in England and shipped out, the boat sank in storms on the way back. We went to the outdoor concert afterwards. Maria and Michael are heavily involved in the local community, it seemed that everybody that passed knew her, I was the honoured guest, so there was plenty of hand shaking. I was taken for a tour of the town in the car to get back just in time for the fireworks, then it was back home for a curry cooked by Michael. And what's more, all this hospitality is provided when they leave in just 7 days time themselves for a 12 month trip to Europe. They will be in England next November, so hopefully I can return their hospitality.
So tomorrow I am off again, just a short 3 day hop to Brisbane where I will be couch surfing again. There are a couple of bell towers there too, in fact the Cathederal has a ring of 10 that has started ringing 3 weeks ago after being out of action for years due to tower/roof maintenance, so may be that will make up for missing a full ring at Maryborough. Brissie will be the first big city since Jakarta, I think I am in for a shock.