The following morning I made my way out of Sydney, for the first time since I left home 19 months ago I was cycling in a different shirt, blimey, that’s almost worth a photograph. I had even thrown my old shirt and one pair of cycling shorts away and I can tell you, when you own so little clothing and have worn some of it for so long ,it was a difficult thing to do, though I had drawn the line at giving them names. Heading out of Sydney was easy and uneventful, though I was passing by familiar places such as Chipping Norton and Liverpool, I had never realised they were so close together. I was out of the suburbs and soon in countryside, though it didn’t take long to reach Campbelltown, where I took refuge from the sun under a covered picnic table beside a skating park. The schools were off, so it was getting good use, and I was very impressed with the skills on display from skateboards, scooters and bikes alike, though one lad on a BMX bike really stood out from the crowd. One of his best tricks was to ride up a ramp and take off at the top, spin through 360 degrees, then land stopping instantly, balanced on just the front wheel. I couldn’t help but wonder how many cuts and bruises it took to be able to perfect that little stunt. I carried on to Menangle, it wasn’t that far so I got there early, though I had already had enough. The first day on the fully loaded bike after 3 weeks made it tough going, the 38 degree heat wasn’t exactly helping either. I intended joining the bell ringers on their practice night in the evening, so I needed to be able to camp nearby, and I had found a nice little spot by the derelict Arts Centre. I popped into the little store with the petrol pumps out side displaying “Sorry, no fuel” and judging by the cobwebs they hadn’t sold fuel for a long time. I never learn, I had left it to the last minute to refill my stove fuel bottle and had once again come unstuck. I asked if there was anywhere around here to camp at which I was told “Whatever you do don’t camp by the Arts Centre, the locals call the police and you will be moved on”. Now it just so happened that I was stood next to 2 police officers “You wouldn’t move me on would you?”, “Yep” came the reply. The places they recommended were 8km out of the village, so I told them why I needed to be close by, so they recommended I go and see Craig, the Minister of the church as he would probably let me camp on the church land. These were good country folk, before I left they had filled up my fuel bottle from their lawnmower fuel container and filled up my water bags ready for a nights camping. I rang the bell of Craig`s house and was soon welcomed with open arms “Are you interested in the cricket? The 3rd test has 6 overs to go and the Aussies need to get one last wicket, do you want to watch it?” I am sure poor old Craig regretted inviting me in as I was immediately bombarding him with questions. He had watched all 3 test matches whilst recovering from an operation, they had lost the first 2 and I totally distracted him from the winning wicket with just a couple of overs to go. Craig, Red and their family were delightful, and I made the most of them by trying to understand and enhance my spiritual journey. At dinner Craig asked “If I give you a book, will you read it?” Graig and Red had been so interesting to talk to that I would love to read any book the they recommended to me, but I was already on full capacity and told them so. Later having thought about it I decided to give them the book I was currently reading and struggling so much with, so I think I did much better out of the deal. Even though I was just a few yards from the church, I still managed to be late for the practice. Funnily enough the treble bell had come from the church in Headington, Oxford, but I suspect I hadn’t rung it before. Afterwards there was coffee and food in the little kitchen area in a building behind the church, so as with all the towers in Australia, bell ringing is a very sociable event.
I had hoped to be on the road by 8:30 the following morning, I failed, all my own fault as I just kept on talking. I seemed to have developed into a right old gas bag. Craig and Red said I could stop as long as I wanted, but having struggled to get away from Sydney, another stop after just one day seemed a bit too soon. The route to Canberra on the back roads looked tricky and long, so I took to the highway, not the nicest of roads but it generally had a good shoulder and the draft from the passing lorries gave me a push for most of the day. The problem with this sort of road though is finding somewhere to camp as there are nearly always either crash barriers of fences in the way. I was tiring so took a side turning, but it was all fenced and privately owned land. One of the houses had some lovely looking camping ground so I went in along the gravel track to the house only to find it was all but derelict and surrounded by rusty old farm machinery. I guessed nobody was going to turn up, so I made myself at home, in the tent that is, not the house. I camped away from the house but in view of it, I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, but I made sure I was out of view of the roads, hmm…I guess I was being a little bit sneaky after all. It was cold and soon started to drizzle, though I was lovely and snug cooking in the tent, back to basics, wonderful.
Early the following morning I had a couple of tasks to perform in Goulburn, firstly heading to the police station to hand in a wallet found the previous day on the highway, then to check my emails to see my response to couch surfing requests. All were negative, though one had suggested I post a request on the Canberra group which I did. The ride into Canberra was pretty easy going, 20k was alongside Lake George, something I had been looking forward to, but somebody had pulled the plug on it, I think I could see a small patch of water way off in the distance. Heading into Canberra was very different to entering any other town of city in Australia, there was very little sign of it, no sprawling suburbs in the north, in fact I had a bit of a view of it as I descended a hill, then saw a sign saying “City - 9km”. Talking of signs, I have seen no end of signs saying “Injured wildlife - ph 09 135582”. Now you have to be impressed with any salesman who can sell a phone to a kangaroo, though now I know what their pouches are for. The road into the city was pretty quiet, very wide and tree lined. You could have easily passed through the centre of the city without even seeing a single shop as they were tucked away to the side. It all rather reminded me of Chandigarh in India and Milton Keynes back home, all planned cities with wide green streets and concealed housing and shopping centres. I went to check one of the hostels, I didn’t like it, very busy with a rowdy bar outside, and it was only 4pm. I checked my emails again and I had been offered a bed for the night 20k to the south of the city, definitely preferable. Heading out there was down a main road, but I was soon surprised to find myself passing through countryside. By pure luck I arrived one minute earlier than I had told Sue when I called her, I was welcomed with open arms and shown around her spacious bungalow in a quiet leafy cul-de-sac. She was about to be heading out to a friend whose birthday it was and asked if I wanted to join her. When we arrived there were about 10 others there, all very friendly with the usual bombardment of questions about my travels. Even whilst I was there they checked my blog and gave me 10 out of 10 for the photography.….ah, friends for life! I heard how they had been having a regular get together every Friday evening for the last 30 years, a large circle of friends who just turn up on an adhoc basis, normally down by the lake but at David’s house on this occasion as it was his birthday, the birthday cake was absolutely delicious, though you could probably be have been stopped for drink driving after a couple of slices.
By morning I was feeling the effects of a long break from riding the bike, after just 3 days I was feeling tired, my legs ached and I felt as though I had been in the sun too long. I opted for a leisurely day. Sue was working from home and I was hardly helping her, she was very easy to talk to, so all too easy for me to distract. Helge, another couch surfer from Germany arrived, so I volunteered to do the cooking in the evening for Sue. For a change I cooked pasta, well, it makes a change from rice anyway.
Now this is just an observation of mine, but I would say, at a rough guess, that most capital cities contain about 10-15% of the country’s population. Obviously that won’t always be the case, and it’s certainly not the case of Australia. With about 320,000 people here in Canberra it comes out at a little over 1%, very low indeed. It was designed to be the administrative centre, somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne as the two were fighting it out to be the capital city, like two kids fighting over the television, in the end neither of them get what they want. But once again it has the space, consequently everything of interest is a bit spread out, a difficult place to visit on foot. So I hopped on the bike, with the first call being a bit of Sunday ringing at the only church with bells in Canberra. Afterwards we went for coffee. I was asked where I was staying and when I told them they said “Oh, you should have contacted us, we often put up visiting ringers. You seem fairly normal for a ringer”, I took that as a compliment. It was then just a few yards to visit Parliament House (photo), unfortunately not in session these days as they are on their summer holiday. But it’s a fantastic place, a place for the people, you can sort of feel democracy working here, parts of it were more like a museum, they even have one of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta on display. It was all high tech stuff in the chambers. When somebody is permitted to talk by the speaker, their microphone comes on automatically so that he can be heard through the loud speakers, the others being switched off, also 2 cameras automatically turn and focus in on them. Jolly clever what? You can even head out on to the roof for a good all round view. Then I visited the National Carillon, a set of 55 bells weighing from just a few kilos to 6 tons, though I missed the recital. It was worth a trip onto the island in the lake to see it though. Then I was off to the Australian War Memorial, a moving place (photo) and a fitting memory for those that have given their lives for their county. There was also a huge and impressive museum attached. I then climbed up Mount Ainslie, the view over the whole city were fantastic. It’s a very green city, the suburbs are split by large areas of countryside and hills, so it is all very spread out, but each suburb is a maze of roads and filled with trees, quite pleasant really. I made it to the National Gallery with just 20 minutes to spare. The only National Gallery that you can really do justice to in 20 minutes is the one in East Timor, so this one I gave a very quick walk through. I made my way back to Sue’s, it always seems so much shorter when you know where you are going and have no baggage on your bike.