an extract from Postcards from the Edge of a Sunburnt Country by Alan Toney
The Compass Expeditions Reunion Weekend was a blast. Riders came from far and wide, from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane and from many small towns in between. We numbered seventy-five, all having ridden with Compass sometime, somewhere in the world. We all knew what to expect by way of a quality two-wheel experience and none were disappointed.
Co-owners Mick and Jerry did us proud with a get-reacquainted lunch, two days of guided tours, a choice of twisty tar or dusty dirt, and an evening dinner with guest speaker Amy Harburg of the BMW International Women’s GS Trophy team. There were prizes for some and gift bags for all. There were tall tales told, happy times recalled and promises made for future rides together. Did I say it was a blast? And then some.
Come Monday morning, about half the gang headed home, the rest of us stayed on for another five days of fun in the saddle.
Each day, two rides were offered. The on-road option skirted the sand, surf and sea-carved cliffs of The Sapphire Coast, ranging as far north as Bateman’s Bay and Bergamui, and as far south as Mallacoota and Cann River in Victoria State. On alternate days there were twisties that probed far inland to the high country, to Bombala and Jindabyne, lakeside gateway to the ski resorts of The Snowy Mountains.
The off-road alternative used the mountain trails of the South East Forests National Park and the fire access and logging roads throughout the NSW State Forests. There was something for everyone, with Mick and Craig alternating as lead rider and sweep for the off-roaders, dubbedThe Dirty Dozen, and Jerry and Jordan doing the honors on the tar with Team Latte. The names were used simply to group the bikes for the two ride briefings each morning…or were they?
My days of riding sand, dirt and gravel were long over and so it was the tar and Team Latte for me. Five days of sensory overload followed.
Whether we took the Imlay Road, the Candelo, the Snowy Mountain Highway or the Mt Darragh Road into the interior, we would first climb on tight corners through densely packed vegetation that crowded the narrow two-lane road. Up and up we would climb in sapping humidity, where mountains streams were many and twelve-foot high Acera Palms loomed overhead. Once on top, we rode into the rain shadow.
Trees were few and the land opened out with distant vistas over high rolling hills and shallow valleys of straw-colored grass. Lonely looking farm houses were dotted thereabout. This was sheep and cattle farming country, but the fields were mostly empty, with only the breed stock left to watch us sweep by. The color brown dominated. It was the end of a punishingly hot, dry summer. The rivers and streams, even the mighty Snowy River, were reduced to a trickle, but at each bridge crossing there would be an NSWTMS sign that announced Road Liable to Flooding with a gage, sometimes graduated to a depth of three meters. It really was a land of extremes.
Although this was my first time in Australia, I found “small town NSW” all too familiar. As we rode through Bombala, Bemboka, Nimmitabel, Cooma, Bermagui and Eden, all had a comforting, evocative feel about them. They all had a wide Main Street, wide enough for angle parking each side. Most buildings were of wood, with corrugated red tin roofs and Art Deco
facades. Metal shingles announced the specialty within, and most businesses except for the banks were family-owned.
There was a small shop for every need, whether it be hardware, shoe repairs, pet supplies, sewing notions or stationary and office supplies. There were no supermarkets, strip malls, shopping plazas, parking garages or parking meters. Everything you needed was on Main Street, one shop at a time.
The daytime social center of any small town was always the bakery. That is where you picked up your freshly baked bread, cakes and the ubiquitous meat pies, along with coffee or tea and the news of the day. Most towns had a local newspaper that survived, not because of its newsiness, but more for its public announcements and paid advertising. After all, in small towns everywhere, word of mouth trumps the internet with newspapers a distant third.
Then there were the local radio stations, with news and weather on the hour and fifty minutes of music in between. The news was fresh enough, but the music seemed stuck in the past. Music from the fifties ruled. Rock and Roll hadn’t come to these parts yet. I expected to hearHow Much is that Doggie in the Window? or I Love You, a Bushel and a Peck! every time I sat down for morning coffee. It was music from a simpler, more innocent time and I loved it.
The penny finally dropped. “That’s it! Small Town NSW, it’s The Andy Griffith Show, it’s Mayberry, North Carolina. It’s just the way it used to be in Fifties America!” After every day’s ride, it was difficult to leave those little towns of the past and ride back to the present.
Of course, whether you spent each day on-road or off, we were all one big happy Compass Expeditions family but then, as in every family, cracks inevitably appear in the veneer. As one day followed another, several immutable truths became apparent. For instance…
While The Dirty Dozen were sucking in their own dust and spinning out of control on gravel with high and low-side rider/bike separations, Team Latte rode with panache, exhibiting a certaine je ne sais quoi as they ran in unison on identical lines through twisties and sweepers on the tar.Team Latte were oh so perfectly synchronized. They were poetry in motion, a high speed ballet on two wheels. Livestock in roadside fields stood in wonder and, after catching their collective animal breath, could only mutter in animal speak, “Who WERE those guys? They were faster than a speeding bullet!”
While The Dirty Dozen sat in logging roadside ditches, eating their dusty lunchtime Vegemitesandwiches each day, Team Latte would repair to a picture perfect little town and dine a la carte on regional fare.
Each day, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, The Dirty Dozen would invariably find themselves squabbling over how to find their way out of the maze of logging trails, mud holes and sand wallows back to civilization. Meanwhile, Team Latte would be ensconced in a bakery or roadside coffee shop for either a tall black, a flat white, a cappuccino or espresso, while daintily selecting from a sample tray of cakes, pastries and confectioneries. For the more discerning palate, there was always a wide selection of specialty teas on offer.
Late afternoon, The Dirty Dozen would limp back into town nursing their aching limbs, their cuts and bruises, to hose down their bikes and each other, and to pick the gravel out of their ears and the bugs from their teeth. Watching their antics was always a source of amusement for Team Latte, who had already parked their still gleaming machines, showered, dressed and availed themselves of an ice-cold “stubby.”
At the farewell dinner on Friday night, Team Latte presented a tasteful tableau vivant. Dressed in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band period garb, they gave a word-and-note-perfect rendition of When I’m Sixty-Four. And how did The Dirty Dozen respond? You may well ask. All they could come up with was their lunchtime-sitting-in-a-ditch-sing-a-long-odious-ode:
We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch and tea.
Our mummies say we’re growing stronger Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite It puts roses in our cheeks.
Draw your own conclusion. I have, and it’s a totally unbiased one, of course. In a nutshell, Team Latte rocked! On the other hand, the self-styled Dirty Dozen were such a sorry bunch. Why, they couldn’t even count. There were actually twenty-three of them.
Every good blast comes to an end sooner or later, and so it was with Merimbula. Saturday morning, it was hugs and handshakes for Bruce and Barbara, Darryl and Jackie, Gary, Ross, Cameron, the other Alan, Sarah, Duncan and Cindy, Eddy and my roomie, Top Bloke Peter and…it took a while. It was time to go our separate ways.
© August 2018 Alan Toney
16 All rights reserved