The idea of this trip was to paddle, walk/run and cycle 24,000kms around Australia and Tasmania.
John Field and Tim Fry were my support team.
Start May 1990.
- Chapter One
- Kayak 800kms from Augusta to Geraldton
- Cycle 820kms from Geraldton to Wiluna
- Chapter Two
- Walk 1600kms from Wiluna to the Tanami Track
- Chapter Three
- Mountain Bike 1350kms along the Tanami Track to Dalhousie Springs
- Walk 450kms across the Simpson Desert to Birdsville
- Cycle 2200kms from Birdsville to Cooktown
- Chapter Four
- Kayak 800kms from Cooktown to Cape York
- Chapter Five
- Cycle 5460kms from Cape York to Wilson’s Promontory including some kayaking
- Chapter Six
- Walk 900kms from Wilson’s Promontory to Mount Kosciusko
- Chapter Seven
- Kayak 2500kms down the Murray River
- Cycle 1000kms from Goolwa to Melbourne
- Chapter Eight
- Walk and cycle 1300kms around Tasmania
- Chapter Nine
- Cycle 4300kms from Melbourne to Perth
Each Chapter has a different blog page.
This is Chapter One.
- Kayak 800kms from Augusta to Geraldton
- Cycle 820kms from Geraldton to Wiluna
I was pounding the bitumen towards the tropical tourist town of Broome as the local reporter leapt out of her car and clicked a couple of shots. In a flash, she dashed back to her vehicle, shouting, “I’ll see you in town,” leaving me with no excuse to rest my tired muscles. In less than 3 kms I would have run, kayaked, backpacked and cycled 3500 kms around the remote coastline and inland areas of the Kimberley.
My legs were feeling the stress of the last 220 km run, but nothing could stop me now. The adrenalin started to pump as I picked up speed and, as I passed the airport a short distance from town, I felt an overwhelming sense of exhilaration.
As I came to rest at the Broome post office, my 3500 km marathon was completed. Suddenly the exhilarating feeling vanished, to be replaced by a feeling of emptiness. I felt myself thinking, ‘well that’s another trip over; lets go home. What’s next?’
My mind was bursting with past highs in my life. I’ve had an active and rewarding life so far, including six years of travelling, a world canoeing record and five expeditions in the Kimberley. This, my fifth expedition, had been the most physically challenging but it was my 1982, one hundred day solo kayak trip around the Kimberley Coast that had been the most emotionally challenging. Then I thought – What about around Australia? From that time on, my mind was racing away, thinking about the next trip, and the first bubbles of excitement soon started to build up inside me when I decided to tackle Australia.
Perth May 18th 1990.
Perth. As I busily sorted and packed my gear at the tail end of Thursday night, Jenny realised at three minutes past twelve that her birthday had arrived. What a birthday it was going to be as my time was taken up with final preparations. At 1.00am Jenny had retired and I followed ninety minutes later.
At 5.00am an annoying wake-up phone call interrupted my sleep. I jumped out of bed to answer it and expected a nice young lady on the other end; instead it was a recorded message. I felt like returning to bed and cuddling up to Jenny again, but I had to be at the Channel 9 studio by 6.00am.
Winter was upon us so it was pitch dark. The early morning temperature was very cold and the Channel 9 studio wasn’t much better. I thought this was my big chance for fame. Live on National Television. What more could a man ask for?
As I waited for things to happen, I was still cold and shivering and hoping that I would warm up in time for the interview, as I didn’t want to be seen to be nervous. About eight minutes before Australia was going to have me for breakfast, Liz Hayes had a little chat with me. Then came the crunch. I stumbled a bit with one of the early questions but got better as the seconds ticked by and kept Australia captivated for a few minutes. After leaving the studio, I was back to reality and the continued saga of final preparations.
May 19th. Perth.
John and I left Perth just after 1.00pm. A chilly dark evening awaited our arrival in Augusta, the town regarded as the windiest place in Australia. I was keen to check the surf at the beach near the Cape immediately, as the weather was not the best. We first checked conditions at the boat ramps around town and noticed a vehicle tailing us. On closer inspection we realised it was the town ranger. He then followed us for 12 kilometres to the Cape. As we stopped near the ‘Waterwheel’ he shouted through the window in an unfriendly voice, ” You can’t camp here”. We weren’t going to, I was about to say, but I couldn’t be bothered trying to explain. I found it hard to believe that we were being chased by rangers even before starting my trip around Australia. We returned to the camp site and pitched tents. Paul and Michael from the Busselton Times arrived and we chatted around the camp, rugged up from the cold with several layers of clothing. The other guys drank port but I refrained as I needed a good healthy head in the morning.
May 20th Sunday 1990. Augusta.
John kicked my tent and woke me. The morning was cold and I wasn’t too keen to rise. A series of late nights had taken their toll. But this was it, the first of many mornings on the road, the first of what could be a dream holiday or a nightmare. I should have been nervous. The weather forecast for the following days was pretty foul, the seas were cold and hostile and I was on my own, but I could only feel a sense of relief. For the past couple of years I had been planning for this moment. The last few weeks had been hectic and the last few days had been madness. At least now I was actually starting.
As I ate my breakfast, ABCs ‘Australia All Over’ was being broadcast. At that time the program seemed of little significance to my trip but that was to change as the weeks flew by.
Mike and his wife Henny were there to see me off and to ensure my CB radio was in working order. I launched my boat in the windy estuary next to the campsite and paddled a kilometre away to test it out. To my relief it worked fine. With the test run over, it was now time to hit the big stuff and get the trip underway.
As we drove to towards Cape Leeuwin, the seas were laden with white caps, a very regular occurrence around the most south, south westerly point of Australia. Sailors regard it as a treacherous area. I was in deep thought as we arrived at my launching beach 2 kms from the Cape. A small surf was pounding the beach, patches of seaweed clung together and the swell rose and fell on the scattered rocky outcrops in the small bay.
In strong wind I tried to assemble my gear, myself and my safety equipment quickly but carefully. I had left from a beach hundreds of times before, but for the start of this epic trip it seemed very important to get everything just right. I dragged the kayak down to the water where the choppy waves were lapping up the beach. I stood in knee deep water, watching the waves and waiting for the right time to get in. Using my paddle as a brace, I quickly entered the cockpit and paddled off before the next wave swamped the boat. Safe from the waves, I stopped about 15 metres out to place the spray cover over the cockpit, to keep the water out. Within moments the strong wind was pushing me towards some exposed rocks scattered out from the beach. I hurried and fumbled with the cover, and just managed to secure it before colliding with the rocks. With a few powerful sweep strokes on the right side of the kayak, I quickly moved away from the danger. I could now relax.
I had paddled around the Cape several times before but I wasn’t complacent. I had a lot of respect for the strong wind and rough sea but I was confident that I had the skills and experience to master the elements ahead, and have the common sense to retreat when the conditions and dangers were too much for my skill level. The day already seemed long but it was only 9.20 am. I paddled closer to the Cape with the big surf pounding the rocky promontory. The southerly winds had created a rolling swell and with it rebounding off the rock, the sea was disturbed and lumpy. It was quite a sight watching the breaking waves ride up the rocks and reefs, with the lighthouse in the background. I glanced behind to see that the reefs and rocky islands scattered around the area were glistening with white, frothy waves breaking upon them. I spotted John and Mike like stick figures at the Cape.
As I turned to head north the swell and southerly winds made my passage a little like a roller coaster, but as I progressed further away from the Cape, the seas eased and paddling became more enjoyable. I looked back at the lighthouse one last time and then thought about my paddle and my final destination of Geraldton, some 800 kms away.
The sound of a fishing boat could be heard above the whistle of the wind and slap of breaking waves that followed me along the coast. It cruised further out to sea heading towards small reefs that were continually sprayed with waves. As the drum of the engine faded, I moved further north, my thoughts recalling the walking trips that I had done along the coastline.
A steep sand dune cliff stretched for kilometres. The huge surf pounding it made landing uninviting, so I paddled on and finally reached the shelter of Cosy Corner and Elephant Rock. Here the bay was sheltered by a few limestone islands, a welcome relief after such an exposed coastline. I passed between an island and rocky coast, where fishermen were busily casting their lines, and headed towards Hamelin Bay. I heard one say to the other that I was mad rowing a small kayak like that with all those Noah’s Arks (sharks) out there. A shallow reef between Hamelin Island and the mainland gave me a surprise as a small surf reared up as I passed over it. In the calm of the bay the old wooden wharf of Hamelin Bay, now only a skeleton of its former glory when it was used to carry timber to ships, marked my first camp spot. Here John was waiting to help me lift the heavy kayak to the campsite, about 100 metres away. I had a shower to ease my aching shoulder muscles and then went for a run.
May 21st. Hamelin Bay.
By 8.45am my kayak had jumped the small surf and I was working hard to cross the bay against a north-easterly wind. At 9.45am I had a radio sked with John who was waiting at Cape Freycinet. After several kilometres the beautiful beach of Hamelin Bay gave way to rocky shoreline with intermittent beaches. I paused at the spectacular cliffs near Conto’s Beach and watched the surf break forcefully up-on it. A little further, the ‘Bob’s Hollow’ cave was very noticeable. Out from it, a cluster of reefs being pounded by the sea had me detouring a long safe route around them. Redgate picnic area was my last real landmark before reaching Prevelly Park.
Off the rocks south of Conto’s Beach.
I remember back in 1980 when I paddled from Albany to Perth in weekend stages, I was paddling this section from Hamelin Bay to Prevelly Park. Jenny was my support crew and I asked her to go to Redgate Lookout and when she saw me pass then go on the Prevelly Park. The ocean was that rough and I had to go so far out to sea to avoid some reefs that she didn’t see me pass. I was paddling a Nordkapp, a lot tippier kayak than the Mermaide I was paddling on this trip and I got bowled over by a big surf wave kilometres off shore but luckily I was able to Eskimo Roll and carry on. When I arrived at Prevelly Park which had a big surf running Jenny was still waiting at Redgate.
Prevelly Park (Margaret River) is one of the world’s surfing hot spots, but surfing in on a huge wave in a 17 foot sea kayak wasn’t my kind of fun, especially knowing a reef was just below the surface. With the help of the CB radio, I was able to talk to John and work out the best route through the surf. A huge surf and big swell had me waiting for the calmest moment between the sets to paddle ashore. Minutes went by as I waited. I then made my break, glancing at the surf pounding the reefs on each side of me. A few anxious moments went by as I chased a wave in and dashed into the calm of the bay behind the reefs. I was happy. John tried filming with the video camera but only managed to capture seaweed and sand. He was too concerned with my safety and forgot to point the camera at me!
Because there were several hours of light left in the day, I decided to cycle and camp at Merribrook, an outdoor centre where I used to work. Here I met up with Karl Ronke, an American who has written many books on outdoor learning experiences to bolster confidence in people. He was as impressed with what I had done, as I was impressed with what he had achieved. Somehow I think his achievements would have helped a lot more people than mine have.
May 22nd. Prevelly Park.
After only three days on the road we found the battery wouldn’t start the vehicle. Luckily we carried a spare. When we arrived at the Prevelly Park boat ramp the sea and surf was fairly calm and an old couple were dragging their nets and taking out a number of fish. They offered us some but silly us declined. I passed over the surf break at 9.15am. It was cool, but fairly calm. However, after passing the main surfing spots, the Margaret River entrance and the cliffs near Cape Mentelle, the sea started to turn foul. The weather forecast was fine with ENE winds, 8-15 knots and it would have been excellent paddling conditions if I hadn’t been pushing into the wind!
Prevelley Park boat ramp.
The wind had increased significantly and my progress at times came to a standstill. The occasional surfer along the coast didn’t seem to have my problem as they surfed waves into the beach. For me it became a hard slog, ending in a long detour around the reef before entering the sheltered bay at Gracetown.
By 2pm I was on shore tucking into sandwiches and talking to John. The end of the day was a welcome relief. In the weeks leading up to the expedition, because of a leg injury, my training had been limited, so I was gaining endurance fitness as my journey progressed. So I felt no guilt by stopping early.
As we rested, one of the locals came over for a chat. Linda Van Der Merwe, an artist who had been living in Gracetown for several months. She asked me if I was Terry Bolland, the mad canoeist.
“I just knew it”, she said, “Your friend Lee Vernon from Koolan Island told me about you”. We started chatting and in a very short time felt like old friends. Anyone who is a friend of Lee, is a friend of mine. Soon after Linda invited us to spend the night at her home, which was situated on the hill over-looking the ocean. It was a pleasant start to our expedition, as we had only been going for three days and we already had made a new friend.
Because it was early afternoon, we had time to do some washing and then have a run. I had lost a lot of fitness over the last seven months because of injury, so I needed to get it back.
At sunset, I noticed Linda busily pastel painting from rocks just north of the town. I walked over to her spot to admire her work. Within minutes she had finished a painting which enabled her to capture the vibrant colours; the sun’s rays filtering across the dying day and reflections of the sun setting over the ocean to the west. Linda’s skill brought together the pastel painting so quickly and simply. Surely it should take longer than that, I thought.
I sat behind and away from her for a while watching the soft sunset descend below the calm blue sea. I was at ease with myself and the environment. I felt as if the trip ahead was going to help me get to know more about myself, my limits and most of all see Australia at its most beautiful. I returned to the house, passing the calm, blue, sheltered bay.
After our evening meal, John trimmed my fringe and then we talked. Linda was going through grief and pain. Her husband had been killed in a farm tractor accident a year earlier and the effects of her loss were very obvious. As Linda talked about it, how her one thing in life that she dearly loved had gone, how life was not quite the same, I found it difficult to understand what she was going through and how someone could grieve for so long, but I hadn’t lost someone so close. Talking about her loss seemed to help her deal with it. She didn’t hide from expressing her feelings. Linda was a small person with a lot of love in her heart.
May 23rd. Gracetown.
I had a good night’s sleep and a leisurely rise. Linda gave me a back massage before having breakfast which was just what I needed. The weather forecast was for ENE, 8-16 knots winds, similar to the day before. By 10.30 I was away, being waved off by Linda and John and leaving the security of the calm bay. Within 45 minutes there was a change in weather; the wind picked up making my progress pass the Willyabrup cliffs fairly slow. The cliffs were familiar to me as I had spent many hours abseiling and climbing them. As I moved further along the coast, the tendons in my right arm started playing up. That was the last thing I wanted at this early stage of my trip. I paddled carefully, trying not to put extra strain on my arm but it was difficult as I was now heading into a 16 knot wind. I missed a couple of radio skeds with John because he was hidden behind a hill and couldn’t pick up my signals.
Tired, and with slight shooting pains in my arm, I was happy to see the rocky islands of Canal Rocks, my finish point for the day. I moved around to the usually calm north side of the rocks to land but because the wind was coming from the north achoppy surf was breaking onto the concrete boat ramp where John and Linda were waiting.
Linda convinced us to stay at her place another night, so we drove back to Gracetown. After a twenty three minute run, a shower, a meal and a massage, Linda insisted we watch a video called ‘The Big Blue’. She had watched it several times and wanted to share the experience with us. It was about two skin divers who were continuously trying to break the deepest free diving record. There was a meaning to the film but I think I was too tired and missed it. I’ll just have to watch it again. By the end of our second night together, John and Linda had formed a special bond. I couldn’t help thinking how quickly that bond had developed, but they had so much in common and could relate to each other very easily.
May 24th. Canal Rocks.
It looked as if I had a tough day ahead, with 18-25 knot NNE winds and paddling around Cape Naturalist, another notorious cape. I couldn’t be put off. To stay and rest all day was a possibility but I had to keep moving. John and Linda would have liked me to delay my journey, as their fondness for each other had amplified and made it quite difficult for them to say goodbye.
Back at the Canal Rocks boat ramp, the surf had increased, making my take-off quite challenging. Once out in the ocean, my radio didn’t work. I fiddled with it whilst being pushed towards the rocks by the wind and found it on the wrong channel – the problem was solved. As I paddled across the bay out from Yallingup, a great surfing spot, a patrol boat cruised between me and the coast. It was hard to believe that the water could have been deep enough to support it. The sea and wind became rougher as the day progressed and on reaching Sugarloaf Rock, I was nearly at a standstill. I had no chance of getting ashore unless I wanted to go through huge surf, which I didn’t, so I had no alternative but to push on around the Cape. I struggled north at a snail’s pace, kept alert by the continual bouncing of the boat. I had this feeling that John was walking along the rocks and watching me labour against the elements. I glanced over whenever I felt it safe to do so, but no-one was there. I kept looking, to no avail. I was possibly feeling lonely and vulnerable, and having the thought that someone was there, gave me impression that I was being watched over.
Rocks out from the Cape were being battered by the big surf. I looked on, wanting someone to see me round it but I was still very much alone. I wasn’t keen to get too close to the point, so kept well away, but made little progress. I paddled in spurts, keeping the pressure on for several minutes and then increasing my speed to try and make extra progress. My boat, although very stable, was not the quickest so I had to work hard to make headway. I kept glancing at the shore trying to gauge my speed but progress was dismal. Gusts of wind tried whisking my paddle away but I kept a firm grip; to lose it would be disastrous, although I carried a spare.
Eventually I managed to work myself around the Cape and along the cliffs in an easterly direction. Paddling then became a little easier but much more dangerous as the wind came from the side and upset my stability. Usually the coast from Cape Naturalist to Dunsborough is calm but the strong northerly winds had changed that. I eventually stopped in line with Meelup beach, relieved that I didn’t have to go further. I had never seen such a big surf running here, as it, too, is usually calm. I looked on, selected the smallest wave and paddled hard to keep on the back of it. It broke well out from the beach, leaving me in limbo as another big wave came from behind and picked me up. I surfed it for a while, but as the water became shallow I turned the kayak sideways into a broach position to prevent my bow from stabbing into the sand and looping. It was a rough sideways ride but I beached okay as the wave faded out. I jumped out of the boat and pulled it ashore before the next wave broke. Relieved to be on firm ground and a little tired, it was good to see John waiting so I soon changed and loaded the boat on the roof before heading to the Dunsborough camp ground. As it was close to winter, the campsite at Dunsborough was deserted.
May 25th. Dunsborough.
The wind was howling outside my tent. It sounded too rough to canoe and the weather forecast confirmed my thoughts – winds 20 -30 knots NNW, and a strong wind warning. With the onset of winter it wasn’t possible to stop paddling every time the wind came up, so I had to keep moving whenever I could. We left our quiet and green campsite by 8.00 am and drove back to Meelup beach. The surf had picked up in the night. Several waves were breaking up to 400 -500 metres out. It looked quite frightening but spectacular. The most dangerous part of sea canoeing is coming in and going out in huge surf. This was going to be a real challenge. As I got changed, John gave my shoulders a quick massage as I was feeling a little stiff.
The Cove was boarded by a rock headland to the west and a rocky coast to the east. A small stream ran into the ocean at the western end of the beach. The beach was about 200 metres long. It’s a beautiful scenic place in all seasons, but in the summer, when the sea is calm families enjoy the safe, placid swimming area. Today however, wasn’t one of those dream days as the surf was pretty hostile.
Meelup Beach is usually very calm. Northerly winds has created a stir.
John pushed me off and I levered the kayak through the first wave. Several breaking waves followed and I broke through them. As more approached, they were at least 2-3 metres high. I was dwarfed by them. On the peaks of the waves I looked down into huge hollows formed on the seaward side. My boat then plunged and slammed down into the hollow, the hull taking the full force. As the spray surrounded me, I kept an eagle eye on the best route through, trying to avoid as many breakers as possible. Finally I slid over the last breaker and was bound for the open sea. I relaxed. From the shore, although the surf looked huge, the ocean hadn’t looked so bad, but out on the water the swell was big and the ocean was full of white caps. I turned my craft east. Ahead, a lone dolphin dived, it reminding me of the film, ‘The Big Blue’.
For the next two hours, the sea was quite troublesome. The swell and wind had created large breakers that approached from my rear beam. Many surprised me, their breaking crests plunging on my deck and making me very unstable. Despite the rough conditions, I made good progress and when I neared a yacht I made a radio sked with John. When I started paddling passed Dunsborough parallel to the west-east running shoreline, the wind played havoc and continually forced me towards it. I crabbed along towards a radio mast, but within 3 kms of it I noticed a man on shore waving and running along the beach. At first I thought it was John but then I realised the guy had a suit on. I knew instantly it couldn’t be John. I doubt if he owned one. The guy reminded me of a scarecrow as he stood there flapping his arms. I turned and headed closer to shore and realised that he was a journalist. I had no hesitation surfing into the beach on a small wave. Opportunities like this don’t happen every day.
“I’m Greg Quail from GWN”, he said, once I came ashore. He looked and acted very excited about this whole trip of mine. Apparently he had been running parallel to me for some time and I hadn’t noticed. He had even been flagging down truck drivers, asking them if they had seen me. I became very excited because he was very excited, and despite the strong wind making it difficult to talk, the interview went very well, and soon after I returned to sea. Unbeknown to me, Greg then tracked John down and filmed him during a radio sked. John said in the interview that he was quite worried for me because the sea was so rough.
The wind and waves never let up, making my last part of the journey a hard slog. I was really pleased to see the Busselton jetty but first I had to get through the many surf breaks. There were many, they were rough but they were not huge and I managed to surf in okay.
It didn’t take us long to pack up and find a caravan park. Owing to the weather, plus the fact that Jenny was coming down from Perth, had encouraged me to hire a $19.00 caravan. At 5.50pm we met up with Jenny in the pub. We watched the news on TV and it turned out to be an excellent story. Being our budget conscious selves, we ordered only salad for the evening meal, $3.50. Jenny and John, however, nearly got us thrown out the pub because they went back for seconds and that wasn’t allowed. It had turned out being quite an exciting day.
May 26th. Busselton.
The wind through the night had been incredibly strong. Our caravan was battered by gale force winds but it had given us much more comfort than a tent would have given. The weather forecast was for 30-40 knot winds NNW – gale force winds. With a gale warning in place, it wasn’t a day to be out, but I had to give it a try.
At the town beach, the surf and sea conditions matched the weather forecast – very rough, very windy and terrible conditions to go out in. I finally blasted through the surf but it was so windy I nearly turned back. Something, maybe my stubbornness, or the fact that I needed to make a few kilometres each day to avoid falling behind schedule, made me go on. Having made it through the surf was no consolation as I virtually made no headway against the wind from then on. It was so windy the thought of turning back was greater but with the effort already put in that morning, I couldn’t retreat.
At that point, the 2 kilometre jetty stood in my way. I hadn’t thought about it when I stopped the previous day but it now posed a problem. It was too windy to go around it, yet the huge swell that was running left little space between the water and the timber deck. At times the swell and breaking waves touched the structure.
I struggled closer to the jetty, paddling hard to avoid losing ground. I toyed with the idea of retreating again but instead I chose to risk going under it. When I found the best spot I waited for the moment when the swell died down. It was several minutes before I felt it was safe enough to attempt the dash. The wind made boat control virtually impossible. Then I made the decision to go and I desperately turned my boat 45 degrees so it was pointed under the jetty between the narrow pylons and went for it. I was pretty scared, my heart pumping, because I knew I had to get it absolutely right or I would get jammed and wiped out under the jetty. It would have been pretty embarrassing being wiped out so soon into the trip. As I paddled under the timber frame on a descending swell, I was fully committed. Whatever I did now had to be a forward motion. As I passed under a dark shadow, I could feel the swell starting to rise and the wind pushing me broadside towards the pylons. Half way through I felt safer as the other side was within reach. However, I was being lifted and the space between me and the jetty deck was quickly being reduced. With increased speed and adrenalin pumping, I moved back into the light with my paddle blade almost hitting the jetty beam. My heart beat immediately started to decrease as the pressure was off. I had done it! I hadn’t been in such a dangerous situation for some time, so I was quite relieved it was over.
The first 175 metres of the jetty was built in 1865 to take out timber to sailing ships waiting in deeper water. In 1911 another 1400 metres was added to allow deeper draught vessels to dock. In the early days, horse drawn carts were used to carry timber to the boats but trains were introduced in 1910. On April 4th, 1978 Cyclone Alby destroyed much of the jetty but the jetty had been closed for shipping for five years. Restoration has been going on since then to restore the jetty to its near original state. It is a unique draw card that attracts thousands of tourists and fishermen to Busselton.
With the strong wind coming from the side I couldn’t relax for too long. Despite the wind position I was making good headway but I was soon slowed by a hail storm. Visibility was virtually nil. The temperature dropped and the hail stones ripped into my skin, despite wearing a canoeing jacket. My paddle was being yanked from my grasp by the forceful wind gusts. I held it tightly but the wind made paddling impossible and I again became very concerned.
Earlier I had just taken a huge risk paddling under the jetty that could have proved fatal. Now I couldn’t see the weather getting better, only deteriorating further, so I radioed John and told him that I wouldn’t make Peppermint Grove as it was getting too dangerous to be out. After only 9 kms, I pulled in at a boat ramp. The wind was howling and surf breakers were very big for this part of the coast. However, I surfed into the beach without incident. Jenny and John were already there waiting. I decided to call it a day. The struggle continued as we tried desperately to tie down the kayak on the roof of the vehicle in the howling wind. With perseverance we finally succeeded.
With much of the day left, we decided to drive up the coast to check the sea conditions and surf to Bunbury. It was quite spectacular, and I was pleased to be in the safety of the vehicle. Later on we returned to the campsite and had another $5.00 salad at the pub whilst trying to stay out of trouble.
May 27th Sunday. Busselton.
Again I woke up to the howling wind and the sound of `Australia All Over’ on the radio. I had a good night’s sleep and was eager to be on the move but the forecast was terrible. Gale force winds. 30-35 knots NNW, gusting to 50 knots. It wasn’t good news.
John and I drove back to the boat ramp to check the conditions. Jenny was to follow later. Despite the forecast, the sea conditions had slightly eased. I lost no time changing and getting the boat off the vehicle. Two ladies walking their dog chatted with us, and took photos as I penetrated the surf. With the wind slightly behind me, I found that the sea was a lot more manageable than the day before, and I made good time to Forrest Beach. When I made a radio sked with John he expected me to be kilometres away. In fact unbeknown to him, I was sitting opposite his position. As I moved on, the sea became full of breaking swells and conditions were deteriorating. Big waves started to hit me broadside so I had look over my shoulder continually which became a strain.
Close to Peppermint Grove, the surf break extended hundreds of metres out to sea. I took care as I paddled in, watching for those unexpected waves that may pick me up and dump me. The sea at this stage was too rough to make another radio sked so I ploughed on, and finally surfed a wave to the beach. Jenny was there to help me out of my kayak, while John took some video footage. We drove to the caravan park and hired a caravan for twenty dollars. Soon after, Jenny had to return to Perth as she had to work the following day.
May 28th. Peppermint Grove.
At 7.00am we vacated our bunks. It felt very strange as there was little noise from the wind. That meant calmer seas. By 8.30am I was punching through the surf and heading for a relatively calm, open sea. What a contrast to the day before. It was hard to believe I was on the same ocean.
Typically for winter on this part of the coast, the weather often changed suddenly. Within two hours of my leaving the wind had picked up and very dark clouds billowed ahead. Creeping past a sand mining site, I saw the evenly sloping sand dunes had been stripped of vegetation by bulldozers. The scar stood out, but like much of Australia’s mining and logging, it was hidden away out of people’s view.
I made a radio sked with John. He was in the middle of a cow paddock after taking a short cut on forest tracks, trying to get to the coast. Another dark cloud with rain haze beneath it threatened from the north-west and it was coming my way. The wind started to increase so I started putting on the pace. As Bunbury appeared on the horizon, the approaching storm moved away leaving me with calmer seas and a sore bum from my kayak seat.
The road running parallel to the beach near Bunbury was busy. The wintry weather had whipped up a bigger surf than normal on the town beach and the rocks just north of it. A lot of erosion had occurred. Nevertheless it was a pretty sight but I decided to paddle around the heads and into the calmer waters of the harbour. As I stopped to radio John out from the town beach, I didn’t realise GWN were filming my every move.
By the time I got into the inner harbour, I could see the film crew talking to John. The water in the harbour was like glass, anchored yachts only swaying when my wake reached them. It was a different world – still, peaceful, silent and an array of white features backed with dark clouds in the southern sky. After such a wild ride along the coast, the contrast of the harbour scene was quite moving. I had a feeling of exhilaration. I was filmed as I arrived at the beach. Greig, who was still excited with our meeting in Busselton was there again to interview me.
An interview with Greig Quayle (GWN network).
After the interview, John drove us to the house of Jenny’s friends, Brenda and Gerald Chad, where we bunked down for the night. John later gave me a $100 dollar note that he had been given by a man who had been waiting for me to arrive. He had heard of my trip and wanted to wish me well, hence the donation.
May 29th. Bunbury.
The weather was improving so I no longer had to worry about the weather forecast. By 9.00 am we had arrived back in the harbour. It was incredibly calm. I moved past the end of the jetty where two fisherman were casting their lines. As I crossed the harbour, a tug skated across the water in front of me, its wake forming ripples in the water and its sound shattering the tranquility. Leaving the bustle of Bunbury behind, only sand dunes and the open sea were ahead of me. I soon got into a paddling rhythm and focused my eyes on the sand dunes across the bay. It was going to be a long, fairly uninteresting trip along the dunes to Mandurah. At that moment I became distracted by black shapes appearing to my side. Three dolphins sliced through the water, getting closer and closer as their speed over-shadowed my own. I had seen many dolphins on my canoeing trips around the coast and I expected them to pass me by. To my surprise they closed in until they were within a paddle’s length of the kayak. I became excited as they stayed with me and began to dive under the kayak and surface on the other side. Their playful mood continued and as they dived under, they brushed the kayaks bow as they came up. I was overwhelmed as this was the first time that such an experience had happened to me, although I had sighted dolphins hundreds of times before. My escort stayed with me, performing rolls under my boat like some circus act. I felt happy and exhilarated.
The rolls and dives under my boat continued and I was sure that they were determined to follow me all day and I could feel some extra energy flow through my body. But then, after half an hour of playfulness, they disappeared out of sight. They had escorted me out of the harbour and into the open sea and now were gone. I was saddened by the loss of my friends. I was getting used to their company and enjoying their antics. But like everything, unique experiences have to come to an end sometime, and my time was up.
Sand dunes flashed by as I moved along the coast. After the dolphins, the hours following seemed very ordinary. But to liven my day I stopped for lunch at the small township of Binningup where John was waiting. When lunch was finished, I returned to the water and headed to Myalup (another small township) with a dumping surf hitting the beach. An old man watched as I came ashore and I could see that he was ready to give me a hand if things went wrong.
May 30th. Myalup.
Having a support crew limited the weight I had to carry in the kayak. It also encouraged me to stop at night in places along the coast where John had road access. This meant that some days I didn’t do as many kilometres as I would have liked but up to now though it hadn’t really mattered. The weather had been rough, which made it hard enough and I still wasn’t at my peak fitness.
After leaving Myalup, I only had one stop that day where I would see John. That was at Yalgorup, a location which was not much more than a boat ramp. Here I had lunch and moved off again. Paddling was pretty boring and, although the Yalgorup National Park bordered the coastline, I didn’t see much more than the sand dunes.
By nightfall I was close to Cape Bouvard. A giant mansion built on a big sand dune overlooked the ocean. It had magnificent views with no other houses for miles. About 500 metres past the mansion, I found an impressive camping spot on the beach. The beach sand was very soft and because my tent wasn’t self-supporting and my sand pegs not wide enough, gusts of wind occasionally pulled out a peg and half collapsed the tent. This was the first night of this trip that I camped alone. It felt good.
May 31st. Cape Bouvard.
My destination was Mandurah, about 20 kms away. I expected my day to end early. I had arranged to stay with friends, Peter and Patsy, whose house was located near the river mouth.
As I closed in on Mandurah, houses started to appear and finally housing estates fronted the coastline. Peter and Patsy were at home when I arrived. It was a fairly small but beautiful wooden house, with large grounds and a million dollar view of the small boat harbour. Their catamaran was anchored just off their beach. It was a beautiful setting, I was quite envious.
A short break with Peter & Patsy.
Tables laden with food were soon erected on the lawn. It was a glorious sunny day, great for eating and drinking and certainly too striking to be inside. Two hours later, a reporter from the Mandurah Times dropped by, having missed me at the river entrance. A friendly fisherman had advised him that the tide would have delayed me, or I might have been eaten by a big shark which had been spotted a few days earlier. When the reporter had gone, I started checking and cleaning my equipment. When dark fell, we all donned our running shoes and went for a run around Mandurah.
June 1st. Mandurah.
I left the hospitality of Peter and Patsy and headed out of the river entrance with a fishing boat. A kilometre or so further on, where a couple in a small dinghy were fishing. I had a quick word as I passed but their luck was not in. The day was uneventful, apart from the odd fishing boat speeding across the ocean and a few dolphins slicing through the water, this time keeping their distance.
At last I reached Penguin Island, a popular tourist spot for day visitors. The sand bar connecting the island to the mainland was only a foot or so deep with a small surf breaking across it. The ferry to the island was operating as I moved across the bar. Further along, on one of the other islands, seals basked in the sun. Reaching the south side of Point Peron, I noticed John on the hill. He looked on. I carried on threading myself through and around the reefs. It was a small but exciting challenge. As I rounded Cape Peron, Garden Island came into view. It is the home of the Stirling Naval Base and there is limited access to the public. The island is joined to the mainland by a man-made causeway. My landing spot was 2 kilometres east of the causeway at Palm beach and being so close to home, we decided not to camp out and headed back to Perth.
June 2nd. Rockingham.
After leaving my home in Ashfield we picked up Sam, John’s son and arrived at Rockingham at 8.45am. A few hundred metres away from the beach, I checked the radio, as usual. It was not working. The battery was flat so I connected it to the solar panel to recharge it on the way to Fremantle.
Since leaving Bunbury the weather had improved, it was now sunny and the wind had dropped. From Rockingham to Fremantle, the shoreline in Cockburn Sound was dotted with industry. Wheat bins, petroleum storage tanks, chemical industries, Alcoa – they were all there. Smoke stacks were a prominent feature on the skyline. The sight of the smoke being released was a disheartening sight, and the dreadful smell lingered on. As I tasted the awful fumes I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to live next to a factory. With most of the major industry located in this region, it spares Perth the pollution that other cities have to put up with.
My progress had been good so I approached Fremantle earlier than expected. About 3 kilometres out, a Marine and Harbours boat stopped beside me. The guys on board started questioning me.
“How far do you paddle from the coast?”
“Not far” I said, “usually up to 500m”. At the time I was 3 kms out.
“Do you have flares?” “Where did you come from?”
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve just paddled from Cape Leeuwin and I’m heading for Geraldton.”
“That’s 800 km”, I said.
I think they were impressed, and with the publicity that I had already received, they must have known I was a serious sea canoeist. I had been stopped by Marine and Harbours once before. On that occasion they stopped me and four other guys from paddling back from Rottnest Island because we didn’t have an anchor and line. An anchor would be more of a danger in a kayak but they insisted that the law is the law, so in the end we had to put our kayaks on the ferry and ride back just because of out of date boating rules and regulations that kayaks have to abide by. On this occasion I was choosing my words carefully. The last thing I wanted, was to be stopped paddling up to Geraldton because of some ambiguous piece of law.
I crept away rather proud that I had answered all of their questions in an authoritative manner. Ahead of schedule, I decided to take my time and watch a yacht race that was taking place off Fremantle. If I was too early arriving, the TV cameras might not be there. Publicity was an important part of the trip. I needed sponsorship so with publicity I might achieve some. I was also trying to raise money for An Early Intervention Programme for Autistic Children.
When I arrived at the harbour entrance, Neville Hine was there to paddle in with me. We did a circuit of the harbour but there was no easy landing site so we paddled around to Bathers Beach, near the Old Round House. Fremantle wasn’t bustling as much as it had been when the America’s Cup was being held but the media were out in force to record this important occasion; Channel 9, Channel 2 and the ‘Sunday Times’ were there to greet me. There were a number of cameras clicking and I just didn’t know where to put myself. Where should my hands go? I had no pockets to put them in. Was my nose running? I had no hanky to wipe it. I managed to cope with the interview and so did Jenny who was also interviewed. The excitement soon died down and we were able to pack up and go home.
June 3rd Sunday. Fremantle.
It was my birthday but I had no time to celebrate. I had to do a short paddle from Fremantle to Hillarys. I had made arrangements to meet David, a person I vaguely knew, at Fremantle so we could paddle together. By 9.00am we were heading along the coast and within the hour met two other sea canoeists paddling the other way. Although they knew me fairly well, I had little idea who they were. Sometimes it gets a little embarrassing. People greet me as if I’m a long lost friend and I wonder where I have met them before.
With David having a lighter and faster boat, I was having trouble keeping up with his pace. My fitness was good but my boat was designed for stability rather than speed. As we moved further along the coast, I remembered the time when I was sea canoeing with Jenny and we spotted a large turtle on the trip.
We arrived early at Hillarys so we floated around outside the harbour until our publicised arrival time was due. Mo, who had once been a member of the Ascot Kayak Club, and was a photographer with the ‘West Australian’, was there on the harbour beach to get some shots. The Duke family, Brenda Todd and Jenny were also there to greet me and to take some photos.
Entering Hillaries Boat Harbour.
Although my trip had officially started, I still hadn’t fully organised everything. Back home, I had several last minutes jobs to do, equipment to refine and the vehicle to finish kitting out but I did stop working briefly to cut my birthday cake and to blow out the candles.
June 4th. Hillarys.
Hillarys boat harbour was very quiet when we arrived. The car park was completely empty. I started unloading and before long Channel 10 arrived to film my departure. After an interview, I slid my boat off the sandy beach and into the calm waters of the harbour.
Although Channel 10 thought I would have no more contact with Perth, I was in fact going home that night. I was still too close to home to camp out and I still had things to do. The area was deserted apart from a friend, Megan, and her son Michael who were standing on the end of the jetty. As I passed the jetty, I nodded to Megan and Michael and shouted goodbye.
“There he goes”, I heard Megan say, “Terry is going on a long trip”. “Wave goodbye”. I felt a little sad and paddled silently out of the harbour.
The beaches along the coast were chock-a-block with sea weed. Some areas were metres thick and the smell was revolting. The winter storms had swept the weed ashore but in the summer most of it would be sucked back into the ocean, leaving the beach in a perfect state. Along the coast, new housing estates were popping up all over the place. Soon, houses would be spread as far up as Moore River. Many of the blocks were like deserts, just large sand patches, with not a tree or grass blade left on the building site. It wouldn’t be long though before the area would be transformed into an oasis. It’s amazing what water and a few plants can do.
Eventually I left housing estates and moved into a bushed area with sandy beaches. On the horizon I could see a strange sight shimmering in the heat haze. As I closed in, I could see the outline of an old ship. I moved closer and crept within metres of it, the slight swell rocking part of the steel bulkheads back and forth. The moving steel created sinister noises. You could easily imagine that this was a haunted ship. The ship was called the Alkimos. I passed it by on the seaward side and continued my cruise towards Yanchep and Two Rocks with a mind full of mysterious thoughts.
I pulled into the Two Rocks boat harbour as two fishing boats were motoring in. At once the water became superbly calm as the limestone walls surrounding the harbour shielded it from the unpredictable ocean. I found a small beach in the south easterly corner of the harbour and waited for Jenny who had to finish work before she could pick me up.
June 7th. Two Rocks.
Tim (my other ground crew member) had recently returned from the United States and after a couple of days back in Perth he was ready to take over from John who was having the day off. Tim had been holidaying and attending a massage course. He picked me up from home and by the time we reached Two Rocks it was 10.45 am. By 11.10am I sliced out of the harbour and into a blowy NW wind. For the first 45 minutes I made fairly good progress but then the winds became much stronger. Cray boats were returning to harbour. Either it was too rough or they had finished for the day.
I made radio skeds to Tim and, because he only had a small hand-held receiver, he wasn’t able to reply to my calls. My progress was slow judging by landmarks on shore, and rain squalls associated with stronger wind gusts reduced my speed even further. It was painful paddling and I began to tire but I had no choice but to keep my arms moving or I would be blown back to where I had started from. After the third hour, my destination was still a long way off. I changed paddling tactics – when the wind eased I paddled in hard stints to make some progress. This enabled me to watch the sand dunes slowly move by, an encouragement to keep struggling on. At one point I thought I saw Tim’s car in the distance but it turned out to be a white sand dune.
Approaching the entrance of the Moore River mouth, I could see houses perched on the surrounding hills through the haze and salt spray. The river mouth itself was full of high breakers which had to be avoided at all costs. Wind gusts were severe and I could do little to hold my ground. Searching for Tim’s car, I noticed a flash of lights further north, near the boat ramp. All I had to do now was to try to reach him. By 4.45pm, I had conquered the surf and stood on firm ground trying to combat the howling wind that gusted violently and made it difficult to load the boat on to Tim’s vehicle. It had taken me 5 hours 40 minutes to paddle 15 kms. It should have taken 3 hours. What a marathon effort! Tim then drove me home for my final visit to Perth.
June 8th Moore River.
Tim arrived at 7.10am, ten minutes after I had got out of bed. John stayed the night. This was it. Everything had to be packed into or on top of the landcruiser as we wouldn’t see Perth for another 50 weeks. We were hard-pressed to find room on the roof to fit on the bikes but with a little rearranging and a little patience the vehicle was loaded. Just before we left, Mike dropped by to say farewell. He would be joining us on the Canning Stock Route as our second backup vehicle. Jenny had to go to work. Although it wasn’t our final parting, our farewell was quite emotional. Our time apart was now becoming a reality. Soon we would not see each other for months. By 10.00am we had left. This was really it! My trip from Augusta to Perth had only been a training run; now the real trip had begun.
As we left the city limits at Wanneroo, we stopped at Coles supermarket and bought our essential shopping. This delayed our schedule so by the time we reached Moore River it was 1.00pm. When we returned to the boat ramp, the wind was howling from the west, making the sea extremely rough and very uninviting. I was not impressed so decided not to paddle. Instead we drove to Seabird, Ledge Point and Lancelin to check out the scene. Cray boats hadn’t ventured out; instead they laid at anchor, sheltering from the wind. The reefs that were offshore were a mass of breaking waves and salt spray. It was quite frightening watching the ocean crash down, spilling aerated white water violently along the reef, and knowing that I may be out there the next day.
Back at Moore River, we camped at the deserted caravan park. The winter weather had certainly kept the crowds away. I had nothing better to do that day so I went for a 40 minute jog. I needed to get a bit fitter before reaching the Canning Stock Route.
June 9th Moore River.
There was little wind at 7.00am. I was hopeful that the sea would be calmer. It was, but there was still a huge swell running and a big dumping surf that crashed down on the beach. This is always the most dangerous part of sea kayaking, the departure through the surf or returning to shore. As I sat watching the grey-looking sea, I counted the wave sets and waited for the lull to develop. John, who was barefoot, stationed himself at the stern of my kayak and waited for me to say the magic word. I kept counting but there was no lull in the wave sets. The wind just kept pushing them in continually. Eventually, after sitting there like a stuffed dummy, I shouted to John to push me off.
Within metres I smashed through the first wave. I came to a halt and could see nothing but grey water that slapped in my face but I managed to dig deep and gather momentum as another much bigger wave crashed across my bows. Again I broke through the wall of water and charged on. Another large wave began to form. I increased my speed and narrowly cleared the breaking wave as the kayak became airborne and then plunged downwards with a big flop before clearing the danger zone. With the excitement behind, I sighed with relief as I made good progress on a bouncy sea towards Seabird. As I passed the community of Seabird within 10 km of Ledge Point, a cray boat stopped and warned me about a reef ahead. I was beginning to feel a little concerned when another cray boat stopped and wished me luck.
Within an hour I was among the reefs which were being violently savaged by huge breaking waves. I hoped that the reefs wouldn’t prevent me from landing. The reefs closed in and the breaking waves slamming around me made my passage through them quite scary. When the sun finally filtered from behind the clouds, I found it difficult to see because of the glare and the heat-dried, encrusted salt around my eyes. Gliding through patches of seaweed, I arrived at Ledge Point (2.45pm), talked to a crayfisherman and surfed a small wave into shore. The shallows halted my progress about 15m from the beach, so John, fully clothed, except for his shoes, came splashing out to drag me in.. A crowd of men had gathered on the beach to watch me come in.
We retreated to the local caravan park. It was new, quiet and had a tidy indoor camp kitchen, well laid out and the grass was green, but it was very expensive for a caravan park. Soon after pitching my tent I donned my running shoes and took off along the beach towards Lancelin. I was curious to see the state of the ocean and reefs further north. Soon after tea, heavy rain and strong winds bombarded the campsite and continued all night.
June 10th Sunday. Ledge Point.
I awoke to a gloomy day, heavy showers and gale warnings. It was impossible to paddle – in fact, suicidal. With the long range weather forecast being bleak, I could see that I could lose several days if it didn’t improve. The pressure was on as I needed to be out there paddling. The weather had already cost me time, time that I couldn’t afford to lose if I was to keep on schedule, so I decided to run the next section until the conditions improved. It was a paddle, walk/run, cycle trip around Australia so I didn’t feel too bad.
I returned to the previous day’s pull-out point and started running towards Lancelin via dirt tracks, which took me 1 hour 10 minutes. I caught John at the garage fixing the exhaust bracket. We had lunch and checked the ocean conditions, which were atrocious. The reefs stretching in a semi-circle around Lancelin were being pounded by huge waves. I was glad that I wasn’t at sea.
Huge sand dunes, void of any vegetation, dominated the northern exit of the town. A beach buggy and sand boarders paradise! I ran across the sand dunes on my way out of town. It was quite spectacular and similar to the Sahara desert. I had spent ten days crossing the Sahara desert on a date truck in 1976 and images came floating back to me.
The track north was all dirt with limestone rocks, making it a slow ride for the vehicle. It didn’t bother me on foot. Several tracks intersected the track north, in fact sometimes it was hard to determine which was the right track. The wind was strong and the day was lashed with heavy showers. Running was uncomfortable as my body temperature fluctuated from hot to cold, to dry, to sweaty, to wet.
The country was low and scrubby. Signs on the fences indicated that I was passing through a bombing range. I was now running through an area that felt like a wilderness. By 3.00pm the awful weather had encouraged me to finish the day early. I hadn’t run a long distance for months so I had to take care of my legs. I didn’t want injuries so early in the trip.
We made camp on a dirt clearing. Apart from the sight of a few discarded cans, our camp was perfect. Spiders by their dozens had made their home in the dead wood that was scattered around our camp. At night their eyes lit up in the torch light. John was the main cook, with Tim helping out where-ever he could. So far our team was working well but we still had a long way to go. The evening was cool and windy and the passing clouds frequently blocked out the full moon. We said little and sat back in our deck chairs, rugged up in our warm clothes, listening to country music on the radio.
June 11th. North of Lancelin.
Lighter winds greeted our breakfast time and by 8.40am I had started running in 5 km sections. Tim joined me occasionally as John had done the same the previous day. As the road turned and headed towards the coast, I spotted a red and white tower. Further along, an army guy, barely visible in his camo gear, sat beside the track guarding the entrance to the firing range.
The coast became visible on several occasions but the meandering track kept away from it until I entered the Wedge Island fishing community about 11.30am. Several shacks were dotted along the beach front. Some were quite elegant for shacks, while others were ready to fall down. There was little activity in the community so I continued on, side-stepping huge puddles of water lying in hollows on the community track. The track led me down to the beach and to a point where I could see the wedge-shaped island.
Although the wind had dropped, the ocean was still rough with several lines of breakers buffeting the sandy coast. John and Tim put the vehicle in four-wheel drive and screamed off along the beach. At one point where the sand dunes came very close to the rising tide, John had little room to drive. They disappeared but as I rounded the corner, the vehicle had stopped and was bogged to the axle. Tim sat, with his back to the sand dune, reading the ‘Sunday Times’ while John worked hard to get the vehicle out by digging and collecting seaweed to put under the wheels. Tim looked very relaxed just like he was the king. I found it quite amusing.
Luckily, the beach was covered with foul-smelling seaweed. Once collected, it made a great matting for the wheels. With a little air out of the tyres, the vehicle clawed its way out of the sand bog and successfully motored along the rest of the beach to a dirt track, heading parallel to the coast. The tyres had to be pumped back up to the correct pressure before going any further.
As the rough track wound around, up and over firm sand dunes I passed my first vehicle heading south and after 45 kms on foot and feeling the strain, I arrived at another small shack settlement of Grey. Residents of one shack invited us in for a coffee and to camp the night, an offer we couldn’t refuse.
June 12th. Grey.
For some reason I woke at 4.00am and after that my sleep wasn’t interrupted until rising at 6.45am. The morning brought a slight improvement in the weather and with the reefs being further out to sea it meant that there would be less swell and a calmer sea. The chart showed the reefs straddled at near right angles to the coast, which caused me some concern as I didn’t really know if they would block my route. The only way to find out was to start paddling. It wasn’t long before I felt a little apprehensive as I closed in on the reefs, as huge waves were rearing up and breaking on top of them. They were often hard to see. One minute they were there; the next, when the swell rose, it was all quiet and there were none to be seen.
It was certainly the ideal place for cray fishermen as reefs were abundant and apparently so were the crays. Cray boats were scattered off shore and I would often hear a distant motor or a flash as a window screen reflected the sun. Over on the coast a few kilometres inland, I could see a large sand patch and the Pinnacles. Erosion has left hundreds of sandstone columns, many standing several metres high in this semi-desert area near the coast. They rise up out of the sand in the middle of nowhere. The Pinnacles are one of Western Australia’s premier tourist attractions. When overseas tourists take a trip out to them, they must wonder where on the earth they are going.
Again the weather forecast proved inaccurate. SSW winds had been forecast; instead, they were NW winds, which made it hard going. I had been out of contact with John all morning and when I arrived at Cervantes south beach at noon, he told me his mike had broken. A few quick sandwiches and I was off again.
The sea was pretty rough leaving Cervantes but calmed a little as I approached Hill River which was hard to detect along the sandy shoreline. As I passed a few shacks further north, a family on the beach shouted and clapped as I paddled by. I raised my paddle and waved it. I rounded the last sandy spit before Jurien Bay jetty and surfed a few small waves running across the bar. It was a beautiful evening. The setting sun lit up the clouds in a surreal display of patterns and brilliant colours. Dolphins frolicked around me as I paddled towards the crowded jetty.” What a welcome”, I said to the local reporter who was amongst the crowd. One girl even wanted my hat as a souvenir and some fishermen who were impressed with what I was doing, gave us several fish to cook on the barbecue. For a moment there I felt pretty important.
It was one of those days when the weather was more cooperative, so I was able to clock up 45 kilometres in 9 hours.
June 13th. Jurien Bay.
The jetty was deserted when I left for Green Head. The wind had picked up over-night and the sky was black. Several cray boats worked the bay and one stopped and wished me luck whilst another boat stopped and offered me some crays. I thought it a great idea until I paddled closer to the large boat. A huge swell tossed me around next to the rolling cray boat. I became quite concerned and a little frightened that the boat was going to hit and capsize me. As both boats slopped back and forth, the deckhand threw me a couple of crays. I put them between my legs and hoped that they wouldn’t try walking around the cockpit. The skipper, an elderly Italian I think, was really friendly. In fact, all the cray fisherman had been extremely friendly so far. I had imagined that they would give me a hostile reception. I thought they may think that I was a madman, alone in a small kayak, who might need rescuing.
At North Head, the sea became even rougher. Reefs littered the area, sea spray reeled into the air, and to make matters worse, a rain storm hit and I couldn’t see a thing. I veered around and between reefs and the mainland in visibility that scared me. Through the rain squalls I noticed huts on the mainland only a few hundred metres away. I moved and manoeuvred around the shallows of Sandland Island, which had little water separating it from the mainland. The rain then eased giving me some relief but the wind was strong and annoying. I managed to pass Sandy Point just north of the island, stopped near another cray boat and then endured a long hard slog to Green Head. I arrived at Dynamite Bay at 4.00pm and moved around and through some reefs to a small bay. A women watching me arrive invited Tim, John and me back for a cup of tea. After packing my gear onto and in the vehicle, we drove to her place and enjoyed tea and biscuits over-looking the bay. When the going gets tough you can’t beat the comforts of home.
Tim and John had met a guy called Bob Cooper who had a house in the settlement but he was going to Perth that night. He kindly left his key and told us to make his place our home, but before we attempted to find it our battery failed. We used our spare to get going.
Things were really looking up. We had just enjoyed biscuits and hot drinks; now all we had to do was to let ourselves in some stranger’s house and have crayfish and vegetables for tea. I hadn’t eaten so much crayfish in my life before. I might just get used to this sort of living!
Later that night I walked down to the phone box to give Jenny a call. It was very blustery and raining hard. I rang but the phone was engaged. I waited and rang again and it was still engaged. I returned home, gave it several minutes and walked back to the phone. It was still engaged. I was getting annoyed and wet by this stage but finally I got through.
June 14th. Green Head.
I had a great night’s sleep but it was full of dreams. With the foul weather outside, it was great to have shelter for breakfast. We returned to Dynamite Bay. Huge waves were breaking over the reef that I had easily paddled over the previous day. The day was cold and wet but it didn’t deter some locals from seeing me off. The storm in the night had really stirred the ocean. As I packed, we watched a cray boat pulling in cray pots very close to the reef. It was so close a large wave nearly swept onto the deck, but the skipper powered off just in time.
Leaving the beach, I had two sets of breakers to worry about. The first set was a beach break. They were not threatening but 100m out, the surf was breaking violently on the reef. I knew I had only one chance to get through it, so I waited and watched the breakers. Eventually I noticed a lull, plucked up the courage and paddled for dear life. As I got nearer to the reef, small waves started curling. These weren’t a problem but others were building up beyond them. It took me ages to reach the main reef and just as I was about to clear it, a huge wave came beaming towards me. For a moment I thought I was a goner but I managed to keep the power on and clear the towering wave before it broke. My boat became airborne. It was over 2 metres from the water on the seaward side of the wave. I slid off the wave and plunged, hitting the water with such force it sounded like a clap of thunder. The hull vibrated and water shot from both sides of the kayak. Thank god it had been constructed strongly. That was great, I hoped Tim captured that on video!
It was a relief to be clear of the reefs, although it seemed that my troubles were only just beginning. The swell from the security of shore looked nothing but once over the reef it was huge and all I could see were kilometre after kilometre of breaking waves battering the reefs that circled me. I was now in the big league, danger at its max. I felt very intimidated by the huge swell. I could see little of what was happening on shore because of the breakers blocking my way and I could not see a route through the mass of breakers ahead. Once down in the trough of a big swell, I saw nothing but water and was trapped in a world of my own. I paddled over to a cray boat that was hiding behind a reef. I asked the skipper which was the best route through.
“I don’t think there is one, it’s really rough out here today”, he said. He didn’t have to tell me that, I was rising and falling up to 4 metres. I moved on, heading north towards the breakers. It was scary, I could not see a way through. Being so low in a kayak and being in a trough much of the time meant that my true perspective was obscured. The further I moved north the more the reefs surrounded me and I convinced myself I had no chance of making it. It was a suicidal mission. With that in mind, the risk was too great; I really wanted to live another day. I turned my boat and headed south from where I had come. Relief flowed through my body at that split second, I was going home and not into the unknown. I knew I had made the right decision. I was sure there must have been a way through but I would find it another day, I was out of there!
Close to my put in point, I radioed John. “Is there a way in?” I called.
“Yes, I think so”, he replied, so I left my radio on to hear his directions. The swell was enormous and all I could see, as I looked towards shore, was a wall of water and a huge splash of breaking waves. I just couldn’t see a way in. John and Tim said, yes there is a way in, but all I could see in front were breakers, and a swell racing up behind me on the verge of breaking. I felt pretty anxious. All I needed was one wave to topple me on the exposed reef and that could be it. I checked towards the shore one more time and then turned tail and chickened out. Although I had faith in John’s judgement, the distance between the breakers and John was several hundred metres. Maybe they looked small to him but it was different from where I was sitting.
I paddled away from the surf break towards the open sea to decide my fate. I couldn’t go on. I didn’t want to go through the breakers so the only sensible thing to do was to paddle back south, go round the reefs near the point and paddle ashore in the shelter of the bay. Before taking off, I radioed John to tell him my plan and paddled slowly southwards. A crayboat stopped, I asked for advice but the skipper wouldn’t commit himself about the way north through the reefs. At that point I only had one thing in my mind and that was to thread my way back through the smaller reefs and touch firm ground.
John and Tim were parked high on the point as I made my way through the last reefs, surfed several large swells and then entered the security of the bay. I landed at the boat ramp on a patch of heavy sea-weed. John and Tim and a few onlookers were there. I spoke of my concern and they too were anxious. So I had paddled several kilometres north, several kilometres south and had ended up being further away from my target than I had been the previous day. That’s progress.
A fisherman at the ramp told me, that if I put in 3 kilometres north of there, the reefs extending off shore created a calmer sea and it would be safe to paddle. That sounded good, but I felt I was cheating myself if I didn’t paddle it. I had no time to judge if I was right or wrong, but all I knew was that another day or two lost would set me further behind schedule. I ran the 3 kilometres, found the calm bay inside the reefs with a few shacks, 3 cray boats at anchor, and had lunch. It was hard to believe it was the same day, the same ocean, it was so calm inside the reefs. I soon passed the township of Leeman, assisted by the SW winds. Showers then developed followed by a very heavy rain storm. The reefs started to crowd me again, breakers heavily bombarding them on my seaward side. The rainstorm increased in intensity. The now smooth ocean had huge droplets pounding it, creating craters and rings on its surface and a stinging sensation on my bare skin. My visibility was reduced to 100 metres but amongst the precipitation I noticed a seal playing near the coast.
I was pretty cold, especially my neck, when I reached a small settlement of Koolimba. No sooner had I hit the beach when a four wheel scooter and beach buggy came roaring towards me. As the scooter slid sideways around a small bend in the sand track, the rear wheel clipped my rudder and bent it. Steve (the driver) and his band of friends greeted me with enthusiasm. They thought my bent rudder was a big joke. At this stage I just thought of them as hill-billies and I wasn’t sure what they would do next. With wide grins on their faces and friendly tone to their voices, they invited us over to their shack with an offer of a shower. We made ourselves at home. Two women were also there. They seemed to be servants to the men. Swearing among the group was common and beer was flowing quite freely. Nevertheless they were a friendly bunch with kind hearts.
The topic about sharks and crocodiles came up. It usually does when I tell people where I have paddled. I couldn’t help resist to tell them a story or two;
October 1982 – Voltaire Pass The Kimberley
I had been paddling around the Kimberley coast for 80 days before I was hit by my first shark. As the days past I was hit twice more and followed by sharks everyday. Then one day I thought my time was up:
It struck me with the power of a bull. My kayak was lifted and I was thrown off balance. I quickly regained my composure and turned to see the large shark that had just rammed my rear left side.
I was horrified, the shark was at least 3.5 feet across, but I couldn’t determine it’s great length as it faded under the ocean. Oh no! There were two! A six footer looking like a midget compared with the other, was directly behind my rudder. I stopped. The closest land was about 3 km away. I needed to get there but dashing off could make my position worse. As I powered forward again a large shape suddenly came into view. The big beast was leading the field. I braced myself for the worst but nothing happened.
The waiting game was nerve racking. I knew the shark could easily overturn me. Would I have time to Eskimo roll? My chances were slim, I imagined them going into a frenzy and ripping me apart as I capsized.
I couldn’t bear it, the thought made me shudder and a cold rush ran down my spine. For some reason I immediately stopped to put my helmet on. I attempted fastening the buckle with one shaking hand, my other was firmly grasping on the paddle keeping my kayak stable. I waited and looked around and the sharks were gone so I continued my journey across the bay to land and reassess my situated on a very remote sandy beach.
By the time I finished telling my story my audience was excited and started telling me some of their stories. Not to be beaten I then told a crocodile story.
June 1988 – Collier Bay.
Bleary eyed from the glare, trickling sweat and stinging salt, Ewen and I had paddled hour after hour. I had been rammed by a shark that morning so it was a pleasure to be close to a small island where we could rest. Exhausted, we paddled in silence, slowly creeping towards a semi-circular pebbly beach. Suddenly, with no warning there was an enormous splash close to Ewen’s boat. I glanced over and was confronted with the most chilling sight. The open jaws of a crocodile was gripping the stern of his kayak. “Croc”, I bellowed. Ewen let out a shout of terror and accelerated as the croc held fast. The croc dropped off but the respite was short lived, moments later it exploded from the water and struck again, its open jaws bent on crushing the kayak. It was terrifying and I was helpless to assist my friend. The predator’s jaws were locked around his kayak’s stern. It lifted its head high out of the water arched its back and tried desperately to put the kayak in a death roll. Fear was shaking my body, I was icy cold and my heart raced out of control. Ewen, who must have been super terrified never looked back, his arms pumped like windmills and as the seconds ticked by the croc lost its grip. He never stopped paddling to discuss the event until being two kilometres from the scene.
Pretty impressed with what I had experienced, they offered us a friend’s shack to kip down in and the use of the telephone to ring Jenny. Soon after, they demonstrated a drag race around the sand track in their beach buggy – very impressive but I was glad I wasn’t in it.
For tea we sat down to crayfish and a can of beer, and watched the video that Tim had been taking of our trip.
June 15th. Koolimba.
I had an excellent night’s sleep, with no dreams this time. We cleaned the hut after breakfast, thanked Steve and his mates and walked down to the kayak. I was just about to leave the beach when a Suzuki four wheel drive with Steve and crew aboard zoomed along the sand track and straight onto and up to the end of the wooden jetty. Their yahooing even happens in the early morning! While they dangled a line from the jetty they had plenty to say, most of it joking around. They were really fascinated with my spray cover, which dangled down from my waist to my knees. ‘Captain Hugemungus’ they started chanting.
The morning was beautiful. It was calm in the bay, the jetty and my kayak reflecting beautifully in the water. I took off, with the lads shouting and chanting obscenities and jokes. Twenty metres out I tested my radio. It was working fine so I said my goodbyes and headed out of the bay, passing their cray boat on the way. As the kayak slid through the calm water, I could still hear their chanting over two hundred metres out.
From the deep of the blue, two dolphins surfaced and escorted me a short distance out of the bay. Every now and then shacks fronted the coast. Near Knobby Head, two young guys came speeding towards me in their dinghy to have a word. They were intrigued as they didn’t usually see kayaks along this coast. Fewer than a handful of people had paddled this way.
At Nobby Head the road ran close to the coast and Tim and John were waiting on a dirt road next to a shack. They had made friends with a lady from Northern Ireland and her Kiwi husband. A picnic table and chairs were perched on the beach, with a huge picnic lunch awaiting my arrival. We also had other visitors, two fishermen and a truck driver who were collecting their catch. It was quite pleasant, sitting there watching the calm ocean. I felt quite rich and famous as people waited on me. I stole an hour for lunch, signed Tom’s (the skipper of cray boat) visitor’s book and slipped away with a full stomach.
Further along the coast where a navigation light was positioned on a hill, I passed a good anchorage point, with several boats at anchor. As I skirted the boats, a cray boat entering the anchorage stopped to have a word. The skipper was quite excited as he had read about me in the paper.
The calm weather made the day drag out. There was no fight in the sea, and I became a little bored. By late afternoon I was entering the locality of Cliff Head. I moved into the picturesque cliff-lined bay which was flanked by houses and shacks. One of the friendly locals gave us an old shack to use for the night. I camped on a lawn overlooking the sea and with the sun now shining and my washing on a line, the afternoon and the locality felt perfect. With time to spare, Tim and I went for a 52 minute run. Tim is in really good shape for a man of 58 years. I hope I’m as fit as that at his age. He still runs marathon races. He enjoys going over to the US to run the Boston marathon, which is his favourite.
That night I drove into Dongara to pick up Jenny. It was going to be our last meeting and final farewell. Several months apart were now looming so we had to try to cram everything into this weekend but with me paddling most of the day that wasn’t going to be possible.
June 16th. Cliff Head.
The reefs north of Cliff Head were further out to sea and spread apart so this allowed the swell to build up, but all in all the conditions were good. After a cray boat stopped for a chat at Sandy Point I saw no more boats until Dongara. I had been paddling 5 hours before closing in on Dongara harbour. For the last few kilometres, through the haze, I was intrigued with the sight of a yacht which appeared to be on its side. Tiredness and the scorching sun had me wondering whether I was actually seeing things, but as I paddled closer I could see that the yacht had drifted onto the reef just outside the harbour. I thought it may have just happened so I was planning a rescue attempt in my mind just in case the crew needed help. Breakers pounded the yacht moving it back and forth. It didn’t have much chance of surviving on the reef and it would be an extremely difficult and costly exercise to get it off.
There were a couple of surfers surfing the wave next to it. They waved me over but I didn’t fancy ending up on the reef my-self so waved back and carried on around the reef and into the harbour channel. As I rounded the harbour groyne two women clapped their hands and gave me words of encouragement. Jenny and Tim were also there giving me directions to the vehicle.
We had lunch over-looking the glassy harbour before retiring to the camping site. Because it was only 2.30pm, John, Jenny and I decided to drive to the S Bend caravan park, tomorrow’s destination, to see if we could get close to the ocean to check out a suitable and safe landing spot. Tim had to stay at camp as there was only room for three in the vehicle. There were very few reefs along this section of the coast which allowed the swell to build and bigger surf to develop. The coast was also bordered with rocky reef, which meant that landing was at its most dangerous.
The owner of the caravan park was extremely helpful. He even drove us to the beach in his four-wheel drive. We checked three spots. The first two were dicey but at Lucy’s Beach it looked possible. As the 4 x 4 grunted up the sandy track, my mind was now at rest. Although conditions could change overnight at least I knew it was possible to land. On return to camp we showered and went to the pub. We met Lisa from Channel Ten who was there on an assignment to capture me coming into Geraldton harbour. Fancy coming all this way by chopper to see me!
June 17th Sunday. Dongara.
We were cuddled together when we awoke. It had been a cold night but my schedule didn’t allow for us to lie in. At the harbourside, Jenny helped me dress into my canoeing clothes. Despite the beautiful sunny motionless morning it was still cold at 7.50am when I paddled out of the harbour to the faint sound of cray boats working in the far distance. The yacht, still stuck on the reef, was being pounded by a smaller surf.
For the first ten kilometres the beach that was fronted by some reef was popular with fishermen in their four-wheel drive vehicles. A drumming noise made by the surf hitting the hollow ledges of the reef fronting the beach made an eerie sound. The pitch of the noise continually changed as I moved north passed slab rock and within a day’s paddle from Geraldton.
I reached Lucy’s beach about 3.00pm and the gang were there to greet me. There was also a pretty big surf running so I waited well outside the break for some time, checking to see any lull in the waves. I could see a short channel between two reefs that had the least surf. The reefs became exposed at times so I had to be careful to keep clear of them. As I paddled through the narrow gap, the surf smashing down on the reef beside me was quite intimidating. I soon quickened my pace, checking over my shoulder at times, watching for the surf to creep up. I had a dream run in, no hassles, little anxiety, and a perfect beach landing.
Ready to leave Port Denison.
John had the vehicle parked on the hill about 130 metres away. It was parked in some very soft sand so when we wanted to leave we had a few problems. Eventually we were free and back at the S Bend caravan park in no time. A cold water pipe had burst so I showered with only hot water but it was too hot to be pleasant.
June 18th. S Bend.
It was a month after Jenny’s birthday and nearly a month since starting the trip. It had also been our last night together. It had been a cold night and an extremely cold morning. We were cuddled up together, tightly embracing and didn’t want to move. We were snug, warm, content and deep down we were both sad. Our time together had almost come to an end. We didn’t want to get up. What would happen in the months ahead was not known but at least for the time being, I wasn’t heading into crocodile country and any really dangerous areas. We would be able to talk on the phone or radio phone at least weekly or at the very least every three weeks.
When I’d explored the Kimberley in 1982 Jenny did not worry about the dangers I faced. She trusted me and had confidence that I would get out of any situation. However that confidence was shattered in 1983 when I was kayaking around the Kimberley coast from Wyndham to Mitchell Plateau. The Wyndham police rang her one night and asked her if she knew of my where-a-bouts. “Have you heard from Terry”?, the Sergeant said.
” No”, Jenny replied. From that point Jenny started worrying. Before I left Wyndham the police had asked me for an itinerary. I gave them one and we agreed to allow five days grace. Six days before I was due to arrive at Mitchell Plateau, the police rang Jenny. That meant they had reacted eleven days too soon. Days later after that phone call from the police, Jenny had another scare one evening when she’d opened the door to find a policeman outside. Immediately Jenny thought he had come to tell her that I’d been killed. Relief quickly followed when he informed her that there had been a murder in the area and they would like to park in the driveway. However, she had to wait another seven days to find out if I was all right.
By 8am we were back at Lucy’s beach. The surf was a little worse than the day before but there was a good narrow channel close to the reef that would let me out into the big blue ocean.
My boat was placed close to the spilling water. The noise from the surf was deafening. Jenny and I stood clutching and hugging each other on the beach. Goodbyes! What do you say to make that final goodbye a success? Saying too much could lead to saying the wrong thing. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing today. I wanted it to be an amicable and loving farewell. A wrong word said by either of us would linger in our minds for months. We hugged and kissed more. I could smell Jenny’s perfume; it remained in my clothes all day. A wave broke and the water circled our feet. It was time to go. We parted and I silently dragged the boat closer to the water’s edge and paddled off.
As I crossed the reef it was so shallow, I could see the barnacles below me. I prayed the surf would keep at bay until I was clear and in the deeper water. When it was safe, I pointed my bow north and stopped and checked the radio. “This is Mermaid, this is Mermaid, come in Redbeard”, I announced.
“This is Redbeard, this is Redbeard”, John replied.
“Could I speak to Jenny, please Redbeard”. There was silence. I waited.
“Come in Mermaid, Jenny is too upset to talk, over”. I paddled on feeling sad and suddenly very lonely. For four weeks I had been paddling but in that time I knew that I would see Jenny again. This was different now I wouldn’t see her for several months.
I watched the 4 x 4 grind its way up the sand track. Suddenly it disappeared over the sand dune and I was alone. At that point I couldn’t imagine that we wouldn’t see each other for months but our parting was final. The smell of Jenny’s perfume stayed with me. I treasured it, and reminisced.
The wind had picked up from the NE making my journey to Cape Burnie a strenuous one. At this point I radioed John and Tim. They told me that Jenny had caught the bus back to Perth. Reefs lined the last few kilometres into Geraldton and I wasn’t quite sure which side to paddle. If I went to the inside I might get trapped, so I kept to the outside. By this time the wind had eased, giving me a much easier paddle to my final canoeing destination. The sound of cray boats filtered across the ocean. Dolphins passed by and they disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
The sound of a chopper approaching interrupted my steady rhythm. I glanced around and saw the Channel Ten chopper heading towards me. I couldn’t believe it. All this way from Perth to capture me on TV! It circled and hung around for at least 15 minutes. With revitalised energy, I plugged on towards Point Moore and the lighthouse. I radioed John to find out the quickest and best way in but he was off the air. I decided to keep to the outside of the reef. Soon afterwards I got John on the radio and he told me the film crew was waiting, I had to hurry as they wanted to get the film back to Perth for that night’s news. I had no chance of taking a short cut because the reefs were blocking my way. The power in my paddle became stronger with the urge to finish my trip. Come on Terry, the TV is waiting, I uttered to myself. Finally the barrier of reefs, which had made my trip longer, ceased. I was then able to paddle without interruption towards the town beach at speed that made my shoulders ache.
They were all there waiting, John, Tim, two TV camera crews, the ABC radio and the local paper. What a feast I had! I haven’t had that much attention for ages.
When the hysteria had died down it was time to find one of John’s friends, Kate. She and her two sons had offered to put us up while we stayed in Geraldton. It was great to have the run of a house and get ready for the next part of my journey – a cycle to Wiluna and the Canning Stock Route.
June 19th. Geraldton.
It was a busy day with the media. Reports of my trip were on the morning ABC radio news and 6GE radio news. I had an interview with ABC radio and two interviews with 6GE radio, a recorded one and later a live interview. Also that morning someone rang and asked me to give a slide presentation of my Kimberley trips. My arrival into Geraldton was also captured on the evening TV news and the local paper. The people of Geraldton certainly knew that I had arrived.
Along the way from Augusta my vehicle had sat low to the ground because of the heavy load in it and the weak springs, so I decided the springs just had to replaced before continuing our journey. We had a lot of rough sandy desert driving ahead of us. The guys at the spring place were great. They gave me a good price of $700, so I wasted no more time booking it in. While we were in the light industrial area I also bought a new battery to replace the dodgy one.
About 8.00pm we met Greig Quayle, the journalist who had interviewed me three times so far. He showed us a couple of good drinking spots, although none of us were drinkers. He was very enthusiastic about my trip; in fact, he was a very enthusiastic person all round. He was great to be with.
June 20th. Geraldton.
Kate picked us up from the spring place and after returning home we drove to her friend’s house to pick up some Amway supplies. She was right into Amway. It was a real religion and she couldn’t stop talking about it. John, Tim and I were not convinced of the scheme. We tried to shy away from any deep and meaningful conservations about the subject, but it was pretty hard. Although we found it difficult to understand why people sell Amway, Kate was a great person to be with, very genuine and kind.
Before leaving Perth, I had been sucked in by someone selling Amway. I was giving a slide presentation at a walking club and at the finish a guy came over, gave me his card and said he had to rush, but he might be able to help with sponsorship. The card had the word ‘entrepreneur’ on it. I imagined that he was a big businessman who had money to give away. A week a so later he got in contact with me and we arranged to meet at my place. When he came around, he said he couldn’t stop because he had made arrangements to meet some of his business colleagues. He said if I went along they may also be able to help.
We jumped in to his car, which was a bit of a wreck, and he drove at speeds above the speed limit towards a destination he had kept to himself. I was now getting a little suspicious as he was telling me nothing about who we were about to meet. He was driving like a maniac and the old bomb didn’t really go with the entrepreneur image. He parked his car in Subiaco, and we walked at a swift pace towards a hall flowing over with people. He introduced me to a few of his colleagues and we sat down waiting for a speaker to commence. By this stage I had just about worked out what was going on. The fact was, I had been conned to come to a Amway business meeting. Being the good natured person that I am, I sat through all the speeches. There were hundreds of enthusiastic people there listening to the dribble. The speeches certainly didn’t encourage me to join the band of followers but there were certainly a lot of other people sucked in. I am now very suspicions about people who talk about the business.
Later that day I took my touring bike in for a service. The mechanic had problems with the bearing so we left it with him and continued to shop. As we passed the health store in the town arcade, near the post office, the owner recognised me from the ‘telly’ so she treated me to a free ice cream. The Kleenheat shop was next as we needed another gas bottle and new prickers. The owner also recognised me and gave them to me. The generosity and friendliness of the town folk was overwhelming. I was somewhere in the clouds feeling really happy about the trip and our stay in Geraldton.
June 21st. Geraldton still.
John took the vehicle to get the exhaust fixed. It didn’t go too well so he was delayed. I was anxious because I wanted to move on that day. When he returned we motored to the bike shop to see how my bike repairs were going. The guy gave me good and bad news. The good news was that it was fixed; the bad news was that the crank couldn’t be serviced again because something unrepairable had stuffed up. After spending so much money in Geraldton I decided, after seeing a slick, lighter road bike, that I would exchange mine and buy the slicker machine. I got $150.00 for my bike and paid $500.00 for a lightweight Repco bike. I left the store happy with my decision.
The vehicle also had starter problems. There was always a one or two second delay before the motor would fire, so we took it to an electrician but he failed to cure the problem.
On our way home we stocked up with fruit and vegetables. We bought 30 kg of apples at 29 cents a kilogram. What a bargain! With it being late in the day, although I felt guilty about not moving on, I decided to stay another night. Back at Kate’s place we packed the vehicle and ordered pizza for our last night in the big smoke.
June 22nd. Geraldton.
I was itching to get moving as the few days spent in Geraldton whilst pleasant had begun to interfere with the rhythmic flow to my trip. I just had to get going. From now on I would only pass through small towns and villages until reaching Alice Springs 3000 kms away.
I powered away from the house towards the town beach on my brand new second-hand bike. On arrival, I walked the bike across the beach and dipped the wheels in the Indian ocean. John and Tim took photos of the momentous occasion and at the stroke of 9.00am I left the beach and headed towards Meekatharra.
From out of the kayak and onto the bike.
I dipped my wheel into the ocean before heading to Wiluna and the Canning Stock Route.
As I left the town, struggling against a strong easterly wind, the gearing on the bike felt much too high for my fitness. I hadn’t really done much cycle training for seven months so I felt the strain as I climbed the hills. I rang Darryl at the bike shop just as I passed the town’s last telephone box and he said he would change the gearing for me. However, I first had to catch up with Tim and John who were well ahead somewhere. As the kilometres flew by, I wondered if I would ever catch up with the boys. At the 30 kilometre mark, Tim was waiting. John was further ahead on my mountain bike.
After having lunch, Tim and John drove back into town with my new bike to get the sprockets changed. Meantime I continued on my much slower mountain bike. We were reunited at Mullewa, 100 kilometres from Geraldton where we had a quick stop. With a population of 800 people, two hotels and a caravan park, it looked rather a sleepy town. I had no records to break, so after completing another 20 kilometres we stopped and camped.
June 23rd. East of Mullewa.
It had been chilly in the night and even when I peddled off at 8.20am my fingers felt slightly frost bitten. I stopped every 20 kilometres for a quick break. I was now picking up the pace and getting into a rhythm, although my shoulders and neck were aching from the low cycling position and the cold wind. The bike was kitted out with triathalon bars and elbow pads. It made me feel more like ‘a real’ cyclist. About 30 kilometres from Yalgoo we had lunch, and then John and Tim motored into the small town. John had worked in the town for six months so he had some friends to visit. I caught up with them in Yalgoo, and in 25 minutes I had a cup of soup, an ice cream, an orange juice and I sold a Kimberley magazine.
Tim and John went ahead and made camp. I was so occupied with my thoughts on that last section I nearly missed the camp.
June 24th. Sunday. East of Yalgoo.
The wind in the night had been howling constantly and it was still going strong when I awoke. We clutched our breakfast bowls, rugged up from the bitter cold. I took off against the strong easterlies. Dead roos had been splattered at frequent intervals along the route. The large vehicles of the night made sure the roos stood no chance of survival as long blood trails and roo pieces left a semi-permanent imprint in the tarmac. The road also became a nature trail as sheep and emus roamed the black top and wedge-tail eagles hovered overhead, waiting and diving on roo carcasses whenever it was safe to do so.
My progress against the buffeting winds was quite slow, 20 kilometres an hour. I had an enormous chill around my shoulders and my feet were icy cold. It was hard to believe I was heading towards the tropics.
After eating lunch, my energy was boosted as I climbed the last hill before Mt Magnet, where the township and mines dotted before me. I powered in, getting off at cattle grids to save my bike wheels from destruction. Tim and John were having words with Doug Cook who rode a Guzzi motor bike. He had been following my adventures in the media and was happy to buy a magazine. Doug knew Paul Caffyn, the New Zealand paddler who had paddled around Australia. He had worked with him at a gold mine. After selling another magazine, I telephoned Jenny, who was not on the phone for a change and then tried, but failed to get some chocolate from the fish shop, so I moved out of town. I felt the need for junk food when I was cold and weary to give a boost in my energy supplies.
The bitumen road north was only a single highway with wide gravel shoulders for passing. It was of a poor construction for one of the main highways heading north and I met more cars in 45 minutes on this dusty stretch of highway than I had all day. I resented having to move off the bitumen onto the gravel when I met them, as the risk of a puncture increased considerably. We made camp 15 kms out of town.
June 25th. Near Mt Magnet.
It was minus 4 degrees and frosty at 6.45am when I dragged myself out of bed. There was a cold strong wind blowing, which apart from slowing my progress on the narrow road, also cut through my clothes, chilling my bones. At 9.30am I noticed another bike in front so I quickened my pace. Within minutes I had caught up with Aba Balestero on his heavily-laden bike. Aba was from Spain and exploring the world by bicycle. John and Tim soon caught up, so we all stopped for a chat and filled Aba with food. On the front of his bike he had a roo’s tail. We asked him about it and he said that when-ever he found a fresh dead roo that had been run over by a truck, he would cut off its tail and cook it for his tea. It was one way of keeping his expenses down!
I caught up with Aba who had a much heavier bike than me.
At 12 noon we rode into the old mining town of Cue together. I had found it hard to go Aba’s pace as he was so slow owing to his heavy bike. He looked around town while we visited and had coffee with a friend of John’s. John worked in Cue some time before. We had lunch in the main street, surrounded by old buildings, before I moved out of town to the Nallan Station turn off. John knew the station owners so we were invited to stay at the station that night. It was going to be a short day but the opportunity for John to see old friends couldn’t be missed. The station owners looked familiar. I just knew that I had met them before, but couldn’t place where from. After talking for a while and finding out that they once lived at Kojonup, I then realised that I had worked for David and April Paterson in 1973, on their sheep farm that they managed. Nearly 20 years had passed and they had no memories of my being there, or living in the same house.
I had been working in the Kimberley just prior to moving down to Kojonup as the assistant farm manager for the Australian Cattle Company in Camballin. The cattle station also had a large sorghum irrigation farm which created feed for fattening the cattle. In fact it was a huge station, with huge hopes, huge tractors, huge machinery and a huge debt. It had American financial backing and was run by Jack Fletcher, an American who had a vision that was soon shattered. I loved it for it’s remoteness and the fact the country was hot, harsh, demanding, beautiful, and sincerely typically Australian. I also enjoyed being with the Aborigines who hunted and fished with great results. They often caught Saw fish 6-7 feet long and large sharks, in the Fitzroy river 80 kms from the ocean. I also took up bareback horse and bull riding. In the wet season, when the river basin flooded, I spent a lot of time in a helicopter being flown around the irrigation paddocks checking the crops and making sure the levy banks were holding. Most didn’t. The floods created millions of dollars of damage. Crops were destroyed, channels broke their banks and all had to be re-shaped after the wet. Eventually the floods won out. The company was working on borrowed time and borrowed money. Jack Fletcher’s dreams were grand but the weather was still master. When our wages started being delayed I knew it was time to move on before things got worse. And they did.
We made ourselves comfy in a cottage just across from David and April’s homestead. It was ideal and we were able to catch up with our washing and odd jobs. Later we joined David and April for a yarn. They told us how the drought was crippling the wool industry. Sheep were going to die in their thousands. Their property was 100 square miles. Now that was some property! They were looking at other alternatives from sheep, to earn some additional cash, and tourism fitted the bill. David hadn’t changed much from when I knew him. He still liked a drink or two.
June 26th. Nallan Station.
The comfortable bed gave me a perfect night’s sleep and the warmth of our cottage at breakfast was welcoming but the comfort of home was short lived. I climbed on top of the vehicle with bike in hand and John drove me to the major road where I had finished the previous day’s cycle. The wind whistling around me was so cold that I felt like returning to the warm cottage.
Several kilometres later, the Tuckanarra Roadhouse was a welcome sight. The cold weather had me longing for food, especially chocolate. I handed over an amount of money in exchange for a Mars Bar, a Cherry Ripe, some chips and some postcards. I left the warmth of the roadhouse with some reluctance. Within 6 kilometres I once again had Aba in my sights. I had been wondering where he would be. He was off his bike again, this time cutting off the tail of another kangaroo. He greeted me with a knife in one hand and a kangaroo tail in the other. He tied the tail on his handle bar rack as if it was the natural thing to do. I offered him an apple and biscuit and we talked for a while. It was still cold and time for me to say goodbye. I had cycled about 80 kms in awful, strong winds before John and Tim caught up. I had been yearning for food.
As I passed through a mine area, the road was narrow and the trucks passing me came very close to running me off the road. By 3.00pm I arrived in Meekatharra. We stopped at the Royal Flying Doctor Base and met Eddie Logan, the radio operator. He invited us to spend the night at his quarters. We were very thankful for the comforts of Eddie’s place and his hospitality. He was a happy-go-lucky bloke with a big heart. As we walked towards the Commercial Hotel for tea at 7.00pm, Aba was just pedalling his way into town. Leaving his bike in the main street, he joined us for tea. I was so ravenous I ate a porterhouse steak and a lasagne meal.
June 27th. Meekatharra.
I didn’t want to carry unnecessary weight on the vehicle along the Canning Stock Route, so I negotiated with Key Transport to take my kayak to Halls Creek. Once I’d caught up with the right guy, a deal was struck. I would supply them with two cartons of beer and they would get my kayak to Halls Creek. It was one of the better deals I had negotiated and I sold three magazines to the workers as well. As we prepared to leave the yard, the car failed to start. I had been having trouble with the starter for years and no matter how many times I took it to a garage it was never fixed. We started it the usual way which was to place a screwdriver across the solenoid. Having starting problems along the Canning Stock Route could be fatal so I felt it necessary to try another mechanic. The first mechanic said it was the starter relay. I had heard that before and it hadn’t helped the last time so I visited another. The second guy was a real mechanic and pretty confident that he knew the problem.
“I fix Toyotas at the mines all the time. Its sounds like the points in the solenoid,” he said. We took the starter out and within 10 minutes he had fixed it. From that point on it never failed again. What a relief! Compared with the importance of the repair work the cost to me was minimal. I felt like giving him a lot more than he charged, but I came to my senses. I needed all the money I had.
At 5.15pm we walked to the Commercial hotel to have a big lasagne meal that cost only $3.00. What a bargain! We also met the publican, Steve Jones. He was into triathalons and worked for the heart foundation. He also had a partnership in the pub but he didn’t really enjoy the work. We had a very interesting talk. Steve bought 2 magazines and gave me a $50 donation.
June 28th. Meekatharra.
It was toast and muesli for breakfast. Aba, who had also stayed with us at the base, looked at my mountain bike in disgust and insisted it needed a service right there and then. Not the sort of thing I wanted to hear when I was ready to move off to Wiluna. Not wanting to upset this professional, unemployed bike mechanic who collects roo tails as a hobby, I let him loose with a spanner. Within the hour, my bike was in a much better condition. I said my goodbyes to Eddie and Aba. Aba was heading north and I was going east, so I was confident we would not cross paths again.
Aba giving my bike a quick tune-up.
I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen Tim Macartney-Snape and his wife Ann, (who lived in Meekatharra) before I left but they were away at the time. Ann, a doctor by profession worked with the Royal Flying Doctor service and Tim was working on a book and getting ready for his ultimate expedition, a walk from the sea to the summit of Mt Everest.
The cold and cloudy day got much worse when the bitumen road stopped 4 km out of town. I was left with a heavily corrugated track that had several speeding trucks that caused mini dust storms when they past. To my surprise I was only able to average just over 10kms an hour. By nightfall my bum had taken a pounding and I had only covered 85 kms.
June 29th. East of Meekatharra.
It sounded like heavy rain hitting the tent in the night so I scrambled out and took my clothes bag off the car roof. The rain was pretty light though and hardly enough to settle the dust. The morning clouds formed a spectacular sky as well as creating a warmer morning.
When I moved off I had 98 kms of corrugated road to go but within 4 kms a grader levelling the gravel allowed me to make faster progress on the vastly improved surface. There was also no wind so the conditions were in my favour. A police van passed me a couple of times but the trucks left me showered with red dust. Dead roos and goats littered the track – Aba would have been in his element here.
After I passed the shire border sign the track deteriorated once again, lowering my speed and jolting my body. A few beautiful creeks helped me to think of other things and forget the physical discomfort.
I arrived in Wiluna just before 3.00pm. It was hard not to notice drunk Aborigines sprawled out all over town. It was a sad and sorry sight. We topped the fuel tank up at the last fuel station before reaching our fuel drum 800 kms along the Canning. I rang ABC radio and informed them of my plans and then visited the police station to do likewise.
We moved to the campsite which was quite deserted, pitched the tent and rested.
June 30th. Wiluna.
Throughout the night we could hear the chanting of the Aborigines. Wiluna is one of those towns that has a drink problem. Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Laverton are other small towns that have a similar problem. The local pub had bars inside the window, with a gap in them big enough to hand over the money and the drinks. It also had two drinking bars, one for the local Aborigines and one for all other people.
We drove out to Lake Violet, a refuge for several black swans. A mining concern was also in the area. Then it was to the orange farm to buy enough oranges to keep us going for a week or two. We were greeted by Kiwi, Kevin Murphy and his wife. We bought a box of the Desert Gold oranges for $10 and then he gave us another box for good luck. He told us that the farm had been deteriorating over the last few years and he had received a grant to build it up again.
Back in town, I phoned Bill Shepherd in Newman to make sure that our fuel for the second half of the Stock Route was going to be at the half way mark. I also phoned the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper and Jenny.
As I left the small town of Wiluna, I felt sad about its social problems but also glad to move on. At 11.15 am, and with a Mars Bar in hand, I started my run from the post office. It was like running into nowhere. Only the desert was ahead of me – no towns, no service stations, nothing for 1600 kilometres. Having been injured for so long, having done virtually no running for months, I wondered how I was going to cope. I needed to average about 60 kilometres a day to keep on schedule. Would my legs stand up to the test? I knew if I could conquer the next 1600 kms, I would have no problems completing the rest of the trip.
The Canning Stock route is a rough track that meanders north through very remote, inhospitable country from Wiluna to the East Kimberley area. The East Kimberley area was settled by cattlemen in the 1880’s. They travelled thousands of kilometres from all over Australia to open up the country and establish cattle stations. Soon after, the station owners needed to find a way of getting their cattle to the markets and the population in the south. It was in 1906 that the State Secretary for Mines, H.S. King appointed Alfred Canning and an eight man team to survey a route from Wiluna north to the Kimberley region in the hope of establishing a stock route. He returned in 1908 to construct forty-eight wells, two tanks and other watering holes. Many of the wells were lined with the timber from desert oak trees. Desert oak is a slow growing tree that is very strong and has a high resistance to termites. It was in 1911 that the first drovers left Flora Valley with 350 head of cattle. Two stockmen and an Aboriginal stockman were killed by Aborigines at Well 37. In 1930, Canning was called out of retirement, aged 70, to complete the reconditioning of the wells. On the 22nd May 1936 Alfred Canning died in Perth at the age of 76. The last cattle herd used the stock route in 1958.
For the Next Chapter – Go to The Canning Stock Route page.