Great Australian Bicentennial Bike Ride
Melbourne to Sydney, Australia
22 November – 12 December, 1988
1,116 Km or 693.5 Miles
Dan and Lys Burden, with Greg and June Siple, were the founders of the TransAmerica Trail and Bikecentennial that celebrated the United States 2nd Centennial by bicycling across the United States. By 1988 Dan & Lys had left Bikecentennial with Dan a photographer for The National Geographic Society and Lys with the Florida Youth Hostel organization. I came upon an advertisement in some bicycling publication where Lys was organizing an American contingent for the Australian Bicentennial Bike Ride. If you paid early you were entered in a prize drawing, so I paid my fees in March of 1988 (it turned out that I did get drawn and the prize money paid most of my expenses while in Australia). The fees collected by Lys paid for the entry fees to the Australian Bicentennial organizers plus two nights in Melbourne and two in Sydney. I have no journal for this trip but still have a Caltex brochure that provided very small maps for each days ride and some town background information. I never looked at the maps while I was on the tour, I simply followed the people in front of me – I was never out of sight of another rider for the entire tour. I also took some pictures but upon the completion of the tour Dan Burden was selling 80 slides with a written narrative to accompany them that are of better quality than my pictures and the narrative is much more timely than my memory after over 20 years. Therefore, this journal will be reconstructed from the brochure and I'll be linking Dan's slides and narrative. I will also not provide a route map from one camp to the next simply because I don't know what they were. (The Total Tour Map should give you an idea of what route we road).
- 24 Nov: Melbourne, Victoria
The Burden's use 22 November as the beginning of the tour so I'm reasonable sure that I caught a plane out of Las Angeles on that date. However, I think that we lost 23 November in the mid-Pacific when we crossed the International Date Line and landed in Melbourne on 24 November. That would have given us two night in a hotel near Flinders Station in Melbourne.
25 Nov: Melbourne, Victoria
I don't remember exactly what I did this day but my pictures show that I walked around the city some and probably devoted some time to getting my bike unpacked and ready.
26 Nov: Melbourne to Warragul, Victoria
Distance: 78 Km or 48.5 miles
”Melbourne projects an image of a city of culture, gardens and good places to eat. It has been involved in a rivalry with Sydney since its founding in 1803. Unlike Sydney's chaotic layout, Melbourne's streets are wide and well planned. The city is famous for it's Australian Rules football matches and the country's biggest horse race, the Melbourne Cup. Both can attract crowds of around a hundred thousand devotees.
The ride begins in the outer suburb of Dandedong, a bustling industrial city in its own right.”
Note: We rode from Flinders Station to Dandenong on the light rail, taking our bicycles with us but leaving our baggage to be picked up at the hotel.
”Warragul is best known as a center for Gippsland's productive dairy country supplying most of Melbourne's milk, and also boasts a metal fabrication industry.
When Angus McMillan first explored the area in 1839 it was an impenetrable rain forest, the terrain reminding him of his native Scotland. Gold discoveries to the East in the 1850's and the laying of the rail line in 1887 boosted settlement. 8Km east of Warragul lies the Darnum Musical Village featuring a collection of instruments collected by Albert Fox.”
Note: The thing that the riders will remember Warragul for was the VERY heavy rain that we got this first night of camping. All of our campgrounds were in a grassy fields that usually were used for football, rugby, soccer or cricket. This first night the rain was so heavy that about 200 riders had to be evacuated from their flooded tents at the low end of the field.
Nov: Warragul to Rosedale, Victoria
Distance: 93 Km or 57.8 miles
”This area was once called the Holey Plain grazing run and was used as a holding station for cattle and horses bound for Van Diemen's land (Tasmania). It is thought the name was inspired by the big impressions left in the land by yabbies. In contrast to the hilly terrain of Western Gippsland, Rosedale lies in open, flat and dryer country at the Eastern end of the Latrobe Valley. Gippsland was named after the Governor of NSW Sir George Gipps.
The route to Rosedale features a number of stretches of ancient post and rail fencing as durable as the early explorers."
Note: This is the first town that we stopped in where the number of riders exceeded the population of the town. Some of the “Yanks” started ranking towns as 1, 2 or 3 pub towns, anything over 3 pubs was a city!
28 Nov: Rosedale to Paynesville, Victoria
Distance: 115 Km or 71.5 miles
”Paynesville is the “Boating Capital” of the popular holiday resort region known as “Victoria's Riviera”. The nearby Mitchell River jetties, formed by silt being washed out into open waters, are 10km long and the second biggest in the world.
Next door to our camp site at the Eagle Point caravan park is a wild life reserve providing home for many species of birds and animals such as the possum and kangaroo. En route we pass through Sale, headquarters for the rich Bass Straight oil fields, and ride around the R.A.A.F. Airforce base to the east of the town.”
Nov: Paynesville to Orbost, Victoria
Distance: 106 Km or 65.9 miles
”Orbost is the center of the logging industry of East Gippsland. It is also a popular tourist destination just a short ride from Marlo and the ninety mile beach. Marlo is a popularr fishing spot whichis enjoying an excellent season.
Further afield the spectacular Buchan caves formed by underground rivers cutting into the limestone is one of the regions best known attractions.
Orbost is also crocodile country but these are only big enough to pose a threat to your finger. These water loving lizards are the Eastern Water Dragon or “Snowy River Crocodile”.
The Orbost Information Center is located near our campsite in a slab hut once an authentic family dwelling. Next door is another piece of history in the form of a working water-wheel-powered battery used in the search for gold.”
30 Nov: Orbost, Victoria
This was our first “lay day” or rest day as we Yanks would put it.
1 Dec: Orbost to Cann River, Victoria
Distance: 75 Km or 46.6 miles
"Cann River lies at the junction of the Princess and Cann Valley Highway and is a popular stop for motorist traveling between Melbourne and Sydney. Cann River is very much a logging town but the area also produces maize and milk. It also provides excellent fishing and bush walking. Cann River is the turning point for the ride where we reach the end of our Eastern run and turn north into the ranges."
Note: This is a 1 pub town. I was in said pub in the afternoon and the owner was heard to say that he had been advised of our coming and had bought an extra $10,000 worth of beer – he was ready. I heard talk on the road the next day that the pub had to close up early because it ran out of beer. The pub owners had no idea how much beer over 2,000 bicyclist can drink!
Dec: Cann River, Victoria to Bombala, New South Wales
Distance: 90 Km or 55.9 miles
”Bombala sits at 800 meters above sea level, at the half way point between Melbourne and Sydney. The town was established with the nearby gold rush at Mount Delegate and today serves the surrounding grazing industry. The Bombala River, which flows right past our camp site, is home for our most unusual mammal the platypus. The lookout and bush walk above town is well worth a visit. The R.S.L. club complete with poker machines is popular with both locals and visitors.”
3 Dec: Bombala to Cooma, New South Wales
Distance: 80 Km or 49.7 miles
“Cooma is the principal town of the Monaro (meaning treeless plain). Today it is a tourist destination, catering to large numbers of visitors to the region. The town started as a center for the prosperous pastoral district before being boosted by the gold rush at Kiandra and later as the headquarters for the massive Snowy Mountains Scheme. Twenty one buildings in the town are classified by the National trust.”
4 Dec: Cooma, New South Wales
This was our second “lay day”.
5 Dec: Cooma, New South Wales to Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Distance: 126 Km or 78.3 miles
"Canberra is one of the worlds youngest National Capitals founded in 1913. It is also one of the most beautiful. American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, won the contract to design the capital with a concept of a garden city set in streets of crescents and circuits surrounding a man made lake and focussed on Parliament House.
The new billion dollar parliament house and the many exhibits of the Australian War memorial are the cities major attractions.
Canberra is a cyclists dream with cycle ways crisscrossing the city. Cycle way maps will be available from the Information and Sales Center at the campsite.
Black mountain and its television tower is the predominant feature of the city.”
6 Dec: Canberra,Australian Capital Territory
This was our third lay day. The Australian Capital Territory is very much like the District of Columbia in the United States.
Dec: Canberra to Goulburn, New South Wales
Distance: 100 Km or 62.1 miles
”The town was named after Henry Goulburn, Secretary of War and the Colonies. It lays claim to being the oldest inland city in Australia, the exploration of the area being just ten years after the colony was founded.
Today its many buildings of historic and architectural significance are major attractions. However, its biggest attraction is without doubt the giant Merino, a tribute to the local wool industry. This award winning, two hundred tonne, three story, lifelike concrete ram replica and souvenir shop is a must. Hourly sheep shows including shearing have been arranged for us from midday at the concessionary price of $3.00. You may have your picture taken with Sam the champion merino and see twenty different breeds.
The pottery and brick works in Common Street offer pottery sales till 4pm. The brick works, still exhibiting some of its original machinery dates back to 1884.”
8 Dec: Goulburn to Moss Vale, New South Wales
Distance: 97 Km or 60.3 miles
"The town is the center of a prime area for fat lambs, cattle, goats and champion horse studs.
It is nestled in rolling hills that provide fascinating cycling in any direction.
Leighton Park runs half the length of the main street. Hoskin nature reserve is a haven for bird life and a favorite picnic spot.
Delightful Bundanoon, en route, has the “Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe” in Main Street. A handy location for spare parts, or look at the owner's collection of vintage bikes. Fruit growers along the route provide a chance to sample the fresh local produce at front gate stalls."
Dec: Moss Vale to Camden, New South Wales
Distance: 80 Km or 49.7 miles
"The area is of great historic significance being one of the first inland areas explored by the white settlers, and later became the home of John McArthur, the father of the Australian sheep industry. His grand family home completed in 1835 is still used as a private residence by his great great granddaughter.
Camden is the fruit basket of Sydney supplying peaches, plums, oranges and table grapes as well as vegetables. The local coal mining industry is another of the areas major industries.
en route, the Thirlmere Railway Museum next to our lunch spot, is a major attraction with a staggering thirty vintage trains on display most of them under roof."
10 Dec: Camden to Sydney, New South Wales
Distance:67 Km or 41.6 miles
"Sydney, Australia's oldest and largest city, is built around a beautiful harbour. Its best known attractions, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, are both near our finishing point at the Domain. Many of the buildings around the bridge date back to the convict settlement days. From a short distance along Mrs Macquarie's Road you can include both in the same picture. We will be next door to the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Art Gallery, just a short walk from the central shopping area. The Sydney explorer buses depart from our finishing point at fifteen minute intervals. You are able to get on and off on the route wherever you wish.
As the focal point of the bicentennial celebrations Sydney is an appropriate location for the bike ride finale."
11-12 Dec: Sydney, New South Wales
There was a big fireworks display the last night that included a lot of them on and from the Harbor Bridge. In the morning of the 11th I did a tourist trip around the harbor with a tour bus, something like Grey Lines in the US. It was not a very good day for sightseeing however with low clouds and occasional rain. The weather improved somewhat in the afternoon and I took a ferry from the Circular Quay Ferry Wharf to Manly and then walked a few blocks to Manly Beach which is on the Pacific. The ferry trip was about 2/3rds the length of the harbor and let me get a good view of it, probably as good as the tourist boats that take you for a tour. I also spent some time in The Queen Victoria Building, a restored Victorian in central Sydney that is now a shopping mall, well worth the time for a look. I then flew out of Sydney on the 12th and because of the International Date Line I landed in the US on the same date as I left.
Here are Dan's slides that I have scanned and I have added the narrative that accompanied them that was prepared for a slide show.
Great Australian Bicentennial Bike Ride
1. The Great Australian Bicentennial Bike Ride, held from November 22 – December 12, 1988 traversed a 700 mile route from Melbourne to Sydney, Australia, a trip Australians usually take by plane
Photos 1 - 80
2. Caltex, the largest oil company in Australia, sponsored the ride – which was the most active participant event in Australia's Bicentennial schedule.
3. 550 Americans joined the 1,700 Aussie's, making this the single largest gathering of Yanks to ever travel to Australia as a participant group for any event in the nation's history.
4. Melbourne, Victoria is the second largest city in Australia and was one of the three major cities visited on the tour (also Canberra, Sydney). It has one of the best open air markets in the world.
5. Throughout Australia there is a mix of old and new, even in the heart of the city.
6. Accentuating the old, the historic Flinders Street Station continues as an active train station. Graham Rebbeck, the tour organizer, while serving as a disk jockey for a local radio station a few years ago, launched a movement to save the clocks above the entrance. Plans were to replace them with digital time signs. However the radio campaign was successful and the clocks remain.
7. The bike ride began in Dandenong with a local Octoberfest celebration. It was the first chance for the Americans to meet many of the Aussie bike riders, and to record their own memories of the event.
8. Twenty-eight Victorian police traveled with the group for the first eight days, making this one of the best police supported bicycle tours in the world.
9. The tour began with special recognition of the many American participants and others who came from eight different nations. This was to be the first large bicycle ride ever to attempt the 700 miles between Melbourne and Sydney, a distance that is too great, and the roads too arduous for most Aussie's to drive. Hence most of these Australian riders were covering this distance for the first time in their lives.
10-12. Once introduced to riding on the left, and the intense green of the Victorian countryside, strange sounding village names and the intense chatter and songs of the ever present frogs and birds – the Americans knew they were truly “down under”.
13. Riders were assisted by over 20 radio crewmen setting up aid stations and tracking the riders from 5:00 in the morning, until they shut down their radios at 2:00 AM the next morning. Another crew of 90 road marshals assisted with road crossings, critical turns, and risky bridge crossings.
14-15. Several days into the ride exotic sign and animals were encountered. Although the kangaroo was not seen frequently, in parts of Australia, and on the many preserves along the way they are as common as deer are in the US.
16. In one preserve near Canberra, photographer Dan Burden stalked fast running Emu's.
17. In camp cyclist were treated to encounters with other exotic Australian animals, including this baby wombat.
18. Aussie effective cycling instructor and naturalist, John Butler, dug a prehistoric echinda from its borough along the route one afternoon.
19. John shows off one of Australia's unusual seed pods from the banksia tree. In addition to helping many discover Australia's natural wonders, John would hold bicycle clinics that were attended by 100-150 riders during the evening hours and for entire afternoons on the lay days.
20. The bottle brush, common to Australia, is one of hundreds of exotic plants discovered along the way.
21. As seen from the air, the Oz ride was a moving city, including over 300 tons of gear (dry weight) requiring two regular semi's, one double semi, and 20 other trucks, to transport.
22. As early as 10:00 AM some cyclist had already made it to the next camp, and were setting up the first of the 2,000 tents. Camps were made in a variety of locations, including fairgrounds, large school yards, and even a race track.
23. The Americans learned that there were to be lines to do everything, especially eating, but also to wash dishes, take a shower, make a phone call, or simply wash one's hands. These lines, called, queues were to plague many on the ride. Note: There was soon the joke told that two blokes stopped beside the road to answer a call of nature and immediately a queue formed.
24. With the right timing hot showers were obtainable either through local facilities or at the specially designed shower trailers where one rarely had to wait for a group shower.
25. This rolling city required a minimum of five plumbers (shown), fifty cooks, and a medical crew of 20. At times entire police academies or other groups assisted with serving meals, unloading trucks or other camp needs.
26. Among the most colorful of the even service team were the truck drivers, who collected broken bicycle parts, or entire bicycles, to decorate the front of their semi's..
27. Grahame, one of the four truck drivers, reconstructs stage coaches at home during his off hours.
28. Many of the volunteer road marshals took vacation time to assist with the historic event.
29-31. The caterers moved an entire kitchen, roasting, baking and frying foods for the army of 2,500 riders and volunteers. Traditional Australian meals proved to be a bit too heavy on the protein for most American palates, and the speghetti and ravaoli for breakfast came as a shock too.
32. Several other meals and snacks could be purchased at times during the day, and especially at night, where ice cream was the bike city favorite food.
33. The least favorite food? Lunch, for sure. Not only did the caterers fail to provide much variety from the traditional egg salad sandwiches, but American bicyclist were to also discover that Aussie's prefer unusual sandwiches in their take away stores, such as this favorite, a beet and ham sandwich.
34. Other familiar scenes in camp included the wash table, where cyclist attempted to remove grease with detergent and cold water. To date Aussie's rarely use paper and plastic throwaway picnic supplies, a common, though wasteful solution to sanitation in America. The Aussie disposable paper products industry simply does not exist at an affordable rate, and so all picnics include “bring it from home” utensils.
35. Four mechanics worked nearly round the clock keeping bikes running. One American who worked with the Aussies as a mechanic on the tour observed that compared with US cyclists, Aussies are far more self-reliant. Rarely were the mechanics asked to repair flat tires. Repairs were for more serious needs such as truing wheels and reconstructing bottom brackets.
36. Aussie humor comes through. Emphasizing the vastness of the bike city, the bulletin board was one way for riders to regroup in the evenings.
37-44. This event will be remembered as the wettest mass bicycle ride is history. Thirteen of the fifteen days saw rain. Not always and not steady, the rains in this arid country were uncommonly predictable during the ride. Thongs and rain ware became necessities. At times flooded tents, wet sleeping bags, and drenched clothing required special efforts, including indoor gyms, coin laundries and keen attention to the lay of the land before pitching one's tent. On the final days many campers gave up the battle and frolicked in the mud.
The Great Australian Bicentennial Caltex Bike Ride has been sent to Guinness Book of World records to be listed as the “single largest mass bike ride over the greatest distance anywhere on earth”. This honor, however, does not fully recognize the added effort needed by the riders to endure the rain, the wind and the difficulty of dirt roads and tough terrain.
45-47. As a side benefit to the frequent and heavy rains, cyclists were treated to a steady serenade from frogs. And large ponds appeared to play in as they rode.
48. Not all cyclist were ordinary. Some rode exotic bikes, and were frequent sources of awe and conversation.
49. Don Lemmin, a fifty plus rider had back problems before taking up penny farthing riding. Don rode or pushed his bike up and over every inch of the way, often outdistancing those on mountain bikes and regular touring bikes along the way. At one point Don had to make repairs to his wheel when spokes gave under the pressure of the ride.
50. Keith Dunstan. And his wife, Marie, rode the distance, sending in reports to papers throughout Australia at night. Keith is one of the most widely read and respected journalists in Australia. He is credited, in part, with having started the Aussie bicycling movement, after returning from a transcontinental ride of the U.S. During the American Bicentennial in 1976. During the Bikecentennial ride, Keith also sent back daily reports. Afterwards he compiled them into a book, “It's All Uphill”.
51. Glen Visser of Harvey, Iowa rode the entire tour no handed. Glen had a special foot brake added to his bike, and controlled his gearing and steering with calipers added to his arms.
52. A retired British plumber, Ted Hutchings, age 61, has been on a round-the-world cycle trip for the last 10 years and was one of the most traveled riders in the group.
53. Pedaling along the coast at Lakes Entrance. The group included a few with celebral palsey and kids, along by order of the court as a unique drug rehabilitation therapy program. They made the ride to prove themselves.
54. Although young riders were not typical on this ride, some older youth rode with teachers, or as groups of friends. Repeating a Caltex Bike Ride tradition they had started as teens. Another bike ride taking place during the same holiday period as the CALTEX ride, The Great Victorian Bike Ride, accommodated nearly 4,000 teenagers and other young riders, keeping the youth to a small percentage on this longer, historic event.
55. Perhaps the greatest heroine on this ride was Donna Clark, a 104 lb medical administrator now living in Cincinnati, Ohio, who pulled a 65 lb trailer complete with five year old daughter Sara and an assortment of toys. Donna and Sara are seen here churning through one especially tough climb of dust and loose sand.
56. This section of road, normally hard packed dirt, silk smooth and easily rideable, was covered with loose sand as a result of the month of heavy rains preceding the ride. Many riders fell, or at least were forced to dismount in many sections of the climb, making it one of the most trying days of the event.
Note: I remember this section and almost falling a number of times as I tried to avoid other riders but rode the entire section with no falls and never dismounted.
57-63. It was the strength, openness, warmth and friendly caring nature of most of these bicycle riders, however, that made this ride memorable. The Aussie's weren't sure what to think of American bicyclists at first, but soon each group warmed to the other. In the end the two cultures realized that their common ancestry, shared struggles in the World Wars, and mutual interests, ambitions and life styles made them kin.
64-66. The roads were a constant challenge, along with the mountains (Blue and Snowy Mountain Ranges), the wind and traffic, making this historic, city to city event the toughest mass bike ride in world history.
67-68. Another chance for developing camaraderie with other riders were the many “hotels” or pubs in town, where riders and townspeople could get together in the evening, for a festival or a bush dance at night.
69-72. En route children would line the streets in the villages. Prime Minister, Bob hawke welcomed the riders as the first group ever to be greeted on the grounds of the new $1.3 B, newly finished parliament. Canberra, the nation's planned capital city, is built around a large manmade lake. This city served as a site of one of three official lay days during the ride.
73-74. Other towns did their part to entertain by putting on local feeds, festivals and wood chopping or sheep shearing demonstrations.
75-76. Finally, after fifteen long days, over ninety percent of the bicycle riders finished the ride at Sydney's downtown park, The Domain. The completion of this arduous journey had a colorful finale to celebrate this moment in cycling history.
77-80. Most riders stayed at least several days to enjoy Sydney, the most popular city in Australia. It's a city of many contrasts wrapped around one of the most scenic bays in the world. Note: I prefer Melbourne!
Epilogue: I enjoyed this ride a lot with the exception of the rain and the long lines for all services. The distances were quite reasonable, the climbs not that bad and the scenery was great. All in all I had a good time, good enough that I went back to Australia in 1989 and did a non-bicycling vacation, mostly in Victoria. I have posted a journal with pictures of this trip on this web site.