Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 – Mildura, VIC to Quorn, SA.
Distance travelled – 582 km
The kind of motels we were using have the advantage that I could park the Harley right outside the door. Lucie had, by then, perfected her packing routine and we were able to leave at eight. Our initial impressions of Mildura being a sleepy backwater were not altered by the ride out of town to continue along the A20 highway.
It was a nice Spring day, only about 9 degrees and windy, but sunny too. About ten drops of rain splashed against the screen almost as soon as we left, but before we could panic, it passed over again and then it was just sunshine all day.
We had set off again without breakfast. Shortly after leaving, we came to the New South Wales / South Australia border. After enduring the surprisingly strictly performed checks, which somehow seemed, in such an easy-going country, almost “non-Australian”, we stopped for breakfast in the small town of Renmark. Here we met a Harley riding couple, with “His and Hers” machines from the HOG Chapter of the Gold Coast in Queensland. They had just left a Harley gathering that had been held locally and were returning to their home – which was almost 2,000 kilometres away. That is further than the distance between Prague and Moscow. We do not really know we are even born in Europe.
Immediately after Renmark, which was about 140 kilometres into that days ride, the meanders of the Murray River became visible. I could clearly remember, from almost 50 years before, studying the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme in geography lessons. The, then world-leading, project was powered by the Murray and the Murrumbidgee rivers. In those far off days, Australia might as well have been on another planet. I had never imagined I would ever see those rivers.
Shortly after the town of Monash, we were confronted by a choice of routes. We could take the B64 – or continue on the A20. Both seemed to be of equal distance, but Mapy directed us onto the more southerly of the two, the A20.
We were now in a better irrigated area and, besides the vineyards that produce South Australia’s rightly heralded wines, orange and almond plantations began to appear beside the road. Any motorcyclist will know that on a bike the driver is exposed to a number of sensations that car drivers miss out on. Not all are pleasant, of course, but the ability to detect scents (and occasionally the smells) is one of the big bonuses. I have not mentioned yet that Australia is, in general, an olfactory delight. Passing between the plantations was unbelievable. The strong smell of almonds, with its hint of orange made it seem almost like driving through a bucket of fabric softener.
We continued along the A20 and eventually Mapy directed us off of it and into the small small town of Waikeria. I was a little bit surprised, but it had not made any mistakes before, so I went with it. In the town our still twitching noses detected one of nature’s truly greatest scents, that of warm pie. There seemed to be little option but to take a second breakfast, or maybe an early lunch. There was a lovely little bakery, at the top of Peake Terrace, which was right on our route and which had an outside terrace. It was the proverbial “no-brainer” and the pies were heavenly,
Peake Terrace, evolved into Ramco Road which we followed, perhaps unsurprisingly to Ramco. The road then Morphed into Cadell Valley Road, so its next destination was also fairly self-evident. In Cadell itself, we actually crossed the Murray River on a short (and free) ferry ride. This brought us to the previously shunned B64, or Goyder Highway, where we turned again westwards.
Still on the B64 we passed through Morgan, stopped briefly to stretch in Burra and, just north of Burra, exchanged the B64 for the more northerly headed A32. Mapy then directed us to take a side turning which appeared to be called the Cleary Road – but this bucked the trend of predictability by taking us not to Cleary, but to the small town of Peterborough. Here we made what we expected might be our last refreshment stop. We were getting used to towns being quiet, but Peterborough was so deserted that all it really needed was some tumbleweed. It was probably busier once, most places on the railways were. It does boast a Railway Museum, but we had neither the time, nor the inclination, to visit. In the main street there was a very imposing town hall for such a dead place and, directly opposite, we found the café “Take-A-Break”, which was strangely billed as an “astrological café”. Strangely until you got inside that is, whereupon the adjective “astrological” seemed like a bit of an understatement. It was definitely a café, though. At first it seemed a tiny bit weird, the goods on sale were a curious mixture of the practical and the arcane. Some of the books on offer were totally esoteric and shared shelf-space with children’s jig-saws. The proprietor was a strangely dressed woman who, for all her “Hippie” demeanour, was a bit gruff and initially came over as anything but a Love Child.
We ordered drinks and Lucie decided she needed the ladies room. Oddly, there was not one in the café and the owner lady directed Lucie to the public toilets that were located across the road behind the Post Office building. I did not see them myself, but apparently they were easily found and of an old-fashioned style and grandeur normally seen in some historical journal.
On the way to the toilet, Lucie learned that the local Town Hall, which bore a prominent inscription saying 1926, was opened in 1927. But it was in 1926, when the entire council finally agreed unanimously that the Town Hall should be built, so they dated it then. It is actually a grand building in the art deco style for which an architect from distant Adelaide was specially commissioned. It can accommodate up to 1,000 people, so theatre performances, cinemas, balls, weddings, funerals, concerts and just about anything can take place there. Its proximity to the railway and thus, the trains passing by, apparently lends a special atmosphere to all these events. In all other respects, Peterborough is, as I said earlier, a classic sleepy hole, where the entire population could probably fit in the Town Hall. As it was, something exciting must have been happening elsewhere as everyone had just left town. Our café was the only one open and it is was a weekday afternoon.
I did, eventually, get chatting to the proprietor and, by the time Lucie got back, we had become great friends. When she discovered we were tourists, she said she had travelled a bit herself, but she meant to Adelaide and was totally amazed we had come all the way from Sydney. Lucie marvelled at the coffee, which she claimed was the best she had enjoyed in Australia up to that point. That WAS actually saying something as she drinks an unnatural amount of it. Our new friend was so impressed by the compliment that she gave us a little, pocket-sized flashlight bearing the cafés name. That came in very handy when we wrote her up nicely on Trip Advisor !
It sometimes seems that, the smaller the town, the more its inhabitants search for something special and unique in the locality. That facet is then painted, under the town’s name, on the sign at the edge of town as a kind of a slogan. In Peterborough, it was the town hall.
In Orroroo, which we soon came to as we headed more-or-less north on the B56, the town sign boasted “Home of the Giant Red Gum Tree”. Gum is one of the about 700 species of Eucalyptus which can be found in Australia and we had already seen some fairly sizeable specimens. If this was a really giant one, who could possibly resist that ? Not me, that is for sure – and I was driving. I had to have my picture taken with it and my travelling botanist companion duly obliged. It certainly was a handsome example. There was quite a crowd too, we had to wait our turn for a photograph !
On we went, still on the B56. When it was time for our “scheduled” stop, we made it in a town called Wilmington. The town entry sign boasted “We renovate old wrecks here” and indeed they do. The road through town was fringed with various body-shops and, oddly, there seemed to be no café at all. We bought drinks from a kiosk and noticed that one of the workshops bore a sign saying “Perrys“, so we could not resist taking a “selfie”. Across the road was the Wilmington Toy Museum and a number of beautifully restored cars were parked outside. These included half a dozen Land-Rovers, some of great vintage. It was practically a chronological history of the marque. Those were the kind of toys I would like.
We moved on, now on the B82, with Quorn within easy striking distance. The score of living kangaroos we had seen changed dramatically almost at once. The overnight score, which was 2:1 to me, changed to 2:4 in Lucie’s favour. Big, yellow warning signs beside the road did warn of their presence and Lucie spotted two on a hill directly behind one. Sadly, by the time I had lined the bike up for the perfect shot, they had hopped away and I did not see them at all. The fact that kangaroos were around forced me to watch the road very carefully and so I also missed a third one that further increased Lucie’s “lead” !
No sooner had we agreed, via the intercom, to end the contest with a Lucie “win” than I did spot several – so I claimed a bonus point for noticing that these were Red kangaroos. We had obviously moved into an area where that sub-species was more prominent. We also saw a large number of emus in the fields beside the road.
We came to Quorn and checked into our pleasant little room at the Flinders Range Motel. We did this by following email instructions – we never saw anybody connected with the place. The room was about as pleasant as these places can be, very light and airy.
We set out to look for something to eat. There are about ten restaurants, cafés and bistros in Quorn, but only the Transcontinental Hotel was open. In Prague, we have a weekly gathering of friends which takes place on a Tuesday night. We call it TND (Tuesday Night Drinks) and it has been running every week, in some form or another, since 1992 ! It is customary for TND members who are away somewhere on holiday to try and take an appropriate photo and send it. This we did, even though it was not even lunch-time back home. The dinner was good. I like fish and chips and the Australians certainly know how to cook it – good size portions, too. The Bar/Restaurant was one of those informal places, scattered with various books and publications. Lucie, who comes from a railway family, found a fascinating book about the history of the Australian Railways. Australia (and some of its fauna, as we were later to discover) was totally changed by the coming of the railway. Easier travel rendered some of the immense distances more navigable to less intrepid souls. Quorn’s position as a junction of the east-west and the north-south lines meant it played a fairly important role in that history. Needless to say, the slogan for Quorn is “Quorn – the historic centre of the Australian Railways“.
The book also included photos of what Darwin, in the far north of Australia, looked like after it was bombed by the Japanese in February 1942. Although this was the first of about 100 raids, Lucie was unaware this had ever happened. She likes to learn new things !
Back in our room we finally solved our accommodation problem for the trip up to Uluru. I called the roadhouse at Marla which, because of its position, we would need to use in both directions. This took three telephone calls. The first time a man answered and could not find the accommodation book. He told me the “A-Team” was not on duty. When I called back, I got a girl called Tracy and managed to book the outward night before the connection suddenly dropped out. When I called back a third time, I got another girl, called Trish and succeeded in booking for the return journey. It sounded like a whacky place.