“Busting out on a 5,000 mile road trip, to far off places that you’ve never seen before, meeting new people, conquering your fears, confronting new challenges and developing new skills is another entire dimension. You’ll be a better person (and certainly a better rider) for doing so. I guarantee it will change your entire outlook on every part of your life for the better.”
Michael ONeill, Road Work: Images And Insights Of A Modern Day Explorer

 
I don’t have a real plan of where I’m going yet, but I do have a couple of bucket list items I want to tick off. One is to rewrite the history of the poor old swaggie in the Waltzing Matilda legend. The other is to find or buy a bolder Opal from Opalton. Once I’ve done that I have to head down to Coolangatta and start my trip up the coast of Queensland photographing as many beaches as I can for my blog post “The best beaches in Queensland”
 
So I guess I do have a plan after all, “Head West” then “South, at some point”

Townsville to Hughenden (almost)

Today I ride out of Townsville on my very own 30 Days outback motorcycle tour of Queensland. But this is more than just a motorcycle tour, it’s a right of passage. My panniers are packed and bulging, and my solar panel is stretched tightly over my top bag. I have packed to counter any eventuality. From total societal collapse and the much anticipated Zombie Apocalypse, to diner with the Queen.

Looking back at my house as I throw my leg upwards and shuffle awkwardly onto the seat of my bike, I wonder about what is at the heart of this desire to ride solo through the outback.  I’m leaving my family behind for the first time ever and I start to wonder what this journey will reveal to me, about myself. There’s a stage in the life of men where you are looking for more than your 9-5 life style. Women like to call it a mid life crisis, but that’s too simple, but for the sake of marital bliss let’s just agree.

The secret of life

There’s a great scene in the movie “City Slickers” where Billy Crystal’s character is talking with the cowboy Curley. Curley says “do you know the secret of life” Crystal says “No”.  Curley responds by raising his finger and smiling, then says “There’s just one thing”. Secret of Life And like all the people watching the film, I’ve always wondered exactly what that one thing was. May be by week 30 I’ll have found out.

This is the first long distance motorcycle trip I have taken since I was 19 years old, back then long distance was 200 – 300 kilometres. This trip will be 7000 kilometres, give or take a couple. I’ve ridden and crashed motorcycles in all sorts of situation and weather conditions in my teens and early 20’s and I’m not new to long distance road trips. At 21 I had driven from Melbourne to Brisbane 24 hours straight in my old HX Kingswood.

I’ve driven the 1800 kilometres from Brisbane to Mount Isa more times than I care to mention and the 1400 kilometres from Townsville to Brisbane regularly. At 38 I drove from Mount Isa through the Kimberly and back on a six week adventure across the top end of Australia. Now, at 56 years old I am about to journey out on my own again, this time solo, just me and my trusty KLR650, named Emu.

30 Days on the Road

As I hit the first roundabout and put Emu into the corner, strangely it feels unfamiliar and I caught myself wobbling slightly as I quickly adjusted to the extra weight and its distribution on the bike. 

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Emu was fully loaded with everything needed from total societal collapse to dinner with the Queen. Its I got more into my Outback motorcycle tour I would end. up sending over half of this gear back home.
 

I’m acutely aware of the cold wind blowing on my face and the increasing noise of the wind pervading through my helmet. The cold makes me shiver slightly and I reach across my jacket to make sure it’s tightened up to my neck. I come out onto the highway and gun the engine, it’s a slow methodical thumping sound until the Emu gets up to cruising speed.

Even though the road is familiar, I feel a little anxious. I have driven it hundreds of times but only ridden it once before, on a small day trip to Ravenswood. Today is different, I’m feeling slightly exposed, there are big ore trucks from the port that I have to overtake, lest I get stuck behind them on the way up the range.

Places to stay for future reference

One of the things I try to do when travelling is to find areas I might camp for later adventures. One of these has been on my list for some time. Therefore, my first stop is a free camping site just out of Charters Towers, it’s called “Macrossen Park” and it sits on the eastern side of the Burdekin River.

Located just before Macrossen Bridge, you have to be aware of it, lest you ride right past. Because it is out of the way, you have to be looking for a small dirt road off the highway, take that road down towards the river and you find the park. It has BBQ, and toilet facilities and areas for you to camp hidden amongst the bushes. I make a note to come back at a later date and maybe stay a night.

First stop – Macrossen Park

It had only been an hour and a half, far too early to stop for the night, I wanted to make some distance from Townsville before retiring. I’m enjoying the cool winter weather while I can, I know the further west I go the hotter it will get. You wouldn’t want to be doing an outback motorcycle tour during the summer months.

The KLR650 seat is notorious for being uncomfortable, even though I had installed a Beadrider seat cover, I was starting to feel sore in the saddle. This feeling would stay with me for the entire journey. I’ve written a product review on the bead rider seat cover: Beadrider Seat Cover

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My over loaded KLR650 “E
mu” looking nice and clean at Macrossen Park with the Burdekin River in the background. No less than four security straps around my belongings, I soon learnt that this was just a pain in the arse.
 

Emu was carrying a lot of weight for this trip but was responding well as I rode over Macrossan Bridge. This is one of the many bridges that span the mighty Burdekin River. It’s worth stopping briefly on the western side of the bridge to marvel at the height markers, where the river flowed over the bridge and up the hill.

In 1946 the river flooded to its highest point of 21.8 metres, this only just beat its previous 1870 level of 21.7 metres, early signs of Global Warming, you decide?

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This depth marker provides an indication of just how much water can be dropped on North Queensland during a wet season. 
The marker is 13.5 metres above the river bed and approximately a metres above the bridge level.
 

Gold everywhere

As you arrive in Charters Towers you are met by remnants of the its mining history, gold mining to be precise. It wasn’t long after the mass influx of miners looking to make their fortune at Ravenswood that gold was discovered (by accident) in Charters Towers. Of course it wasn’t called that at the time. See my post Ravenswood Gold Rush for info on Ravenswood.

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Remnants of the past, a mine shaft and conveyor at the entrance to town.
 

The allure of gold is everywhere in Charters Towers. Opportunity at every dirt mound. The town grew rapidly as miners flocked to the new gold field. Many of them frustrated at the lack of easily obtainable alluvial gold in Ravenswood, went onwards to the new opportunities up on the Great Dividing Range.

Others continued even further on looking for the head waters of the Burdekin, and found great deposits of Tin at Eton. See my story on Hidden Valley for more information on that adventure. Tin Mining and Hidden Valley

Motorcycle Tour Gold Everywhere

 
After pulling up at the the small mining display on the Charters Towers bi pass road, I decided it was time for lunch. Puling out my camp stove I boiled some water for coffee, peeled back the foil on my tuna and rice mix and rationed out a couple of muesli bars.
 
This was to be my go to lunch for most of my outback motorcycle tour, at least until I could find a bakery. It was simple and provided the energy I needed to continue for the next couple of hours. After lunch I took the opportunity to explore Charters Towers.

Historical Perspective

Gold was discovered in 1871 by Hugh Mosman, George Clarke, Fraser and an aboriginal youth by the name of “Jupiter”. They prospected approximately 60 kilograms (1660 ounces or $3 million dollars worth at today’s rate) of gold from the region. Mosman went into Ravenswood to report the claim. The mining warden at the time was William Ewbank Skelton Melbourne Charters. The claim became known as “Charters Tors” and was later renamed “Charters Towers.

As more miners came to town it wasn’t long before the easily accessible alluvial gold started to disappear. In a unique show of socialism, groups of miners got together to purchase more complicated extractive mining equipment. Miners were putting their cash into capital and becoming wealthy. It wasn’t long before a method for monitoring and managing these investments was developed. In this small isolated community in the outback of Australia, the first ever stock exchange was established.

Development of mining batteries

In his book of the region Colin Hooper suggests the area’s the mining activities, in particular the development of the mining batteries was owned by Charters Towers locals, though the use of the stock exchange. This enabled miners to buy into the equipment and to purchase equipment that was too expensive for any one miner, they became and share holders.

Isn’t that an interesting fact, the bastion of a commercial ideology the Stock Exchange was actually established by a group of socialists. If you want more on the concept of socialist capital read the book Socialism and Marx’s Capital by Paresh Chattopadhyay

As the town and infrastructure grew there was significant investment flowing into the town from England through the Stock Exchange. Many of the shares were brought up by foreign investment capital from the mother country, making the miners wage earners rather than capital investors. For an interesting read as to how this seems to alway occur read Animal Farm by George Orwell

Rights of workers for self determination

Charters Towers became a hot bed for the new socialist ideas and the rights of the individual working person over the more traditional rights of capitalism. The miners were hard working and resented people telling them what to do.

Learning their lesson from the Eureka Stockade, the miners resisted armed rebellion and formed the first mining union in Queensland.

With miners now forming unions and working for wages, discontent grew in line with the emerging socialist ideals. Men and women didn’t come to gold fields to be treated like second class citizens.  Queensland was on the verge of civil unrest and armed conflict. On day six I explore what came out of all this discontent in my blog post Civil unrest and the Labor Party

The growth of discontent

The mining unions grew from towns like Charters Towers and in Ballarat in Victoria, which eventually led to the formation of the rail and shearers unions. Then in 1894 shearers from across Queensland went on strike for fairer wages. This is known as the great shearer’s strikes of the 1890’s.

As the second city in what was to become Queensland grew to a population of 27,000 people, the disenfranchisement grew and political socialism grew with it.

I’ve written a number of stories that highlight some aspects of the Australia’s culture, it seems there was great social change in the Australia in the late 1800’s. Some of the great stories of Australian life grew from these turbulent times. You can read my story of Waltzing Matilda on the following blog post: Swaggie shot by police at nearby Billabong

Motorcycle Tour first stock exchange

Tourism

The ride up Towers Hill is worth the doing, it is the site of the old Pyrite works and there are great examples of its mining history. The majority of mining activity occurred around the hill. There are historical signs and markers describing the formation of Charters Towers and the role it played during the Second World War.

Adventure riding is growing in Australia, and in Queensland, for anyone looking for their first adventure I would recommend Charters Towers as a good place to start.The town is a well preserved city of late classical and early Art Deco design, which gives it an air of yesteryear.

While I would like to have spent more time in Charters Towers, but as I was intent on finding a suitable camp site before dark, I cut my time short and headed out of town. Charters Towers has changed from those early years of mining it is now a prosperous pastoral community.

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Tower Hill overlooks Charters Towers, this was the site of one of the major gold stamping batteries. The first gold was discovered around the base of this hill and there is evidence of significant mining activities. 

The town boasts a large stockyard with many six deck road trains parked outside. There is an ever present aroma of cattle wafting across the road, I was now in cattle country. 

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Charters Towers Sale Yards and Rodeo Grounds
 

Finding a place for the night

It takes about two and half hours to get from Charters Towers to Hughenden. The riding is much more physically demanding when you’re on an outback motorcycle tour, than it is when you’re just out for a day ride. There’s more weight for a start, the bike seems less stable and you tend to fight the wind more.

It was getting late in the afternoon and I had made a point to be off the road before the Kangaroos came out, and with enough time to set up my tent.

Having surveyed the map I found two likely wild camping places. The first was the Campasepe River Rest Area, the second was the White Mountain National Park camping area. I was open to either when I left Charters Towers but once I arrived at the Campasepe site I was more than happy to camp there.

Pulling into a large grassed area just off the highway, I took a moment to circle the grounds. There was a toilet block, a large mango tree and plenty of room to set up camp. There were four caravans parked neatly and in single file next to each other. Each had a small fire glowing next to each van and little terrier type dog of some sort yapping on their leases. The first of many grey nomads I would encounter on this journey.

First taste of motorcycle camping

After talking with a few bikers further on in my journey, I could have continued on to the Pentland Hotel. Camping out the back of the pub for $10, and partaking in a pub meal sounded pretty good. However, at this stage of my journey I was trying to camp as cheaply as possible and save some money incase I needed a motel later on.

Hope you enjoyed this story. Click on the following link for the next day of my journey: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/?p=1985 Safe riding – Digital Swaggie:)

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Gary is a travel writer, educator, training specialist and part time adventurer. When not paddling rivers, diving on the Great Barrier Reef or riding down some dusty outback track on his trusted KLR650 "Emu" he likes to explore historical areas and look for the back story.

4 comments

  1. Hi , just come across your post when researching travel locations in Queensland. I set off on a 2 month trip around Qld on my Yamaha Tracer in 2 weeks time. I’ll follow your travels with interest, sounds like we might be like minded souls, never know we might cross paths. Enjoy your ride.

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