Monday, 22 April 2013

Ulysses AGM in Maryborough – 2013

Camping at Maryborough Showgronds.
By lunch time on Monday 15th April we were riding around the AGM village in Maryborough looking for a suitable place to pitch our tent. We were looking for some high ground, but we needn’t have worried as someone cleverly arranged for the onset of the dry season to coincide with the start of the AGM. Eventually we settled on a position amongst some friendly trikers from Innisfail.

On Monday night we introduced ourselves to the Piazza, a licensed meeting place which holds 1200 people seated at tables of eight. Live music played, every night, from 7:30pm till late and you could dine on anything from Mexican fair to sweet pancakes depending on your fancy. We found the Warnbro Sound Wanderers crew and it was wonderful to see a familiar face again.

The AGM is a great place for bikers to hang out for a week. On Wednesday, while Devil (my F650GS) was still sleeping, I sneaked off to test ride the new BMW F700GS. I must admit that the new machine was a little lighter and more nimble under foot but I didn’t tell Devil. When I arrived back at camp Devil was still sleeping and she knows nothing of my infidelities.

Collection of Douglas motorcycles.
On Friday we joined a group ride out to Biggenden to see a private collection of Douglas motorcycles. It would be an understatement to suggest that owner Alan Cunningham is a collector. For a small fee, which all goes to charity, we were allowed to wander around and enjoy the eclectic mix of motorcycles, old cars and farm equipment. Afterwards we were treated to some good old Queensland hospitality at the local pub, which served home-style meals at very affordable prices. On the way home we broke the journey with an ice-cream at Childers. Unfortunately I missed the rider briefing outside the ice creamery. Apparently Jack, our ride leader, arranged with the other riders in the group to show them the way back to Hervey Bay. I didn’t know this and, as second man, I marked the corner, waited for everyone to ride on by, saw Tail End Charlie in my rear view mirror and then I took off, like a woman possessed, after the others. I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to go straight on. Steve was Tail End Charlie and he was riding on one wheel at times trying to catch me.

Warnbro Sound Wanderers at dinner.
Friday night’s dinner in the Hoecker was great, especially for those who brought along their head torches as the portable toilets had no lighting. This situation provided a bit of amusement and it was nearly a shame that by 8pm a floodlight had been delivered and we could see what we were doing again. For Saturday night’s dinner the toilets were moved to the other side of the Hoecker where the lights were so bright you needed sunglasses.

Grand Parade Maryborough.
Saturday’s grand parade was wonderful. The assembly point, for the 1300 bikes, was orderly and organised. The ride into town brought tears to my eyes as I acknowledged the locals who lined the streets and avenues along the way. So humble was the hospitality offered to us in Maryborough that one lady held up a sign which read “thank you for coming.” I could have wept inside my helmet, but I managed to hold back the tears and concentre on the bikes in front. On Saturday afternoon Steve and I attended the AGM meeting and then we went back to camp to socialise in the Hoecker once more.

The week spent messing about with bikes had been so much fun that while we were packing up our tent my thoughts turned to the AGM in Alice Springs in 2014; tempted.

Red Devil and me enjoying the Grand Parade Maryborough.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ride Canberra to the Ulysses AGM in Maryborough

As much as I enjoyed the National Folk Festival, after six days living at Canberra’s EPIC centre, I was happy to be on the road again. Unfortunately my reverie was short lived. When we pulled into a local fuel station there was a problem with the payment mechanism; no one was moving. Steve stood with his arms folded while we waited fifteen minutes for the driver of the car in front to appear. When it was my turn to hand over the money, some dude was trying to pay with a debit card that didn’t have enough money on it. By now Steve was gesticulating to me through the window. His arms seemed to be waving all over the place so I said to the attendant “is the pump working?” “Yep, that’s $32, thanks.” I paid up and marched out to see what was wrong. “Where is the water?” he demanded. Water provides some moveable ballast for Devil’s (F650GS) panniers and I held the key. When we pulled out of the fuel station we were both a little agitated and I forgot to put my sunglasses on. Five hundred meters later we were stopped on the side of the road; take two.

Steve quickly redeemed himself by finding some back roads and took us on a wonderful ride all the way to Goulburn. A wrong turn somewhere on the approach to town and we found ourselves at the Goulburn bakery, eating custard tarts and asking “how do we get out of here?” In between making cups of coffee, the manager drew us a mud map on a paper pie bag and our passage was made easy.

As we approached Oberon we came across a nasty piece of road works. They had just laid thick gravel all over the road and then proceeded to escort us to the other side before the dirt had been compacted. I tried to ride in the thin tyre track made by the escort ute. I felt myself tensing up every time Devil crept into some of the thick stuff. I managed to keep going but the escort vehicle was going too slow for Dwarfie (R1200GS) and he had to stop, ankle deep in mud. I haven’t been so pleased to make it through a stretch of road words for a long time.

The towns high up in the mountains are beautiful and Oberon was no exception. We made tea, and watched the world go by while we sat on a park bench right in the middle of town. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long as we were heading to Katoomba and there was still some riding to do.

As we rode on, the views of the Blue Mountains in the east were simply stunning. I kept saying “wow,” and when I considered how close we were to Sydney I said “wow” again.

Katoomba, misty one day, raining the next.
What we didn’t know, when we paid for three nights accommodation at the caravan park at Katoomba, was by the following morning the fog would roll in and we weren’t going to see anything of The Three Sisters, or any of the spectacular scenery. After two days stuck in the tent, with the wet towels and jackets, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. Steve didn’t dare suggest we stay another day. We made do with a quick glimpse of the mountains as we rode the scenic route back out onto the highway.

Lithgow was soon just a dot in our rear view mirrors and we were on the road to Mudgee. We turned off towards Rylstone and the quiet back road was a delight to cruise along. At one stage we came across a horseman mustering a herd of cattle. Devil slowed to a crawl and I felt a swell of importance when the cows seemed to think I was part of the muster team and they moved obligingly to the side of the road. The run through the Goulburn River National Park was slow but rewarding and it was 3pm before we arrived in Muswellbrook. A quick pit stop and we were back on the road again for the nonstop ride to Tamworth. Half an hour before sunset the tent was up, the weather was dry and we were happy.

The mandatory stop at the Golden Guitar.
Unfortunately the caravan park we chose was a construction site by day. On Saturday night the barbeque area was taken over by a group participating in a Variety Bash. Thankfully Sunday arrived, Variety left town and the caravan park fell quiet again.

While we were looking for things to do in the Tamworth Visitors Centre, Steve spotted a poster for our favourite comedian. Ross Noble was performing at the Town Hall on Sunday night. We bought tickets ten rows from the front; amazing. Why Ross plays in such small venues could be something to do with the DVD market. I’m sure the Tamworth Show will be available in store soon.

The Tenterfield Saddler.
From Tamworth we took the New England Highway in search of the Tenterfield Saddler. We found Tenterfield but the saddlery was closed for renovations. I still took a moment to sit on the veranda and remember Peter Allen’s grandfather, George Woolnough, who was made famous in the song.

By now daylight saving seemed to be a distant memory and we missed the longer evenings immensely. Living in a tent we prefer to have the daylight at the end of the day rather than the beginning. The beauty of the high country had brought with it bouts of mist and showers and the summer weather we had enjoyed so much seemed to be gone forever.

We like to avoid rain on ride days and we left Tenterfield with a smile on our faces and a clear forecast up our sleeve. All the Australian states seem to have quite distinctive architectural styles and nothing is quite as striking as the beautiful Queenslander houses. As I ride on by I like to dream about a romantic life on the land.

Bald Rock National Park.
Because of the incredible damage caused by the floods, there were road works everywhere as we headed northwards towards Kingaroy. At one stage we were stopped in the Lockyer Valley waiting for our turn to traverse. I looked up to my left and I was shocked to see the most unstable looking cliff face I have ever encountered. It was the type of thing you might find in a third world country but not Australia.

When the clouds gathered and a few spots of rain appeared on our visors, Steve pulled over and said “what do you reckon?” We chose not to put on our wet weather gear and five minutes later a short, tropical shower made us realise we had made an error of judgement. Steve stopped again and we both agreed that our gear would blow dry in no time at 100km hour. The only trouble was we kept riding in and out of the same rain cloud as the road twisted and turned. By the time we reached the day’s final set of road works we were soaked through. Once again the tent was full of wet clothes trying to dry out; next time we’ll be wearing the wet weather gear.

On Monday 15th April we will leave Kingaroy, the peanut capital of Australia, and ride to Maryborough for the Ulysses AGM; motorbikes and friendship – we are looking forward to that.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

National Folk Festival 2013

We rode into Canberra on our motorcycles and checked in at the festival camp site on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the opening concert. We cruised around the camp site for a while, trying to establish what was available in the fowls, the quiet, camping area. We were off to a good start as a new found festival friend invited us to share his powered site. The great aspect about camping onsite is you can wander back to your own patch for a little RNR and then immerse yourself in the festival again.

Red Molly.
On Thursday we poured over the program with a highlighter pen. Without my guitar in tow I didn’t pay enough attention to the incredible experiences on offer. If I had, I would certainly have joined in the Festival Choir, led by Spooky Men’s Chorale choir master, Stephen Taberner. The Festival Choir performance, at the Farewell Concert, was testament to Stephen’s ability to create something quite magical under challenging circumstances.

We just hung out at the festival over the four day Easter weekend and enjoyed many performances including fiddler, Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Hass. I was thoroughly entertained by the synergy between these two musicians and they were a pleasure to watch. Spooky Men are a festival favourite. Apparently they “are not a mens group;” they said so in one of their songs. I also spotted a Spooky Men poster which read “Spooky Men in acronynimus dispute with FCUK.”

Finbar Furey.
Red Molly were a must for anyone who enjoys country pop and Chris Smither if your poison is blues. Finbar Fury delighted the audience with his Irish charm and humour; I could quite happily listen to Finbar spinning a yarn all day long. During Himmerland’s performance I was drawn to the character and deft touch of their percussionist, Ayi Soloman, for the entire fifty minute set. If you ever need a session drummer he’s your man.

At times we wandered through the Session Bar. The number of people participating in jam sessions was amazing. Then we would check out the dancers in the Coorong, I wanted to have a go but Steve said “I don’t dance no more.”

Judge Judy.
Judy Small surprised us all with her decision to retire from performing in the pursuit of her new role as a Judge. I first heard Judy’s song “Mothers, Daughters, Wives” on my car radio way back in 1995. Judy’s farewell concert, to a full house in the 3,000 seat Budawang venue, earned her a standing ovation. It felt surreal that we may never see Judy perform live again.

The catering was great and we chose to dine on Thai, Mexican and Turkish Gozleme. With Pizzas, Indian delicacies and Moroccan fair amongst the large choice of culinary delights, every ones taste was catered for.

We were lucky to buy souvenir festival mugs before they were sold out. In the mornings we filled these mugs with coffee and in the afternoons we filled them with beer. When I washed them and put them away I could feel the slight touch of the potters hand and they are a wonderful souvenir of our first National Folk Festival.

There were so many wonderful musicians in residence that I couldn’t help compiling my “2013 National Folk Festival Super Group,” the line up is as follows:

¯  Fiddle - Alasdair Fraser
¯  Cello - Natalie Hass
¯  Acoustic Guitar - Graham Mcleod (The String Contingent)
¯  Bass Guitar - David Woodhead
¯  Percussion - Ayi Soloman (Himmerland)
¯  Duduk - Tigran Aleksanyan (SANS)
¯  Vocals – Kavisha Mazzella (I Viaggiatori)

A group setup while we were having lunch.
They played some Swedish folk tunes.
This festival is the friendliest event I have ever attended. I never saw a sad face all weekend and the level of participation is unprecedented. The musical groups didn’t just congregate in the black board venues and the Session Bar, they also formed out in the festival streets, under trees, and around picnic tables; each group playing quietly in their own space without becoming a nuisance to anyone else.

On Easter Monday I knew the carnival was nearly over when I started brushing my teeth to the tune of a little jig playing inside my head. Thanks to the organising committee and the hundreds of volunteers who make this event happen, long may it be so.

In the tent on a cold Canberra morning.
Updating my blog and drinking coffee from my festival mug.