Monday, 31 October 2016

2016 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues

Rock solid ensemble
Festival organisers can be forgiven for opening the festival with a Blues Brothers tribute band as this bunch of musos are locals. After an hour we left the Hume Bank Blues Stage in search of something a little more sophisticated to please our ears. Steve and I are not jazz aficionados, we like our music light and easy. The Ronan Guilfoyle Trio were too fundamental for our ears so we sneaked out between numbers and took up residence in the Pinsent Hotel where Monique diMattina was on stage playing some accomplished piano and entertaining the crowd with her witty lyrics. We stood at the back until our legs were ready to sit down again and then we headed to the beautiful theatre at the performing arts centre (WPAC) to catch Melissa Aldana.  By now it was 10pm and I closed my eyes  and rested while Melissa played four tunes. When the one hour set was over Steve proclaimed  “tomorrow we need to find some acts with vocalists.”
Lovely room at Tony & Sue's B&B

We retired to our B&B and were sound asleep by midnight. Unfortunately we’d had to leave our tent strapped to the bike for the festival as our pre-booked camp site at Painters Island Caravan Park was cancelled due to flooding of the Ovens River.

Hetty Kate
We started our Saturday at the festival with the enchanting Clancye Milne in the WPAC hall followed by the wonderful Hetty Kate in the St Pats Hall. As we walked away from the venue we both agreed “this is more like it.” Early in the evening, Kimba Griffith’s powerful performance of The Songs That Saved Your Life made an impact on us, original, organic, and outside the box. We were back in the blues venue for the energetic JJ Thames and we were assured that the future of blues is in good hands.

Kimba Griffith
No doubt this year’s floods have presented some unexpected challenges for festival organisers. It seemed like there were two festivals going on; Blues at the outdoor Blues Stage, jazz in the concert venues and never the two shall meet. It would have been nice to see some acoustic blues in the concert venues and some easy listening jazz at the outdoor venue to create a more together atmosphere.

Fiona Boyes
Hetty Kate lured us back to The Pinsent Hotel on Sunday for a bottle of local wine and a light lunch as she was playing a three hour session. We were pleased we had caught Hetty in a concert venue the day before as the sound system in the hotel didn’t do her sweet voice any justice at all. It was great to catch Fiona Boyes late on Sunday afternoon at the Blues stage. Wow that babe has surely grown into an international artist that Australians can be proud of. We saved the best until last and ended our festival with a set from James Morrison in the WPAC theatre; and no one makes it look easier than James.

The man himself, James Morrison
2016 was our first visit to the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, and thanks to the festival organisers and the army of volunteers for making it happen.  Fifteen minute tunes, with each band member taking their turn at a solo, seemed the norm amongst the jazz bands and it would be nice to see some festival artists presenting in a more popular format.

Monday, 24 October 2016

2016 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix

Those folks who turn up every year know better than to spend all day at the track on Friday, when the weather forecast is for gale force winds and 40mm rain.  But we ain’t local, we’ve come all the way from Perth, Western Australia,  and nothing could keep us away from the track on practice day of MotoGP weekend.
Steve rode us down to the track to find that the unseasonably wet spring had left some of the parking paddocks untenable and on Friday night we received an sms and email from the Grand Prix Corporation encouraging fans to catch the bus instead.

The email read:


Due to the weather conditions, public car parking at the circuit will be closed on Saturday 22 October.

We encourage patrons to Catch-a-Coach or park-and-ride from Cowes with the Grand Prix shuttle service. Additional buses have been scheduled.

We always enjoy the nightly party in Cowes
We spent most of Friday hiding from the rain in the Expo tent. When the rain eased to a light drizzle, we braved a moment of action on the fence line at turn 12 only to retreat to the Spokes Marquee when the rain picked up speed again.  By mid afternoon we gave ourselves permission to go back to camp. Steve and Dwarfie (R1200GS) slipped their way out of the parking lot and when Steve picked me up all he said was “tomorrow we are catching the bus.”

On Saturday morning we still hadn’t learnt our lesson and we were on the bus by 8:45am with squalls raging all around. We’d done the Expo to death so it was time to venture out into general admission land. An acceptable bacon and egg roll and a cup of coffee warmed our bellies then we were on our way, trudging along in the mud, stopping at the fence line to watch some action and hiding in the lee of a catering van in the squalls.  We made it to Siberia and with a lull in the weather we set up our chairs next to some bikers we had met at our caravan park and rested a while.  When the sun shone we were warmed by our  black waterproofs, and when the sun disappeared we shivered some more.

Squall approaching Lukey Heights
It seemed like a good idea to head for MG corner for MotoGP qualifying but the squalls weren’t finished with us yet.  We copped a big one at the top of Lukey Heights; rain, hail and the bitterest wind. You learn more about yourself in a moment when the going gets rough than you do in a lifetime of easy rolling.  I learned that I wasn’t a big enough race fan to endure qualifying, even if it was MotoGP, in these conditions. I desperately wanted to leave the track for the comfort of the camp kitchen and the log fire. But we knew we had to see it through. When qualifying was finally over there was a mass exit from the circuit.

Siberia, character building
By Sunday morning the gale had blown itself out and race day was pure motor racing magic. We spent the day at Siberia, the Phillip Island circuit is pure entertainment on a good day. It was a character building weekend . Some old timers said they’d seen worse weather and others said it was the worst they’d  ever seen.  No doubt the 2016 Australian Motorcycle  Grand Prix will be sent into Phillip Island folklore.

MotoGP Results:
#35 Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
#46 Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha)
#25 Maverick Vinales (Team Suzuki)

Cal Cructhlow on his way to his win

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Barry Sheene Tribute Ride 2016

The hotels were full and the camp sites were empty this year due to a re scheduling of the 2016 ride to an early time slot. Scrutineering  started at 6:30am and only the hardy souls could cope with a night in the tent after over indulging at the Barry Sheene Charity Dinner the night before.

At 8:30am on the dot the bikes started filing out of the parking lot for the start of the Barry Sheene Tribute Ride. No briefing on best practices for a ride of this type, just get-go. This ride is fully escorted by the Victorian Police with police cars, motorbikes and a paramedic bike; just in case. Riders were fully aware that the first scheduled stop was two hours away but still some folks insisted on filling up on coffee half an hour before takeoff.

Hope this is not needed!
I was a picture of concentration as we rode away from Bairnsdale.  After only twenty kilometers the train of bikes had come to a near stand still several times and vigilance was paramount to prevent a massive pile up.  Still most riders chose to leave less than a two second gap which added to the concertina effect which plagued the ride all the way to Phillip Island.

We were riding mid fleet with hundreds of bikes all around us and it was magic to look ahead and find bikes as far as the eye could see. Villagers and school kids lined the streets as we passed through one town after another and it felt good to be part of this YAMS charity ride, and motorcycle awareness day.

The Red Devil on Gardner Straight, Phillip Island MotoGP Track
With the precision of a military operation, the police organised rolling road closures and kept the bikes together through every intersection. At the end of the ride participants get the chance to do a lap of the Phillip Island Grandprix Race Track. I think the pace car took one look at the bikes filing onto the track, four lanes wide, and he slowed down to the point where Devil couldn’t get out of first gear; looks like I’ll have to pay for a track day if I want to have some fun at the circuit.

It was a good day, tiring but loads of fun, another great event ticked off my bucket list.  We had great weather too; I can’t imagine the challenges if it had been raining.

YAMS - You Are My Sunshine – raising money to help find a cure for children with neuroblastoma.

More than just a dog, Bundy has raised many thousands for charity.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bathurst to Bairnsdale

We rode away from Bathurst early enough to catch the workers scurrying towards Lithgow for a 9am start. Add to that, a bunch of race fans hurrying home to Sydney,  camper trailers flaring,  by the time we traversed The Bells Line of Road and reached the Pie in the Sky at Bilpin I had completely lost my appetite and Steve was left to dine alone.  It was warm riding on the eastern side of the ranges with the temperature up to 30 degrees. For the first time in 5000km of riding our jumpers were no longer required and we squeezed them into our already overfull panniers.

Kendalls Beach campsite
At Richmond, Steve found some quiet backroads and we headed southwards through one village after another all the way to Mowbray Park.  Plenty of folks live here in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, isolated from the big smoke by the elevation and the twisty roads. At Picton we jumped onto the B88 for an enjoyable ride until we reached the motorway on the outskirts of Wollongong.

Historic timber terraced shops, Kiama
The seaside town of Kiama became home for a week while we enjoyed the lanes and mountain passes around Robertson, Kangaroo Valley and Jamberoo.

If you love the world game, call into the pub at Jamberoo and stop for a while in the Johnny Warren room. The photographs and memorabilia will take your breath away as you follow Johnny’s journey from age five until his passing at age sixty-one in 2004; The pub is owned by Johnny’s brother and family.

Sea Cliff Bridge
Another highlight was the ride along the coast to the Sea Cliff Bridge which was built out over the ocean when rock falls destroyed part of the coastal road.

We nearly became permanent residents, we so enjoyed breakfast overlooking Kendalls Beach and the whales frolicking in the bay, but Devil and Dwarf had other ideas. After seven nights we were back on the road again enjoying some twisties on our way to Bairnsdale for the Barry Sheene Tribute ride; looking forward to that.

Another lookout, too lazy to remove helmet

Monday, 10 October 2016

Bathurst 1000 2016

Iconic Mount Panorama sign
Even after watching the Bathurst 1000 on TV every year, for the past thirty years, nothing could prepare us for the magnitude of this event, in the flesh, in real life.  We had to pinch ourselves as we rode into the track, The Mount Panorama sign, high on the mountain,  gleaming in the early morning sun; here we were, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Craig Lowndes pitstop
We made ourselves comfortable at corner one, Hells Corner, for the V8’s first practice session on Thursday, an awesome position to watch some hard braking and then see the cars disappear up mountain straight. We stayed a while, taking in the deep rumble of these magnificent V8 engines at one of the most awesome race tracks in the world. In the paddock we caught a glimpse of Craig  Lowndes as he tried to escape the pits for the comfort of his motor home.  Craig was true to his image, always smiling and signing autographs as he walked along.

Mountain camp site
For Friday’s session we caught the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain to see the action at Skyline, The Dipper and The Esses.  It’s difficult to comprehend the number of folks camping on the mountain, fires burning,  beer drinking and mostly having fun. Race day land rights were already staked out with painted lines and you wouldn’t want to argue. Fortunately there are no facilities at The Dipper so everyone gets a chance to stand on the fence line and see the action. There’s a strong police presence at the track, trying to strike a balance between the  Bathurst 1000 being a family event and folks having fun; they seemed to be doing a pretty good job too.

Even the police were having fun
On Saturday we continued to roam around the track on our general admission ticket and our $45 paddock pass. The elevated contours of the viewing areas made me wonder why anyone would buy a grand stand ticket; unless it’s raining.
Murrays Corner action

Early on race day we were in the paddock enjoying a cup of coffee and I was very impressed to find colourful flyers, produced and printed overnight, detailing the starting grid for the race.    For the pre-start circus we made ourselves comfortable on the fence line, directly opposite grid position ten with Frosty’s Bottle-O V8 parked right in front of us. They keep the race format interesting with seven compulsory pit stops, even so, with two thirds of the race done, Whincup looked like he was running away with it.  Then the first safety car appeared and the carnage began.  With the deployment of each safety car the odds on who might take the chequered prize changed too. For a moment we thought our home town boy, West Aussie Garth Tander, was in with a chance, then Whincup got desperate and wiped McLaughlin and Tander out of the race.

It was an exciting finish to an awesome weekend of motorsport. Whincup took the chequered flag but with a fifteen second time penalty was demoted to 11th place.
1st place – Will Davison/Jonathon Webb
2nd place – Shane Van Gisbergen/Alexandre Premat
3rd place – Nick Percat/ Cameron McConville
(subject to a protest from Whincup’s Red Bull team).

Winners are grinners
If you love motorsport, stick the Bathurst 1000 on your bucket list because this truly is a peoples event and is well deserving of its tag as Australia’s biggest motor racing event of the year.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ceduna to Bathurst

Riding towards Horrocks Pass,  Flinders Range
We escaped Ceduna between the showers and stayed dry all the way to Port Augusta. The following day we rode onwards and eastwards, through the mist, over Horrocks Pass, towards Broken Hill. In Peterborough we found a gem of a cafe, setup in the old cinema, and decked out with movie memorabilia. High on the stage were statutes of The Blues Brothers in action, it was a captivating place and the hot chocolate was great too.

Nice lunch stop
We were in time to score the last campsite in the town caravan park at Broken Hill and then we settled in for a few days to enjoy the Pro Hart gallery and the historic township nestled at the foothills of a slag heap.  They say that you don’t know how good your tent is until it rains. Our little tent took 50mm on the chin so we’ve given her 10/10. From Broken Hill we took the bikes on a run to Silverton, once a township supporting a thriving silver mine, now the home of a collection of visual artists and a great outback pub.

Historic lift bridge, Darling River, Wilcannia
We are calling this year’s outback ride “The ride of rivers and birds,” as the swollen rivers and creeks have made us more aware of Australia’s intricate river systems, and the morning bird calls have been magical. I was quite taken with the town of  Wilcannia on The Darling River, once NSW’s third busiest port, now a collection of historic buildings attract folks to the town.

The Darling rises
It’s on nearly every Aussies list to visit the Back O’Burke at least once in a lifetime.  An old timer told us that the Darling River was rising at 1cm per hour and we confirmed this by taking a flood water measurement over twenty four hours. He also explained how a town can become a victim of a flooding river when the town is in drought and hasn’t seen any rain in years.

Singing my original tunes in an outback pub.
The opal fields at Lightening Ridge have the charm and character to draw you in and make you want to stay a while, and we always enjoy riding Devil and Dwarf down the main street of an unfamiliar town. When we pulled up at the Grawin Club in the Scrub, a local dude wandered over to checkout Dwarfie (R1200GS). We exchanged pleasantries and it turned out that Laury D was an old muso and guitar maker from Tamworth, he had retired to the opal fields ten years ago. Laury asked “If I can find you a guitar in 60 seconds will you play me a song?” I felt so at home in this outback pub that without hesitation I picked up the fancy, newly strung, acoustic guitar and sang a collection of my Australiana songs to a very appreciative audience.   I had so much fun I could imagine holing up in Lightening Ridge for a couple of weeks and playing a few sessions.

On this ride we’ve been keeping a keen eye on the  path of the storms and floods in the south of the country as riding in fine weather is our top priority. To escape the next bout of inclement weather, we rode north from Lightening Ridge into Queensland and enjoyed a three day ride to Mudgee via Goondiwindi and  Gunnedah. Only a biker would ride a thousand kilometers to make five hundred.

Hebel Hotel, another amazing  outback pub
It seems there is nothing simpler, and more enjoyable, than riding all day, cooking dinner, sleeping soundly in our little tent, only to be back on the road by 8am to do it all again. Twice we encountered water over the road between Hebel and Birranbandi. Steve crossed first, taking the centre of the road in the blind hope that any pot holes wouldn’t be deep enough to grab the front end and bring the big GS to her knees; the second crossing was quite long and deep at 0.2m.

From Gunnedah we took a selection of scenic backroads to Mudgee ready for our final assault  on Bathurst for the V8 Supercar Bathurst 1000. The poor state of the roads in NSW is alarming. One warning sign proclaimed that the road was “deformed.” Potholes and patched up potholes are the norm in this neck of the woods and you need  to keep an eye out for things that can trip you up. We’re always on the lookout for stock, wildlife and locals running wide on the bends, but yesterday’s tree across the road took us by surprise; still that’s riding and we wouldn’t have it any other way.