A Man's World: Touring Australia

The land that feminism forgot

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Some couples honeymoon on the Riviera, but Pretty Wife is made of sterner stuff. We flew off to Australia instead, the lost continent of God's species experiments gone poisonously awry. We have friends there-friends with motorcycles and barbecues, good books and glider ratings.

At dawn on a winter morning in New South Wales, the greatest people you wish you knew picked us up. Justin and Gita fed us, coffeed us and introduced us to their shoulder-climbing kittens. They took us up for aerobatic soaring near Camden. They even schlepped us back to the outskirts of Sydney where we picked up a Ducati GT1000 Touring from Fraser Motorcycles, a tri-brand boutique chicer than any SoHo loft.

The bike bellowed, Pretty Wife smiled and we set out west to go south along the Northern Road. Do not attempt to tease sense out of sub-equatorial directions. Even their toilets flush uphill.

The lumpy highway curved deep into the Camden countryside. Strapped with a bagful of jet lag, Pretty Wife clung to my back, drowsing fitfully. Having apparently packed a flu virus in my carry-on, I concentrated on not sneezing into my chin bar. Just as I was musing that Oz roads were a lot like home, a sign reading "SURGERY-BUTCHERY-CHEMIST-NEWS AGENT" reminded me to swerve back into the left lane.

That evening we executed inter-hemispherical trade agreements of laughter and lies, ate traditional Aussie barbecue alongside passion fruit stirred into full cream yoghurt, drank wine and single-malt until we crashed early and slept like the toe-tagged.

We burned one happy riding day along the southern coast and windy Wollongong hills with Lindsay, an old friend met for the first time. Though we lacked for hermetically sealed panniers, solar-powered GPS or even a tank bag, Lindsay didn't hold it against us. He's not Type ADV like that.

Outside the Sydney city limits, one enters a man's world of truckies and tradies, footy and kelpies and other curious diminutives. A land offering essentially two culinary options: Eat at Justin and Gita's house, or stick to meat pies and roasted half-chickens.

Our hosts have lives of their own, so we rolled up maps and coffee packets and a preload spanner in our socks and wandered, un-escorted, north through Penrith and Windsor. At Colo Heights, the outstanding Putty Road leapt into the hills at a sign reading "NEXT FUEL 120 KILOMETERS."

"Carry cash if you don't fancy bushwalking," had been Justin's advice. While I counted out thick $2 coins, Crocodile Dundee's tweaker niece lurched through the door.

"We left firewood all over Putty Road!" she laughed through long, yellow teeth. Indeed, the tall stack of pale-yellow cordwood teetering on their trailer admitted of several gaping holes.

Random cargo distribution is far from Putty's only hazard. Marsupial mega-fauna and meat-peeling boars graze the tender grasses along the road's edge.Snoozing on the warm asphalt after dark, they provide a fabulous variety and quantity of widely distributed road kill.

Decently paved, narrow, twisting, humped, lined with rock faces you can graze your helmet on and riddled with blind spots, Putty Road is a bit like the Isle of Man TT course unbuckled and lashed across the landscape. It requires your full attention.

Turbocharged Subarus and 6-litre Holden utes sport fancy 'roo bars, but full-kit Kenworths and Scanias joust with 120mm bull bars optioned with windshield spatter screens. They go like hell and use the whole road. It keeps the car drivers cautious.

Not bikers, though: Putty Road is bestrewn with motorcycle-specific warning signs, advisories, detailed cornering instructions ... and memorial crosses. Its 150 kilometers of tight curves make for a long ambulance ride to anywhere, but the Putty is a world-class ride and you know how those bloody sportbikers can be!

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