A Man's World: Touring Australia

The land that feminism forgot

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Here as on the Island or anywhere, the secret is avoiding Mad Sunday. On our winter weekday, we encountered one other rider on the whole lonesome stretch. He didn't wave-it's just not done here. One's clutch hand is offside to oncoming traffic. Riders nod, poke out their inside toe or just mumble along. In this mirror world, only Harley riders wave. Friggin' tourists...

We left Putty Road at Singleton, heading through Gresford to Dungog on scenic roads with craptastic pavement that turned the backward-sloping passenger seat into a $12,000 spanking machine. Comfortably folded onto one of the world's best pilot's seats and with shock spring preload now cranked all the way up, I railed 400 corners in blissful ignorance. By the time we idled into Gloucester the rear turn signal ambers had disintegrated, the back tire was chunking and Pretty Wife looked like she'd interviewed with the dungeon master.

One less click of preload, maybe, and some aftercare. Best wife so far!

Though our travel days were warmer than Seattle's summer, heat escaped quickly into the clear winter nights and I wasn't kicking that airline virus very fast. Slavishly following Pretty Wife's directions, I shambled into the Avon Valley Inn with whitefinger and the shivers. First barfly we encountered cheerfully enquired, "How d'ya' go, mate?" He promptly answered himself, "We go better'n you!

"We're not as cold, eh?" Laughing at his own joke, John turned to interpret the glottal growls of our glowering, one-eyed innkeeper. John's a hooker for the Gloucester Magpies, Avon Valley's local ruggers. Their advance to the semis explained barkeep Dave's displeasured rictus. The house was buying rounds, but we were too chilled for Vic's Bitter.

Small-town pubs also offer rooms and hot food. No lady's loo in the bar-what kind of woman would consort with magpies on the peck?-but there was a fire blazing on the tavern hearth. Parking around back in the beer garden, we climbed a creaky, skeletal staircase to the best room in the house. The wallpaper was peeling and the radiator busted, but the sheets were clean and it was closest to the balcony bathroom.

Sourcing our supper at Blakey's Chicken & Fish shop, we also discovered Cheery Cheer, the world's most optimistic soda pop. Back at the pub, I purged my sniffles into coarse tissues and made shameless recourse to the Civil War survival technique of spooning.

The morning telly told of sharks eating a surfer at a nearby beach and pythons nesting in the roof of a nearby home. Verdict on the shark's lunch? He sure loved to surf. Australians honor a "reasonable man" tradition: If the road is treacherous or sharks are present, there's quite likely a warning sign. After that you're on yer own, mate.

By 0700, One-Eyed Dave was already washing beer glasses. I found him easier to understand in the quiet light of day.

"Stay all righ', then?"

"Couldn't've picked a better spot for our honeymoon."

"Oh, you two are jist married, then? That's luvly." Gripping my hand in both enormous paws, he looked earnestly sideways at me. "The virra best to you both, myte. The missus and me, we've been t'gither 32 years now.

"I dunno what Oi'll do when she's gone. Bist to travel togither, aye?"

Indeed. While celebrated philosopher Winnie the Pooh once observed that "Forever is too good to be true," he also said, "Promise me you'll never forget me, because if I thought you would, I'd never leave."

Packing up the bike, Pretty Wife countered my brekkie proposal with "I want to ride!" That's how we ended up jackhammering up Thunderbolts Way toward Walcha before we'd had our coffee. I blame her entirely.

It was 2 hours before we pulled into the Nowendoc town pump, bottle shop and general store where Jack Sprat's wife incarnate boiled up scalding brownish water and soapy meat pies for us.

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