Around Oz on a Triumph
Motorheads Geoff Hill and Colin O’Carroll zoomed around Australia on a pair of Triumphs and captured the adventure in a new travel memoir
Long straights sometimes tackled at 130mph, sweltering temperatures, the odd tropical monsoon, wombats, koalas and nights spent sleeping on mattresses in the desert. Then hairpin bends, lush views of banana plants and a gratuitous number of pies - filled with questionable Aussie mixes of crocodile and ostrich meat.
Belfast journalists Geoff Hill and Colin O’Carroll completed a three-month motorbike circuit of Australia manfully, zooming from Adelaide and back to Adelaide. They closed a difficult 15,000 mile circuit around one of the world’s longest highways and the main artery of the continent. Even for two mad hairy bikers, it was a sizeable challenge.
The idea for the unusual odyssey came, as many of the best ideas do, during late night exchanges in kitchens over a fair number of beers, and Hill and O'Carroll left behind wives, offspring and offices, grabbed two Triumph motorbikes and made off on their great escape. (They had a camera crew and a temperamental van called Matilda in tow for a forthcoming documentary).
Travelling around Oz was, in parts, a nostalgic trip for O'Carroll, who spent many of his formative years in Australia; his family left Belfast for Melbourne in 1972, after the onset of the Troubles. For Hill, who previously rode motorbikes from Belfast to Delhi, from Chile to Alaska and along Route 66 - completing travel books on each route - Australia on a Triumph was virgin territory.
'We were riding from dawn to dusk, pretty much every day,' says Hill, 'but the thing about Australia was the diversity, in terms of the landscape and the climate... I mean we had downpours, tropical thunderstorms and 40 degree temperatures to deal with.'
This pair are so enthused remembering the highpoints of the adventure, their sentences tumble together as speedily as they revved those Triumphs along in the Australian heat.
'The Great Ocean Road was my favourite,' admits Hill. '170 miles along the coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. It was such an incredible Alpine landscape you half expected Julie Andrews to appear and start singing. And the Margaret River south of Perth, one of the big wine regions, was all cows and meadows - beautiful. Oh and Queensland was so lush, with these banana plantations and gorgeous beaches all the way.'
'There were koalas hanging from trees over the road!' exclaims O'Carroll, disproportionately excited. 'And the landscape up in the north was fabulous, all these red escarpments with strange striations and mini-deserts like you’d see in the Westerns with flat-top mountains.'
Motoring in all weathers for hours each day, there were vast stretches of Australia that were dry, arid and comparatively uninspiring. The two bikers covered miles and miles in the Outback, where there was nothing but the odd filling station, the ungodly heat and the ever-elusive horizon.
'Then you’d zone out,' recalls Hill, 'thinking or singing to yourself and just enjoying being on the move.' O'Carroll interrupts: 'Streuth! Geoff went mad going down a big hill at a place called Iron Knob. There were five miles of straight downward road and this big red mountain, which was basically solid iron ore. The view was like something out of Mad Max.
'There I was cruising along at 60 or 70, minding my own business, watching the sun go down and the desert slowly changing colour and this freakin’ lunatic comes flying down at 200mph! He nearly blew me off the road!'
'Ah, it was only 137,' Hill retorts, sheepishly.
Between thundering along the tarmac and dirt tracks - on the rare moments when the Triumphs weren’t in transit - Hill and O'Carroll were scribbling away, as inveterate hacks must, and the result is an interesting travel narrative that mixes both their perspectives of biking around Australia.
Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph, published by Blackstaff Press, is a sort of Bill Bryson travelogue of the two Ulster men discovering the weird and wonderful delights of Down Under. Interspersing Hill and O'Carroll’s entries, the book mixes pop historical anecdotes and cultural observation with banter, hi-jinx and tales of terrible adversity.
For the latter see the passages on Hill’s snoring, over-priced pizzas, doors in pokey motels that opened outwards rather than inwards with dire consequences, hideously misplaced garden sprinklers and O'Carroll’s malfunctioning internet dongle.
The two men fell in love with Australia (O'Carroll all over again) and the nomadic pace of motorbiking it, getting up everyday and travelling to the next destination, through sun-scorched desert or rain-sodden gravel.
'It’s that feeling of leaving everything behind that is so great,' Hill observes, stroking his chin. 'You just get up and go. Most people, the travel writer Bruce Chatwin believed, are happiest wandering and only become restless when they are trapped and pinned down.'
They missed their families, but once they got into the rhythm of being on the road they were entranced. Among the many people our biking heroes met along the way were some heavily tattooed Hells Angels, friendly Aboriginals, OAPs spending their retirement in luxurious transit, and a wheat farmer who founded his own principality.
'I started to wonder if the Australian government had been putting Prozac in the water,' adds Hill, 'because wherever we went people seemed so laidback, happy, and very willing to stand about and talk about motorbikes.'
'You know what?' says O'Carroll, whose voice has a more pronounced Aussie ring to it, 'If I could take my family with me I could spend the rest of my years biking around Australia.'
At the thought, both of them grow misty-eyed. But seconds later they sober up - the thought of what their wives would do at the mere mention of another odyssey stops the wild flight of fancy. And they surrender, courageously once more, to being ensconced in little old Belfast.
Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph by Geoff Hill and Colin O’Carroll is published by Blackstaff Press. To order your copy visit www.blackstaffpress.com or our store.