TASMANIA TOUR MARCH 2010
by John Wightman
|If you were a spotted tailed quoll, sitting in a tree, in the early morning of 6th March, you would have been|
startled by the shattering sound of a B.S.A. Gold Star, hotly pursued by a pre-war Brough Superior through
the twisty bends along the headwaters of the mighty Derwent River. Then it would have been mollified with
the arrival of about four perfectly tuned BMW’s murmuring mellifluously, two of them combinations. The
hairpins sometimes so tight, the rider of one appeared like a statue of buddah turning in the middle of a 78
rpm record on a turntable, the passenger, bug eyed with the irises swung over to the right on the right hand
bends. Then, followed an orange Honda CB500 and two candy apple red CB750F Hondas, cam chains
quietly chattering. Lastly, a couple of old Harley Davidsons and a mix of other old British bikes.
No Esmeralda, this was not the Hobart Chapter of the Hell’s Angels on a skullduggery mission but the
combined vintage motorcycle clubs of Australia on the one-in-every-four-years grand tour of the island.
Organised this time by the VMCCWA we had gathered a veritable team of about 42 riders on 24 bikes and
our back up driver, Tony Thurley, an Ulverstone resident, who would prove invaluable as a local expert on
fine tuning of plans.
We all crossed over on the day sail from Melbourne on Sunday, 28 February, after leaving behind trailers
and other paraphernalia at a farm in Bacchus Marsh. Keith Perry handed out folders in which all relevant
info, such as route sheets name tags and essential maps were to be found. We burst off the vessel like hot
champagne, then dashed off to Ulverstone before nightfall, as at least three of us had malfunctioning
headlights (my BMW R100RS, the Horex Resident of Trevor Scholar and Cheryl Fennel’s B31 B.S.A.). We
booked in at the Beachfront Motel in Heathcote Street and woke up the next morning to a short exploratory
run up to Leven Canyon, about 100kms into the interior of the island. Weeksy’s Goldie stuttered and died on
a high speed bend and on stopping, we noticed that the fuel line coming into the float bowl of the carbie had
snapped off on the soldered joint but a few twists of duct tape and a couple of cable ties to keep the bowl
upright, did the trick.
On the return, a period of general fiddling took place. Cec Sumption undertook to rewire Cheryl’s BSA,
placing a new loom in from the headlight switch to the stop light. What he found was a, live, brass knob,
under the headlight shell, which when turned clockwise, came up against a metal stop and just shorted out
the battery. The single fuse was rated at 20A, probably more suitable in a Mack truck than a dainty
motorcycle and had a higher rating than the wiring harness it was supposed to protect, meaning that several
charred lengths of old wiring had to be cut away. Cec had nearly finished the job, when the whole bike
toppled over and spilt some fuel (most of which had come out of Trevor’s Horex, which had developed a tank
leak where it bolts onto the frame). Cec also picked up a big cut on his forehead, so Keith rushed him off to
the local hospital for three stitches.
That night Cec was able to finish the wiring and the BSA had a bright headlight again! The Horex was
holding its fuel too, so we all moved off towards Cradle Mountain, through some of the picturesque, 3 letter
back roads. We were also joined by a clutch of Tassie riders, including a ruddy faced fellow from Hobart on a
glorious Brough and another chap on the scruffiest purple Triumph I think I’ve ever seen. Tea was had in the
glorious interior town of Sheffield and we moved on to the National Park where most riders rode through the
little twisty section to Dove Lake and the fairytale mountain in the background. Then back to Ulverstone via
another route to the west, finally ending back the motel, a goodly 300+kms for the day. Most of the bikes
were settling in to a rhythm and getting used to navigating the WA way!
The next day was farewell to Ulverstone, the whole group moving off towards Strahan, via Burnie and
Zeehan, where we stopped for pictures along the coast and the tin mining operations in Roseberry and the
transport museum in Zeehan. At one of the stops we had to wait a few minutes for the two Harleys of Barry
and Brad Markham to come in. Barry, on his son’s 1942 WLA HD had come to grief on a sudden drop off in
a hairpin bend but managed to steer the machine sideways through a gap in the hedge alongside the road.
All was good and no serious damage was done except for a scratch on the hand and a twig in the helmet
visor! Then the final descent into Macquarie Sound, to the massive holiday park complex along the
waterfront in Strahan. We all traipsed into the town centre to celebrate Cec and Barbara Scholar’s 54th
wedding anniversary and merrymaking carried on deep into the night.
We all had to be up early the next morning, 4th March in which a cruise took place out to the heads, where
we felt the fury of the roaring forties and then turned round to go upstream at a brisk 35 knots up the Franklin
river, looking at forest scenes and fishing operations, marvelling at the fact that the river was spared being
dammed up 30 years ago. Then we stopped off on Sarah Island, where we told of the convict history of the
place, in which convicts were used for building boats. The guides made it interesting by coercing some of us
to participate in reenactments of some of the activities of the day (including a streak by one of the ne’er do
well convicts, in which Steve Blackstock, taking the role so seriously he had his trousers down, past his
knees, before some of the other male participants asked him to pull them back up) Few remains are to be
seen on the island of the 50 year prison history but the feeling of the conditions as they were, was palpable.
Yes Esmeralda, the women on the nearby Grommet Island, were engaged in manufacturing those fiddly little
black rubber inserts, so cherished by motorcycle riders, to protect their wiring looms from chafing against
sharp steel platework edges!
A superb lunch was served on the ship making the $73 a head a very reasonable price for a great day trip
out. That evening many of us attended the play “The Ship That Never Was”, in which most of the audience
were given roles in the play, in the production which explained the disappearance of a recently built convict
ship which sailed out of Macquarie harbour, along with 10 of the convicts who had built it while the garrison
commander (Cec Sumption) was out fishing, further up the creek, to Chile. The play was interrupted several
times with the convicts edict “Liberty or Death!” spoken in harsh tones, the baritone voice of Keith Perry
carrying over the other voices. Peter Bennett played the part of a dastardly government official, who let the
blueprint drawings and records of the ship’s building “go missing” so as to obstruct the Crown’s case against
the mutineer’s in their future trial in Hobart.
There was considerable excitement the next morning, with the trip across to Bronte Park in the highlands.
Blokes were revving their engines in the carpark early the next morning and we shot off for Queenstown, that
copper mining town, two or three hundred hairpin bends away. One of our number came to grief against a
van towing a caravan and his foot was broken in a couple of places. He was discharged from Queenstown
hospital and taken through to Hobart for a cast to be put on. Peter Bennett was enjoying a session in the
sidecar of the BMW R90/6 combination when suddenly the suspension on the sidecar collapsed like the
World Trade Centre. It was not too far to go though, to the chalets at Bronte Park and we all made it in good
time for evening drinks around the grand fireplace (which must be truly welcoming in the winter when there’s
2 foot of snow outside!) The chalets started off life as accommodation for the workers building the hydroelectric
scheme up there and then it became a hunting lodge. Three original cabins still exist in which 1952
QANTAS pin-up calendars, valve radios and straw cots still remain as they were when the workers were
staying in them.
The next morning, Keith took out the offending shock and put in a ring spanner and a length of nylon rope
(and winning a jury rig nomination in the process). Cec was “comfortable” in there and Keith said it was
almost as good as the original shock. Then it was along the Derwent River, all the way to Hobart, along
beautiful forest scenes, switchbacks and views of misty valleys.
We swept into Hobart, like vanquishing heroes, a couple of Tazzie riders still hanging onto the group and booked into the Riverfront Motel before rushing off to the Saturday Salamanca Markets.
Ask any Tasmanian, how many people live in Tasmania, and invariably they will answer “Enough”. We like
you to come over and visit, but we like you to go back afterwards! The half million people that stay there are
quite well spread out, with lots of open areas, like the wild and remote south west, where the thylacine roams
unhindered but Hobart has grown into quite a beautiful bustling city with a reasonable size developed on the
east bank of the Derwent too. That Sunday morning was glorious (even though Melbourne had just had the
worst storm in its record taking history). We rode up 1270m high Mount Wellington and viewed the whole
city, grinding away, far below, with the Tasman Bridge the focus of the view. Some of the group then hired a
car and went to the peninsulas in the south east, like Bruny and some rode to Port Arthur, that huge facility
for second offenders.
We spent most of the day exploring the massive site, and cruising the bay, before returning via the fabled
Tasman blowhole, Devil’s Kitchen and the natural arch at Eagle’s Neck. Some of the chaps took their bikes
down to Dodges Ferry or to the fabulous Tahune Forest Walk towards Tasmania’s southernmost town,
Southport. That afternoon the weather started to close in but having been dry thus far, we could not really
complain. That next morning we had to be ready for the trip to Launceston which took us through Poatina
and Longford skirting the highland lakes. It pretty much rained most of the way, particularly around the
middle of the day. I was riding behind Dale Kennedy on his Gold star. Going down the escarpment,
waterfalls suddenly sprung out from the cliff faces and front wheels threatened to skid away. At the bottom of
the escarpment, a rushing brown stream of topsoil rushed over the bitumen and we punched our way
through it. Dale, up ahead had stopped and on opening his maggie cover, let out a stream of water. Hedley
and Roberta Cook, on their his and hers Triumphs, looked like drowned rats, dustbin bags draped over their
riding leathers. Weeksy’s Goldie picked up what he described as a seven inch nail in his back tyre but which
Tony described as a “small tack” we were only able to change the tube and repair the puncture that evening
after the rain had subsided.
By the morning of the 9th March, it had cleared up considerably and everyone congregated at the front carpark of the Treasure Island caravan park, ready for the big move east. Those that had not been to the Launceston Automobile museum the day before, elected to go now, to see the grand collection of automobiles and the 20-30 motorcycles, most of which were displayed on an upper deck. Highlights were a Dover white and Bavarian black pair of R60 BMWs, a glittering ’39 Silver Star (only about 30-40 imported to Australia) and a brace of perfect plus Adlers.
Back on the Tasman Highway, it was still cloudy but the group made good headway, past the breathtaking view at Targa, looking over Mt Barrow and Scottsdale and into the town of Scottsdale, where most punters plunged into a warts-and-all English breakfast. Cec couldn’t start the Norton combination, so went hunting for a battery in the main street (with success). It explained why the bike had been difficult to start in the morning. The group now bobbed and weaved through the hairpins all the way to St Helen’s, where most people bought provisions for the dinner, that night, at White Sands.
The last 100 kms were of long white beaches, stretching for infinity north and south, and when we arrived at White Sands, just south of Falmouth, you could hear a pin drop at hundred paces, when the wind was down. The resort overlooks a magnificent bay, and most of the group went for a walk along the beachfront. That evening, most of us watched the sun dissolve into the forested horizon, with a pint of Cascade or equivalent, the sigh of the surf just behind us.
The next morning, there was a hugger mugger at reception, as their whole computer system went down. Cec was also on the prowl for a stronger captive bolt for the Norton’s gearbox and then Keith’s 90/6 didn’t want to run nicely. Eventually, the bike was loaded up and we all moved off, further southwards, back on the road to Hobart, with more white beaches and a spectacular little motorcycle museum in Bicheno. Most of the lads were in there, gaping at the exhibits. One of the latest acquisitions was a ’29 or ’30 Sloper and Weeksy engaged in a detailed monologue with the curator regarding that particular machine, then went into B.S.A.’ s history through the Sloper and Empire Star era, to the Silver Star and then their crowning glory, the sensational, Brooklands winning Gold Star. They even had a 1955 DKW RT250, a very tidy Adler and a Noriel (don’t ask!) on show.
Then we hit the (relatively) high speed section down to Orford, where we left the coast, heading inland towards the historic town of Richmond. There, most had lunch and spent some time visiting the old jailhouse, the 1830’s bridge and other landmarks. From there, it was a short gallop over the hills and into Hobart via the Tasman Bridge, and from there a hop and a skip to our old hunting ground, the welcoming Riverside lodge again, in Berriedale, complete with the ducks, the seabirds and the tranquil lagoon of the Derwent again.
Once the Beemer was offloaded, Keith stripped down both carburettors and cleaned out a fair bit of brown sludge from each. When he went to rebuild the stripped carburettors again, one of them was missing a little brass ferrule which sits below the needle jet. Keith roped in Peter Bennett and Steve Blackstock to form a witch hunt sub-committee, to look into first, the other BMW riders, then the British bike riders and lastly Harley Davidson riders to find out where it was. Eventually the missing widget was found under the seat toolbox console of the BMW and all was good. The bad running problem was then diagnosed as being the ongoing Omega Ignition saga, in which it cuts out the motor when the red light goes off. By reverting to points, Keith was able to reconnect the three alternator wires and the Beemer was back to normal again.
Once again, there was a rest day so some went down to Bruny Peninsula and others struck off south to where they had not visited previously. Leony and I went for a leisurely ride up to the forest south of Geeveston, returning via Blackman’s Bay, site of the Tasman landing back in the seventeenth century and back along the coast between Kingston and Hobart, to see the famous blowhole (down Esmeralda! That is a geographical formation!) via Taroona where the mighty shot tower still glowers over Derwent Harbour. That night, Paul and Cheryl cooked a fantastic vegetarian meal over at their chalets and the chaps had a whale of an evening, Tony regaling us with Tasman tales and Weeksy had his party “gorilla wig” on, to scare off unwelcome visitors.
The next day, the 12th, it was labelled the “Back to Launceston again” day but this time we crossed the Bowen bridge back to the east bank and via windy back roads to the Midland Highway. The big attraction of today was the fabulous little historic town of Ross, where we spent hours exploring the many sights of the old town. Many cups of coffee were drank and loads of scones with clotted cream. Eventually, we tore ourselves away and made off for Launceston, by way of Perth, the snap crackle pop of the ubiquitous Gold Stars heralding once again, our return. Those that had the time, slipped into the city to visit the wonderful Cataract Gorge, with its Victorian gardens and chairlift ride. Some of the bikes were now loaded up into vans that had been left here by some of the QLD and NSW riders.
The next morning, neither of the remaining BSAs would start. Like disgruntled sled dogs on Christmas Eve, they refused to budge, not even after the Goldie had been firmly “kicked in the belly” about thirty times. They were both loaded up side by side, in a sulk, and we headed off north, following the west bank of the Tamar, all the way to Beaconsfield, where a compulsory stop and tour took place of the long running goldmine. Just for a laugh, Weeksy tried kicking the Goldie again, and she actually started! So, she was wheeled off for the last little bit of action. Then we headed onwards to Beauty Point, stopping along the way at the world famous Platypus House. In there, we booked a tour in which they showed us all their Echidnas and Platypuses (No Esmeralda, not Platypi, that’s the sixteenth letter in the Macedonian alphabet!) and we certainly were able to glean a lot of information about these fascinating creatures. Thereafter, we headed across the desolate Asbestos range towards Port Sorell and then the “got-to-pinch-myself-I-think-I’m-dreaming, route along the Bass Highway, where, only twelve days ago, we had disembarked from the “Spirit”. Then back to the Beachside Motel, with the two aunties that had served us last time.
That evening, Cec gave Cheryl’s Beezer a look over again, opening the points up slightly and demonstrated to all of us how easy it is to start a big thumper. Yup get it to just TDC, where it’s rocking over the top of its stroke, then kick it in the belly! Weeksy tried again on the Goldie but it wasn’t having a bar of it, so it was loaded up on the trailer, along with the two HD’s. I lent my 6V battery charger to Trevor to see if his battery could be rejuvenated, because the Horex was cutting out at low rpm and misfiring quite badly, even though the timing was spot on. Cheryl’s headlight was on the blink too, so we tried charging her battery too. We were also concerned because Adrian’s BMW’s back tyre was showing two layers of canvas in several places and we were not sure if it would make it to the ferry.
That next morning, we only had a small distance to travel but all the trailer space was taken up with those bikes being trailered home with non Bacchus Marsh trailers. Trevor’s Horex didn’t start, in spite of the recharged battery, so we resolved to investigate it at the V.C.C. of Tasmania, just down the road in Devonport. Bruce, one of the Triumph riders wired in another power cable to the coil and the Horex was sweet again. Just in case, he also jury rigged a couple of 3V radio batteries in series, just to make sure it made it to the ferry! The car club in Devonport, along Clayton Road, gave us a very grand luncheon and from there we accompanied them to an exhibition a the home of one of their members, Chas Kelly, a famous Tasmanian racer and owner of an unimaginable collection of two and four wheelers. There was drama, right down to the wire, as the BMW’s back tyre blew like a musket on a Gettysburg battlefield between the exhibition and the ferry terminal. Fortunately for Adrian, the one and only bike shop in Devonport’s owner lived opposite to where the combination rolled to a halt, so was able to have a second hand tyre fitted for just 20 bucks! I wonder if that same second hand tyre will still be on it for the 2014 event!
We parked up our motorcycles outside the ferry terminal and wandered into the local pub. There, Bob Inkson, one of the QLD contingent regaled us with stories of St Kilda in the sixties, when he would walk into a melee of flying beer, mud, guts, glass and barstools in his favourite pub and earning just enough to maintain his surfing existence. After embracing our friend, Tony goodbye, we went up the ramp and tied our steeds down in the hold, then made our way to our cabins. We would be woken that Monday morning by a Daytona orange dawn over Melbourne, and as we blended into the dreary early morning traffic, we mused that they would all have been oblivious of the fortnight’s fun we had just completed.
Now it was a matter of regrouping at Bacchus Marsh and the long journey home. We got our Grey Mare’s back wheel on the Eyre Highway and blazed off back to Perth. It was a pleasant enough three day journey, interrupted with a very lumpy running bike in Adelaide. I put it to the heat, which could have played around with the happy ignition setting of the rudimentary 70’s era. We booked in at a run down motel there, much to Leony’s dismay and the pockmarked motel proprietor led us to a dingy room (from which a very large cockroach scurried out). I removed the front engine cover and ascertained that the points probably needed replacing.
Imagine my disgust, when I noticed that the 3mm allen (hex) key I needed to remove the points from its points plate was the only one missing from both my sets! I went to ask pimple face at the reception (by now, face back in a porn magazine, and feet up on the desk). Reluctantly, he scratched through a pitiful old box of rusty tools, amazingly finding two off, one eighth of an inch hex keys! After issuing dark threats about making sure I returned the tools I rushed back to the bike but they just wouldn’t fit. Feeling a bit like a naughty schoolboy stealing tomorrow’s exam paper from the teacher’s office, I quickly filed down the one end of one, till it fitted and with a screech, the securing bolt tore loose.
The next day, there was a bit of an improvement but I knew there was still something wrong. A large cold front suddenly descended on us, with waves of rain. It was during a particularly heavy wave, that the bike suddenly started running on one cyclinder only. Upon putting my gloved hand on the left HT cable I felt like a burglar touching an electric fence. In Eucla, after having run out of petrol, 10kms before the border, I replaced the spark plug cap and noticed that the rain from the wet day in Tasmania had gotten into the end, just where it screws onto the cap, forming a green layer of verdigris on the copper core. Now with two fat blue sparks, nothing could hold the mare back and we cruised all the way home, stopping off at the 15 sites of interest along the magical Norseman-Hyden road and marvelling at the way the glazing on the rings disappeared and the oil consumption reduced to almost zero (high mileage of sustained moderately high engine speed and uniform temperature).
A very big thank you needs to be extended to Keith and Dave, for not only organising such a successful trip, but for bringing their personal vehicles and trailers for back-up and baggage carrying duty. It will be a long time before we forget the Tasmanians (and a long time before they forget us!).
See trip photos here
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