On Monday morning, Graham came by as promised and we headed out to the Cherbourg aboriginal community.

You drive through lovely country to get there – I got the guided tour of local wineries, a herd of camels, and the outlook over the Joh Bjelke-Petersen dam.

Cherbourg was once an Aboriginal mission; now it belongs to the aboriginal community. All the houses in Cherbourg belong to the community.

The town is small and fairly neat, except for the slightly strange recurrence of random items on carport roofs. It seems to be either a method of storage or a method of disposal.

A few of the old protectorate buildings remain in the middle of town, and some are now museums commemorating Cherbourg’s past. There were lots of children, lots of young people around, but barely any commercial life; the only café had shut and the emu abattoir on top of the hill had burnt down some time ago.

However, the school was our destination, and it was a neat and colourful and optimistic place when we arrived. The playground was dominated by a giant echidna, the animal emblem of the school, and the kindergarten had a creek environment in the play area where Sheri said the kids were learning about bushcraft and the land.


We met up with Sheri and went in to say hello. In a new double-sized classroom, Sheri introduced me to a class of seven or eight year olds. They were reading and working in groups on the floor, and all looked up expectantly when they saw us at the door.

‘This is Grace,’ Sheri told them. ‘She’s riding her motorbike from here to France.’

The kids were instantly on board. Adults usually look confused when I tell them I’m riding to Paris, because they know there’s no road to get there; I have to explain how I ship from Darwin to East Timor and catch some ferries up to the Asian continent before they understand what’s going on.  These kids, however, were instantly with me: they don’t know you that you “can’t” ride from Sydney to Paris.

And this was nothing to do with a deficiency of geographical knowledge. Straight away, the kids were scrambling get the cartographic globe from the store room so we could look at all the countries I would go through on my way to Paris.

First the kids found Australia, and corner of Queensland we were currently in; then one of the girls ran her hands around on the globe until she found FRANCE marked on the Western edge of Europe. ‘France,’ she said, and spelled it out loud to me; Yes, that’s the place, I said. Another kid asked if I would go through China. No, I said, I’ll go through Thailand and India instead. So we sat on the floor and mapped out my route all the way around the globe from Cherbourg to France.

We talked about the trip and about my motorbike; one of the girls asked if I rode at night, and another asked if I was scared to be going on my own. Sometimes, I said. The kids wanted to look at pictures of Beastie and so did I. We talked about travelling and about motorbikes; the kids seemed to have a sense of adventure. Their smiles were like sunshine.

I want these kids to grow up and still carry that imagination and optimism with them; I hope they will have a sense of belonging wherever they go, wherever they find themselves to be under this wide sky.

* * *

Now, this post was going to be longer, and perhaps more political, because I wanted to retell some of the stories that were told to me on those days around my visit to Cherbourg and in the days and weeks since – stories about being aboriginal, memories about being a non-aboriginal person looking on. Those stories are not retold here, however, because many of the people who told me those stories still feel that those stories, those topics, are too sensitive or personal for broader publication. That’s okay: they are not my stories to tell. I am, instead, simply so grateful for the complete generosity with which others have shared their experiences, their insights, their memories.

I will just make two observations:

  • First, I was so lucky to get to spend a little bit of time with a bunch of kids who inspired me.
  • Second, in my previous life as an educated Sydneyite, I noticed that there is a lot of talking about ‘marginalised’ people without much talking with ‘marginalised’ people or indeed looking them in the eye. I always thought, how about just sitting down and having a cup of tea together, every now and then.

I’ll always say yes to a cup of tea.

* * *

The next day I loaded up Beastie again; Annie saddled up her trike, Jock urged the old KLR forward, and so we climbed up above the Darling Downs with a veritable guard of honour.

(If you’ve not done it before, please note that Boat Mountain Road is just smooth bitumen twisties and happiness. Take your road bike there. You know you want to.)

Over the last few days, I had been the recipient of such love and generosity – practically, yes, but even more so in spirit. People welcomed me into their homes and towns and classrooms, looked me in the eye, told me their stories. A traveller sometimes gets special access, because we’re always leaving.

Grace and Beastie packed up from behind

We waved goodbye and half an hour later I was eating canned tuna, alone, watching a cyclone push rain into my horizons.

0 thoughts on “Cherbourg to Paris

  1. dr.lim says:

    Checking in for first time, looks awesome! hope u get to paris in time..stay safe.

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