On the road again, on my own again. The weather had been a bit dodgy for days; some heavy rain, then just cloudy for a while, but now things were getting dicey again as Cyclone Debbie bore down from the North.

I stopped at the pub in Hivesville and asked about the road conditions on the back road up to Gayndah. No deep creek crossings, no locally renowned bogs? The publican said he hadn’t driven there lately, but he knew that people from up that way had made it to town. And, he said, good luck.

Grace and Beastie packed up from behind

So I turned off the bitumen and followed the gravel road through bush, through forests and then through paddocks again. After weeks in the company of friends, it took me a little while to become comfortable, again, with that slightly eerie feeling you get when you know that no-one knows where you are, and that there is no-one else is around for a long time and a long way.

I came out of the hills at Gayndah, and as I fuelled up the rain began to fall. It was three in the afternoon; kids were getting out of school and there seemed to be a lot of people at the servo just buying lollies and Coke and staring at me. I had a headache and was in no mood for anything, so I got on the main road just as the heavens opened.

Having grown up in the country in the middle of a long drought, I appreciate rain. It’s beautiful, life-giving stuff; whenever rain starts to fall, I draw the smell of the wet earth through my nostrils, deep into my lungs, and it’s like an act of communion.

It’s good that I feel this way about rain, because otherwise getting drenched on a motorbike might seem unpleasant. Drenched I got, too. The rain bucketed down and obscured the bitumen, and I rode with the utmost care: no sudden movements, no moves that might put more strain on those tiny contact patches than absolutely necessary. My new Sahara 3s took it well, and Beastie and I cruised out the other side of the storm.

As we will, many a time.

Jock had said that there was a good pub in Cracow, and free camping to be had in town, so I smashed out a few hundred kilometres in the fading light.


Cracow, Queensland:

When the speed limit drops to 60, you’ll cross a creek, take a sharp right, and you’ll come to the pub; follow the road around, sharp left, and you’ll see a mining camp: dongas, boom gate, fluoro-marked Hiluxes; keep going and you’ll see a sign telling you how many kilometres to Theodore. Now turn around and go back, because you’ve just ridden out the other side of town.

I chucked a u-turn and went back to the pub to ask about this famous free camping. The barmaid directed me up the hill, and after doing some foolish-looking u-turns in the only street, I realised that the fancy-looking ‘heritage centre’ was actually the campground I was looking for.

 Now, I’m not known for being a fan of mining companies per se, and the campgrounds in Cracow are an open PR-exercise by the local mining corporate; but my goodness, free hot showers on a rainy day? I’m there.

The place also has free powered sites, lined up on nice bitumen, for those of you who travel around with a selection of household appliances. For a hobo like myself, however, the array of facilities was simply confusing, and the bitumen looked uncomfortable to sleep on. I did a few confused laps looking for a suitable grassy spot: not under a tree that would drop a branch on my tent (the wind was coming up); not on a soft patch of ground into which my sidestand would inevitably sink; not in a depression that would fill with water overnight.

It was at this moment that I met Michael: a man with the white beard of an artist or a Marxist or a humanist (you know the kind of beard I mean). He emerged out of a small inhabited truck, and after some contemplation of my dilemma, helped me move the large picnic tables from underneath an over-engineered barbecue shelter.

Voila, five star motocamping for inclement weather: under-cover parking for Beastie, a raised, dry surface for my tent; electricity, kitchen and dining. It hardly qualified as roughing it.

Michael helped me set up the tent, which was a matter of guesswork: in the weeks since I left Sydney, I’d been rolling from friend to acquaintance, couch to couch. Tonight was the first night of the trip that I would actually have to sleep on the ground.

I also didn’t know anything about the tent itself: it had been a wonderful gift, bestowed upon me by a fellow rider with blessings for my trip. In my book, a free tent is the right tent; and a tent given by a friend is the best tent. So I’d headed off into the wilderness with it, on faith, in a hurry, feeling the love, without ever having put it up.

Now the first rule of camping is, put your tent up first – before it starts raining, before you start drinking, before you start talking all night. Whatever your vices might be, put up your tent first or you’ll be sorry.

So Michael and I accomplished that mission before we got down to proper introductions. Then I asked the universal question: where are you from / where are you going / what’s your story?

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I live on a island.’


So Michael lives on an island near Brisbane, whenever he’s not wandering about in his truck. I’d caught him on his way back from a party – a wedding? A birthday? – in the Whitsundays.


The next morning Michael made me a cup of earl grey tea on the front porch of his truck, and we chatted about politics and the things you are fortunate enough to learn as a curious, wandering person on your own. The back of the truck had all been converted into a living space, but by hand – not prefabricated in soulless fibreglass like a caravan – and I noticed that some of the touches seemed nautical in flavour. The little carved wooden bannisters that held the cups on their shelf; the folding tabletop of gleaming wood. Sure enough, over Michael’s shoulder, I could see a photograph of a streamlined yacht with its mainsail up, cutting through turquoise seas. The yacht was called Breakaway.


Yes, Michael told me, that was his yacht; he lived on her for years, taking people on tours through the Whitsundays sometimes; other times, working as crew delivering other people’s boats. He had sailed through a typhoon in the South China Sea.

Michael bought Breakaway in South Australia, and sailed her, alone, all the way around the southern tip of Australia and up to Queensland. Through the wild weather of the Bight and the southern seas; through Bass Strait, single handed. People told him that he couldn’t do it, but he didn’t have anyone else to crew, so he just did it. No fuss.

(I liked that a lot.)

Michael said that he sold Breakaway a few years ago because the costs of mooring and insuring a yacht became too great; in his retirement, he grudgingly came to accept the necessity of security, so he bought a piece of land – a piece of island – and built a house there with the help of friends. Then, he said, he bought a truck and converted it into a living space, because even though he wanted security, he still wanted to be free.

So, you might see Michael on the roads somewhere around Australia over the next few years; if you have the opportunity to have a cup of tea and a chat with him, you’ll be all the richer. He is a person with a curious and cultivated mind, and a person who has time.

We talked politics and travel. We talked about the heartbreakingly beautiful West Australian coast, and about the LNG shipping terminal that had been proposed to be built up there at James Price Point.  Michael reflected on a conversation he’d had with a gentleman on the East coast, who had been cursing out ‘all the greenies’ whom he accused of obstructing the construction of the shipping terminal and thus the prosperity of the nation. This gentleman said that he didn’t care if the Kimberley coastline was torn up to make way for the project; Australia has lots of land, lots of coast, what’s one bit of coast anyway? Michael’s response was merely to say: ‘I wonder, if you’d been there, whether you might think differently.’

Such a mild, yet profound response; it reminded me of a particular lady barrister at the Sydney bar, known for the gentleness with which she destroyed her opponents in cross examination. ‘I wonder if – ,’ she’d say to the witness, putting her counter propositions so mildly that the witness would be momentarily distracted from the battle, and unwittingly allow themself to agree.


That night in Cracow, Michael and I ambled down the hill to the pub for a beer. Michael had informed me that there were ‘two Polish bikers’ staying down there this evening, and I wanted to go down and find out who they were.

0 thoughts on “I Live On An Island

  1. Michael says:

    Well tell me about the Polish guts ????

  2. James says:

    Your best entry yet. I love the freedom/time/independence themes.

    1. BikeHedonia says:

      Having time makes me feel truly rich to this day

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