We have for the most part survived bushfires, Covid 19, lockdowns, mouse plagues, floods and a federal election. We still have a lingering La Nina that looks to have us soaked till August or September. Nevertheless, we will stoically come out of this stronger and make better decisions for the future.
After a long break from the saddle, a mate, Rod had organised a trip with Craig and me to Lake St Clair near Singleton to get the cobwebs off his Deauville and check their camping gear in preparation for a planned ride to the South Australian and Victorian borders next year. Testing their steads along the Putty Road through Broke and into Singleton, they had one of the few days of sun this year and made the most of it.
Due to being a diligent worker, I had organised to meet Rod and Craig a day late at the Lake St Clair campground. This wasn't such a bad thing as it gave me time to take the scenic route via Windsor, Wisemans Ferry and St Albans before heading through Broke and beyond.
North of Windsor, the devastation of this year's floods is still evident. Debris hangs off power lines, piles of ruined furniture lay outside houses and the Hawkesbury River is still brown. The people will persevere. I haven't been to Wisemans Ferry for about thirty years, and it does not look like it has changed over that time. From the perspective of a history buff, that's probably not a bad thing. At the end of the Old North Road, cars are already aboard the ferry waiting to be shipped to the distant shore. It's a quiet day today, however, I can imagine this crossing would be incredibly busy in the summer months.
Crossing the river, the aftershock of the March floods is readily evident. A landslip has closed half a section of the road and traffic lights manage the vehicle flow. Further along, mounds of sand have been pushed to the wayside reopening the road for residents and travellers.
This side of the river has an atmosphere of "oldness", if that's a real word. Colonial buildings behind old fences dot paddocks as I follow the narrow dirt road. On the walking track of Great North Road ghosts of convicts in a chain gang sit on the side of the road, I can hear one of them, "There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief. "There's too much confusion, I get no relief." He was ahead of his time.
Approaching a bend, weathered headstones of the St Albans Old General Cemetery come to view. The remains of those that pioneered the Hawkesbury lay here. Many inscriptions have been weathered; a couple belong to First Fleeters. At a time when we have heard so much about people demanding freedom, crying about isolation and a need to be defiant, when you stop in here, have a look around and think "Man, some of these people stole a handkerchief or a loaf of bread to feed their family and were transported halfway around the world and made to build a road to God knows where. Others came to virgin bush and defiantly created an existence for themselves and their families". You have to admire the stoicism of these people.
The Village of St Albans sits on the banks of the Macdonald River. Once its spirit was centred on the church, now the spirit is centred in the bar of the Settlers Inn.
Originally called The Travellers Rest the establishment is a sandstone oasis in the middle of nowhere and a welcome stop for an ale. A glowing fire warms the room in the bar and a schooner glass is always half full. During the march floods, the pub provided shelter, food and WIFI to several stranded residents for 8 to 10 days. Relics of the past decorate the walls while ghosts walk the halls. Rules of the tavern state "Four pence a night for bed, Six pence with supper. No more than five to sleep in one bed" – I didn't think there were that many women in St Albans at that time.
Artefacts of a bygone era lay around the village. A broken-down Jeep rests on the roadside – in its natural state. It's now home to a brood of chickens while a moss-covered Combi lies in the beer garden. Once an important agricultural area for the colony, the Macdonald Valley later went into decline due to the expansion of railways and greater tracts of farming land west of the Great Divide. The valley became a backwater and was referred to as the Forgotten valley.
On the outskirts of town, I come across St Albans Common. These Commons were established nearly two hundred years ago for the commoners' "locals" to collect firewood and spell or graze stock. Covering an area of 1000 hectares, the common was issued by Governor Brisbane in 1824 to the locals as compensation for their small blocks. It runs for 10 kilometres from Mogo Creek along Wollombi Road.
In keeping with the colonial atmosphere of the track, a herd of cattle followed by half a dozen people on horses is driven along the far tree line. I stop to take some photos, but they are too far away to get a decent shot. It's things like this you only see on TV. The distant crack of a whip and moo-ing of cattle really transport me to a distant past. Entering Yengo National Park, the road follows the meanderings of Mogo creek before rising out of the valley and meeting the Great Northern Road. Wisemans Ferry to Bucketty along Settlers Road and Wollombi Road is not a challenging road but it's picturesque with plenty of photo opportunities.
The next convenient fuel stop after Wisemans Ferry is the Laguna Village Providore and Old Northern Trading Post. Not only can you fill the bike, but you can also get a coffee, listen to live music, get a bottle of shiraz or stock up on local produce to cook at your campsite. You won't be disappointed stopping in.
Through Wollombi, Broke and into Singleton, the road is still filled with potholes in sections. With the inclement weather we are experiencing, as soon as the roads are repaired, they are washed out and damaged again. A note to first-timers riding through Singleton in the afternoon. The traffic is as bad as Parramatta Road on a weekday. A half-hour ride on undulating hills and fine drizzle gets me to Lake St Clair campground.
Named after the homestead lost beneath the water in 1983. Lake St Clair is a man mad lake created as part of Glennies Creek Dam to help manage water flows from the Hunter River. It's now a popular fishing, boating and water-skiing playground for the region.
The campgrounds are very well maintained with a shop at the gate that sells fishing gear, firewood, ice etc. Bookings are essential and must be made online athttps://bookings8.rmscloud.com/Search/Index/10480/1
Luckily, Rod and Craig had secured a prime campsite overlooking the lake with a short walk to the showers and BBQ facilities.
Covering the fire was a tarp that makes tapping sounds as it denies the rain from dousing the flames. There is nothing more calming after a long ride than to sit beside a crackling fire with a cold ale and listening to your mates' stories of their rides and dad jokes. In the distance, dull music drifts from other campsites and a group of kids kick a ball in the rain. The guys are more than satisfied with the way they had prepared their bikes and camping equipment. They should be ready for the Broken Hill adventure.
No visit to Singleton would be complete without visiting the Australian Army Infantry Museum. The exhibitions show a history of Australia's operations from 1885 when we were deployed in Sudan to current deployments in Afghanistan as well as a collection of small arms and training aids. There are so many forgotten deployments Australia has been involved in Boer war, Boxer Rebellion, Japan, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Australian Infantry has a huge history of keeping the world safe.
Following Rod back to Sydney via Broke we pull into the Wollami Pub for lunch. Surprisingly, very little traffic on the road. It may have something to do with the election or just that it is raining. A detour on the return home takes me to Terrigal to visit family and watch the sun go down over the bay with hot fish and chips.
There is a lot you can pack into a weekend ride out of Sydney with loads to discover. You don't need to travel a thousand kilometres to be in the wilderness, you don't need to be interstate or overseas to ride fantastic roads.
You don't even need to complain about lack of freedom. When you see the hardships, our early settlers endured or when you realise where our infantry has been deployed to help those countries keep their freedoms, we have it pretty darn good here.
Thanks to Rod for organizing the ride. Craig, I still owe you $$ for the firewood.