Toowoomba – Gladstone Bike Ride – Dec 1985

So after the success of our trips at school we were all keen to do a bigger ride once we left school – Stephen, John and myself all finished in ’84, and David who was in the year below us finished in ’85.  I can’t recall what happened at the end of ’84 but it was a big rush with the HSC and I had a family holiday at the end of that year as well, so that year was out for a cycle tour so we settled on the end of ’85.

Approximate distance 612 kilometres

This however meant that Stephen couldn’t join us (he was now in the Air Force) and we wanted a fourth rider – so another school friend Matthew Atkinson joined us. Everyone was keen to do a trip in Queensland – which suited me fine, and Matt was another Queenslander so that made it easier for him as well – so I set about planning a route during the year.

Timing was always going to be tight – and it meant that none of us would be home for Christmas – I remember all of our mothers were upset about this – but this was more important – this was a bike ride! 

Things were also complicated by the fact that I was appearing in a funny play called The Mind With The Dirty Man at the Toowoomba Repertory Theatre – this was a big deal for me – and of course it was amateur theatre so our standard wasn’t great, but it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun too ~ and there was just enough time between the show finishing and everyone else’s committments to get the ride done. This also meant I had the added bonus of my mates seeing me in the play and then attending the closing night party.

So the play finished on the Saturday the 14th, we had the party and then had a few days to prepare until we left on the following Tuesday the 17th – this gave us 8 days in total to get there ~ the plan was to arrive in Gladstone on Christmas Day. Matt couldn’t arrive until the night before we left – he still had some matters to attend to with his Uni enrollment I think – so the plan was we’d leave in the morning – he’d sort out what he had to in town – and then he would join us at lunch time at Crows Nest, with my parents driving him there to meet us.

In the first photo below – it’s from left to right – Dad, David, Matt, John and myself

Leaving 8 Panorama Crescent – Dad, David Walker, Matthew Atkinson, John Hassall, myself
Matt didn’t leave right away that morning for some reason

I don’t think we got off to the most impressive start when the three of us decided to push our bikes up the hill outside my parents house ~ but oh well!!

Off to a flying start!

Crows Nest is only about 50 kilometres from Toowoomba so it was a pleasant morning’s ride and Matt joined us, as planned, as we were having lunch.

Feed at Crows Nest
Matt at Crows Nest – preparing to join

We then rode on to Cooyar another 50 or so kilometres further north – and that was our first camp for the night. We were quite fortunate the town was half way through building a new fire truck shed and they let us sleep in it that night. I say fortunate because a hell of a storm was brewing that night – around sunset we were treated to a sky full of Mammatus clouds, lit in soft orange light. We didn’t really know what they were then but knew it was a sign of a big storm coming! We would have been drenched in our tents but were fine in the fire station shed.

Packing up the next day in the fire station shed, Cooyar

From Cooyar we then rode on the next day to Goomeri – it was 113 kilometres and we made it in good enough time to have a swim in the council pool that afternoon. Riding into Goomeri we saw the clock tower in the town had stopped and had a crack in it – it had got hit by lightning in the storm the night before! ~ it really did feel like a scene from Back to the Future! We camped in a caravan park that night.

A couple of weeks before the ride I’d bought a really cheap Super 8 camera at a school fete and I had one roll of Kodachrome film with me – however I decided that and a few other things were weighing me down unnecesarily so I sent them home ~ with out shooting the film first! How I now wish I’d taken the time to just get shots of us all first!! I don’t know why I didn’t??

Post card I sent home from Goomeri

From Goomeri it was 75 kilometres to Ban Ban Springs – so a nice comfortable distance, but the weather was starting to heat up. We found Ban Ban Springs isn’t so much a town, but a turn off with a big service station there. The servo had an eatery which was a good sign, but very little else to reccomend it, and so we didn’t want to camp near it. I can remember quite vividly a guy pulling up quickly in the servo in a beaten up old sedan (possibly a Kingswood) – filling up with petrol and consulting a map with his girlfriend – but all of it really hurriedly – and their run down condition and the beaten up car giving the distinct impression they were on the run!

There was a good sized creek nearby (the Burnett River) so we followed a side road probably a kilometre up so we’d be out of the way and then camped there – it gave us the opportunity to wash a few things and freshen up. 

Shortly after finding a camp site at the Burnett River

That night we decided to treat ourselves and rode to the servo for a feed – and were quite amused by the local delicacy – Ban Ban Burgers – so I and a couple of the other guys had one of them and we rode back to our camp – it was a lovely moonlit night – and we decided to go skinny dipping in the river – hoping like hell there weren’t any particulalry hungry turtles in there!

The next day we headed east from Ban Ban Springs – which was a good feeling – knowing we were heading towards the coast and then onto further north.

Postcard sent from Biggenden

I remember somewhere along this stretch in the morning we were riding along and then suddenly we heard this shrill high pitched female voice – a young woman who spoke the best strine I’d ever heard saw us from her house next to the road and invited us in for a very cold drink – all I remember her saying was “Does ya’s mothers know where you’s are?!!” – she was a classic and the drink was very cold and refreshing and welcome! 

Later on we passed through a town called Dallarnil – which is basically just the local shop – and pulled over for a drink – they had a thermometer under their verandah and it was 37 degrees in the shade!

Getting a drink at Dallarnil

We camped at Childers that night and I remember there were some pretty rowdy pubs there but we stayed in a caravan park towards the end of the main road.

The following day we arrived in Bundaberg after a pleasant 54 km ride – we decided we’d get some rooms and stay in a pub for the night – I remember David and I walking around looking for a hotel and copping flak from some young girl for daring to wear cycling pants (!) I decided Bundaberg must even be more conservative than Toowoomba! We found a hotel, got a few rooms and set up – it was Saturday night and we had to go out and decided to see a movie – there wasn’t much to choose from – but what better film for a bunch of young guys out on an adventure to see than The Goonies – so we all went and saw that and had a great time. Needless to say we modelled ourselves on The Goonies for the rest of the trip! 

What else to see when you’re cycling through Bundaberg?

Matt had to leave us in Bundaberg (again I can’t remember what he had on – but that was always the plan – he could only do Toowoomba to Bundy), so that was fine and the next day we’d organised to stay at a friends holiday house on an estuary just north of Bundaberg called Boaga

Postcard sent from Bundaberg

The house at Boaga was owned by some friends of my parents from the Air Force and we’d stayed there once or twice in the few years prior to this. I had fond memories of catching cane toads, setting fishtraps in the mangroves whilst keeping one eye out for crocs and being chased by Mud Crabs (not for the feint hearted!) – and so I knew this would be just the thing for us – it was just a little beachside community of shacks really – just weekenders – so perfect for us.

We unwound and had a great time there – and I remember the darndest thing happening – I was playing darts with David – he threw his then went and collected them and as he was walking back with his back to the board he threw one behind him and got a bullseye! I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it – but it was dead on – the only bullseye I’ve ever seen!

My details from here on are a bit sketchy I think we stayed at Boaga for one full day – so had two nights there – and then set off on Tuesday the 24th. Getting out of the back roads on the cane fields was a bit tricky but we made it to the highway eventually and then continued north

I have no idea how far we got or where we camped that night – but I do remember we were at Miriam Vale the next day on Christmas morning and rang our repsective families. I remember we pulled up next to a closed servo to have a drink and one of us sat against the front door and it sprung open! – we could have robbed anything but of course didn’t.

We cycled on to Gladstone and arrived there early in the afternoon – being the end of the trip we thought hang it all let’s get a motel room – so we pulled over at a motel on our left and I went in to enquire. Our budget was pretty tight so we couldn’t afford much and there was nothing in our price range here, or anywhere else in Gladstone the guy told us – so I went out to tell David and John and minute or so later the guy comes out and says “Hey! It’s Christmas Day – come on – I’ll push a few beds in and you can have one room cheaply!”

It made our day and maybe our trip – I remember we were all pretty tired by then and I was really badly sunburnt across my lower back (massive blisters) – and I think we spent the next day or two there blissed out and we had a bit of a look around Gladstone. That man’s generosity really made the end of the trip something special for us, and really enjoyable.

I remember thinking we hadn’t made it too far north and I felt I hadn’t shown my friends enough of Queensland – but we found out Gladstone marked the start of the Great Barrier Reef, so that was something.

After a few days we got a train back and I remember looking at all that hot dry land going past that we worked so hard to cycle through – and it just seemed too easy – it seemed like cheating going through it on a train.

My sister Lyndal met us in Brisbane – at the time she was a trainee nurse and lived in at the Princess Alexandra Hospital – she snuck us into the nurses quarters and we all had showers. This was strictly against the rules – but I think we were all hoping we’d actually get busted by a group of nurses in the shower – sadly it didn’t happen 🙁

I don’t recall how we got back to Toowoomba – it must have been a bus so we could take our bikes on it. We were all a bit browner and tireder after the trip but it was such good fun.

John, David and myself back in my room after we returned
Of course some of us were dopier than others!

David and John stuck around for a few days and we did a tourist trip down to Brisbane in my trusty old Capella.

Even that was quite a distance for me to drive back then – and although it was a good day we were most disappointed to find the XXXX Brewery wasn’t doing tours that day 🙁 Not knowing Brisbane, or being used to city traffic and just having a little refidex it was hard getting around but we did it all safely.

As I look back on it, it was a really fun enjoyable trip and I feel we achieved a lot in doing it. One exchange stands out in my mind – it was on one of the days we were getting closer to the coast – we pulled into a shop to buy some drinks and we were all sitting out the front with our bikes having them and then the shop owner came out and joined us. He wanted to know all about what we were doing and where we were going, and where we were from and we chatted for a while and then he said “Well I hope you find whatever you’re looking for” – and I was thinking ‘We’re not on some big philosophical journey – we just want to have fun’ ~ but I really appreciated his sentiment ~ and yes we did have a lot of fun 🙂

ADDENDUM:  It’s funny how places you visit can come back to you in different ways years later. In the early 2000’s with our young family Jenny and I did a couple of driving trips from Brisbane up to  Townsville where my parents were then living – we camped at Miriam Vale a few times – it turned out to be just the right distance for a camp spot at the end of day one – and then we camped once at Childers on the way back.

Then in 2015 Matt Bell and I did a comedy tour of Central Queensland with The Smooth End of the Pineapple – on our way there we went through Ban Ban Springs and so we stopped for a break and I went into the roadhouse – and yes they still serve Ban Ban Burgers!

And then in 2020 I did another bike ride to Cooyar….