Category Archives: Mountainbiking

Heroes At The Seaside


Heroes At The Seaside

16 – 19/10/15

Cycling and bodysurfing – Illawarra coast

The first afternoon we cycled up the coast. Past beaches, round bays and over headlands. From our camp at Bulli to Thirroul, Austinmer and Coledale. A beautiful cycle path. And later a swim in the still wintery cold sea. The caravan park was nestled between the ocean beach and the cemetery which commanded a wonderful view. Fullish of grey nomads with caravans and a few families. Even a hipster couple towing a vintage caravan beautifully restored.

Bellambi Point
Bellambi Point

Then down the coast next day. This was training for a big cycle trip next year down the Danube – beside the river from it’s source in Germany through Vienna and on to Budapest in Hungary – 1240 km. Past more beaches. Flatter heading south. Saturday morning buzzed in Wollongong. Great views from the headland off to the heavy industry of Port Kembla visible beside smokestacks and belching flames at the steelworks. Skydivers parachuted onto a park behind the beach. The whole place was going off – surfers, joggers, skateboarders, swimmers, walkers, paddleboarders, sailors, fishermen. I took a tumble trying to mtb jump up a too tall gutter on the way back and lost some skin and self-respect. We watched the surfers at Bellambi Point on a slow long board wave. Another cold swim. In the evening we wined at the restaurant on the nearby headland and explored the rock shelf below.

Sunday. Another lap back down to Wollongong. We met up with Rita, a friend of Cath’s, for lunch looking out over the main beach. I have four heroes. She’s one of them. Just as described by Joseph Campbell in his studies of the hero myth she has undertaken the hero’s journey. Without knowing all her personal details I surmise that she grew up in an ordinary family. Some time early on she perceived a call to service, a challenge to serve and joined the Good Samaritan order of nuns.  In her communities she has dedicated her life to helping others and serving her God. She saved my neighbour’s marriage and family in times of distress and reaches out to countless people who struggle day to day. I can only guess at the number of lives she has made a difference in.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”. Joseph Campbell

I’m no Christian but I strongly believe that “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare). Myself and others in my family have experienced important premonitions. I have seen, unaffected by drugs, a person’s aura at a time of heightened perceptivity. I try to tune into intuition when it surfaces. Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious or Bucke’s cosmic consciousness is deeply attractive. ”Mysticism, then, is the perception of the universe and all of its seemingly disparate entities existing in a unified whole bound together by love.” (Moores) I love the science of the universe and the big bang but struggle with the question of what existed prior. My mind bends in its attempt to wrestle with quantum physics and systems theory and it seems that at the cutting edge of understanding there are may be endless possibilities. So while not quite an atheist I keep an open mind on the existence of some unifying spirit in the world. For me this is closely tied to landscape and the natural world. I feel a strong empathy with Aboriginal relation to the land. I was deeply moved in witnessing the strength of belief of hindus at Varanasi as they burnt the bodies of their kin to release their immortal souls. I would love to believe in angels like Muslims and Christians. I find the notion of a compassionate God too difficult in a world of much distress. I see religion and “churches” as the source of much war in the world based on conflicting belief systems much like patriotism and the arbitrary nature of borders between countries.

Rita is over 70 now and it was a privilege to spend a lunch time with her, go for a short walk and have a coffee. In a less chauvinistic religion she would be a spiritual high priest or bishop as well as a living treasure.

On the return ride we stopped at a small outlook. As I watched the swells sweep over the rocks I thought of my Mum lying small and broken in her bed in her last days. She’s another of the 4.

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” Tecumseh

What makes a hero? – Matthew Winkler  (TED Ed)

Dirty Deeds


Dirty Deeds

Maria Island – Tasmania

March 30 – April 1

Bush cycling


The wall is cold, hard. Whitewash now cracked. From the warm down cocoon of my sleeping bag my hand rests flat on the stone. Dark. Middle of the night. A few mozzies. Time seems to bend and crack like the exhibit in MONA where video of people in a city distorts to stretch and compress the action. I can feel you here, James Merner, touching the wall, bloodied. These very same walls constructed by your hand. The masters found out about your bricklaying and building skills. At first it seemed like a way to gain favour and privileges in this god forsaken place at the end of the earth. You were able to lessen the cruelty a little while you were of use to them. Two years to replace the logs and bark with this strong new penitentiary. 66 convicts to a room, 4 rooms. Your hopes of earning a return to Hobart dashed by the commissar – no reprieve. Stealing two pairs of trousers back in England had led you here.

66 convicts to a room, 4 rooms. Locked in together at night. A place the troopers wouldn’t risk entering in the dark. Cruelty of overseers translates to those around you. I touch the wall and feel your black despair. No reprieve. Back in the cell with the others now your work is done. You wake and know it’s on. Whispers, stirring bodies, stench of vomit and piss and shit from the overflowing bucket in the corner. Men, dirty, grimy, cold, scratching at sores jostle awake. In my waking nightmare I see the top dogs call the action. Low talking complaining leads to growling. Some legs and arms flail dance not caring what they hit. In the darkness you try to melt into a corner in the throb. Knowing arms twist you into the room, into the seethe. The noise builds to a rhythmic group scream. 66 convicts to a room, men here for life, no women anywhere. No hope. They turn on each other, on the lowly. Wild, they separate into two groups on sides of the room then in an apocalyptic climax both sides rush at each other in a futuristic Metallica heavy metal wall of death. Broken and unbroken now move together in a circle like a whirlpool. Pushed into the central pit you are hit from edge to edge then lose your footing and are trampled by the mob. Soldiers outside fire into the sky to break the spell of the rabble.

Can people rise above their own harsh realities to live good lives in concert with each other? James Merner, did you in the end?

The commissar reports “frightful irregularities” next day.

I sense your desperation, your dashed hopes, your terror, your utter despair as I tourist in this same room. I brew up tea and update my bird list. Outside the evening light is golden over the other convict buildings of mixed stone and brick. I read on the information on the wall that after being refused reprieve you escaped the island on a bark canoe, were apprehended and then imprisoned with hard labour in the Hulk chain gang for a year as punishment. Tiers of bunks with separating battens were erected later so each convict could be confined safely at night. The Island seems hushed and still as if remembering its grim past. I consider my own minor acts of lawbreaking and bending the rules and thank my lucky stars that I didn’t live 190 years ago in England.

James Merner, your story here disturbs part of my world view as I tremble into the possible past. A cool breeze comes through the open window. Scuffling outside now in the dark. My hand cold against the wall. A devil screeches close by. I don’t know if you were an honourable man or a scoundrel that got his just deserts for deeds done. But I sense your pain and anger and desperate despair. I marvel that you could live through it all. I’ve had the view that our troubles to each of us are equal. That we all feel despair and pain and we have to honour this in each other. That even now people do unspeakable things to each other, parents to children, men to women, like to like. Do we have an innate capability to inflict violence on each other or do people reflect what they are surrounded by? Motorcycle gangs attired in black, emblazoned with skulls ride our streets armed, shooting at houses and each other? School kids and adolescents can be very cruel to each other. We all feel the effects of these things deeply. In some realms there’s an epidemic of despair among young people. I know I’ve been instrumental in preventing two youth suicides but also had another young person in my pastoral care group end their life just out of college. But now James Merner you’re showing me through the wall that we are not all equal in our darknesses. I imagine battens across the bunk bed in the gloom. Sleep again, finally.

Cruiser and penitentiary

Cruiser and pennitentiary

In the morning we hire bikes and cycle down the island. We complain to each other about the lack of gears, the inappropriateness of the cruiser bike for bush tracks, the grumpy captain on the ferry, about our sore bums. I consider what is real in our suffering. I think about heavy metal music and the dark times of youth. The growling screamo vocals and wild and dangerous mosh pit movements that tap into a collective searching for an outlet for anger and frustration. Is this any different to the Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper of my own formative years? Teenage melancholy circling in on itself and fed by mass popular culture. Has it taken me till now to realise that only some of us have real “frightful irregularities” to deal with? Or am I getting old? As I drift away from my long and intensive work with young people am I letting go of my own youthful vulnerability that I was confronted with in nearly every classroom?

For $20 each we get on the ferry back to the mainland. James Merner how much would you have paid? Your penitentiary stands proud on the hill above the bay, and recedes in the salt spray. Whitewashed walls.


Tasmanian devils have been introduced onto Maria Island where they have never been before. Healthy individuals are surviving and breeding isolated from the main population suffering from a deadly facial disease. It is thought the disease developed from a genetic mutation in a single female which has spread widely on the Tasmanian mainland through the population that has diminished genetic diversity due to decimated numbers thereby leading to less natural resistance.

Museum of Old and New Art – “On Perspective and Motion – Part 2” a complex video and mirror installation by Daniel Crooks 2006. Gonzo interpretation by Elizabeth Pearce – “Stretchy Time. You know when you’re bored, time stretches, and when you’re traumatised (dumped, injure yourself), it compresses again? I think this is what this is about – the stretchiness of time – with technical mastery.”

I ordered a new snowboard about 10 years ago – a model highly recommended by an expert. When it arrived I was tempted to send it back because of the graphics. Over time I have got used to it and am now starting to identify with the ghost rider in the sky/powder. Model name -“Nitro Punisher”