Posted On 05 Apr 2024
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This entry is part 33 of 26 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#27


The Red Centre has so much more to offer than just a visit to the Big Rock. There are stunning gorges, magnificent chasms and canyons, wonderful red dirt tracks reeking with colonial history and more desert than you can poke a stick at. There is nothing quite like watching an outback sunset, camping under the stars with a crackling fire beside a majestic natural monument like Chambers Pillar. Unfortunately, I got to do none of those things on this trip through the Centre. My overweight little companion doesn’t like getting his tyres sandy and my lack of off-road ability would likely end up with an RFDS trip to the closest hospital.

I did however get to experience a dinky-di Anzac Day Dawn Service atop Anzac Hill in Alice Springs. I have heard the Last Post in almost every Australian state and many European countries but nothing moved me as much as the distant sunrise over the MacDonald Ranges to the strains of the bugler in the still desert air.

Along with a compulsory visit to the RFDS centre, another must-see can now be added to the list. The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, the inspiration of the formidable Molly Clark of respected memory, is housed in the Old Gaol and has a dedicated area for Australian Aviatrices. I devoted an entire afternoon to this fascinating display and still it was not enough.

The next leg of my journey was to be 1800 kilometres to Darwin via Kakadu @75km/h. Now some may consider this torture but the old adage of it all being about the journey not the destination kicks in about now.

Instead of the scenery rushing by in a blur, travelling at such a low speed allows me to stop and photograph any interesting stick or rock which takes my fancy, without wearing out my brakepads. There’s no letterboxes in these parts but every roadhouse has made an effort to attract the tourists, usually with the bog-standard hats, banknotes, discarded undies and business cards.

Aileron has a massive warrior sculpture high above on the hillside beckoning travellers to stop – or perhaps wishing them well on their journey. Wycliffe Well has proclaimed itself the UFO capital of Australia with appropriately decorated service station and caravan park with aliens.

Barrow Creek’s claim to fame is the kidnapping and murder of Peter Falconio. Larrimah, an old WWII base, houses the Big Darwin Stubbie presided over by the Pink Panther.

Then there’s the Devil’s Marbles, Three Ways, Renner Springs, the Drover’s memorial at Newcastle Waters and Mataranka.

See, the outback is anything but boring. Okay, the long stretches in between the highlights are a little bit dull but to combat that I have a library of excellent audiobooks, so – headphones on, eyes on the rear vision mirrors for road-trains, cruise control set and settle in for another day of straight roads. There are not even any potholes to avoid.

A mandatory stop for any traveller in the Northern Territory is Daly Waters pub. It was the first pub to allow tourists to have free range on its walls and a contribution of a business card or bra can be made along with a donation to the RFDS. They’ll even supply the staple gun. The helicopter is still parked on the roof and they serve the BEST Barra burger in the whole of the Top End.

After five days on the road, I arrived in Katherine and relaxed under the frangipani tree in the tropical garden of Coco’s hostel. The dry heat of the centre has been replaced by the sweaty humidity of the Tropics and all motorcyclists are familiar with the wet t-shirt method of cooling in these conditions.

I have visited the Gorge twice before so this time I opted to spend my time in the Katherine Museum which contains Clyde Fenton’s Gypsy Moth plane. Clyde was a Melbourne doctor who trained as a pilot and came to Katherine to join the Flying Doctor Service. However Rev. John Flynn did not like his doctors to be pilots and would not endorse him. This did not deter Fenton who just went about flying and providing medical attention to outlying stations anyway. He was, by all accounts, a terrific doctor but evidently not a very good pilot. He crashed and destroyed 3 planes which the community then had to raise funds to replace. Regardless, he had a long and distinguished career in the Northern Territory and it was fabulous to see his plane fully restored.

Turning off the main highway into Kakadu, you immediately notice the drop in traffic and a more tranquil atmosphere. This is croc country and warning signs are posted at every river and billabong. The Wet had just ended so many of the best attractions were still closed due to water-logged tracks but it made the Yellow Waters cruise through the wetlands a pure delight.

In spite of the march of the cane toads, Kakadu remains one of Australia’s highlights.

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