March 20, 2010
We rose at dawn and set our sights north, riding on a tree-lined highway through rolling parkland which had climbed to high sierras as we stopped for a break at noon, sitting in the shade outside a roadhouse as three Harley riders rolled in and walked inside with a nod.
“So sad the way middle-aged men feel the need to go riding around on motorbikes so they can feel like heroes,” I said.
“Aye, what’s that all about?” said Matt.
“Beats me,” said Colin, and we rode on, passing some wonderful old cars out for a Sunday drive, since Australia, like California, is a land where the climate is kind to ancient metal; an acid yellow Ford V8, a purple Valiant, an endless black Cadillac with fins and whitewall tyres, and a silver E-Type convertible.
The afternoon stretched on, languid and hot, and to stop myself from nodding off, I kept myself amused by spotting road signs such as Gordon Exit Here, and wondering how many Gordons had exited then wondered why, or Howlong This Exit, and muttering happily to the inside of my helmet: “Not so long, thanks for asking”.
It was when I found myself humming The Holly and the Ivy that I realised it was time to stop for the day, in a town called Albury, a pleasantly shady Victorian town so laid back that when it looked for another town to twin with, it looked no further than Wodonga half a mile across the Murray River.
We found a room at the venerable Seaton Arms Motor Inn, whose very name conjured up images of excited honeymoon couples motoring north from Melbourne in their secondhand Model T looking forward to a fine steak dinner in front of a roaring fire followed by a night of freshly wedded bliss and waking together to the kookaburras chattering in the trees outside.
At a little Italian restaurant, we dined a lot better than early explorer Gerard Krefft, who passed through these parts in 1857, captured alive several specimens of the rare pig-footed bandicoot, then got so hungry he ate them, shortly after which the species became extinct.
“They are very good eating, and I am sorry to confess that my appetite…over-ruled my love for science,” he wrote shamefacedly in his journal.
As I sat tucking into spaghettia alla carbonara, it was obvious that we had left the urban coastline for farming country: lean and bronzed had become stocky and sunburnt, raw silk dresses and straw hats had become jeans, tattoos and baseball caps trumpeting the merits of assorted sheep dips, and vintage classics for the evening cruise had become supercharged hot rods straight out of American Graffiti.
But then, for us its main merit was that it was exactly halfway between Melbourne and Canberra; or so I thought until I went for a constitutional the next morning and found the glass window of a hotel lobby lined with mint classic cars: an E-Type, a Stingray, a Rolls-Royce, a Riley, an MG and a stately Jaguar Mark VII.
“Oh, the bloke who bought the building thought he may as well stick his car collection in the window while he got around to renovating the hotel,” said a passing housewife in answer to the question I hadn’t asked her.
I wandered back to the Seaton Arms to find Matt packing up and Colin, obviously inspired by the example of Krefft, finishing off his breakfast then the last of his left-over pizza from the night before.
Before long we were speeding north through wooded hills and surprisingly lush meadows in which grazed plump Aberdeen Angus cattle, blissfully unaware that their future could be summed up in three words: moo, bang, sizzle.