Broken Hill ride

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Nights on Busted Mountain

Don Dennes goes looking for the west and finds those ‘c’ things

For most of my years I’ve shared mankind’s desire to return to the sea. I still have that desire but a few years back a little voice inside me said, “Go west aulde farte”. Having the bike for it and a couple of days flex leave up my sleeve, Broken Hill was the place for me – a four-day white line fever 2750km long weekend.

Geez, the Hay Plains is an interesting piece of topography – I was bored with it after 10 minutes. With the exception of a few corners within towns, the nature of the road didn’t change all the way to Broken Hill. When I got there I didn’t need a side-stand. Just hopped off the bike and walked away.

Broken Hill in a day seemed like a tall ask but that GS is one hell of a tourer. I arrived at 5.20pm, just under 10 and a half hours after setting off from Wanniassa – not as fresh as a daisy but not bad considerin’.

I finally found a motel that could put me up for two nights. For a while I thought there was a conspiracy agin me. “Yeah mate, can put you up for tonight but termorra’s all booked up.” What the *&@# was happening there on Sunday? I didn’t see or hear of anything and there was no sudden upsurge of grey nomads in their soft 4WDs.

Anyway, I got a place at the Silver something or other motel, located in Argent Street of course though I did notice that many street names in Broken Hill end in “ide” – Chloride, Bromide, Flouride, Cyanide. Everywhere you look there are mine derricks and flattened mounds of leftovers from the mines, one topped with the Broken Earth Restaurant, and a miners’ memorial fashioned from rusting steel.

The ghost town of Silverton was the real reason I wanted to head out that way to see the place where Mad Max, Razorback and A Town Like Alice and sundry ads for Coke and XXXX were filmed. So I was up at the crack of dawn to get the best light for photographs. The road to Silverton was like a roller-coaster with dips every few hundred metres. Another surprising feature was a couple of those “c” things I hadn’t experienced for some time – corners.

I got there right on sun-up and parked the BM near two VWs emblazoned with stylised emus by local gallery owner Peter Browne. Soon I was snapping away at everything apart from that swooping bloody magpie. But I was in heaven – perfect light, ideal subjects and at the home of Mad Max.

Having considered my options for the rest of the day I decided to do at least one touristy thing and check out the Pro Hart Gallery. No you’re not – closed on Sundays. So Menindee Lakes called. I vaguely remembered seeing pictures of dead trees in lakes out that way and it was only 110km, so an hour’s ride. The first part of that ride was phenomenal for someone who hadn’t experienced the “c” word for some time. Seventy-five and 85km/h corners were in abundance, with some very interesting “which way do I lean after the crests” thrown in. They were fun while they lasted but soon I was back on the straights heading towards the distant mirages.

When I got to Menindee I saw a red GS parked under a tree alongside a DR650 Suzi. I went into the information booth but there was no-one there except for an old dude who asked me for my postcode. When I went back outside there was a chap dressed in motorcycle gear looking for the owner of my bike.

Ian and Tony were from South Australia and were themselves on a fact-finding long weekend. The motorcycle bond runs deep and soon we were talking about things even other than how wonderful GSs are. We motored around Menindee for a while where I got a practical lesson on how to ride through sand – “just gun it and don’t pucker your arse”. I found that experience very nerve-wracking but all part of being an all-roader.

The lads were heading to Busted Mountain. I thought this may have been a joke name for Broken Hill but them far westerners are a knee-slappin’ funny lot and mebbe they had a place called Busted Mountain. So I said nothing. Eventually we stopped at Broken Hill.

“I thought this was the way to Silverton,” said Tony when asked what we were doing outside the airport gates. Well, almost, except 180 degrees back that way. Being an old hand at the Silverton caper, I led the way and did the old roller-coaster again. After some obligatory photos, we hit the pub in time to see the end of the MotoGP and countless replays of Casey smokin’ through that last corner. A few beers and back to Busted Mountain.

We decided to dine at the Barrier Social Democratic Club – the Demo. I wasn’t sure whether you had to carry a red flag or wear a denim cap with a red star but the population of Broken Hill was in there – my coconut prawns with mango sauce (my desire to return to the sea) took the scheduled 45 minutes to arrive.

The previous night I’d wandered the main drag and saw at most two people in every one of the 58,000 pubs in the main street. So, the Demo was the place to be seen, though once they finished their meals the population disappeared and left three motorcyclists imbibing Tooheys New on their lonesome. We parted company after a few more beers as we were off in different directions the next day.

I was determined to use my camping gear that I had strapped to the Beemer, so I thought Mungo National Park would be the place. The motel dude had told me that if I went to Wentworth and turned left there was a sealed road all the way. As a budding all-roader I was looking forward to a bit of dirt, so was happy when I couldn’t find that mythical bitumen. I had to put my newfound sand riding “skills” to the test on many occasions over the next 110km. Once I almost lost it and by the time I got to Mungo my arse was puckered and I was expletively over it. I had the complete and utters, cursing inside my helmet – “think I’ll keep going to Bal-’kn-ranald”.

I finally cooled down and went to check out the local must-see tourist attraction. The Walls of China were formed over 40,000 years as Lake Mungo changed from a Garden of Eden to a desert. Sand blew up on the eastern shore followed by a coating of clay. One story I heard was that the rabbits – too many rabbits at the Walls of China – initiated the erosion and today all that’s left are sand dunes and bits of eroded clay sticking up here and there. All very impressive in the brochures as the cameras made it resemble the buttes of Monument Valley. In fact the bits of eroded clay were no more than a few metres high.

When I got back to the campsite I saw a sign that said Grassland Nature Walk. Yeah, there was a bit of grass and bit of nature and a 1km walk. Plaques every few hundred metres told me that there was a Wilga tree nearby and a Wild Cherry parasite and a rabbit warren the inhabitants of which stopped the Cypress Pines from regenerating – too many rabbits – on the Grasslands Nature Walk.

After all this excitement and another trip to the Walls to experience the world’s best beat-up tourist icon at sunset, I got back to the campsite and found that Richard and Valda had set up next to me. Richard had recently retired and bought a farm and Valda still had the shits with teaching.

After dinner they asked me over for a glass of wine and a chat. We talked about music and folk festivals and motorcycling and Richard played some CDs in opposition to a couple of young brothers from a nearby van who could play the riffs to Blister in the Sun and Other Side on a roughly tuned guitar – and that’s all they could play, and they played and they played.

Richard had had many motorcycles in his day and he still had some kind of small Kawasaki that his son was using. He lusted after my baby to the extent that the next morning I was relieved to see he hadn’t slipped off into the night on the GS and left me with Valda and the ’cruiser.

I was more than a little concerned that the dirt road to Balranald might have been sandy as well. There were a few sections but surviving the previous day’s weaving had given me more confidence and I had a ball.

The Hay Plains really rubbed it in this time. A howling cross-wind had me all over the road and hanging on for dear life. As the road became more easterly, the wind was behind me and tolerable but it blew all the way to Canberra.

Some of the above might make you think that I had a Gawdawful time – the relentless straights, the accommodation, the magpie, the sand, the Walls, the music, the wind. Nup, loved it.

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