Sydney to Tasmania on a GP125 - April 1985

This is the story of my first motorcycle trip. It takes place in 1985, a few days after I got my 'P' plates. It's a trip I could not repeat, because I could never leave home quite so ill-prepared again, but it was a great adventure. It's a personal story filled with people you don't know, but I've always promised myself I'd put it on the web, so here, finally, it is. It's written largely from the notes I made at the time, with a few embellishments from memory.

My bike was a blue 1980 Suzuki GP-125 that I'd bought two months earlier. It was my first bike. Barring a couple of previous minor outings on dirt bikes, I learned to ride on this bike. The dealer I bought it from, Welbank Motorcycles in Artarmon, gave me one useful instruction - "keep your feet up" - as I was riding off the lot. Ah. Those were the days. In fact, a week or so earlier I'd taken a step-through for a test ride round the back streets of Willoughby. The dealer reminded me when I returned that I was supposed to wear a helmet....

Sydney to Melbourne route shown in red


My cousin Stephen, the eldest of the clan, was getting married on the 20th of April in Hobart, and I decided on a major bike trip to get there. My plan was to follow a wide 'S' from Sydney to Melbourne, then take the boat to Devonport and ride to Hobart. The 'S' would take me West from Sydney, out through Bathurst, Cowra, Cootamundra and then back through Gundagai and the Snowy Mountains to the coast at the border and on down the Princes Highway to Melbourne.

With a reasonably comfortable cruising speed of 80km/h I planned for the 'S' to take four and a half days.


I had a milk-crate ockystrapped to the pillion seat. On top of it, a cheap folded sleeping bag wrapped in a garbage bag. Ocky strapped on top of that, a borrowed tent. I carried a large borrowed yellow backpack on my back.

The backpack contained clothes, a camera, notepad, book, toiletries - the usual stuff. The milk-crate contained bottles of two-stroke oil, a small saucepan, a little solid-fuel stove, tools, a can of the stuff called "zzzzzzzsht" (or something) which you spray into a punctured tyre to repair it, jars of coffee and sugar, water, wet-weather gear and some other odds and ends.

With the backpack and milkcrate leaving me almost sitting on the tank, and the sail effect of the backpack on my back, it wasn't a terribly comfortable setup.


I had my usual bike gear on - jeans, desert-boots, borrowed sheepskin jacket, shiny new Bieffe helmet and some $2 gloves I bought at K-Mart as my hands were getting too cold on the way home from work at midnight. I had a few layers to keep warm, and I had rubber overboots and plastic waterproof trousers to wear if it rained. I was told the sheepskin jacket was fairly waterproof. Really - I believed this....

Day One - Wednesday 10th April, 1985

I left home about 1pm, as I only planned to ride to Blackheath today and stay the night at my grandmother's. On the way up the mountain the bike became very sluggish and at Leura it stopped and refused to start again. As luck would have it, I was at the top of a hill, and at the bottom of the hill was a service station [now gone I believe] so I rolled it down there and had a look at it. My extensive mechanical experience and expert diagnostic skills led me to believe the coil had failed, so I walked up to the bike shop at Katoomba where I was able to source a new coil. I walked back, replaced the coil and.... it made no difference.

By this time it was 6pm, so I left the bike there and caught the train to Blackheath and stayed the night with Noke and Wilf.

Day Two - Thursday 11th April, 1985

In 1985, ATMs were relatively new. You probably weren't really aware of this if, like me, you were living in the suburbs. There were plenty of them. But out in the country it was a different story, and this was to be a constant concern to me, as my Cashcard was my lifeline. As yet unreceived pay was due to go into my account while I was away.

Having bought the coil yesterday, I was now short of cash. I made an early start, catching the train to Katoomba at 7am only to discover there was no Cashcard machine there. I waited til the banks opened, but perhaps not surprisingly none would honour my card (I was with a smaller Building Society) and was told I must go to Springwood.

First though I walked back to Leura where the guys at the service station kindly took the bike on their ute up to the bike shop in Katoomba. In fact, I was rescued a few times on this trip by the kindness of strangers. They must have taken pity on me - near peniless and clearly mad.

I caught the train down to Springwood where I got some cash and had some nice fish and chips for lunch, the caught the train back to Blackheath and sat around waiting. At 3pm I went back to Katoomba and picked up the repaired bike - a sheared flywheel retaining clip had messed up the timing. All my gear was still at the servo in Leura, so of necessity, I rode back there helmetless. Wow. That feels really, really nice.

After loading the bike and getting all my stuff safely back to Blackheath, I went outside to move the bike off the road. Hmmm.... That helmetlessness felt really nice before - maybe I'll just go for a quick spin round the block..... Oh, I hope that police car didn't see me.... Looks like he did....Riding without a helmet - $30.

Day Three - Friday 12th April, 1985

On the dirt road to Young
I think for many bikers (and car enthusiasts), riding round Mt Panorama creates a dangerous and potentially expensive urge to break the speed limit. Fortunately, that wasn't really a problem on my bike... I was limited not just by the performance of the bike, but also the sail effect of the enormous backpack.

After leaving Blackheath at 9am I stopped halfway through my second circuit of the race track - at the top of Mt Panorama - for a cup of tea. Cups of tea were a real source of pleasure for me on this trip. I drank them in some lovely places - most memorably (20 years on) at the top of Mt Panorama, and under a tree in Tumut. Getting the water to boil took some patience in my thick open aluminium saucepan on top of my tiny solid fuel stove, but it was all part of a very pleasant ritual.

I stopped in Cowra later for lunch, and then took a scenic dirt road to Young upon which I stopped at the top of a hill and marvelled at the incredible peace. I took a photo - sadly I think it's the only photo I took the whole trip. A roll of film could last me years back then.

It was a small bike, and I'd loaded it high - when I arrived in Cootamundra around 5pm, this had a predictable effect. Parked ever so slightly off level, the bike pivoted over the top of the centerstand and fell over. Afterwards I was unable to get the luggage to remain in a stable position.

That evening, checked into a unit in a caravan park, I figured something had to be done about the luggage, and in the process of doing it I independently invented the following recipe for packing light [I believe it's been invented before]:

  1. Sort everything you intend to take with you into three piles:
    • The things that are absolutely essential
    • The things you'd really like to have with you, and
    • The things that you know you could do without
  2. Discard the last two piles
  3. Repeat....

Using this process I realised I was carrying an awful lot of stuff I could do without - too many clothes, a jar of coffee as well as teabags, the teabags themselves in a jar rather than a bag, various other odds and ends.... After packing what I really needed I considered shipping the leftovers back to Sydney, but then made another discovery - I could pack much more efficiently than I had. With more careful packing, the contents of the milk-crate fit into the backpack. With the tent strapped to the tank, the backpack and sleeping bag strapped across the pillion seat, and the milk-crate discarded, I was to be significantly more comfortable from here on in (until the rain of course), and the bike less top-heavy.

Day Four - Saturday 13th April, 1985

I woke early with a headache, but took some aspirin and went back to sleep. After making some toast for breakfast, I left Cootamundra at aroun 10am and crossed the Hume Hwy at Gundagai and on to Tumut where I stopped by the river in the shade of a magnificent tree for a cup of tea.

I rode to Kiandra which surprised me a little by being almost utterly non-existent and turned off to Khancoban where I had dinner and pitched the tent in a campground. Exemplifying my typical florid prose and eloquence I wrote "Snowy Mountains quite impressive and very big." I expanded on this though with "Lots of nice windy roads and lovely views."

I also wrote "I feel a little uneasy at having taken this long cut over the Snowies (through Thredbo, Jindabyne, etc) rather than going to Cooma from Kiandra as I have less than $20 and little idea where the next Cashcard machine is."

Day Five - Sunday 14th April, 1985

I didn't sleep well at all, as it was quite cold and I wasn't properly equipped for it at all. What little other camping experience I could claim was up North in Summer, and my sleeping bag was not made for the mountains.

I left Khancoban at 7:30 and rode along the "Alpine Way" which turned into a rough dirt road for about 30kms. Along here I saw three little kangaroos. I had considered taking some more backroads to the coast, but at Jindabyne decided it was wiser to head back to Cooma and civilisation. Cooma had no ATM, but Bega, 100km on did.

Being overtaken by semi-trailers on the Princes Highway (a lot) was interesting. After they pulled in front of me, I'd get pulled along in their slipstream for a while - faster than usual and not unpleasant, until I fell back to the buffeting at the back of the slipstream.

Somewhere between Cooma and Bega the rain started. And continued most of the way to Mallacoota - an inlet on the Victorian side of the border where I had an aunt and uncle. I turned up at their house soaked to the skin - sheepskin jacket, jumper and three t-shirts all wringing wet. They fed me and put my clothes in the drier - an almost pointless task as it turned out

Day Six - Monday 15th April, 1985

I rode from Mallacoota to my old home town of Boronia in Melbourne's eastern suburbs today. Around Bairnsdale the rain returned - and, accompanied by a cold southerly, drenched me for the better part of the day. I ate fish and chips for lunch in a cafe, I forget where, and simply sat in the cafe dripping and sodden while I ate, as I really had no option.

I turned up, very cold, at Mark's house to discover he'd moved. Fortunately, he was still in the process and the house was open, so I let myself in and had a nice hot shower. After warming up, I called Mark at his new house and met up with him and Debbie.

Day Seven - Tuesday 16th April, 1985

I helped Mark & Debbie move stuff to their new place and went shopping with them - they bought a lovely gray kitten. Mark and I stayed up til 4am listening to police radio on his scanner.

Day Eight - Wednesday 17th April, 1985

After a late start, Mark pillioned me down to the shops and back on my bike. This would probably have been because he's a good rider, but the worst pillion I've ever carried. Or perhaps I wasn't comfortable carrying pillions at the time. Later his parents came over to visit.

Late afternoon I had a cold ride into the city to board the ship to Tasmania.

Day Nine - Thursday 18th April, 1985

The boat trip was completely uneventful and very smooth. I'm not sure if it's still an option but at that time the boat was an overnight trip and the impoverished could sit up in a chair. The chair next to me was also vacant, so I had a bit of room to spread out. I arrived in Devonport at 10am and after unloading the bike I bought some breakfast and rode to a nice park to eat it. It was however, very cold.

The rain started up a little way out of Devonport and although it wasn't heavy I got pretty wet after a while, the sheepskin jacket being not so much waterproof as sponge-like.

After the rain abated I got a flat tyre.

No worries - I have a can of "Fix-A-Flat"! Unfortunately it didn't. After all the effort of screwing the bastard on to the tyre valve with frozen fingers, nothing happened. Ummmmm..... Now what? I'm in the middle of nowhere at this point....

Having neither a real tyre repair kit, nor the skill to use it if I did, I could see no real option but to start pushing, and keep pushing til I got to a town. As it turned out, the nearest town was a very long way away - over 50km - and this would have been a major undertaking, but the kindness of strangers prevailed again before I'd walked 50 feet. A man in a campervan pulled up and put my bike in the back of his van and drove me to Avoca - some way off the main highway - where there was a large and ancient shed that housed the local RAC agent.

The RAC agent was the archetypal crusty but kind old mechanic - he fixed my tyre for what seemed the ridiculously low sum of $6 and also, seeing my pathetic, soaked $2 gloves, gave me an old pair of welding gloves. This was a useful addition to my kit, as when the sun came out I could remove one pair of soaked gloves and strap them to the back to dry while wearing the other pair (presumably less wet).

On my way again, I had sunshine for ten minutes or so, then it got dull and later rained some more. I got into Hobart after dark, freezing, soaked and having to stop 3 times to ask for directions to my cousin's house, but eventually arrived to a warm reception from my cousin's family.

Day Ten - Friday 19th April, 1985

Kerin & Carol took Ted, Blanche and I down to the Salamanca shops today, where we looked at art and jewellery and fine furniture and the like. We picked up Jill, Noke, Micki and Dion at the airport, and I went out with Stephen and Annie and Stephen's work mates for drinks.

Everyone spent much of the day worrying about tomorrow's weather.

Day Eleven - Saturday 20th April, 1985

The big day! Lot's of people at Kerin & Carol's getting ready. Stephen lent me his car for while he's away. The weather turned out to be fine, and at 3:30 we went to the Gazebo in the Botanic Gardens for the wedding ceremony and afterwards had a nice dinner at the reception.

Later I went with Luke & David and their girlfriends Michelle & Narelle and my other cousin Chris to the Casino and then we cruised around a bit in Luke's car.

Day Twelve - Sunday 21st April, 1985

Saw some people off at the airport today, then went crusing in Stephen's car with David and Narelle. We ate leftovers from last night and watched "Hostage" on video.

Day Thirteen - Monday 22nd April, 1985

Micki, Dion, Jill, Noke, Kerin, Carol, David and I went for a scenic drive up the Derwent River and saw the Oast House where hops used to be dried and pressed into bales, and Russell Falls in the National Park.

Day Fourteen - Tuesday 23rd April, 1985

I was supposed to be catching the boat back to Melbourne this evening, but I went into town and changed the ticket to Thursday as I was having such a good time. We went to the the GPO Museum, the Maritime Museum and the regular Museum today, and this evening I went to a disco at David's school.

Day Fifteen - Wednesday 24th April, 1985

Saw Jill & Micki off at the airport, went for a walk at 7 mile beach and to the vintage car museum at Huonville.

Day Sixteen - Thursday 25th April, 1985

I left Hobart about 9am and for once had a completely uneventful ride with only a small sprinkling of rain just out of Devonport. I was in Devonport by 1:30 and spent some time in a cafe waiting for the 5:30 boarding time. I was impressed by the cafe - the tea came in a pot, the milk in a small jug and it only cost 80c.

I had an extra comfort today. Lacking real gauntlets, I had had exposed wrists for the entire trip so far, but on reaching Hobart I'd called my mum and asked her to bring some old pairs of long socks I had at home. I cut finger holes in the socks, and wore them under my gloves, thus keeping my wrists much warmer for the return journey.

Day Seventeen - Friday 26th April, 1985

The boat ride to Melbourne was once again smooth and uneventful. I had a seat free next to me again, but ended up sleeping quite comfortably on the floor. I went and saw my Dad for a couple of hours in Melbourne before heading out to Mark's place again.

Day Eighteen - Saturday 27th April, 1985

Mark, Debbie, Greg, Patto, Randall, Lyndle, some other people, and I went out to Kryal Castle in Ballarat for a dinner of excellent medieval food.

Day Nineteen - Sunday 28th April, 1985

People came over, conversations were had, food was eaten. You know.

Day Twenty - Monday 29th April, 1985

The bike had been having some electrical problems, so I bought a new battery today which appeared to fix it. Not surprising, the old one was in a sorry state indeed. Mark and I cleaned the bike up a bit in preparation for the journey home.

Day Twenty One - Tuesday 30th April, 1985

I wrote: "It would never happen in a car - Whenever you pull off the road on a bike, even for a rest, the very first bike to come past stops to make sure you're ok."

I feel this is a little less evident now than it was in 1985, but I suspect back then I looked such a helpless figure that everyone thought they'd better stop, whereas now other bikers can tell when I'm just having a rest...

An easy but slow trip (eight and a half hours) back to Mallacoota today.

Day Twenty Two - Wednesday 1st May, 1985

I left Mallacoota at 8am and rode gingerly to Genoa, as I was very low on petrol and the service station at Mallacoota was closed. I stopped at Bateman's Bay for lunch but things got interesting again before reaching Nowra. The bike started lurching, as if the engine was cutting in and out. It was getting worse and worse - I guessed either the spark plug had had it, or the fuel line was clogged. At Nowra I pulled over across the road from the Suzuki dealer (funny thing, on this trip bike dealers seemed to be almost exactly where I needed them) and had a look at the bike.

The real problem was immediately evident - the rear sprocket was worn badly - many of the teeth were rounded over or almost gone, and the chain was obviously slipping around the sprocket then catching then slipping some more. I asked in the shop about a new sprocket and was told $20. But I only had $7 on me.

I decided to try to make it home and continued lunging up the road until I got to Kiama. Coming round the roundabout, the chain actually fell off the sprocket. As luck would have it [truly!] I was right outside a bike shop! Feeling somewhat 'over it', I asked the shop if they'd like to buy my bike, but not surprisingly they declined. So I left it there for them to fix (I had to return the following week to pick it up) and caught the train home.

From the train, it was quite pleasant to watch the big black clouds roll in and the rain start to pour down.

Patrick Jordan -