Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

97. Albany

By the time we arrived in Albany, Karen was feeling pretty gung-ho about cycling again. The plan to ride back to Perth to catch the train across the Nullarbor had now been shelved in favour of riding on through Esperance to either Norseman or Kalgoorlie and catching the bus or train from there. After setting up at a caravan park a couple of kilometres north of town, Karen and I walked into town to get some information from a travel agent about train and bus timetables, fares and availability. Karen never makes snap decisions, so we wrote down all the information we needed and went away to digest all of our possible options.

We tried ringing Kevin to find out more information about the package we had been expecting, but had to leave a message on his machine. We also tried ringing Macca, a long time friend of mine who had moved to the Albany area a few years before, only to find out that the number we had for him was no longer current. It looked like we would not be seeing Macca.

About half an hour later we were at a supermarket, with Karen discussing film prices with a sales assistant. Our stocks had dwindled to almost nothing, and with the films that Kevin had sent seemingly lost in the mail, we needed to buy some more film soon. While I was waiting for Karen to finish, I spotted Macca coming through the Coles checkout! The coincidence was amazing. In Darwin we had known only one person and we had run into him in the street, and now the same thing had happened in Albany. The last time I had seen Macca he had been a photocopier repairman in Sydney. Now he was a disk jockey on the local FM station in Albany. We spoke for half an hour or so, exchanged addresses and numbers and news, and agreed to see each other later in the week.

Back at the caravan park, Karen noticed a familiar van and 4WD. Noel and Denise were set up about thirty metres away from us. We had the usual happy hour with them in the evening, discussing the events of the past couple of days since parting in Denmark. Afterwards, we moved to the campers kitchen for dinner. Although it was open to the elements on one side, the campers kitchen was pretty good. It had a television, a free single burner gas stove, a sink with hot and cold running water, only one table but quite a few chairs, and a fridge. There are not many campers kitchens so well equipped. We spent the night talking to Andy and Peter, the two cyclists we had first met in Denmark, and with three young Irish travellers, staying up until 11:30pm - what night owls we were becoming!

Our first full day in Albany began with a cool north-westerly breeze and a bit of cloud - fine enough for a walking tour around the town. The original settlement of Albany was nestled in a long saddle between two small hills, Mount Melville and Mount Clarence. Over the years the town has grown, sprawling down both sides of the saddle to the harbour on one side and Middleton Beach on the other, and expanding to the north as well. Karen and I climbed up to the top of Mount Melville where a lookout tower gave us great views over the port, the town, Princess Royal harbour, King George lll Sound and Mount Clarence.

We walked down the hill to the Brig Amity for a photo of the boat and a look around the nearby museum. Past the port we found the start of the coastal walk around the foreshore below Mount Clarence to Middleton Beach. Karen and I could not believe the number of King Skinks we saw along the track - large, thick, black lizards that initially scared the hell out of us because of their resemblance to snakes. It did not take us very long to get accustomed to them, because they were everywhere, soaking up the sun along the path and darting back into the heath with our approach.

The Amity and Albany

Just inland from Middleton Beach lies Golf Avenue which separates the golf course on one side from Sepping Lake on the other. Lakes are always potential bonanzas for birdwatchers, so Karen and I walked along the edge of the scrub which bordered the lake, searching for vantage points from which to search the water beyond. Almost immediately we spied a long necked turtle, and just a little later, a tiger snake. We continued our search from the road.

The next twenty minutes were traumatic. Scores of long necked turtles plodded out of the bush and reeds along the lake to run the gauntlet of cars on Golf Avenue in their suicidal desire to get across to the golf course. The road was busy, with cars as well as turtles. Time after time Karen and I cringed as the cars swerved around the slow moving turtles or stopped to let them pass. By the time we reached the head of the lake, we must have seen fifty turtles cross the road. Amazingly, all of them survived unscathed.

One of the Long-necked Turtles

The lake proved disappointing. We heard the unmistakable calls of clamorous reed-warblers and saw a few blue-billed ducks, but the rest of the birdlife was sparse and distant. A brief rain shower hit us as we hiked back into town. We sheltered for lunch at Hungry Jacks, then hit Medicare for a partial refund of the money I had coughed up for the doctor in Pemberton. The money soon disappeared, however, when we bought a new handlebar bag for Karen. Her original bag had been falling apart at the seams for quite some time. After brief stops at a second hand book shop and Vinnies we returned to the caravan park, covering somewhere between sixteen and twenty kilometres for the day.

The shower which had hit at lunchtime had only been the precursor of heavier rains to come, beginning late in the evening and continuing well into the following afternoon. Not only did the caravan park have a campers kitchen, it also had a recreation room, also with a television. Karen and I sheltered in the rec room for most of the morning, swapping cycling stories with Andy and catching up on our reading. I had hoped to watch the second cricket test against New Zealand which was being played in Perth, but the front causing the rain in Albany was also hitting Perth, and the entire day's play was washed out.

After lunch Karen and I did a load of washing, and spent the rest of the afternoon taking the washing in when it rained, and putting it back on the line afterwards. Late in the day we walked into town to post our jeans and filled diaries back to Sydney, before returning to the caravan park and walking three kilometres further out of town to a new cinema complex where we watched a Nicholas Cage double feature - "Con Air" and "Face Off"- liked the former, hated the latter. We met Macca again, this time in the foyer at Interval, and he accepted our invitation to dinner the following night.

Natural Bridge

We woke late the next morning to a much nicer day, and an invitation from Noel and Denise to join them for a scenic drive. After visiting the Gap, the Natural Bridge and Cable Beach, we rolled up to the old whaling station for their eleven o'clock tour. When I had passed this way in 1975, the whaling station had been operational. It was good to see that it had closed down.

Whaling Boat

The improvement in the local weather was matched by Perth, so I spent the afternoon watching the cricket. Late in the day I cooked my speciality - bolognaise and pasta - in preparation for Macca's visit, but as the evening wore on I began to doubt that he would appear. At one point in the past I had been Macca's boss, and had been forced to accept his almost constant lateness. We had played together in the same hockey club too, where all of his friends were only too aware of his lateness as well, terming it "The Macca Factor." Karen and I carried on regardless and Macca never appeared. He missed out on a great meal.

Forty five minutes east of Albany (by car) lies Two Peoples' Bay, one of the last habitats in Western Australia for the western bristlebird, western whipbird and noisy scrub bird. Noel and Denise - wonderful people - had offered to drive Karen and I to the bay the next morning in search of these rare and elusive birds. Despite our best efforts, rising early and getting to the Bay promptly, we did not sight any of them, although a National Parks ranger did point out the sound of a noisy scrub bird. In an unusual fit of integrity, Karen and I did not claim this as a new bird.

Two Peoples' Bay

While the birdwatching was unsuccessful, the coastal scenery was spectacular. We spent half an hour on a short walk along the coast from the picnic area near the ranger's station, almost totally consuming our remaining film. If the package from Kevin did not show up soon, Karen and I would have to pay extra money for more film, and we did not want that.

Another Two Peoples' Bay scene

On the way back to Albany we stopped in to Nanarup Beach. The beach itself was non-memorable, but the same could not be said for a sign near the inlet which warned of the dangers of contracting amoebic meningitis if the water temperature was twenty four degrees Celsius or more. Nobody was interested in swimming anyhow, with the day cool and a breeze whipping in from the west. The westerly wind direction was a bit of a worry, given that Karen and I intended crossing the Nullarbor and riding back with the prevailing easterly wind behind us.

We lunched at Middleton Beach and drove up to the top of Mount Clarence for the views and a visit to the war memorial. When we mentioned to Noel and Denise that we would be heading off in the morning, they invited us to a farewell dinner later at their caravan. I intended watching the second cricket test all afternoon, but the Australian team had other ideas, winning the game and the series just after lunch. With time on our hands, Karen and I turned our attention to the essential things in life in preparation for tomorrow's departure. I oiled both bike chains and derailleurs, plus my pedals, the latter beginning to sound as bad as Karen's knees. Karen was involved in essential maintenance as well. She was shaving her legs.

At the appointed happy hour we dropped over to Noel and Denise's van for pre-curry drinks. We were soon joined by Macca - only twenty four hours late, which is not too bad, considering the Macca factor. He could not stay for dinner, but wished us well for the rest of our trip. He missed another good meal, three bottles of red, and an amazing dessert of strawberries, Snickers Bars, Castello cheese and crackers. The party broke up around nine o'clock.

Karen and I checked the rec room and found Andy alone, watching a movie on television. Peter - his long-time travelling companion - had accepted a lift across the Nullarbor and would be continuing his cycling trip from Adelaide. It was probably a smart move. Andy would be cycling out towards Esperance the next morning, while Karen and I would be detouring northwards first, intending to visit the Porongorups and the Stirling Ranges. All of us would probably be on the Nullarbor sometime in the next month.

We left Andy to watch his movie and retired to our tent, but I could not help thinking that the film he was watching was somehow prophetic about our upcoming ride across the Nullarbor.

The film was "Dumb and Dumber".

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