When Howard McGregor and myself completed our bicycle tour of New Zealand in 1980/81 we came home to Canada with the thought that a return to the antipodes, as folk of English extraction tend to call the lands down under, would be our next bicycling adventure. So it was that on 5 November 1984 we arrived in Melbourne, Australia to commence another ride which was to take us around Tasmania thence by air to Western Australia and finally from Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to Brisbane in Queensland. During the course of these journeys we visited Rottnest Island just off the coast of Freemantle, Western Australia, and Norfolk Island off the Queensland coast. Courtesy of our airline we also had free air passage from Melbourne to the Fiji Islands and back to Sydney.
In the course of our travels we very quickly became aware of the grim fact that the early settlement of Australia was the result of the transportation of convicts from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. From the time that the first fleet of convicts arrived on Australian shores in 1788 their transportation continued unabated until 1868. Over that 78 year period some 164,000 convicts were conveyed to Australia on 806 ships.
The hardships endured in the early days of Australia’s prisons provides graphic accounts of hard labor and frequent use of the cat-o-nine tails. Inevitably the conditions that prevailed often led to escape attempts. These seldom succeeded and recapture usually meant 100 lashes with the cat. Over the years there finally appeared a tiny chink of hope for a prisoner to cling to. This was the initiation of the Ticket of Leave system. While most sentences expired after seven years this provided a chance for a prisoner to go to work on his own account and prepare for his ultimate release back into society when his time was up. Any transgression of course would set him back to square one.
However, on a happier note, we were fascinated by Australia’s wildlife, many species of which we had never heard of previously. As an example we were to learn about the Tasmanian Tiger which became extinct about thirty years ago. Then there was the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a cat found on Rottnest Island.
Finally, we met a great many Australians and came to really appreciate their unique sense of humor, not to mention the interest they took in two aging cyclists (we were in our sixties) touring their fascinating country.