Monday, June 16, 2014

Origami ancestor worship on the Mawson trail

As far as I know, I'm not directly related to Sir Douglas Mawson, the Australian Antarctic explorer. However my grandfather, Reverend William Mawson, was a contemporary, and in his own way, an explorer and adventurer. While Douglas was harvesting scientific data in the deep south, William was attempting to harvest Chinese souls for the Presbyterian church, at first among miners on the Otago goldfields, then at a mission station near Canton.
Douglas Mawson (right) and companions at the South Magnetic Pole, 1909
William Mawson (sitting on ground, left) with Chinese miners, Otago Goldfields, 1890s.
The 900 km Mawson Trail is named after Douglas. William's legacy includes the mission station near Canton/Guangzhou, now a hospital where no corporate memory survives of its NZ Presbyterian origins.
Rush hour in Melrose
Melrose is a small rural South Australian town on the edge of the Mt Remarkable National Park that has reinvented itself as a mountain biking mecca, and was the destination of a post Velo-City road trip.
Local enthusiasts have developed a network of mountain bike tracks on the side of the mountain which attracted Simon, Patrick and Graeme. But I decided the Mawson connection was close enough that I'd give the Tern origami bike a workout by following the section of the Mawson trail that ran through the town.
Bike sculpture, central Melrose
Mawson trail marker and typical backroad
Finding the trail was easy - past the bike sculpture in the centre I picked up  the distinctive Mawson Trail markers, and the sealed road soon turned to red gravel. The road climbed steadily to Peach Tree cutting, passing small (I guess, for Australia) farms: mostly sheep and cattle, with the occasional vineyard. One farmhouse received its mail via an ingenious miniature flying fox.
Mail delivery
The route is contiguous with the Heysen walking trail, and at one corner a well rugged up lady in a wheelchair waited by her vehicle for the walking companions she was supporting. After a while the route turned away from the hills on Rosslyn Road - another family coincidence since my sister's name is Roslyn.
Rosslyn Road, Mawson Trail
Although the Mawson Trail website suggests the trail requires a mountain bike, on this section the Tern seemed to roll along the packed gravel roads happily; that is, until the route headed back towards the hills and the Wirrabarra forest on Cutting Road. I'd never really associated the Australian outback with wetness, but a week or so of rain had turned the top 10cm of dirt to a sticky Plasticine like mush. The tyres failed to get purchase on this, and worst still it clogged the wheels and mudguards. Eventually I realised it was easiest to get off and walk on the verge past suspect sections, but even so, the progress was slow.
Mud on the Mawson Trail!
By the time I reached the Wirrabarra forest, with glimpses of kangaroos flitting among the pine trees, it was getting late, so I headed out on White Road to rendezvous with the others on the main road. At one point five large adult kangaroo, camouflaged in grey stubble field, suddenly burst from cover running ahead of me but peeling off over the ridge before I could get my camera out.

A cellphone call established that the others were on their way to pick me up, so I stopped at a water hole and, with the strains of Waltzing Matilda ("...camped by billabong/ Under the shade of collibah tree") running through my head, attempted to get the worst of the mud off the bike before loading it into the pristine interior of the rental car.
Emerging from a waterhole with a (sort of) clean bike [photo courtesy of Patrick Morgan]
A few hours driving and a car wash later we were back in Adelaide and ready to deny having ever allowed dirt roads to have sullied the tyres of the rental car in contravention of the rental agreement.

I'm not sure what the 1800's Mawsons would have made of this brief adventure: probably too tame for Douglas (although post-Antarctica he spent time researching the geology of the Flinders Ranges) and too frivolous for William. But it provided a good chance to explore rural Australia at bike pace: next time I'll try to do it in a drier season!


  1. Though they may have been puzzled by "website"and "cellphone call", I'm sure both the Mawsons would have been well pleased that a spirit of determined perseverance is still being shown in the 21st century.

    Thanks for showing and sharing, Alastair.

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