High-wheelers, known later as penny-farthings, arrived in Melbourne in 1875, and soon confirmed the speed, excitement and potential of the bicycle. High-wheelers featured rubber ‘cushion’ tyres, so were more comfortable than the old ‘boneshakers’, but they were difficult and dangerous to manage. Riders sat more than two and a half metres off the ground, making it hard to mount and a long way to fall. On a high-wheeler, however, a fit cyclist could sustain speeds of between 16 and 25 kilometres an hour, meaning that, for the first time in history, a person moving under their own power could travel as fast as a trotting horse. Among athletic young men, in particular, the high-wheeler promised an exciting future of transport for work and recreation. The arrival of the low-mount ‘safety’ bicycle in the 1880s rendered the high-wheeler obsolete, although dedicated riders still flew around on them for a few more years. Then, they all but disappeared.
In December 1889, Dr G. A. Thorne from Melbourne found himself with a spare fortnight at his disposal. A keen bike rider, he decided to take his new ‘taut and trim’ safety bicycle (that he referred to as his ‘trusty little horse’) by train to Sale in Gippsland, Victoria. From there he would cycle to Sydney, following the coast as closely as possible.
On the first day of riding, when he approached Bairnsdale, a horse drawn buggy approached from the opposite direction. The horse appeared to grow restive. The woman driver yelled at Thorne to get off his bicycle. He dismounted and slowly approached the horse, leading it further along the way. As he did so, she blackguarded the good doctor in what he described as an ‘absurd manner’. ‘The Government’, she raged, ‘should not allow “those things” on the road’. Thorne retorted that she should learn to drive before taking charge of a horse. He then left the scene only to be ‘followed by a torrent of abuse’.
I first met Darrell Hick on Rottnest Island in 2007 while I was doing some research with the island’s heritage officer, Patsy Vizents, for the National Museum of Australia’s Landmarks gallery. Darrell had just undertaken some conservation work on an historic firearm that had been on display in the Oliver Hill WWII gun battery. I was enjoying a pie from the ever-popular bakery. He asked me what kind of objects the Museum was hoping to display as part of a planned exhibit about Rottnest. The most obvious and important symbol of the Island, I said, was a bicycle: “Do you happen to have one that you used on the Island”, I asked hopefully.
Not what you were expecting?
When I walked the beaches of the far south coast a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it either. The usually empty stretches of sand were littered with the dead and dying bodies of hundreds upon hundreds of short-tail shearwaters, commonly called mutton-birds. These events are called ‘wrecks’. They occur when these migratory birds return to Australia to breed after a journey of some 15,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea near eastern Russia, Canada and Alaska. If they are unable to feed or rest in calm water, they can perish in their thousands. They then wash up on the beach, exhausted, emaciated and half drowned.
They were big, bulky, orange and made you look like you were about to be fired from a circus cannon. If you were spotted near your school (and, let’s face it, stealth was impossible when you were wearing one of these skidlids), you could be guaranteed days of ridicule, if not complete ostracism. If the FJ Holden is a key symbol of 1950s Australia, has the Stackhat earned the right to become an icon of the 1980s?
Major bicycle pile up on Queensland streets! Well, no … actually a crowd of eager cinema goers in Cairns have ‘parked’ their bicycles before catching the matinee screening of My American Wife in 1922. Can’t vouch for the film, but how amazing to see this tangle of metal, with no bike locks or stands. I guess everyone was going to be leaving at the same time.
Can we imagine a world without cars? Or maybe just one day? Sunday 22 September 2013 is World Car-Free Day.
Photograph: State Library of Queensland.
It’s always a bit tricky in the scrum to summarise why an object is significant, especially in a form pithy enough for the media to use. We’ve just put Cadel Evans’ 2008 road bike on display in the Main Hall to coincide with a series of road cycling races being held in Canberra over the weekend.
I don’t remember much about the 2008 Tour de France. Cadel came second … again. He wore the leader’s yellow jersey for 5 days. But, overall, the race was a clinical affair, with one team dominating proceedings and skilfully delivering their yellow jersey contender to the line at the right time.
I do remember one stage. On stage 17, the quiet Spanish climber, Carlos Sastre, had been protected all day by his team, before a gut-busting finale on the Alp d’Huez. At the base, he shot from the pack and danced to the summit, winning the stage and enough time to win the Tour. Cadel was left in the wake of this spectacular performance. But as in previous years, he grimly hung on, hurling his bike back and forth, propelling it up the mountain. He ground to the finish, having limited his loses. And although he beat Sastre in the final time trial, it wasn’t enough to take the prize. He missed out by 58 seconds.
Cycling is an unforgiving sport. In the modern era, a three-week stage race is often decided by seconds. Over the years, Cadel had endured bad luck, a lack of team support and criticism of his riding style. Yet, in 2008 he displayed the kind of the tenacity and fight that he would need to eventually win the tour three years later.
That’s what makes this bike so interesting. It speaks not to a failed attempt at victory, but to the way he rode and the way he dealt with the physical and mental challenge of falling just short of your goal. It has been his humility and his determination that has endeared him to many Australians, many of whom only started watching cycling on television because an Australian was in a position to win.
What’s your favourite Cadel moment?
For more information on Cadel’s 2008 road bike, visit the National Museum’s Cycling in Australia project.