The logistics of this epic journey are getting trickier as I move towards the North Shore. We common folk of the Inner West don’t often get over to the side where the gentry live.
Today I rode the bike to Rhodes, the point at which I left off last week. The highlight there is the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, filling a space between the Parramatta River and an Ikea store. It seems incongruous, and I’m still mystified as to why Rhodes should be the site for this memorial to the legendary World War II campaign in Papua New Guinea.
Along with Gallipoli, Kokoda is the battle most strongly etched in the Australian consciousness. Just as the WWI casualties on the Western Front far outweighed those at Gallipoli, so the losses in other battles in the New Guinea campaign were greater than on Kokoda, but this was the one that captured the imagination and has come to symbolise the WWII sacrifices for Australians. It can’t just be about numbers, however.
If Gallipoli was a glorious defeat, Kokoda was a victory of sorts, a small Australian and New Guinean force slowing and eventually driving back a much larger Japanese army contingent, thus defending Port Moresby. Conditions were appalling (are there ever any fine conditions for battles?), and disease took far more lives than bullets did.
The memorial looks impressive, but I found it difficult to take in all the information on the boards and recorded commentaries by the waypoints.
Beyond Rhodes there followed a fairly routine section through the suburbs of Pultney and Gladesville towards the Gladesville Bridge. I was glad to be on the bike – it would have been a dull walk, and there’s little public access to the waterfront.
One highlight was coming across Banjo Paterson Park, Gladesville. The popular poet (1864-1941) lived here during the 1870s and 80s, in the cottage built by his grandmother according to the plaque. She did a good job on it.
Paterson grew up in the bush, but attended Sydney Grammar School and became a city solicitor. His poetry, including The Man from Snowy River and Clancy of the Overflow romanticises life in the bush, contrasted with a version of Paterson’s own city life.
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.
Clancy of the Overflow
Yet it would be wrong to regard Banjo Paterson as a city slicker who feigned an interest in the outback for literary purposes. He remained an excellent horseman, was a war correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald in the Second Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion, and a volunteer ambulance driver in France during World War I.
He is celebrated on the Australian $10 note.
I passed under the Gladesville Bridge, then over the Tarban Creek one and turned right into Hunters Hill.
Hunters Hill is packed with sandstone heritage buildings of great historical interest which I could tell you all about…but I was tired, there was a ferry due at Woolwich Wharf in five minutes, and the following one would be an hour later. The Hunters Hill report could wait till the next post.
The road was downhill, the wind was at my back and I made it just in time.
This stage – 16.6km
Distance travelled so far – 105.8km
Distance still to go – 211.1km
Coming up next: Woolwich to Greenwich