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many picture man

The third person to circumnavigate Australia was the colourful Donald Mackay. He kept a diary to note his adventures.

In 1899 he heard about Arthur Richardson’s proposed attempt to ride around Australia on a bicycle and began planning his own trip. Mackay arranged to ride with Frank White who had cycled around Australia from Perth to Rockhampton and back. They were to start in Melbourne and travel anti-clockwise via scarcely known areas north through Queensland, round and down to Perth, and then back to Melbourne. Richardson, who had started about a month before them, had travelled north from Perth in a clockwise direction.

At the last moment Mackay pulled out of the trip and Frank White teamed up with his brother, Alex, and started the ride from Melbourne on 30 June 1899. But Mackay then managed to belatedly join the party in Brisbane. The three riders set out from Brisbane on 30 July 1899. Frank White had to pull out with mechanical problems near Darwin.

When stripped down Mackay’s Dux bicycle with a 24 inch frame weighed 13.1 kg, as it was especially strengthened to carry Mackay’s weight of 82 kg plus his gear which gave a total weight of 108 kg. The Dux was fitted with Dunlop multiflex tyres. Later he said of his bike “It is the best little wheel I ever rode and although I bumped it over rocks, through great swamps, and crashed into stumps and logs on a thousand occasions it stood up every time, and never needed the slightest repair.”

Mackay arrived at the Brisbane GPO on 25 March 1900 and set a new around Australia record of 240 days 7 hours and 30 minutes by 3 days. But Richardson had beaten him to the finish line on 4 February.

Mackay’s Perth to Brisbane leg via Melbourne took 47 days. His best performance was from Port Augusta to Melbourne, 750 miles, in six days. Sheesh.

He had some stories and sound advice for long distance distance pedallers in an interview in Melbourne.

When asked how he ever got through it, he replied: All I know is that main strength and stupidity pulled me through. When I got in a tangle, or was lost, I just went bull-headed whatever way seemed the easiest. Life is too short for such a trip, and I would not do it again for all the gold in the Indies. I tell you what, when I was about six weeks out, if I had had the pluck to chuck it up I would have done so, however, as I never given up on any task before, and I have been in some rough adventures, I forced myself through a journey which I can only describe as a ‘Touch of Pure Hades.’ Blazing sun, bad water, want of food, dangers from crocodiles and blacks, and, oh! those ‘bubonic mosquitos’.

He had a few adventures.

We were in a deep ravine, called the Jasper Gorge, and had just sat down at our ‘table de cold.’ Suddenly a spear came whizzing over our heads, and we at once opened fire on the dusky gents. We took pot shots wherever we saw a head appear above the boulders. For a while things looked rather dicey, but the revolvers had a good effect, and the blacks decamped. As soon as we could we did ditto. About five miles along our route we stopped to pump up a tire, but had hardly got to work before another shower of prepared wood was thrown at us. I tell you, we all turned ‘white’. I fired several rounds at the blacks, who, after a few vain attempts to spear us as we mounted, gave up the idea of puncturing us with their poison-tipped twelve feet javelins.

In one case, an old buck came along with three young girls, and offered to exchange the whole trio for a plug of tobacco. As I don’t believe in the Brigham Young racket, I declined to do business on so prodigal a scale, much to the old villain’s disgust. Of course, as soon as he got the baccy the girls would have sprinted. The whole blessed thing would then have only ended in smoke.

Owing to my being tattooed from my neck to my heels, I was quite a lion in North West black society. When I would undress to have a swim, if a black camp was near, all its inhabitants would turn out to see Him Plenty Picture Man. It was a large bit embarrassing, sometimes especially when the lady blacks would squat upon my scanty wardrobe so as to afford them the chance to closely examine my skin pictures, of which I have 150 on my body and limbs. They fairly dazzled me with their modesty my blushes were put down to sun burn. But in the North West territory the little matter of clothing is of no moment. Virtue is easy and attire is light. Air is the only costume worn. They wanted to add a few of their own tattoo marks, but as I was afraid that the wounds would not heal, I declined to have additions to my collection.

The worst trial was at Monmoona, just south west of the Gulf of Carpentaria, when he and Alex White were prostrated beside a stagnant hole, the water in which they could smell from the bank. For two days and a half they lay there, without tasting solid food, waiting for relief from Powell’s Creek. Whilst there McKay felt so bad that he informed his mates that if he had the courage he would shoot himself. His starving comrades looked so gratefully towards him at such a welcome suggestion that he refrained from asking them to do the business, for fear that they might carry out the proposal. The costly pictures would then have vanished, and the tattoo been broken up. He is glad now he saved his art gallery from fire and water.

What advice would you give to the ‘tourist’ who might like to circle Australia? we asked.

I would counsel him, on The Bible if he wanted it, that the trip is not worth it. The privations endured are worse than the trip from Earth to Hell. The first thing to contend with is ordinary sickness; next malarial fever or dysentery; last, but not least, your bicycle smashing up, plus the awful perishes for want of food and water. Mosquitos, ants, flies, heat, dirt, and other ‘entrees’ are included without charge. No: there are plenty of other places where the cyclist can enjoy life, without regretting every day that he was ever born to be such a fool as to tempt his Creator.

Doing it tough these days? I don’t think so.