Pollie Pedal 2014 – Day 1, Moree
It is a cool winter morning in Moree, the sprawling rural home of nearly 10,000 people close to the New South Wales-Queensland border. Groups of Lycra-clad figures begin to emerge from the rooms of the Burke and Wills Motel as the sun rises above the eastern horizon.
We had arrived in the northern NSW town on Saturday for the 17th Pollie Pedal, a 1,000 kilometre cycle to Penrith over the next eight days.
Fifty riders and a volunteer support crew will make the journey, passing through Tamworth, Gunnedah, Coonabaraban, Dubbo, and Mudgee along the way.
For the past two months, I have been rising early in the mornings to ride 200 km a week. A thousand kilometres in the next week still remains daunting.
I am fortunate to be here, having been blown into the gutter by a gust of wind while training ten days ago. Luckily I only sustained cuts, bruising and a piece of wood that had to be cut out of my ear – but no broken bones!
The Pollie Pedal was the brainchild of Tony Abbott, Jackie Kelly, and Ross Cameron. It was designed to take them to out-of-the-way communities where politicians rarely visit.
Every year since then, the 1,000 kilometre ride has traversed the country, taking a different route each time.
Last year it was from Adelaide to Geelong, the year before from Melbourne to Sydney.
Like other editions, this year’s Pollie Peddlers range from executives of some of the sponsoring firms to a band of older cyclists who have ridden and assisted with the organisation of the event for many years.
This year, Angus Taylor and David Gillespie will ride the entire journey, while Mark Coulton and Luke Hartsuyker will join us for a few days. Mitch Fifield is also participating in a series of community events during the week.
Many riders return year after year to enjoy the camaraderie of the bike and conversation over dinner in the evening. Each pays his or her own way, as well as contributing funds to Carers Australia.
In the past two years, the ride has raised over $1 million for Carers.
The standard of the riders varies greatly, from former elite competitors to recreational cyclists. Usually the peleton breaks into three or four groups, allowing each rider to travel at a speed they can manage for the average of about 130 kilometres each day.
Tony Abbott has not missed kilometre of the past 16 editions, but this year is different. As Prime Minister, his new responsibilities, especially in the weeks after the MH17 tragedy, have taken him to The Netherlands and the UK this week.
He came to Moree to launch the event, but I will be filling in for him at the many community events along the 1,000 kilometre route. They commence with a reception for Gwyder Industries, a local disability support service, on the eve of the start. More than 200 local community members turn out for the event. After another community gathering and a series of media interviews in the morning, we were flagged-off on our odyssey.
Today is a relatively easy 100 kilometre cycle from Moree to Bingara. Along the way, I join the Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, to open the Moffett Park Playground at Gravesend before continuing the ride to Bingara.
The school children at Gravesend – population about 130 – petitioned the local shire, raised $2,000 in a couple of weeks, and set in train a process which has resulted in a wonderful new playground in the town.
It is a tribute to local ingenuity.
Tomorrow we pedal from Bingara to Tamworth.