It is a pleasant Autumn morning in Albury, the large inland city on the Murray River, where cyclists and support staff gathered on Sunday afternoon for the 20th Pollie Pedal. Over the next eight days, the group of 40 – 50 cyclists will ride 1,000 kilometres from Albury via Wagga, Talbingo, Cooma, Canberra, Goulburn and Mittagong to Sydney.
As the cyclists assembled for the annual trek, I was reminded of the line from the Man from Snowy River often recited by our Pollie Pedal ‘Poet-in-Residence’, Tony Rule: “All the cracks had gathered to the fray.”
There is Tony Abbott and Angus Taylor, two of the regular pollies in the event, along with Andrew Hastie, David Gillespie and Sussan Ley, the local member. Some regular business supporters have also returned for the ride, along with the Olympian and Tour de France competitor, Stephen Hodge.
As our journey takes us through the mountains made famous by Banjo Paterson, no doubt we will hear more of his verses from Tony Rule after our evening meals.
For the past three months, I have been training to overcome a torn Achilles and be fit enough for the task ahead. Although I have managed to squeeze in about 2,500 kilometres, mostly early in the mornings, the challenge of 130 – 140 kilometres a day is considerable
We are riding this year to raise funds for Soldier On, the organisation which serves the needs of veterans of the more recent conflicts that Australia had been engaged, such as Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Our destination is North Head, where the funds we raise will go towards the refurbishment of a building for use by the organisation. Through the generous sponsorship of many businesses, our goal is to raise half a million dollars this year.
A few weeks ago, Tony Abbott and I visited their facilities in Melbourne. It is our hope that a similar centre can be established in Sydney.
Some of the towns and cities we will visit have defence connections. Across the Murray River from Albury are Bandiana and Bonegilla, two ordnance bases that were established during the Second World War. Many of my older constituents still recall Bonegilla, as it was converted to a migrant reception centre after the conflict.
Dominated by the War Memorial on top of the hill that overlooks the twin cities, Albury Wodonga has never quite met the expectation that it could become a great inland centre to rival the national capitals. Today however, it is the vibrant home of some 90,000 people, just an hour or so from Victoria’s winter snowfields and the famous wineries in the North-East of the state.
Albury has a sentimental attachment for Liberals, as it was at there in 1944 that Bob Menzies brought together the various groups and organisations that would form a new political Party. It was also the childhood home of two of our greatest sportswomen, Margaret Court and Lauren Jackson.
Our journey today is a relatively flat 139 kilometre ride via Culcairn, Mangoplah and Kapooka to Wagga. Our first stop is Culcairn, the home of champion horseman, Andrew Hoy. Then it is onto Mangoplah for a lunch stop before cycling to Kapooka Army Base where we meet a group of recruits. The final leg is into Wagga where we are greeted by the mayor and a group of locals, including students from local schools.
Tomorrow we cycle to Talbingo at the foot of the Snowy Mountains.