Blisters, Beer & Bulldust : A race across the Outback
A solitary street light illuminates the impacted red earth of a dance space beside Bulman’s main road. On the edge of darkness men and boys are transformed by the insistent clicking of music‑sticks and the echoing hum of a didgeridoo into emu, kangaroo, cockatoo and crocodile. As they step into the light, each change of pitch in the didg brings to life a different animal of the Arnhem Land bush. The dance is but a small part of a five-day circumcision ceremony, almost all of which can only be witnessed by male tribal elders. But for our small group of international mountain cyclists and foreign press this glimpse of traditional Arnhem Land is all we can wish for.
Days before and a world away, the main body of international mountain bike riders, support crew, press, general helpers and hangers‑on had assembled in the mining town-cum-fishing mecca of Nhulunbuy (Gove) perched on the north-western tip of Arnhem Land. A prize of $50,000 had attracted a field of 26 riders to this, the ‘Crocodile Trophy’ ‑ a mountain bicycle endurance race across ‘The Top’. What is to make this race unique is that it’s the first sporting event ever permitted to pass through Arnhem Land. Before the start the riders lounge around the hotel’s pool, blissfully unaware of what Australia’s outback has in store. Once out of Aboriginal territory they will have to contend with the vast arid expanse of the Gulf Country before reaching the distant Tablelands of Eastern Queensland, and then finally, eighteen days after leaving Nhulunbuy, the respite of Cairns and the coast ‑ a slog of over 2100 kilometres.