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Dave Barr – Riding the Southern Cross | Columns | Gassit Garage

Dave Barr silenced the doubters by travelling to the four extremities of the world’s largest island

When Dave Barr set out from Perth to circumnavigate Australia he wasn’t attempting the record for fastest lap of the map. He may have hit new heights of determination and downright perversity, but speed wasn’t on the agenda. He’d already been on the road for four years, during which time he’d ridden the length of Africa; across Europe from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle; from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego; and then through China, Mongolia and Siberia. Now Dave was in Australia. A lap around National Highway One would be relatively simple, but ride to the mainland’s four most extreme points and it becomes a tough and unusual adventure. Even more unusual was Dave’s choice of machinery: a 20-year-old Harley-Davidson Super Glide. It wasn’t naivety on his behalf. He was an experienced rider and used to doing things the hard way – as a soldier of fortune, Dave lost both his legs in southern Angola in 1981 courtesy of 15kg of TNT.

On returning to the USA he was reunited with his beloved Harley. And by modifying the brake mechanism and fitting an electric starter, he was soon set up to ride around the globe. Of course there were naysayers. Too many risks involved. What if something goes wrong? But as far as Dave was concerned, everything had gone arse up all those years ago in Angola. Doubters only made him more resolute, and, on reaching Australia, he embraced the phrase, ‘She’ll be right mate!’ Camping out on the Nullarbor he learnt the meaning of the ‘great Aussie salute’ and what a fly sandwich tastes like in the pissing rain. Adelaide came and went. As did Melbourne. Although Dave was prohibited from riding out to Wilsons Promontory, he later made it to Cape Byron.

It was late October and Dave was keen to reach Cape York, but in Cairns he was greeted by the pessimists. “You won’t make it past Gunshot Creek.” “You’ll never get back, the Big Wet is due.” And finally, “What about the crocodiles?” Undeterred (at least he knew the crocs couldn’t take his legs), Dave headed north. Only to face more problems. As he quickly found out: “…suddenly I hit soft sand and start fishtailing wildly. I drop into third gear where I remain for the rest of the trip. Today I travelled 320 miles, no wonder I’m so beat.”

Finally he set out for the final day of white knuckle riding. Sand, sand, and more sand. With the temperature at 40°C and the humidity above 80 per cent he reached the end of the track, only to face a long trek to the tip. Denied success at Wilsons Promontory, Dave wasn’t about to let it happen again, and a few rocky ledges later he arrived at that famous landmark: ‘YOU HAVE MADE IT TO THE NORTHERNMOST TIP OF AUSTRALIA’.

Later, heading ever westwards, Dave found himself in Karratha, the motor still holding together despite familiar warning sounds. Having already missed Wilsons Promontory Dave felt no need to ride to Steep Point. Just as well, as the Harley’s engine refused to fire and Dave had it trailered into Perth.

Not one to give up easily, or at all, Dave remained a bit pissed off at missing out on Wilsons Promontory. So it wasn’t surprising to see him back in Australia in 2002 on a specially built 1996 HD Sportster. This time Dave rode the 90 sandy miles out to Steep Point, Australia’s westernmost point, across to Cape Byron in the east and a return to Cape York up north. But down south, officials once again informed Dave that, no matter what, he could not take his motorcycle out onto Wilsons Promontory. He removed the front wheel and carried it alone out to the tip and back. Two and a half hours later, on top of his 133,000km four-year trip to be the first double amputee to ride around the world, Barr had completed what must be the most truly epic solo ride around Australia.

WORDS PETER WHITAKER