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West Aussie reclaims Billiluna to Wiluna speed record

Sixty years have passed since the last mob of Kimberley cattle were driven south along West Australia’s Canning Stock Route, an odyssey only made possible by water drawn from the 48 wells constructed by Alfred Canning in 1908.

Establishing an abattoir at Wyndham rendered the Canning Stock Route redundant, the track falling into disuse, the wells into disrepair. It was inevitable someone would attempt to motor down the track and, a decade after the final cattle drive, a pair of short-wheelbase Landies were successful. And just as inevitably the two-wheeled fraternity were quickly on the scene.

Local lads Andreas and Fred Powell were the first to take on the challenge of an unsupported ride in 1983, Andreas on a BMW R 80 GS and Fred on a R 80/7 roadbike, modified with a 21-inch front wheel and suspension from a dead Suzuki RM250.

Both carried 80 litres of fuel plus 15 litres of water in addition to swags, food, cooking utensils and a heavy radio transceiver, plus all the necessary tools to round out the kit.

With daytime temperatures of 40°C, the lads were surviving on less than three litres of water a day. In place of power supplements, the polluted water was often strained through their tee shirts to provide the necessary nutrients. They calculated their speed at less than 20km/h and considered the sixth day a ripper when they managed 180km. Araldite – the do-it-all repair kit of the era – was in constant demand, as was tie wire and whittled mulga to support the frames.

Durba Springs oasis provided some much-needed respite before they took on the easiest sections of their odyssey to the final day, which saw them proudly elbow their way to the bar at the Wiluna Club Hotel for a celebratory beer or two. Despite the sceptics, despite 10 days of truly hard yakka and despite avoiding a potential disaster, Fred and Andreas Powell had proven the Canning could be conquered on two wheels.

Since the Powell’s remarkable achievement there have been scores of successful, unsupported two-wheeled attempts, from the trio of 250cc trailies ridden by Mac McCulloch, Terry Monckton and Dave Rose to the time veteran adventurer Tony Kirby manhandled a BMW R 1200 GS down the famous track.

And while there are no records of a Honda Goldwing making the journey it became obvious that provided proper planning was in place, anything was possible. Unremarkably dirtshifters’ attention then focussed on who could set the quickest time for the journey.

Scott Britnell may not have been aware of his predecessors’ exploits, however he was aware the Canning Stock Route is acknowledged as Australia’s most remote public thoroughfare. And undoubtedly the toughest. Having established a new record for the transcontinental crossing from Cape Byron to Steep Point, it seemed only natural that Scotty, 38, would turn his attention to the Canning. In May 2015 Britnell made his claim, riding the 1650km from Wiluna, north to Billiluna in less than 48 hours.

Few riders were more interested in Scotty’s record than 63-year-old Garry Connell, a sandgroper with a serious addiction to cross-country rallying. After all, the Canning was on Garry’s home turf – salt, spinifex and sand – and he’d regularly traversed the route on recreational rides over the last two decades.

“I’ve been planning a solo ride ever since Scotty was over here,” Garry told AMCN.

“But influenza knocked me arse over in 2017 and category-five Cyclone Marcus ripped the area apart last year. This year everything fell into place.”

With the assistance of a few close mates, Garry set up three fuel drops and an emergency camp on the way north. On May 14, he left at sparrow’s.

“The first day and I was ahead of schedule by sundown,” said Garry.

“With darkness the pace dropped more than I anticipated. And after a midnight refuel and a feed, plus a second 45-minute kip just south of Savoury Creek, I arrived at Durba Springs two hours later than planned.”

Due to Cyclone Marcus the track was severely rutted and new growth restricted vision. Garry had intended to reach Wiluna pub before nightfall and battling fatigue, severe cramps and carpal tunnel problems, finally made it into town at 7.51pm, his rally prepped Husqvarna FE501 in far better shape than he was. But he bloody well did it.

The record now stands at 38 hours 51 minutes.

And old blokes rule.