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FIRST AROUND THE CONTINENT | He did what?

With a bit of nouse, Arthur Grady became the first bloke to circumnavigate Australia in 1925

THE FACT ARTHUR Grady chose a motorcycle to circumnavigate Australia isn’t surprising. It wasn’t until the early 1920s sales of four wheelers surpassed their two-hooped cousins.

Two years of service with the 51st Battalion provided him with a stoic maturity and Grady set about fettling his 2kW (2.75hp) Douglas horizontally opposed, longitudinal twin with military precision.

He set out from Fremantle, WA, in October 1924. Carrying 20 litres of fuel, six litres of oil and nine litres of water, the little Douglas tipped the scales at more than 220kg and luggage space was so limited, he carried his toothbrush in his pocket.

Initially there were bullock tracks to follow, but once above the Tropic of Capricorn all Grady could see was steep sand dunes, bulldust, rocky ridges and washouts which he had to negotiate. He used cattle pads to guide him through the Spinifex, and aboriginal jackaroos to guide him.

Frequently his instructions were less than clear… ‘follow the cattle pads due east to the lagoon, cross the river between the second water hole and the gorge, then follow the creek for a mile or so and you’ll pick up on more cattle pads. Follow those fifteen mile and, at the top of the jump-up, make for the clump of trees on the plain.’ It’s easy to imagine the angst should the clump of trees fail to materialise.

Grady’s personal journal demonstrates his remarkable aptitude in overcoming obstacles. ‘On reaching a gorge I decided at once on a plan of action. First taking off the loaded carrier, I carried it over to the opposite bank. Next I unbolted the engine and carried that over. Finally the frame and then the wheels were brought along and the whole machine reassembled on the other side, but not without breaking two radiating fins off the front cylinder.’

Soaked by the river crossing, Grady had an opportunity to dry out: ‘As I rounded the hill a vast plain stretched before me and I saw thick volumes of smoke. Smoking logs had fallen across my path and the cattle pad was obliterated. Having noted the features of the landscape, I was independent of any tracks. I made my landmarks every time I left the pad and, when chance offered, cut to the pad again. In this manner I forced my way along, the smell of burning wood mingled with the fumes of heated petrol; the burnt ground radiating intolerable heat and with tears blurring my vision.’

Along the way he was often forced to concoct his own lubricating oil; a mixture of six bottles of Castor oil, half a gallon of beef dripping and two pints of Windmill lubricant. And he was often powered by Kerosene, using only a thimble of petrol on the kickstart to get it running. And he often had to rely on a fire and rocks to hammer the sturdy little Douglas back into shape.

It was on March 1, 1925, that Arthur Grady arrived at Fremantle’s Town Hall, the exact spot from which he’d departed five months and 14 days before – a feat that was hailed as, ‘An achievement that speaks volumes for the pluck of this intrepid pathfinder, who will go down in posterity as the first man to encircle Australia on a mechanically propelled vehicle.’  

Words Peter Whitaker