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The moment when you realise you’ve drifted away from the safe shore is terrifying and truly liberating in its brutal extreme. It suddenly hits you: you’re on a motorbike with every single thing you own in boxes on the back, and you don’t know where you’re going to sleep that night or where you’re going to eat or where you’re going to get fuel. You don’t know who you’re going to call if you break down; every kilometre you cover takes you one stroke deeper into the unknown.

Yeah so I read a new book every day – and have done for the last two hundred and forty-eight days – but this guy has got me beat. “Oh Emmet, you fool”, I hear you say, “Nathan Millward rode a decommissioned Australia Post bike from Sydney to England and you sit on trains and read books. Of course what he did is far more impressive.”

Shut up.

This is a fascinating story about a young man and his own encounter with the Australian Department of Immigration – who in the face of the fast approaching elapse of his work visa was convinced to travel across the outback, sail to East Timor and from there motor along across Asia, the Russian steppe and Europe. Happily I see from his website that he’s back in Sydney. In fact he’ll be signing copies of his book in Dymocks, on George’s Street tomorrow at 6pm.

I would love to get my copy autographed, but erm, this is actually a library book. ‘cough’.

Our hero Nathan was actually encouraged in his mad scheme by his Canadian girlfriend Mandy. Perhaps she made the suggestion because she thought it fit his free-wheeling nature, after all he had returned to Australia after his first stay purely in order to be with her (once again, I can relate). Switching the lady in his life from his girlfriend to ‘Dorothy’ the second-hand 105cc Honda Postie bike, Nathan sets off – but not before a random encounter with then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who bemusedly signed his helmet.

On his long, difficult road Nathan meets many like-minded adventurers and kind souls who help him along the way. He also has intimidating encounters with corrupt border guards, suffers bouts of paranoia from anti-malarial medication, witnesses extremes of human poverty and manages to wander into more than one site of civil conflict.

The other journey faced by Nathan is his strained relationship with Mandy. One of the book’s real strengths is its honest expression of emotional vulnerability, as well as its discretion – Nathan is at pains to point out that his girlfriend’s real name is not Mandy. It is a really affecting portrayal of a couple separated by circumstances beyond their control. With his trusty laptop allowing him to maintain email contact with a growing number of friends back home and around the world, Nathan’s story begins to gain more traction with the Australian media. A book deal with ABC manages to land exactly when he requires some additional funding on his mad tour of the globe.

When I started reading this I quickly found myself becoming fascinated with this riveting tale. So much so I even got it into my head to include some snarky remarks in my review about how The Long Way Round mounted a similar expedition with security and a camera crew in tow. To Millward’s credit he respectfully acknowledges the efforts made by McGregor and Boorman, revealing himself to be quite a magnanimous soul.

He is also a very entertaining guide on this sometime dangerous, sometime beautifully described trek through incredible landscapes. One aspect of the book I really enjoyed is how so many other people helped Millward on his journey. Joe from One Ten Motorcycles, the man who sold him Dorothy aka Dot, proved to be especially helpful, keeping in touch with his customer on his unusual quest, passing on advice whenever the Honda ran into trouble, even sending him spare parts via the post.

I even found myself becoming a bit weepy when I came to the last stretch of the book. This must be one of those clichéd ’emotional journeys’, they talk so much about on book review shows. I also love how Millward refers to Dorothy and himself as ‘we’, which is both sweet and a poignant reminder of just how alone he was at times on the road.

A wonderful story, filled with thrilling adventure, thought-provoking observations and a welcome depiction of human kindness.

Mum’s pretty happy about the results of the poll. I reckon she loves you mores than she she loves me. She’s going to vote for you heaps on election day. Dad’s decided he’s going to vote Liberal. It’s not because he doesn’t like you; he actually decided 35 years ago and hasn’t changed his mind since.

My wife is desperately confused by the current political turmoil back in Ireland. Brian Cowen’s resignation is just the cherry on the cake – in truth, I think during the year we spent in Dublin the confusing nature of Irish politics was incredibly frustrating for her. We have two major parties whose mandate is based on a civil war from almost a century ago. Although I suspect the real source of frustration was the tendency of Irish politicians to be incapable of speaking sensibly.

I would love to laugh, but to be honest following Irish politics feels like watching an incredible tragedy unfold in slow motion. So instead I have chosen to review a book focusing on Australia’s John Howard government era. I can laugh at that, surely.

Richard Berry apparently was officially asked not to write any more letters to the Prime Minister. As it happens, Dear Mark/Kim, opens with him writing to the leader of the then Labour Party Opposition, Mark Latham, making oblique reference to this period of one-sided correspondence with Howard. As the 2004 election is approaching, Berry is trying his luck with Latham, in the hope that he will finally succeed in having a famous pen-pal.

In the run-up to the election Latham’s popularity climbs and Berry has high expectations that his friend will defeat Howard. He also reveals plenty of information about his own personal life, on the offchance that Latham will take an interest, including his unusual family, his relationship with his girlfriend and his thoughts on televised footage of the Opposition leader. There is a sharp satiric tone throughout, hidden beneath the creepy stalker language of Berry’s letters. The 9th September missive is particularly bleak, with Latham’s comments in relation to taxation compared to the Beslan massacre.

Once Latham loses the election to incumbent Howard, Berry quickly loses interest in him. After all, where can he send his correspondence to if Parliament House is no longer the correct address? The Labour Party selects Kim Beazley, the leader during two previous electoral defeats. As a two-time loser, Berry does not fancy his chances against Howard, but plies him with questions in a similar manner to his attempted seduction of Latham. Somehow Beazley proves more able to discourage Berry than Latham – who at the very least sent two stock replies to his mountain of correspondence. The serial correspondent moves on, his hopes of gaining a celebrity pen-pal crushed.  Kevin ’07 is still two years away and Beazley did not last. Perhaps Richard Berry’s early abandonment of him contributed to his losing the leadership?

The Berry of these collected letters just avoids disingenuity, which makes his repeated attempts to ingratiate himself with political leaders all the more disturbing. He seems an almost harmless stalker, but his fickle affections reflect the intensity of political capital, which can be quickly eroded by random events. My only knowledge of Latham prior to reading this book was his alarming accosting of Julia Gillard live on air during the 2010 election. Oh the capriciousness of fate.

This book is wicked, sly fun. Recommended as a farcical take on Australian political reporting.

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