In 1894 Sarah Maddock became the first woman to cycle from Sydney to Melbourne, 125 years later her namesake pays tribute
A few years ago, on a whim when Sarah Maddock Googled her name, she came across some interesting information. The 39-year-old discovered yet another Australian by the same name who, a century ago, had undertaken a cycling expedition from Sydney to Melbourne, becoming the first Australian woman to do so. In her endeavour, the Sarah of yore not only battled poor roads, bushfire, and untimely rains but also a conservative society that frowned upon women who cycled. This year marks the 125th anniversary of that adventure and moved by her namesake’s determination and fortitude, cyclist Sarah decided to pay tribute by undertaking a similar journey – travelling from Sydney to Melbourne starting August 28 on her Bombtrack Arise tour bicycle.
Sarah, who will cover 987 km in 14 days starting August 28, wants to raise awareness about the woman who made it possible for every Australian woman to ride cycles.
TAL caught with the Adelaidean to learn more about her preparations for the trip, how her famous namesake inspired her and the challenges she anticipates on her way.
Before we talk about your journey, please tell us something about yourself.
I was born and raised in Sydney but have lived in Perth and Canberra too as my father was in the Navy. I’m 39 years old and work in Place-Making in Local Government, which involves design and activation of public spaces. Apart from cycling my other hobbies include ballet and learning Spanish.
Were you always interested in travelling and exploring new places? When did you start cycling and why did you enjoy it so much?
As a kid, I loved travelling to new cities, but I caught the travel bug when I was a college student and took a gap year. I was fortunate enough to explore South East Asia, South America and Europe.
I was probably around four or five when I first started cycling. As I grew older I would head off on a bike alone and enjoy the sense of freedom it gave me; that feeling has stayed with me since. While living in Canberra I would go on weekend adventures, explore the beautiful city through its excellent network of bike paths. Though I cycled on and off, it wasn’t until I moved to Adelaide in 2009 that cycling became an integral part of my life. I didn’t own a car, so cycling was my primary form of transport. I also thought it was a great way to explore a new city.
Also, cycling is good for the mind. I find I arrive at work more relaxed and happy when I ride than if I drive.
Coming to your trip, when did you first hear about Sarah Maddock’s story, and why did that inspire you to undertake a similar journey?
I first learnt about Sarah when I google myself in the early 2000s. Sarah’s achievement of being the first woman to cycle from Sydney to Melbourne impressed me. Her story isn’t well known, and I wanted to share this part of Australia’s cycling history with others. Beyond this, Sarah also went on to form the first Sydney Ladies Cycling Club and wrote a column in the cycling gazette with tips on cycling mainly aimed at women.
Apart from sharing the same name with Sarah Maddock, was there any other reason that prompted you to undertake this journey?
Another aspect that inspired me to undertake this challenging journey was the opportunity to have an adventure. Unlike a holiday, I wanted to challenge myself by setting a goal. When I first set this goal – to cycle between Sydney and Melbourne – I wasn’t cycling long distances. I was mainly riding to work, to the beach or the shops. Undertaking such an arduous journey would involve a lot of planning and mind and body training.
Moreover, it isn’t just about cycling but sharing Sarah’s story, her achievements and her role in cycling and advocating for a place for women in Australian sports.
I was also inspired by Alastair Humphreys, a UK based adventurer. He coined the term micro-adventure – taking little adventures that last just a couple of hours or overnight. He says that you don’t need to go too far or for too long to have an experience. I undertook a few micro-adventures in recent years, which gave me the confidence to aim higher and make this particular journey happen.
Sarah's from a different century and had to face a different set of problems while cycling from Sydney to Melbourne. While researching on her, apart from the same name, did you find any similarities between her and you – personality or otherwise?
I’ve never been asked that question before! The news articles of the time don’t allude too much about her personality, unfortunately. I do know that the more I train for the ride, the more I realise how resilient and fit Sarah was, and that has been a constant source of inspiration for me.
What type of research and training did you undertake before starting the journey, and how many kilometres do you plan to cycle at a stretch. Where on the route will you stop for a break and what type of cycle will you be using?
Before starting on this journey, I diligently studied everything I could on Sarah from newspapers and other publicly available information on Trove. I also tracked down Sarah’s great-grandchildren and they helped by sharing some stories and photos.
Our route is 987km, our trip will last 14 days and I will ride on an average 80 – 100km per day. We will have 12 riding days and two rest days. We’ll be stopping at Bundanoon, Goulburn, Yass, Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Beechworth, Mansfield, Yea, Coburg and Melbourne.
The bicycle I will be using is a Bombtrack Arise Tour.
Can you tell us something about your support staff? Do you have a coach or a family member accompanying you, or are you cycling all one?
I have partnered with a cycling touring company – Mulga Cycling Tours. The owners Mark and Denise cycled around Australia before setting up the cycling tour company. On this ride, seven other people from Mulga are joining me. Mulga Tours have developed the cycling route, organised the accommodation and meals and will also provide us with two support vehicles along the way.
What challenges did you face while planning and training for this journey? What problems do you anticipate on your trip?
In terms of planning, we haven’t been able to stick to precisely the same route as Sarah. She travelled along what is now the Hume Highway. While it’s possible to ride the Hume Highway, we decided it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Therefore we plan on taking a slightly different, safer and more enjoyable route.
Making enough time for training among work and other commitments has been an ongoing issue.
I expect numerous challenges en route like getting back on the bike day after day for 12 days. When my body is tired I will have to depend on my mental strength to pull me up. The fact that we are doing this ride as a group will enable us to support each other better.
How are you funding the trip? Have you got sponsors?
I’m funding my way on this trip. I don’t have any sponsors, but friends have provided me with some donations for cycling gear.
Is there a message you would like to communicate through this journey to others?
Take opportunities to embark on your own adventure, even little ones. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something! And, Google yourself, you never know what you might find!
What are your plans for the future?
I want to share Sarah’s story, and her significant achievements to the broader community and I’m looking into different creative ways to do that.
Follow Sarah on her wonderful journey here.
Read more about cycling pioneer Sarah Maddock here.
Read more abot Mulga Cycling Tours here.