Arthur Richardson

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The first man to cycle across the Nullarbor

A hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of nature, the sort of place one gets into bad dreams” ~ Edward John Eyre on the Nullarbor Plain – the first European to cross it in 1841.

Born in Brazil in 1872.  Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson moved to Australia with his family and became a mining engineer. He made his name for himself as a bushman.  However became famous when he became the first man to travel across the Nullarbor by bike.  From Coolgardie to Adelaide.

Arthur Richardson

Christmas Day held a special meaning to Arthur.  It was the day that he completed an arduous journey of thirty-one days in 1896. The Nullabor back then was an open and unhospitable place.  What was most remarkable about his journey is the fact that he left only carrying a small kit and a water-bag.  To navigate he followed the telegraph line as he crossed the Nullarbor and rode solo.  The Nullarbor back in the 1900’s was generally uninhabited.  If anything went wrong there was no one for thousands of miles to help him.

Arthur Richardson recalled much ‘sweating and swearing’ on sandy roads west of Eucla, and hot winds on the Nullarbor Plain.  He later described the heat as feeling like it was “1,000 degrees in the shade”.  His least favorite part was the 39 km of sand hills west of Madura station.  This was the worst he had experienced in Australia. His ride was widely reported in Australian newspapers and magazines.  And demonstrated the value of the bicycle for rural travel.

Arthur Richardson Circumnavigating Australia

In 1899 Richardson set out to be the first to ride round Australia.  He described his story in a book titled “Story of a Remarkable Ride” (1900). Arthur left Perth on 5 June 1899 and headed north, carrying 25 pounds of gear and a pistol. Heavy rain slowed his progress in Western Australia.  And later in the north, where the black-soil plains were unrideable for several days. He had to push and carry his bicycle through sand and silt.  Encountering hostile natives along the way.

The Nullarbor Desert.  Image by Robyn Jay; courtesy of Flickr

His epic journey around Australia took him over 18,507 km of terrain.  Arriving back in Perth on 4 February 1900. Richardson’s ride was something of a race, as he beat out three other competing Australians.  Alex and Frank White, and Donald MacKay.  Who were simultaneously attempting to circumnavigate the continent in a counter-clockwise direction from Brisbane. He was asked by a journalist whether he would do it again?

I would do the same trip again for less than a fiver“. – AR
Quiz and the Lantern (Adelaide) published May 3 1900

Arthur Richardson joined the WA bushman’s contingent shortly after his epic ride.  He was being exercised in mounted drill when a dog sprang at his horse.  Causing it to swerve suddenly resulting in him being thrown with great violence to the ground breaking his right arm.  Arthur was posted to the South African War where his bike skills saw him put into use as a dispatch rider.

He had a sad end to his life. He later remarried again to Rita Betsy Elliott-Druiff.  On the 3 April 1939.  Police discovered his corpse lying next to that of his wife at their home in Scarborough.  In what appeared to be a murder suicide.  His war injuries had reportedly left him seriously disturbed which led him to ending his life.  He will be remembered as one of the original epic riders of Australia.

Halford family after crossing the Nullarbor in 1904 (near Kalgoorlie) (John Joseph Dwyer)


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