In a country where fast food restaurants and shops are signposted on billboards from over 100 kilometres away, you’d have thought that the Tropic of Capricorn would be marked with a rest stop, or maybe souvenir shop or a theme park, even.  Or at least that there would be an enormous sign.  Or a small sign.  Or a plaque.

There wasn’t.

At least, I didn’t see one.  And I was looking, but missed it while dodging traffic; the roads have got busy suddenly.  Turns out it was actually hidden behind some trees next to the information office on the edge of town.

So, as I zig-zagged past a delinquent camper-van door, and ducked back in to avoid being rear-ended by a road train (would have been painful), I entered The Tropics.  Quite what difference this makes to anything is slightly unclear to me, but there it is; another imaginary line on the globe crossed.  Given the lack of any official marker of the occasion, I took a picture of the first sign I saw with ‘Capricorn’ written on it as a memento:

Hopefully, one thing that might change in the tropical zone is the bird life.  Before I left home, I’d read accounts of the senseless violence which Aussie magpies can inflict on the unwary touring cyclist.  But until Thursday, I’d just been buzzed a few times, with my avian tormentors contenting themselves with squawking disturbingly from a couple of feet above my head.

Thursday was different.  Maybe they’re getting more bloodthirsty as I head north.  Maybe I unwittingly provoked them by wearing the same socks too many days in a row (they did stink, to be fair).  Maybe the Beast was teasing them.  I just don’t know.

What I do know is that, for the first time ever, a cycling helmet actually protected me from something, rather than just making my head sweat.

The usual squawking and fluttering of nearby wings was abruptly replaced by a scrabbling noise as the magpie landed on my head (which was moving at well over 20 kph – that’s impressive flying).  By the time I got a panicked hand near enough to make the winged assailant let go, it had gone at the helmet like a demented woodpecker:

It was trying to kill me.  No doubt about it.  And the helmet took one for the team, and saved me a damaged scalp.  It’s still pretty much useless if a truck hits you.  And it still makes my head too hot, risking heatstroke.  But it’s very useful against magpies, that’s for sure.

Aside from running the magpie gauntlet, things have been going well since Bundaberg.  300 kms were knocked off easily in three days, thanks to fewer showers and a lovely strong tailwind.  So I’m having a day off in Rockhampton today.  I’m not even moaning about the heat any more, though I’m quite sure that will change again.

And I met another tourer for the first time since New South Wales, just before the magpies.  Damian’s heading down most of the Queensland coast to Brisbane.  On a bike that cost him AU$85 in a sale, and a set of panniers home-made from shopping bags and milk crates, by the look of them.  Good stuff!

It was already getting dark by the time I’d settled into the hostel last night (Friday).  So I didn’t see much of town.  I had a wander around this morning, but it seems to be more functional than especially interesting.  But I do know that they’re inordinately proud of their cattle here, and the beef’s supposed to be pretty good.  It’s also the first place I’ve been with plastic ‘rent-a-bulls’ displayed on top of offices in the city centre:

Anyway, I’m relaxing today before pushing further into tropical Australia.  Lots of big gaps are appearing between towns, meaning I’m having to plan a bit more carefully, and carrying extra kilos of water again.  Mackay is the next large place, and I should get there mid-week.  Providing the magpies don’t get their revenge in the meantime, of course…