Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 21, 2009

When No One Came

It felt a bit like a situation I found myself in 1973, making a film in Cuba, supposedly doing an interview with Fidel Castro, waiting and waiting but Fidel never Turing up. That was called simply, Waiting For Fidel.

Yesterday, my daughter Ellen and I waited, camera in hand for an event which also didn’t happen. Not so long, it’s true the wait, minutes only, but faced with the same, “what to do?”

I’d had an email from AVAAZ, the famous international activist group,
inviting me to take part in a Global warming Wake Up Call, a bit of gorilla theatre, as I understood it, happening all over the world at 12. 18 precisely Monday, Sept. 14th.

Well, there were no events near us on the Central Coast, NSW, and so I offered to stage one that would bring bikes into the Global warming story.

The contribution they make is usually ignored, esp. here in Australia.

But it was the Saturday before that I sent in my offer to stage a Plant Bike and I was rather trepidacious as to whether anyone would come.

With good reason as it turned out. Being a working weekday, everyone I spoke to personally said, “sorry”

And being this car crazed country, people just don’t have bikes at hand, ready to hop on. The tires are flat.

So Ellen and I, she’s also hard to get on a bike, turned up at the appointed spot on bikes and waited

And when no one came, it was time for the Fidel ploy, make the film about the non event.

In this case. I did some shocking facts I wanted to convey, and proceeded to do so with Ellen being exceptionally helpful, and only once calling me a retard.

You’ll notice two things about Ellen. A word on them when you’ve watched it

Here it is. Planet bike for Avaaz. Thanks, Avaaz for the push, and please consider a global bike campaign.

Every Kilometer of Bike-way built, is a delete for Green house gas emissions, once built, that is.

About Ellen. The two things. 1. She looks lovely on the bike. 2. She’s not wearing a helmet, and in Australia, that means she’s breaking the law.

Look, my thoughts on helmets have changed somewhat since reading (link on the side)

It’s not that Mikael has brainwashed me, merely brought to consciousness, thoughts I’d had already.

We bought Ellen a pretty good bike when she was twelve, hoping it would become her major way of getting around in an area where there is little public transport.

The bike sat there, in the carport for about 4 years, unused, till Katya recently started to use it.

bike in garae

Yesterday was the first time Ellen has been on a bike in a very long time, and the only reason she agreed, was because I did not go on and on about her wearing a helmet.

She and her friends just don’t and wont ride bikes, in large part because helmets are “not cool.”

What they really mean is that they don’t look attractive, or look less so, in helmets and who could disagree?

Now that might sound silly, but then tell that to the fashion and cosmetics industries much of which I find over the top. Women want to look attractive and will weight that heavily in behavioral choices.

If convinced helmets are crucial, they just choose not to ride.

Yesterday, Ellen matched up well with the lovely creatures you see on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, the other great Danish blog.

Let’s try putting them side by side.

Ellen, Yesterday.(No, she’s not on her mobile)

ellen on bike toards, 440

A Danish girl from CCC.

chick on yellow bike

If Ellen and her Friends were able to look like this, maybe her teens would have been spent on a bike.

Instead, not riding was her choice in the nation which was the first to bring in compulsory helmets in 1991, and which very few other nations have followed, by the way.

The Aussie look, below, was just not an option.


Almost no teenage girls ride bikes in Australia.

Ellen’s lucky, she’s fit. But what about all those who are obese and image conscious, are they better off staying off bikes because of the “dorky thing” that has to go on the head?

Especially when the life saving stats as to the benefit of said “dorky thing” are not impressive.

The heavenly creatures in Denmark, in Holland, in Germany, don’t get head injuries, well not to the extent that helmets are demanded.

It’s a tough call, and I’m not as sure as I was on the issue. I now lean towards feeling it should be a personal decision after 16.

That means Ellen would have been legal yesterday.

I do think, Auatralia so free in terms of what th land offers environmentally, veers towards the super sexed nanny state. This country is full of people assidiously dreaming up rules to make the lives of other better, safer.

Through, truth be told, they are actally marking out control territories which are going to give them careers as gatekeepers of the rule they invent.

Meanwhile, those who are the object of their concern, esp. children, become more and more protected, coddled, and quite unable to cope with a rough and tumble world.

When I was a kid, I roamed free in a paradise of muddy water, river bends and marshes.

What I did in tipsy canoes, to poisonous swimming snakes, and on the high limbs of trees, is just not possible in the new Nanny state.

The result is that the kids I know today, have no interest in nature, the bush, whilst I love everything wild, and did make it through.



  1. Another good post Mike.

    That is very true that helmets discourage cycling. My kids don’t want to cycle if they have to wear a helmet.

    The lack of support for cycling in this country is shocking. Take for example our kids high school. There is NO bicycle parking at the school. ZERO. Result? There is a traffic jam every day around the school during times to pick up and drop kids. Some kids are becoming fat in their early teens. Parents have to rush home to pick up their kids from school. How clever is that?

    There is no bicycle parking at the train station either. Many people drive their cars to the local train station. The 5 to 10 minutes trip could be done in the same time on a bicycle. This would reduce traffic jams. People who must buy a second car just to drive to the station could save thousands of dollars per year. How clever is that?

    It’s sad to realise that most people wouldn’t even consider riding a bicycle because there is no bicycle path and they are forced to wear a helmet.

    This policy has far greater costs (in terms of traffic jams, pollution, time wasted, health problems escalating into high medical costs) than the cost of providing a few bicycle paths. How clever is that?

  2. Mike,

    I lived 15 years in the US, cycled to work in the snow and sun, rode with two friends over the Rockies from Denver, Colorado, to San Francisco. (about 3500kms, 2200 miles). I never wore a helmet. Most Americans choose to, but no US state mandates the wearing of helmets. California requires helmets for people under the age of 18. That’s it. You wanna ride, ride.

    I lived in Australia from 1973 to 1987, all those years in Whyalla, S.A. South Australia is a disaster for cycling. In rural SA, no-one cycles. Worse than this, in SA country towns, you never see a PEDESTRIAN, except in the carparks, making their way into the mini malls. Cycling has disappeared from folk memory and experience.
    The problems in SA are distance, frequent strong winds, fewer roads, brutal summers, an absence of cyclists on the roads, too brief a tradition of cycling before the arrival of cars which flattened all before them.

    In the US, I would wisecrack with my friends, saying: “The US is a nation of rugged conformists.” Yet this is even more true of ‘God’s-own, Australia. The late Scottish journalist, James Cameron, said that Australia is the most urbanised country on earth.

    What alarms me is the frightening lack of imagination here. Also an incipient authoritarianism both in the rule-making classes and in the cops. “Do what you’re told; it’s the law!” Well,… is it a good law?

    The descendants of our founding colonisers are telling the descendants of convict settlers what to do, how to think, how to be upright and ‘loyal.’ That sort of instinctive authoritarianism is too deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche. Our horizons are too narrow, too local.
    Glad you (and your daughter) are in the fight. I don’t wear a helmet either.

    What’s Sue Abbott’s situation? When is her trial?
    Just had my first blog from Oz appear on Mikael’s C.C. Chic.

    • Milo, what a thoughtful and interesting answer. You are in the special position of being able to compare riding in the the US and Aust. Now, I do hope that people who can report on having ridden in Europe, in the upright posture, (see the post (Beetler bane) will report on how the difference feels. Congrats also on getting onto Mikael’s with your blog. I must find your blog.

      Sue goes to trial tomorrow morning in Scone. I will be there to film it. if you are in NSW, please pjone the ABC and azk them to cover the story, at least on radio. Mike

  3. I very much enjoyed your film and agree with the statements you make 100%. I envy the great open spaces that is your country, that should be seen by as many as possible, on a bike. It’s icredible that the Australian government is so inactive in promoting the bicycle, and as you say, it is a shameful fact, for a country that is supposed to be at the forefront of fighting/combating global warming.

    • I also find it incredible that I spent so much of what I thought was a pretty alert life being disinterested and unaware of bikes. I’m now wonder why that is. I had a good friend with a bike in Montreal who used it a lot and i ember wondering why is he on that thing, it look so uncomfortable. It had drop bars and a very narrow seat . But then I don’t remember ever discussing it with him either.

      Perhaps something will happen, like a challenge at Copenhagen, where the Danes will surely will put bikes front and centre, to wake this Govt. up. The Rudd Govt. is clever, and potentially fantastic for bikes since they do zero in on things and get them done, like lap tops for all the kids in secondary school Mike

  4. don’t worry; there will be a next time when someone will be there on time too. Just keep on trying …
    Sometimes it’s hard to be the first pioneer !

    • Wim, Ellen and I had a great time. We were reveling in a feeling of abandonment. Mike

  5. Hi, Mike. I never gave it a lot of thought, but after reading your article, I have to agree – helmets is one of the main reasons why I de-taste bike riding (plus lack of bike lines with all the dangers linked to it etc). Bikes are my favourites in the gym, but not on the road. I never could imagine myself wearing those ugly helmets.

    What about our children not riding bikes…
    The government’s approach to the problems of society is mainly to solve the problems for people by introducing policies. It is good sometimes, but it does not have to be as overwhelming as it is in Australia.
    Dutch people are independent, and prefer to manage their problems themselves, and do not take unnecessary government’s expenses as easily as it happens here. Employing school bus drivers and hiring those buses is a huge expenditure Dutch people do not want to have. Building and maintaining bike lines (which serve as pedestrian lines as well) is much cheaper and much more efficient (as I heard – never saw the actual figures).
    School bus system provides a lesson of inefficiency which lasts for 12 years. School lessons are over at 15.05 but buses can arrive even around 16.30. All this time children sit and wait doing nothing productive or interesting, becoming mischievous and driving supervising teachers mad. A few teachers are obliged to spend unpaid hours waiting for the buses every day. On my memory the latest bus arrived something like 5.45 pm (something happened in the bus depot) – I was never reimbursed for the wasted hours (because it is expected that we are happy to sacrifice our time to the government), and our children are never reimbursed for this incredible waist of time. In those years of pointless waiting they learn to sit, to be bored to death, instead of moving around, being active and being in charge of their own life. In Holland children in childcare centres are taught to be responsible on the roads and to know how to be a pedestrian and a driver(rider). In Australia we stop or slow down all traffic in the country to make sure that no child ends up under the car, and we even regulate which types of vehicles are allowed around schools and which are not.
    In Holland they anticipate that the children will take responsibility for their behaviour, here we anticipate that the child will be taken care of.
    Maybe this passive attitude we develop in our children is a contributing factor to the lack of bike culture?

    • Great Reply, Tatiana. is there anyone else who feels the same? Holland is really clever and it’s not surprising their children are, apparentl,y the happiest in the world. Mike

  6. I think one of Mikael’s main points is that those Copenhageners don’t think of themselves as part of a cycling culture – they’re just getting around (although the way they adorn their bikes with flowers and match them to their shoes suggests that’s maybe a little disingenuous). Meanwhile, a simple petition promoting bike lanes in the UK starts a massive row between the ‘vehicular cyclists’ and the people who’d like to see a little Copenhagenicity in their lives…

    • Hi disgruntled. Do you have any links to the petition row you speak of. I find your comment very interesting because our bike culture in Aust. is dominated by the sport aspect, by Lycra types, who I guess are vehicular cyclists in that they seem happy on the roads, and , I suspect , are not much interested in bike lanes. This would help explain why we have so little bike infrastructure. They have probably not been a lobby force for bike lanes. So, can you point me to any articles?

      • Possibly ‘massive’ was an exaggeration… I can’t find a link to the discussion in the mainstream media (although apparently this was picked up by the BBC) but the comments on Copenhagenize gives a flavour of the debate.

  7. Brent, you should ask Mikael at Copenhagenise. com. if the women see themselves as part of a bike culture, I would suspect that they are quite conscious of the way bike flatteringly show off figure and moment.

    The Dutch story, as I’ve heard it, is that in the 70’s they had some terrible accidents with kids and bike. it presented a fork in the road, whether to to busing like outer countries of whether to make cycling safe by building bike ways. Lucky for them the choose the latter.

    For everything about bikes in Holland, go to David Hembrow’s blog, Beside the Cycle Path, linked on my blog. he’s a wealth of info.

  8. “Waiting for Godot,” indeed.

    I read somewhere that the Dutch would have not had such an extensive network of cycle paths today had it not been for parents. Parents wanted their children to bicycle to school, and they wanted it to be done safely. So they banded together, agitated for change, and made it happen. The power of parents is not to be trifled with!

    I wonder whether those oh-so-chic European riders see themselves as part of a bicycle culture. Somehow I don’t think so, or at least no more so than a person who walks to work or the store sees himself or herself as part of a walking culture. For them, cycling is no more or less than an artifact of daily life, and perhaps all the more precious because it is so unremarkable.

  9. I really like the handlebar set-up for upright riding on Ellen’s bike. In the old days of road bikes, I used to twist mine up so that I could sit upright instead of hunched.

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