Shirley Duncan and Wendy Low - State Library of Victoria

Shirley Duncan and Wendy Low - State Library of Victoria

In honour of International Women’s Day I’d like to introduce you to two female cyclists that inspire me. Aged 19 and 21 they left Melbourne way back in 1946, on their Malvern Star bikes for the adventure of a lifetime.

Words and Images - Katie Quinn


I first found out about these two soul sisters at the ‘On Your Bike’ exhibition in Ballarat at the National Museum Australia. On display was a short video and some written material about Shirley Duncan and Wendy Low. 

They really wanted to travel overseas but with the World War 2 going on around them it wasn’t possible. Regulars on their bikes up in the Nongs, they dreamed up a fabulous idea… an epic cycling trip to Queensland to escape the winter. They decided it was time to go as soon as the war ended, so they did just that.

 La Velocita's Katie Quinn

La Velocita's Katie Quinn

Originally they thought they were in store for a 6 month trip, but it took them a year to get to Queensland, from there they headed off to Darwin, then south to Adelaide and became the first women to cross the Nullarbor on to Western Australia. The trip went for 3 years in total, and they returned in April 1949.

Wherever they went the girls on their bikes were a hit, true celebrities, with multiple radio and newspaper appearances. They adopted a dog that they named Peter in Brisbane that they trained to balance on the back of the bike and doubled as their security guard.

 Lady cyclists, Victoria 1896 - State Library of Victoria

Lady cyclists, Victoria 1896 - State Library of Victoria

They were sponsored by Malvern Star and Peters Ice Cream, who allowed them free ice-cream in every town they passed through. On bikes with no gears or brakes, day after day they pushed their heavy and bulky freedom machines up hills and coasted down the other side.

Wendy and Shirley display the passion and spirit for adventure that I see every day in the women I ride with. The exhibition is open until April 3rd, 2016 and it well worth checking out. 

THE WEEKLY RIDER.