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Audio George Burston's granddaughter describes his 'world tour', 2006

TLF ID R8844

This is a sound recording of Geraldine McFarlane, granddaughter of George William Burston, describing Burston's 1888-89 'world tour' by bicycle with a companion, Harry Stokes. McFarlane outlines the route they took from Melbourne to London, pedalling much of the way on 'penny-farthing' or high-wheeled bicycles, and describes some of their experiences on the trip. The recording was made in October 2006 and lasts for 2 min 25 s.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording provides a concise picture of an extraordinary trip by two of the first Australians to travel to Europe mostly overland. George Burston (1859-1924) and Harry Stokes took ten months to reach London, having cycled an estimated 16,000 km of the way through parts of Australia, Asia and Europe, travelling the rest of the way on steamships. Their biggest distance travelled in a day was 212 km across northern India.
  • In this recording, McFarlane describes some of what her grandfather and Stokes experienced on what they called their 'world tour'. For example, she mentions how they ran into bushfires and got lost before they even reached Sydney. And she explains that, after an eventful trip through Asia, they were arrested in Rome where bicycles were banned at the time because they were regarded as hazardous to pedestrians.
  • The serialised adventures of Burston and Stokes were followed at home in The Australasian newspaper, and in 1890 Burston published a book called 'Round about the world on bicycles: the pleasure tour of G. W. Burston and H. R. Stokes'. However, McFarlane reveals in this recording that the pair actually returned to Melbourne by crossing the USA by rail, and then aboard a steamship across the Pacific Ocean.
  • Although their trip took place before Federation, the Victorian-born Burston and Stokes believed they made their tour as representatives of Australia with one newspaper report quoting Burston as saying that because of the degree of public interest in the tour, he felt as though he was setting off as an Australian who must acquit himself well, and Burston's book makes frequent references to them being Australians.
  • Burston and Stokes rode penny-farthings, a type of bicycle popular in Europe and other parts of the world in the 1870s and 1880s, before they were replaced by the chain-driven 'safety bicycles' that resemble the bicycles still in use today. Penny-farthings had a large-diameter front wheel and a smaller rear wheel and were named after the English coins, the relatively large penny, and the much smaller farthing, worth a quarter of a penny.
  • Because they had no gears, the front wheels of penny-farthings were made large to achieve greater speed (and distance) with each revolution of the pedals. The cyclist had to ride almost on top of the front wheel, making it difficult to mount, and impossible to stop safely without first leaping off the bicycle, because the rider's feet could not touch the ground.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Geraldine McFarlane
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Audio
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.