ACT News


Solitude was Angus Houston's reward on morning rides

Cycling was the chief's safety valve, writes PHILLIP THOMSON

FOR SIX years Angus Houston cycled out of Duntroon at 5 o'clock on most mornings carrying two mobile phones.

As the man in charge of protecting the country, he had to be contactable at all times.

Few ever rang him at that hour and his solitary bike rides in the dark - and on the weekends during the day - became his pressure release.

So, when the phones lit up, he knew it was bad news.

A couple of times he received the worst kind of calls.

Standing by the side of an ACT road, he was told men under his command had been killed in Afghanistan.


''Cycling was my escape,'' he says.

Houston has been cycling since he was a boy in Scotland. He brought the passion with him when he emigrated to work at a West Australian cattle station as a jackaroo at age 21.

Little if any of the accent remains and there are only a few hints for the ignorant, apart from his name, that point to his Scottish roots.

Houston only drinks whisky about once a year, but when he does he's partial to a drop of Lagavulin, a 16-year-old single malt from a 200-year-old distillery that knows how to get the job done.

He had some recently as he cycled around some Scottish isles, one of the cycling trips he wanted to do after leaving the defence force.

Another was riding in the three-day, 450-kilometre Hartley Challenge from Canberra to the snowfields when he kept up with the rest of the Defence riders, his junior by 20 years and more.

This was despite the fact that his front wheel did start wobbling dangerously as he descended from Charlotte Pass at 96km/h.

The 65-year-old has reduced his fitness regimen slightly since retiring.

In the year he left the job as defence force chief, he cycled 6000 kilometres and jogged another 1000.

On weekday mornings he would ride 21.7 kilometres from his headquarters along Morshead Drive, Lady Denman Drive, onto Cotter Road and back home via Kings Avenue.

On weekends he would ride to Gundaroo. Other times he rode the Uriarra Loop and up Mount Stromlo.

''It kept me very fit and frankly it was wonderful,'' he says.

While phone calls rarely bothered him on early-morning rides in the bush capital, the animals caused havoc.

Few people know a kangaroo nearly took out the former chief of Australia's defence force when he was in the top job.

Rabbits, a swamp wallaby and numerous kangaroos, including one in particular that nearly ran into him, have made him reconsider early-morning riding.

''I'm trying to ride in daylight now because I've had so many close shaves,'' he says.

He still rides in Canberra but largely keeps to cycle lanes and bike paths. Even in retirement he rides alone, although he says that is more a result of other people's schedules not matching up with his.

When he stops for coffee in his cycle gear it is more likely to be at Tharwa or Tidbinbilla.

''I've often thought if someone were allowed to put a coffee van in at Cotter they would do a roaring trade.''