The lawyer who rode into town after crossing Australia on horseback and won the Young Adventurer title

Belinda Ritchie rode from Healesville near Melbourne to Cooktown north of Cairns. Belinda Ritchie and her travelling companions, Clincher, Trump and Ruben, on the Bicentennial National Trail.
杭州桑拿按摩

Belinda Ritchie rode from Healesville near Melbourne to Cooktown north of Cairns.

Belinda Ritchie rode from Healesville near Melbourne to Cooktown north of Cairns.

Belinda Ritchie rode from Healesville near Melbourne to Cooktown north of Cairns.

Belinda Ritchie was in good company at the Australian Geographic Society awards at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney’s CBD last Wednesday.

Bindi Irwin received the Young Conservationist of the Year award. Aussie soldiers Heath Jamieson and Seamus Donaghue, who raced against Prince Harry to the South Pole, got the Spirit of Adventure award and Dick Smith got a lifetime achievement award.

But what Ritchie, a 31-year-old Sydney lawyer, accomplished to be named Young Adventurer of the Year demonstrates similar tenacity, stamina and fortitude.

The idea for her big adventure came as she drove her car across the Bicentennial National Trail at Cunninghams Gap in Queensland and saw a sign, warning beware of horse riders.

With a legal contract in Brisbane soon to finish, the idea of riding the entire 5330 kilometres of the trail from Healesville near Melbourne to Cooktown north of Cairns began to gel.

She had done some pony club riding and competed in gymkhanas, but this was taking “horsewomanship” to another level.

Nine months later, she had borrowed three horses, had an equine-mountable solar panel to charge her phone and had sorted out the essentials for a year on the trail. She was about to experience the life of a drover.

“I was most concerned about the welfare of my horses,” she says.

“It is a pretty big responsibility being able to find enough feed for them along the route. I didn’t have a support vehicle or anything. You are in the hands of the elements as well in terms of drought and flood.”

The Bicentennial National Trail, which follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the Eastern Escarpment, offers “self-reliant trekkers a uniquely Australian adventure”.

Extended expeditions on the trail should not be taken lightly and require significant preparation, experience, fitness, equipment and back-up, the website says.

Those that get from one end to the other and live to tell the tale can claim membership of the “5000k Club”.

As you would hope with a well-planned expedition, things ran according to plan most of the time. There was usually some grazing for the three horses, Clincher, Trump and Ruben. Ritchie survived on dehydrated meals she brought with her, topped up by more posted to her along the route.

On one occasion in the Victorian high country, she returned from a New Year’s Eve meal with a couple on the trail as night and fog came down to discover her horses had been spooked  by a mob of brumbies being rounded up. She finally discovered the trio slightly unnerved but happy to be found five kilometres back up the trail.

“The trail picks up on a lot of real pioneering history,” she says. “A lot of it is the old droving stock routes. It passes through old gold rush towns where there were once 12 hotels and six newspapers and now there’s nothing.

“I would spend between five and eight hours a day in the saddle at about the same pace that you would walk, about four to five kilometres an hour.

“I actually walked quite a bit. I lost about six kilograms, but I’ve put it all back on.

“Quite often, I would meet someone. They’d stop for a chat, and it turned out they lived just down the road and would ask if I would like to come in for a shower and a meal. I got a few comfy beds that way but the majority of the nights I slept in the tent.

“Some of the most isolated parts were in northern NSW: Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and Guy Fawkes River National Park. There are stretches where you can go for several weeks without being resupplied.”

She didn’t carry a gun and wasn’t worried about the solitude or darkness.

“It’s beautiful [at night], especially when there’s a full moon. I had some glow sticks and plaited red ones into the horses’ tails when travelling along the road. You hear so many more sounds at night that you don’t notice during the day.

“On one occasion, I saw a crocodile near Port Douglas. It was big. I made a good decision not to go into the water. I went across the bridge and held up the traffic a bit. That was better than battling with the crocodile.”

With the lushest grazing grass usually closest to the creek, she was advised not to allow her horses to feed at the same time in the same place. A change of routine meant they all kept one step ahead of the crocodiles.

On November 11, she strolled into Cooktown, 11-and-a-half months after starting out, where she was greeted by her parents, Bev and Geoff, and friends. Four local residents rode their horses down the main street to mark the occasion. The only casualty was Ruben. Three days out from the destination, he went lame with an abscess on his foot.

Along the way, Ritchie learnt that she had won a sponsorship award made in the name of Nancy Bird Walton, the pioneering Australian aviator and adventurer.

The money was used to purchase her three companions.

Now, she has started a new legal posting in North Sydney but is saving hard. It seems likely there might be another trip at some point.

Asked how it was to be back at a desk on the first day, she says: “It was pretty ordinary. I spent a lot of time looking out the window.

“Everyone has a dream of something they want to do at some point in their lives. I met so many people like that and we all have things that get in the way but I think if you want to do something, do it.

“Make it happen. You won’t regret it.”


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