Some people define themselves as either a cat or a dog person. I was fortunate to be brought up in a bit of a menagerie and developed quite a love for all animals. As a fairly introverted kid I think animals liked me more than people did, or at least that was how it seemed to me. I certainly was more comfortable around animals and related to them more. On that basis if you were going to bang me into a pigeon hole, it’d be the one for “animal people”. At home now, we have two beautiful dogs, Sacha and Maggie; two gorgeous cats, Izzy and Tish; and a pond full of gold fish; not to mention the wild birds that abound in the Yarra Valley.
As a kid growing up, I wasn’t the sporty type. I was usually one of the last kids to get picked for team sports - I hated that. I was fit, though, as I’d ride my bike everywhere. Whilst I wasn’t sporty in the classic sense, and as defined by the PE teachers at school, I was reasonably successful in my chosen sport outside of school: eventing and showjumping. Naturally I didn’t do this on my own, I had a partner-in-crime: Cheeky Lad (Fella), my best friend. For a little bloke, he had a massive heart. I got most of the credit for his athleticism, with people calling me “Kamikaze Chris” when we would be clearing A- Grade pony club jumps.
My love of horses never left me, but I stopped riding competitively when I was around 17 or 18. After Fella, there was no other, but I rode both my sisters' horses here and there until I was arount 21, and after that, nothing . Speaking of, it was my beautiful little sis that recently gave my wife and I a voucher for a beach trail ride down on the Mornington Peninsula. This was used (along with a night staying in a villa at a winery down there) to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary.
So a question that I have thought long and hard about since setting off on this little adventure of mine is “Why aren’t I doing this on horseback?” The answer is the same reason we denied our children the joy of growing up around horses: I took the easy path. I know what is involved in looking after horses, and it’s hard work. You’ve got to put their needs above yours and they’re expensive.
It’s funny how the Trail gives you a lot of “me” time, and, after more than 100 days and 1500 kilometres, I haven’t really shared any self reflection. Fear not, I won’t freak you all out with all my philosophical revelations, it just seemed to fit with this particular update and where my head is at currently.
So Dr Doolittle, what’s that all about I hear some of you ask. Good question, and time for another revelation.... I talk to animals. It's ok, I’m not going to tell you they talk back, not in English anyway. Along the trail I thought I would be lonely; plenty of wildlife, yes (“wild” being the operative word), but not the interaction I had in lieu of my limited human relationships. A weird thing seems to be happening to me so far on the Trail. Based on my previous updates, you may be surprised to learn that I was a little socially awkward, not the one to make new friends easily. I won’t go so far as saying that's all in the past, but my experiences along the way suggest I’m a little more comforable putting myself out there with strangers and instigating conversations. Well, it hasn’t been lonely; not only has my interaction with people improved, but, unexpectedly animals seem to be reaching out to me as well. Awesome, right? I noticed this occurring when I first set off on the BNT from Cooktown.
I camped at a place called Roaring Meg Falls, a sacred aboriginal site in the Daintree Rainforest. During the night some native bush rats came along to say hello and, when I didn’t wake up to play, they helped themselves to my breakfast.
Up north, when I first encountered brumbies, if I stood still long enough, the stallion would prance on up, close(ish). The second I’d move, though, he’d lose his courage and call out to his mares, saying (I assume) “Come on ladies, nothing to see here, time to go”.
Things escalated in Innot Hot Springs, I think the animals must have known I’d needed a bit of cheering up, what with the leg injury and all. First it was the cat that followed me everywhere and waited for me to pull up a chair in the kitchen so he could climb up and chat with me whilst I had my dinner. Then it was the wild noisy miner, who flew up and perched on a seat beside me, as I was contemplating a swim - he just wanted a pat. Before I left, a couple of kangaroos bounced up to say hello.
There were many encounters up north that I didn’t get photos of, including wild pigs crashing through 2-metre spear grass to drop into my camp spot, just to say hello. They didn’t appreciate it though when I yelled at them to bugger off - amazing how they squeezed through a barbed wire fence to act on my instructions though.
Heading north from Healesville, my trip so far has featured many animals amazingly popping up for a greeting, for pats, or simply to freak me out.
Horses have been my favourite. There have been so many times that I have been walking along a lonely road only to hear the characteristic whinnie and then nicker as they trot or gallop to the fence. Here are but a few of the new mates I’ve met along they way.
Then there are my furry feline friends. Usually I encounter these guys in a town where I’m walking down a street and they’d simply come up to me and say “hello human”. Or it might be where I’m staying, and they’d seek me out amongst other campers to hang out.
And then there’s man’s best friend. Ok, I’ll admit it, it’s been hit and miss with canis lupus familiaris - I’ve had a few situations where clearly they didn’t like the look of me, barking aggressive abuse until I walked clear of them. Most of the time, though, they’ve been wonderful, particularly this little spunk muffin, Ruby.
Cattle are funny things, you could be in a big noisy car driving past, and they won’t bat an eye lid, but me walking past they’re absolutely fascinated. They will charge up to the fence line, all of them, to have a gawk, and to say hello to the funny looking animal with four legs and a hump (walking poles and a pack). I’m sure they think I’m the offspring of one of their brethren that did the funky monkey with a camel. They will then follow along as far as their fence will allow them, constantly mooing to any of their mates who might not be there to witness this spectacle.
And what about the reptiles? Alright, I won’t go as far as saying any that I’ve met have been particularly friendly, but why the hell are the Highland copperheads not getting out of my way when I’m stomping along a track? Why didn’t that Brown bite me when I rudely stomped on him\her? Seriously, they are beautiful creatures and I’ve been lucky to see a few without being too worried by them.
I’ve finished another guidebook, having arrived in Aberdeen yesterday. I’m enjoying a nice beer after having a remedial massage to release some really tight and sore muscles, and I got a haircut. I’ve got 14 days of straight hiking ahead of me before getting to the Oxley Highway where I aim to hitch a ride to Walcha, and then a coach, and then trains back Melbourne. I’ve decided that I can’t miss our wonderful kids' birthdays. I can’t think of a thing particularly significant about June, apart from it being cold, but all our kids were born in February - this year it’s a 16th, a 19th and a 21st. I can’t wait to see my family again!!!
At 47 years young, Chris Anthony, who is married with 3 wonderful kids, tried his hand at being an adventurer for the 12 months tackling the BNT.