A Popup Nomadic Community – Oxfam Trailwalker 2014


Well, the blisters are slowly healing, the limp is becoming imperceptible and the sleep debt is gradually reducing. My Oxfam Trailwalker experience is over for this year and recovery is on the way.

It’s a gruelling event, particularly for those teams who choose to push on through the night to reach the finish line the next morning. Your feet hurt, your muscles ache and you become hypnotically delirious watching that bobbing circle of light on the ground from your head torch, willing your body to keep putting one foot in front of the other, hour after endless hour.


But the wonder that is Trailwalker is that it creates an instant, pop up community. Over 3,000 strangers bond over their pain, their struggles and their mutual confusion as to what possessed them to take on such a thing. It’s a unique, shared experience.

At the start, walkers joke with each other, check out the funny costumes or matching outfits, work out which teams they think will make it and which look like they just wandered down from the shops for a stroll. There’s plenty of laughter, chitchat and general bonhomie.


Later, the conversation tends to start with, “So, how’s it going?” The answer can vary from “Great! How about you?” to a barely audible grunt, depending on how the recipient of the query is faring.

As the pace slows and the walkers thin out, people stop asking how you are. They know how you are because they’re feeling it too. This is when the positive affirmations kick in. “Doing a great job”, “Keep going”, “You’re almost there”.


People who’ve never met and probably will never meet again become each other’s biggest supporters.

Sit on the side of the road to remove a stone from your shoe and the next walker will ask if you’re okay. Then they’ll wait and help you get up again.

At the top of a particularly difficult track, I was handed a lolly (sweet/candy) by another walker “for my trouble”. One small act. Encountering the same team at various points, as rest times and walking paces varied, we would share a joke, a comment, a bit of cheer. We bonded over a piece of flavoured sugar. It was the simple things.

Every community needs its cogs to keep things going. At each checkpoint awaited our Support Crew. Providores, clothiers, caterers, psychologists, cheer squad, they were our angels of mercy.


And the added glue to this moving instant community was the volunteers. People who donated their time to stand in the cold, the dark and the rain to point us in the right direction, give us a word of encouragement and some nourishment. Close to the end, exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, while I waited for a slower team mate to make her way down the last hill, one volunteer, seeing obvious signs of distress, offered me a hug. It was gratefully received.

The joy, oh the joy, of approaching that finish line, the cheers not only of our supporters but of more strangers in this sudden, gathered community drawing us to the end of our troubles and the satisfaction of a challenge overcome.


There are Trailwalkers who have come back not once, not twice but five and even ten times. At 4.00am, 20 hours in, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would want to come back a second time, let alone multiple times. Then, mere days later, my mind plays nasty tricks and whispers the words “next year…”.

Perhaps it is the community we miss. It certainly isn’t the blisters, the boring bits, the seemingly eternal darkness. But the camaraderie, the shared experience, the chance to give and receive support and encouragement to and from fleeting, nameless friends… That is surely what draws us back time and time again.

Postscript: Those who have been following my blog may be wondering how I fared when I was required back on stage the Sunday after the event. I am pleased to say that no lines were missed and due to the mystery of acting, all stage moves were completed without a perceptible limp (getting down the stairs off stage was another matter).



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Where Does Charity Really Begin?


I’m currently trying to raise money for a charity. It’s tough out there.

Apparently most charities are experiencing a drop in donations. Add to that the seeming daily addition of a new clamouring voice for a shrinking charity dollar pool and it’s any wonder I sometimes feel like I’m pleading with a brick wall.

My charity of choice is a NGO that works in the area of extreme poverty (Oxfam). I know that every dollar I raise could mean the difference between life and death for someone. It does add some urgency and persistence to my efforts.

But I’m up against fundraisers for cancer research, family support, dogs for the blind and all manner of other causes.


“Charity begins at home” they like to say.

What I don’t understand is: why, in a country as wealthy and resource-rich as mine, do charities for causes such as those above even exist? Surely we should be able to fund research, feed and clothe our own children and provide services for the disabled from within government? With targeted spending and appropriate taxation, surely we can cover these costs ourselves and in the process free up people’s charity dollars for causes aimed at bringing those in our global community up to even a minimum standard of living?

In a country where one person can spend $20,000 on a handbag, WHY are there children going to bed hungry at all?

Hermès Birkin Handbag available on eBay for $22,000

Hermès Birkin Handbag available on eBay for $22,000

A few years ago, I travelled to Peru as part of a community project trip (you can read about it here). Two days after I got home, I had a call from a charity asking me to donate money so they could run a camp for the siblings of children with cancer. I’d just got back from a place where a child with cancer would be lucky to get treatment and here I was being asked to donate money to make someone feel better about their brother or sister having cancer. Needless to say, I declined. I’m not decrying the provision of such a service. I just think it indicates how lucky we are that our charity is at that level.

I could rant and rail against the injustice of it all (I guess I already am) but in the end, who am I to say my cause is more worthy than anyone else’s? People have their priorities and their passions and they are as equally valid as mine.

But I can’t help thinking it would be a much easier world to live in if we could all at least start off with clean water, food and a roof over our heads. So I’ll continue to shout at the top of my voice in the din of charity fundraising and hope my voice will be heard.

To Donate: https://trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/team/home/15946

The Difference You Make



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