In her first interview after returning from an incredible 100-day journey across Australia, Edwina Robertson shares with reporter Carolyn Millet her inspiration, her impressions and what's next.
What’s the first thing you do after spending 100 days travelling 27,000km across some pretty rough Australian terrain with just your dog and not a cent on you?
A shampoo, haircut and head massage sounds pretty likely.
In her first interview after her impressive trek, Edwina Robertson admits to me she’s a bit embarrassed at this little “vain” indulgence on day 1 back home.
But after the huge – and hugely challenging – adventure she’s just been on, it seems fair enough to me.
The former Deepwater girl set out on May 21 for her Wander of the West and returned home to Toowoomba on Tuesday night.
As her travels took her through five states, she was welcomed into dozens of homes, met new people, heard love stories, listened to tales of hard luck and overcoming, had a couple of frightening near-misses and was the recipient of many touching acts of generosity.
All the while, she documented it in passionate posts and spectacular photos, gathering more than 29,000 Facebook followers.
She says the idea came from Australian traveller and author Robyn Davidson’s 1977 solo trip with just her dog and three camels, and the film on her, Tracks.
“I was really inspired by the cinematography of the film and her sense of adventure, and I thought, ‘I want to do something like that, but it has to be a modern-day adventure’, and removing money from the scenario was how I was able to do it,” she said.
Back to the bush
The trip was also the bush-girl-at-heart’s way of bridging “a huge divide”.
“We’re so focused on migrants and multiculturalism and different nationalities in urban areas but actually have a massive gap in our own backyard, and people forget about that,” she says.
“Go back a generation and your parents would have had an uncle, cousins, a family friend who lived in the bush, on a family property they used to go and visit during school holidays.
“And now, over the last 20 years, larger properties are being broken down and sold off or being bought by larger corporate companies.
“Uncle John might still work there, but you can’t just go visit him when there are so many OHS rules.
“It’s a different kind of environment now, because there’s more money involved and they’re not privately owned anymore.
“It’s changed the dynamics of what going to the bush is like.”
Carrying no money meant Edwina would have to be fed, she and her dog Jordie housed and her LandCruiser fuelled – all by other people on the road.
But why would people, some doing it pretty tough themselves, do that for a stranger?
There were a couple of reasons: many were intrigued by her bravery; many wanted to help her share stories of life in the Australian bush; many wanted to share their pride in their own patch of the outback.
But Edwina also had another very attractive drawcard: she’s a professional photographer and offered her hosts her services in return for their hospitality.
She started Edwina Robertson Photography about four-and-a-half years ago, specialising in country weddings.
Compared to what she had been doing – real estate photography – Edwina says it was “chalk and cheese”.
But the trek was not without its costs. Edwina didn’t work for three months but still had to pay the bills back home, plus a full-time assistant who helped find hosts, co-ordinate travel and keep tabs on Edwina while she was out there alone.
“I had to plan two years in advance to be able to do it,” she says.
“It was quite financially expensive for me to do, but the experience I had and what I’ve taken away from it far outweighs any monetary value that it personally cost me.”
The story starts
Edwina grew up on the 2900-acre Deepwater property Hallcraig, which her dad Jock Cuninghame is the sixth generation to farm.
He grows crops and runs a Santa stud, and Edwina says “maybe one day” she’ll be the seventh generation.
When she reached day 93 of her trip with the original plan of heading back to Toowoomba, she decided to make the New England part of her Wander.
“It was always going to be three months on the dot, but then I was like ‘Ninety-three? I can’t stop at 93 days, I have to make it 100’,” Edwina says.
So she stayed in Gunnedah and went to AgQuip on day 94, then over the next few days and nights stayed in Woolbrook, shot a wedding and stayed in Garah, then stopped in Croppa Creek for a few days because she was too sick to drive.
“I definitely realised I was in the New England when I got there: I hadn’t been that cold the whole trip,” she laughs.
But her travels through this region also brought her great sadness.
Her breathtaking shots from the Garah wedding are regrettably enhanced by the huge clouds of dust on the couple’s place.
“They’ve been drought feeding since April and I have to say it was the driest part of Australia I had seen in three months,” she says.
“It was just really quite devastating west of Moree way; some crops hadn’t even come out the ground and any that had were just dead.
“In saying that, it was a great opportunity for the landscape to enhance the wedding photos, so I wanted to give back to them a bit more.”
The first task for Edwina and her five-year-old rescue dog is to rest.
I need to just rest, regroup, look at what I’ve done, look at future opportunities ... I want to be a bit of a voice for the bush.
Edwina says life on the road has left her quite run down, and even Jordie has been doing nothing but sleep.
People have suggested she turn her Wander of the West into a book or a film, but for now she’s not sure what will come of it.
One thing she knows is that she’s locked into bridging that divide – helping urban populations better understand and appreciate their rural counterparts.
“I think I need to just rest, regroup, look at what I’ve done, look at future opportunities,” she says.
“I will still be shooting weddings; I do 50 a year, but I want to cut it back and get more back into the bush and be a bit of a voice for the bush.”