Words are difficult to choose when it comes to describing the stellar efforts of Australian legend-in-making, Peter Tripovich. Most 90-year-olds—if even still with us—look for a little more comfort, or perhaps even consider a new hobby like crocheting or lawn bowls, but not Peter! He spent his 90th birthday on the road—literally—walking around Australia! And why not? This is something that he began as a sprightly 79-year-old, covering a staggering 13,000 kilometres by his 80th birthday!
But why? I’ll start at the very beginning.
Peter grew up through the years of the Great Depression, lean times where items of need were often scarce. He was resourceful, but still faced a life of uphill struggle. When only 10 years old, his parents died, and as a young boy he moved from a rural farming community to Melbourne, and much later back to the rural district where he ran a dairy farm.
At a young age, Peter began to identify with the needs of those who were living in extreme poverty and hardship. “I’d seen so many people in need, and I knew that by loving others I could do my bit, if I had the chance,” recalls Peter, speaking of the Depression and the war years.
While tending to the needs of the farm, he’d think about life and his purpose in it, and what God in His great plans might have in mind for him, a humble farmer. And amidst his thoughts the idea of a big walk began to take shape.
“I used to think that if I could walk around my farm every day, then I could probably walk anywhere,” he says. “If I could walk around Australia, a bit at a time—the same distance I walked around the farm each day—then I’d really get somewhere.
“I chatted to some other farmers and friends from my church, but they thought I’d gone mad, especially as by then I was in my late seventies. But I was determined to do something,” Peter recalls.
As this was happening, he heard about a charity—ICC Australia—that impressed him. “I really liked what ICC Australia was doing to care for orphaned children in countries where they were experiencing the type of hardship I’d endured as a youngster in the Depression. I decided that if I was going to walk around Australia, I would do it for a worthy cause and, by loving others, raise awareness and, hopefully, some money, for these poor children.”
Peter soon discovered that it was difficult to get people to take him and his quest seriously. He recalls one such incident with a laugh: “I was walking through Mordialloc, in Victoria, the first or second day, and I tripped over and took a bit of skin off my nose and got a black eye. I went to a nearby clinic for a Band-Aid and when asked what I was doing and I told them, they didn’t believe me. They thought I’d absconded from an aged care facility! I assured them I hadn’t, and indeed had all my marbles, and was actually embarking on the biggest adventure of my life.”
Peter continued to surprise his followers, as he steadily paced north into NSW and eventually toward Cape York. From there he went across the Top End, by then in blistering summer heat, to arrive in Darwin. Often the days would hit 46ºC, but even on the hottest day, Peter still managed to knock off 76 kilometres!
To avoid the worst of the heat, he would set out at around 2 am, heading down some of the longest and loneliest stretches of highway in the world. Trudging along, he sometimes had to ask himself Why?, and if he was really making a difference.
“Some days were pretty grim,” admits Peter. “I lived on baked beans and Weet-Bix most days—pretty humble fare—but it gave me the energy I needed. But I also had to trust that God was using me for something bigger.”
Meanwhile, across the Timor Sea in South East Asia, something big was happening. Through his partnership with ICC Australia, the money he was raising was working for the children. Among the many was Chari, a young girl surviving in a Thai border refugee camp. She was one of the many impoverished children accepted into ICC Australia’s Child Sponsorship program, receiving nutritious food and life-changing education as a result.
Then tragedy: Peter received news that his wife was quite ill, soon after arriving in Pemberton, in the southwest of WA, and he had to go home. “My wife was ill and I needed to spend time with her. Unfortunately she never recovered. I was left wondering if I’d ever complete my dream walk.”
At 86, Peter decided to take a trip to Thailand to see for himself the impact he’d made in the lives of the children he’d walked for. “I went to the Myanmar border area on the Big Build, an ICC Australia volunteer program. I met some wonderful children and even helped to build a home for one very poor family.”
Two years later and armed with a clean bill of health, Peter again hit the road, taking up where he’d stalled at Pemberton, exchanging the tall, shady karri forest for the flat and treeless Nullarbor Plain.
Heading east, he got to Norseman, the last settlement of any substance before heading due east to home, when he suffered what he described as a “niggling” leg pain, which virtually crippled him. But after a few weeks of recovery in Norseman, he was back on the road heading for Ceduna, Port Lincoln and Adelaide in South Australia, then down the coast to Portland, Victoria, with the Melbourne GPO, from where he set out more than a decade earlier, in his sights.
“Finishing the walk was a dream of decades coming true,” beamed Peter, posing for photos upon reaching Melbourne after some 17,000 km and 21 months. “I just can’t believe I’m back here. But I did it. And I couldn’t have done this without God’s help. He gave me strength on those lonely days.”
In addition to his support driver, Damien Buegge, he thanked the many generous donors he’d met along the way. More than $105,000 has been raised to date, much in $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills handed to him by motorists on the road. Others donated directly to ICC Australia’s Givematcher website* or via cheques (some quite substantial) in the mail.
Says Peter, “I met some wonderful people during the walk, kind and generous. So many folk wanted to help by sponsoring a child or making a donation to the kids in general. It made it all worth it on the hard days.”
And reflecting on possible future adventures, he says, “I might walk from Darwin to Adelaide or around Tasmania; I’m not ready for the scrap heap yet.” ½