Ford Australia is providing a Ranger Wildtrak to a group of people with disabilities who will endeavour to become the first all-abilities team to walk the entire 237-kilometre spine of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges on the challenging Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory.
The Ranger Wildtrak support vehicle, provided via Ford’s company FEDA programme (Ford Empowering Diverse Abilities), will be modified by Frank’s Engineering in Coburg North, Victoria which will fit a left-hand accelerator adaptor, left-hand indicator adaptor and steering knob. This will allow team member Paul Pritchard, who has a brain injury with hemiplegia, to do some of the driving.
Pritchard said the team plans to use the Ranger Wildtrak for safety purposes and to carry heavy nebulising equipment, with the vehicle to meet the team at 10 points during the 19-day hike. The plan calls for two rest days and three overnight legs, the first at Hugh Gorge – Elery Creek, the second at Serpentine Dam – Orminston Gorge, and the third at Finke River – Redbank Gorge.
“On these overnight legs we must carry two days water, food and camping equipment plus emergency kit and extra calipers for me, and heavy nebulizing equipment including solar charger and battery for [team member] Walter [Van Praag]. These overnights will present the main challenge,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard, an author, adventurer, speaker, disability educator and AG Spirit Of Adventure Awardee, said the team wants to ‘normalise’ disabilities by showing they are as capable as anyone when pushing boundaries.
The other members of the team are:
- Paul Allen: Furniture designer / maker, author and comedian – brain injury with working memory problems
- Duncan Meerding: The world’s only blind lighting designer – legally blind / visual impairment
- Walter Van Praag: Writer and adventurer – cystic fibrosis with 38 per cent lung function
- Conrad Wansborough: Safety officer, solo sailor / adventurer
- Vonna Keller: RN medic – lung cancer
- Melinda Oogjes: Support – disability advocate
- Dirk Oogjes: Driver
Pritchard said the same team made the first journey (able-bodied or disabled alike) from the lowest point to the highest point in Australia – from Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre to Targangil / Mount Kosciusko – with the 2221 kilometres taking 43 days.
Like that expedition, where the team created the award-winning movie Lowest To Highest, which was screened all over the world and won numerous awards, the latest challenge will also be filmed.
“By trekking the West MacDonnells and filming it, we are not saying ‘Hey, look at us, aren’t we special’. That would be doing a disservice to all people with disabilities (PWD) whose skills might lie in other areas rather than the physical,” Pritchard said. “No, hopefully someone who looks like us might see us and know that they’re not alone. That they too can have a go. That matters.
“Added to this, by working together we will form a strong team, cooperating so each individual is able to go beyond their usual boundaries. In doing so, we will demonstrate how our disability does not define who we are and how cooperation makes us whole. What is more, PWDs tend to be portrayed in just two lights – superhumans succeeding against all odds, or victims in need of paternalism. There often is no middle ground. We aim to dispel that myth,” Pritchard added.
“In making this film, our aim is to further normalise disability, promote further inclusion and address, in our own small way, the shocking unemployment rate,” Pritchard said. “In Australia some stats put it at 63 per cent.”
Pritchard and Allen will also make a three-part podcast documentary for Disability Voices Tasmania and the public can follow the team via an interactive ‘Spot Tracker’ on its daily blog at allabilitiestraverse.blogspot.com.
The team will also visit Alice Springs schools to talk to students about disability and adventure.
Pritchard said the team will not raise money for charity during the adventure. “We never do on any of our adventures. Just walking Tjoritja will be enough to show that PWDs are capable of many things given a modicum of support,” he added.
4 July: Arrive in Alice Springs
6 July: Begin walking from Alice Springs
23 July: Finish on the summit of Mount Sonder
25 July: Return to Alice Springs