With just under six weeks left until it all begins on 23 November, we’re finalising our preparations for the big adventure; a 4000km run from Cooktown to Melbourne to share the stories of our new Australians.
In early September, we headed up to Far North Queensland for a massive week of preparation. We interviewed some incredible people who arrived in Australia as a refugee, spoke to the media, met with local community members and ate A LOT of tropical fruit.
Here, Cassie recaps the week that was, a small taste of the exciting journey ahead…
Saturday 2 September – Cairns
We drove straight from Cairns airport to Mt Whitfield, a popular running destination for Cairns locals (according to Jackson’s ever-reliable Strava analysis), and we headed off for a run in the warm weather (28 degrees at 10am – a bit warmer than Canberra’s 5 degree maximums). It felt like we were running in the jungle, and while I was constantly on the lookout for some of North Queensland’s notorious wildlife, the most exciting animal we spotted was the exotic (read: not at all exotic) bush turkey.
After checking in at the hostel, we headed off to meet two locals – Carla and Jonathan – who are very involved in the Cairns community. Carla and Jonathan are passionate refugee advocates, and we learned that this stems from the fact that Jonathan’s dad fled persecution in Germany. We look forward to catching up with them as we pass through Cairns in a couple of months!
Sunday 3 September – Fitzroy Island
We worked out pretty quickly that Queenslanders rise with the sun, so we headed off for a 6am run along the Cairns Esplanade. While we were pretty comfortable in shorts and t-shirts, you could easily distinguish the locals from the tourists (us), as they were the only people rugged up in scarves and jumpers despite it being at least 20 degrees.
We took the ferry over to the beautiful Fitzroy Island, where we went sea kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding and ocean trampolining, before setting off on a run to explore the island’s steep trails.
Monday 4 September – Cairns – Innisfail
Our main goal of the trip was to meet people we could feature in our stories, and we were very lucky to have been put in contact with Centacare, a multicultural services hub in Cairns. We met with a number of the Centacare staff in the morning, and by the afternoon, we’d been connected with people from backgrounds as diverse as Rwanda, Bhutan, Congo, Uganda and Myanmar.
We’d particularly like to thank Andrea Obeyesekere, who went far above and beyond any expectations by connecting us with the local community. Andrea is a qualified lawyer who has used her working life to provide support for disadvantaged communities in rural and remote areas of Far North Queensland. We were inspired by her dedication, and we’re incredibly grateful for her support.
After farewelling Centacare, we headed off for our first long run of the trip; a 36km out-and-back run from Cairns to Crystal Cascades. The mid-run dip in the waterfall (don’t worry, we checked for crocodiles first) was very refreshing, and left us wishing that there would be a conveniently placed waterfall half way through every day we’ll be running over summer!
After a (much needed) shower, we left Cairns for Innisfail, 1 hour away.
Tuesday 5 September – Innisfail to Ingham
We kicked off the day with a 17km early morning run to explore Innisfail’s banana plantations, sugar cane farms, and the beach.
With no plans of people to meet in the town (despite masquerading as residents to sneak our way into some ‘Innisfail locals’ facebook groups…), we tried an alternative approach. We headed into the local op shop, introduced ourselves, and asked if anyone knew someone in town who we might be able to feature. Instantly, a crowd gathered as the locals brainstormed possible ideas. This was a pinnacle moment where we realised that Far North Queenslanders are underrated for their generosity of spirit… and they’re not short of a word either.
Following their direction, we headed off to the local museum (a small room), where some kind ladies directed us towards the head of the Italian society, a lady named Netta. We gave her a call, and before we knew it, we were heading to her house for a chat. While it turned out that Netta was actually born in Australia, we still had a great chat while she scrambled through the White Pages (which we’d forgotten existed) generously thinking of people we could talk to. A classic moment arose when a news update on the marriage equality plebiscite came over the radio, and Netta said, ‘Oh for goodness sake! Let people get married if they want to! They could have spent that money on a school or a hospital!’
Next, we headed to local MP Bob Katter’s office to explain our project to Sarah, one of his staffers. Sarah was extremely supportive and generous with her time. She directed us to the local council, where we met with Kim, the council’s multicultural officer. Kim told us countless stories about the make up of the local community. While we knew about the Hmong Vietnamese community, there is also a strong Sikh contingent, who are well known for – among other things – handing out water bottles at the local events.
It was time to leave Innisfail, so we headed further south to Ingham (another two hours of driving), a small town that flourished in the 1950s as Italian farmers came over to work as sugar cane harvesters. There is still a strong Italian culture in the town today, celebrated annually at the Italian-Australian festival.
We headed to Reitano Real Estate to meet with Felix Reitano, a well known figure in Ingham. Although Felix was also born in Australia, we learnt a great deal about the multicultural history of the town, as well as the Reitano family’s efforts to encourage refugees to settle in Ingham, rather than Townsville. Evidently in the height of the Italian migration to Ingham, the migrant contingent was so strong that every bank had to have an Italian interpreter. After a fantastic introduction to Ingham, we headed to a farm just outside of the town to stay with my friend’s dad, Paul.
Paul took us on a tour of his 500 acres of cane farm, proudly pointing out every snake track we passed… We also received a stern warning about crocodiles when he showed us a very solid plastic container that had been torn apart after a crocodile clearly decided it didn’t like the container…
Wednesday 6 September – Ingham – Innisfail – Cairns – Port Douglas
Keen to try out some cane farming, we headed off with Paul for a ride in the cane harvester. It was amazing to see how these machines tore up the cane, and it was incredible to think that farmers used to cut cane by hand!
After some (unsuccessful) attempts to spot crocodiles in the nearby creek, we sadly had to leave Ingham to head back to Innisfail for an interview with the Innisfail Advocate – the local newspaper.
We continued on back to Cairns, where Andrea had booked a room at Centacare for us to interview a few people. One guy who really stood out was Max from Rwanda. He’s a really cool guy who we think is destined for a career in the media. He’s already made a start in community radio, and he’s a fantastic storyteller.
Centacare is running a program called Face-to-Face, where new Australians go out to speak to school students and share their experiences. Max is part of the program, and it was heartening to think that so many school children will be able to meet him and learn from his optimism despite having faced such traumatic experiences in his past. We’re really looking forward to sharing his story with you all soon.
We rushed from Centacare to ABC Radio Far North, where we had an interview during the Drive show with Adam Stephen.
After some more driving, we arrived in Port Douglas, where we went for a 12km run since we hadn’t had the chance yet with such an action-packed day!
Thursday 7 September – Port Douglas – Cape Tribulation
With the unfortunate timing of a 4 hour take home law exam to complete, Jackson stayed back at the hostel while I headed out for a 30km long run to Oaks Beach and back, following the route we’ll be taking during the run. This run also saw the momentous occasion of my first ever Instagram story (on the @bounding_plains2share_run account), a true milestone if ever there was one…
After Jackson finished his exam in what must have been slightly different surrounds to his fellow law students (you mean not everyone does law exams outside a hostel in Port Douglas with backpackers playing guitars in the background?!), we headed off to Cape Tribulation, using the ferry to cross the Daintree River into the land of no phone reception or internet (which put a halt on Jackson’s route planning intentions).
Friday 8 September – Cape Tribulation
Having heard of the tough hike up to Mt Sorrow which is sold as a 5-6 hour hike, we decided to take on the challenge. It was a pretty serious hike, with some parts more like abseiling than hiking, but we eventually made it to the top. It turned out there was reception up there, so we know that if we need to call someone during the run in the Daintree, we can always hike/abseil for a couple of hours up a mountain…
After we returned and fuelled up, we headed out again, this time for a long run. The original plan was for me to drive 40kms up the road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown to drop off Jackson (who would run home), then drive back to the hostel and run an out-and-back to meet him, but we realised pretty quickly that our hire car was not cut out for the creek crossings and steep hills of the 4WD track, so we parked the car and ran together instead. There was plenty of encouragement along the way from the passing locals, and it was a nice hilly long run.
Saturday 9 September – Cape Tribulation – Cairns
We left early to get back to Cairns, where we headed straight to Rusty’s Fruit Market to stock up on mangoes! With our tropical needs satisfied, we headed off to meet Prahlad – a former refugee from Bhutan – on the Esplanade for an interview. We learned that Prahlad spent 19 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before finally being accepted into Australia. He now works as a social worker at the Salvation Army, and is certainly giving back to his community. Stay tuned for more on Prahlad in a couple of months!
Our next stop was to visit state MP Rob Pyne at his house, where he’d invited us over. Rob used to be a member of the Australian Labor Party, but in 2016, he resigned and became an Independent. We were a little early, so he told us to let ourselves in. In a situation that’s difficult to imagine ever eventuating further south, we found ourselves sitting in a state MP’s backyard playing with his dogs while we awaited his arrival. Once he arrived, we had a great chat about the importance of multiculturalism in Cairns, and he even made suggestions of people we could interview, including Som Tamang, a Nepali ultrarunner who we’re hoping will join us for a few kilometres so we can interview him ‘on the run’.
Feeling inspired, we went for a quick run back to Crystal Cascades (only 20kms this time) before driving to meet Edith and Evelyn, two new Australians originally from Uganda. Edith is studying her Masters in Social Studies and her daughter Evelyn (15) is a high school student with aspirations of becoming a doctor. It was lovely to interview them together and hear their stories. One of the funniest parts was when Edith said, ‘I’ve given her the best chance, and now maybe she will be a good citizen’ as though there was an element of doubt there! Evelyn also showed us her incredible artwork depicting her home in Uganda, which she entered into a school art competition. We’ll share the artworks when we tell Edith and Evelyn’s story in full during the run.
Sunday 10 September – Cairns
After one final quick run around Cairns, where we filmed some drone footage, we packed our bags and headed to the airport.
Maybe it wasn’t a holiday, but it was so much more! Already, we’ve met so many generous, kind and inspiring people, who are willing to share their stories with Australia.
If this week was any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be a pretty awe-inspiring summer.