A memoir of singularity of purpose and a deep determination to overcome all obstacles. Liz Byron challenges herself in every way, mentally, physically and spiritually to start afresh by walking the rugged Bicentennial National Trail towards a new, independent life. The BNT on the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of Australia has some of the most unforgiving landscapes in the world. Her companions on this journey are two donkeys with the wisdom of ages and Liz’s symbol, the wild watchful wedge-tail eagles.
‘The Only Way Home’ is an intimate memoir with a heartbreaking look into family life, the pain Liz suffers and the repercussions for those involved. It also captures the freedom of walking through wide-ranging bushland, fording rivers, and making camp with two charming character-filled donkeys Grace and Charley.
Liz had previously done a lot of bushwalking but without encountering such a harsh and challenging environment. Taking the extremes of drought country in their stride, her donkeys are clever and observant, and prove they can be stubborn for good reason. Humans just have to work out what those reasons are! Liz shows love and respect for her companions, their hardiness and their intuition. Grace and Charley each carried a load, packed and balanced, and it was amusing how they behaved when released to graze.
Interspersed with walking the Queensland section of the BNT, a trail originally intended for horses, Liz writes candidly about her fractured marriage, the love of her children and losing a child, the trauma of her own childhood and soothing meditation. A mixture of grief, courage and sheer willpower drives her forward as she launches herself into a second life in one of the most demanding ways imaginable.
Admittedly I am not an adept hiker but some of the trials and tribulations Liz encountered would have had me stumbling to the nearest township, flagging down a four-wheel drive and heading back to Brisbane. At one stage the soles of Liz’s hiking boots came adrift, not to mention needle-thin grass seeds digging into her skin. Sometimes the track was marked and sometimes it was not; they traversed barren sections, steep topography, waist high grass, slippery rocks and rested at the occasional restorative oasis.
Along the way, Liz kept a journal rather than taking photographs and if she stopped for the night in solid accommodation in lieu of pitching a tent, all she needed was a table and chair to update her journal. Liz often met farmers, cattlemen, country people, who were informative and willing to help with advice on the terrain ahead, plus an overnight paddock for her two stalwart pals.
Memorable lines from Liz ‘Folks in rural, remote, drought-stricken Queensland understood only too well the interdependent nature of being human. I, on the other hand, was trying to resolve an inherent dichotomy: seeking my independence as a woman at the same time as being a homeless wanderer heavily reliant on cattle station people’ – Liz is a vegetarian and food was a source of uneasiness, both getting and eating, and fresh produce was always a joy – ‘My commitment to receive help graciously was Step One.’
I liked the way the chapters and timeline were introduced. Backstory arrives at pertinent intervals with sections of Liz’s life before, during and after she walks the Bicentennial National Trail. Through Liz’s retelling more shocking revelations emerge, putting her quest in sharper focus.
Just reading, without travelling alone for 2,500 kilometres with two Equus asinus companions, this memoir invoked many emotions in me. From an embattled marriage to conquering those kilometres, Liz shares the insights gained on her path to independence and healing.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
In her introduction, Liz Byron says ‘It was 2006, when I had been writing academic material for 20 years, before I decided to try writing my story. I had five lecture pads full of journal notes about the 2,500 kilometre trek I’d recently completed with my two donkeys. This seemed like a good place to start. And so I did. I wrote on and off for nearly fifteen years before feeling as if I understood myself and my life well enough to explain why I had done the trek.’ My thanks to Liz Byron for a review copy, the book is available on her website here.
LIZ BYRON Q&A INTERVIEW HERE
The Bicentennial National Trail - Australia The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) originally known as the National Horse Trail, is one of the longest multi-use, non-motorised, self-reliant trails in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to Healesville, 60 km north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside wilderness areas. The BNT follows old coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers, fire trails and was originally intended for horses. The Trail would take most of one year to walk.