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July 2, 2015
The Great Walk. A walk from Robe, South Australia to Parliament House in Melbourne, Victoria. A 20 day, 552km journey taken by 15 amazing individuals. An event produced by Perfect Events.
Events aren’t just gala dinners, conferences and cocktail parties. They’re experiences that impact and change people’s lives in different ways and oh boy is this an event that changed my life.
The Planning: like packing to go on holiday
You might not even think of a walk like this being an “event” but trust me, there are a lot of things to organise and think about when supporting 15 people taking on such a pilgrimage. We’re talking planning a safe route, three meals a day, water, accommodation and transport for 15 walkers and 6 support crew for 20 days. A mobile event, with different obstacles (both figuratively and literally) each day. You also need to keep in mind legal and safety requirements; these guys are walking on the side of the road battling freight trucks, in a mixture of weather conditions and in rural areas with no phone service.
Precautions need to be taken for an event like this and if Girl Guides taught me anything, it’s to be prepared. But, being prepared for a mobile event is like packing a suitcase to go on holidays, you have to be smart about what you actually need and if it will all fit in your suitcase.
I’ve never had the opportunity to work on an event like this. Going into it I knew it was going to be an amazing experience and challenge me professionally and personally. After learning more about the real meaning and story behind The Great Walk, I knew this was something I just had to be involved in.
We began working with the client and working through the facts, this allowed us to put together what we knew was going to be a successful event. As much as we planned and organised every detail, nothing could have really prepared me for the experience ahead.
Week one: growing our confidence
At any event, challenges are thrown at you, but problem solving is part of the fun of Event Management and is what makes every event different.
As much as you plan, you can’t always predict how everything is going to go. At events, sometimes you have to completely change how you had planned to do something. That was definitely the case for us on the road. Having not had the opportunity to drive the route ourselves (we were working under the guidance of an amazing gentleman who has completed this walk many times) and not having a direct line to mother nature to control the weather, each day we had to evaluate what was ahead of us, take advice from experts within the group and make decisions that were best for everyone. These decisions weren’t always what we had planned at the, but as we went on we learnt more about the ability of the team and our confidence in knowing how to deal with different road and weather conditions began to grow.
Learning the ability of the team was something we couldn’t do before the event. In an ideal world, you’d have time to properly assess every walker but as with many events, time just did not allow. We worked with the client on the road to watch the walkers, learn their walking style and see how far we could push them. We started by taking lots of regular breaks, then pushed the breaks further apart. Finally, we began to reduce the number of breaks all together. This was when the team conquered their first full day of walking. We had a distance planned for each day (to keep them on track to reach Parliament House by May 20th) and it took some warming up before they gained speed and confidence to begin smashing these planned distances but they got there!
Week two: becoming a support system
One of the challenges I didn’t expect was having these people rely on me for support both physically and emotionally. I’m not yet a mother so I’ve never quite experienced what it’s like to have people really rely on me in this way. They looked to us for food, for water and for shelter each night. I grew up with cats but this was different, these are human beings and their safety was in our hands. It was at about day 5 when I realised they were relying on us for more than the basics though. We were becoming our own little community, we had personal jokes, nicknames for each other and had learnt a lot together in the first 5 days of walking.
This group of people was a mix of experienced long-distance walkers and members of the Chinese community who have never done anything like this before but wanted to honour the journey and honour their ancestors. Each walker dealt with their pain and fatigue differently and as weird as this may sound, it was an inspiring thing to witness. We had an amazing 75-year-old woman who was at the front of the pack, leading the charge every day. Her smile, laughs and high energy levels never wavered. Any time I found myself feeling tired and exhausted in the support car, I looked to her to re-energise myself. We had two direct decedents of the Chinese immigrants that walked to the gold mines 160 years ago and were together with him when one of them found his Great Uncles grave for the first time. We were with him as he learnt about the journey his Great Grandfather and Great Uncle took and as he retraced their steps, proudly as a Chinese Australian and with many “dad jokes” to keep the group on their toes.
Week three: the most unexpected lesson
One last lesson from this event came from living out of a suitcase for 3 weeks. I came home to a wardrobe full of clothes, a warm shower (some of the showers in country Victoria= not so warm) a partner who loves me and a fridge full of food. I’m so lucky! During this walk 160 years ago, the Chinese didn’t have any of that. They carried their belongings on their shoulder and were thousands of kilometres away from their loved ones. Even today we don’t always realise how lucky some of us have it compared to others.
The Great Walk
A walk from Robe, South Australia to Parliament House in Melbourne, Victoria. A journey conquered by a team of people who will forever be bound together by their experiences.
Once again, I tell you events aren’t just parties and celebrations. They are emotional and physical journeys that help make us the best we can be in so many different ways.