Meet the first woman to walk around the whole of Australia solo and unassisted

By Angela Heathcote 2 May 2018
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Twenty pairs of shoes later, Terra Roam has officially become the first woman to walk around Australia.

BACK IN 2014 Terra Roam set out to be the first woman to walk around the whole of Australia solo and unassisted and at 6 PM last night she officially crossed the finishing line.

Her commitment to this walk was born out of her struggles with mental illness following a walk across south-west Western Australia.

“In 2010 I bit off more than I could chew during a 1,400km solo unsupported shark conservation awareness walk.

“The violence, stalking and death threats forced me to bail and hide which led to hospitalisation after attempting to take my own life three times.

“In 2011, my therapist pointed out I had been using adventure and nature as therapy since I was a kid and the best thing I could do was start walking again.”

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Terra’s custom alloy barrow ‘Dory’.

17,000km around Australia

Beginning with a 1,250km lap of Tasmania, which featured dazzling auroras and mostly perfectly sunny days, it wasn’t until her clockwise walk around the mainland that the challenges started to set in.

The scorching heat of the Pilbara and the countless weather extremes such as cyclones and floods plagued her 4,100km slog across the west coast. And then came the leg from Darwin to Brisbane— the most challenging yet.

“Panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression kept slowing me down and the physical injuries were so painful I was beginning to lose consciousness trying to walk.”

While completing a walk through a Queensland national park Terra fell and dislocated her ankle, yet another major blow to her dream.

But six months after surgery, Terra set out once again to complete the parts of the east coast that she had left. Her arrival in Newcastle will officially complete her 17,000km walk around Australia.

“It might be the furthest walk around Australia, it is not the quickest but it is definitely the most beautiful.”

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The solitary walk

A woman walking home late at night unaccompanied could send someone into a panic, which is why the epic adventures of women like Terra have a major cultural impact.

“Most people assume I am a man unless they get close enough to notice I am not. It disturbed me how many people were shocked when they pulled over for a chat to discover I am a woman.

“I had a walkie talkie and sometimes listened into truckie and caravan chatter. Hundreds of times they commented on the bloke walking beside the road, never the sheila.”

Like many young Australian women, Terra’s adventurous spirit was ignited by Robyn Davidson’s harrowing 2,700km journey across the deserts of west Australia.

Back in 2007, at 30-years-old Esther Nunn, another female adventurer, recreated Davidson’s legendary walk from Alice Springs to Shark Bay across a monumental 162 days, yearning for the same solitude and freedom described in Davidson’s book Tracks.

“Robyn’s resilience, determination and honesty were traits I wanted. Her descriptions of solitude, nurturing an intuitive connection with nature and self-awareness encouraged me to seek these experiences for myself,” Terra said.

“I may have been too young to understand everything in her book Tracks but many themes resonated with my developing mind and growing passion for adventure.”

But it was also her adventurous grandmother that stoked this passion.

“Ooma was a wild spirit and a feminist pioneer. In 1982 her and her best friend fitted out a Kombi and toured around Australia.

“Now, at 98, the memories of her adventures are some of her most vivid, long lasting recollections. For me, her life reinforces the importance of dreaming and living big.”

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Terra and her grandmother.

Women in adventure are still undervalued

Back in 2016, Terra became the first woman to walk the length and breadth of WA solo and unsupported, a feat she thought would be worthy of recognition. 

“It was completely ignored. I especially noticed the silence in adventure circles.

“This encouraged me to more actively promote and support the achievements and projects of other incredible women in adventure.

“The best way to fight an injustice is to stop it from happening to others,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges for Terra wasn’t the walk itself but getting the funding.

“Ninety-eight per cent of my requests for support, donations and sponsorship were refused and ignored because they didn’t believe it was possible for a woman or they thought I was a fraud. That was demoralising.”

Even now that she’s close to completing the walk, she’s found that people are still hesitant.

“I have trekked more than 22,000kms solo in Australia and overseas, through the wilderness and along some of the most remote highways.

“I have achieved firsts for women in adventure yet so many people still don’t believe me and ask why they have never heard of me before. What can I say?”

Terra hopes that her walk across Australia will hold the same inspirational lessons that she cherished while reading about the journeys of Robyn Davidson.

“I want women to dream big! Do not let the fears of others hold you back. You can do anything you set your mind to and our mind is a very powerful tool,” she said.

“Reach out and seek the advice of other women, write to us, ask questions, read our books. We want to help and cheer you on. We’re a team.”.