“You’re an inspiration!” It’s a compliment that’s thrown around fairly loosely these days, to the point that it has become almost meaningless. But someone who truly deserves the label is a retired farmer from Echuca, Victoria, who, last year, completed an epic walk around Australia at age 90. Yes, that’s not a misprint—Peter Tripovich celebrated his 90th birthday in February last year as he approached the western end of the Nullarbor Plain, still 2700 kilometres from his Melbourne finishing line.
Journeying around Australia by foot had long been a dream of Peter’s, but he officially committed to it at 79 years of age when, starting from Melbourne, he proceeded up the eastern seaboard through Sydney and Brisbane, then across to the Top End and through Australia’s most remote regions to the west coast and down past Perth. That’s 13,000 kilometres, a distance most of us wouldn’t dream of walking at any age.
But at Pemberton, about 400 kilometres south of Perth, Peter chose to stop. His wife was seriously ill and he wanted to be by her side. The next decade was a tough one as her health declined and she passed away, leaving Peter to grieve the loss of his life partner. Perhaps those years were a tougher marathon than the walk itself.
But Peter’s dream had not died. At age 89 he flew back to Western Australia to finish what he’d started. He was motivated by the fact that he wasn’t just doing the walk for himself; every step he took helped in his fundraising efforts for Christian charity International Children’s Care Australia (ICCA), which operates in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. The organisation rescues children from situations where they are abused, neglected or enslaved and nurtures them in safe, caring, home-like environments.
“I really liked what ICCA was doing,” says Peter. “I decided that if I was going to walk around Australia I was going to do it for some purpose and, by loving others, raise awareness and hopefully some money for those poor children.”
Peter has personal reasons for his empathy. He lost both his parents at age 10 and went through some pretty tough times. Those experiences, plus his decades of farming labour, go a long way to explaining his physical and mental stamina. Peter is also a Seventh-day Adventist; his church promotes healthy living—an active lifestyle, a plant-based diet and an avoidance of alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances. Peter is quick to divert the attention away from himself, however, and towards what he considers his true source of power. “I couldn’t have done this without God’s help. He really gave me strength on those lonely days.”
Continuing his walk from Australia’s west coast, some of Peter’s loneliest days were yet to come. After two months of walking at the hottest time of the year Peter discovered a “niggle” about 400 kilometres across the Nullarbor Plain. That would be usual for a 90-year-old, let alone one walking an average of 40 kilometres a day. But the niggle, by the next morning, had developed into severe pain that almost crippled Peter. Unable to walk he caught a lift in his support vehicle back to Norseman for a doctor’s check up.
“I feared the worst, because I had been going great up until then. No pain. But having this setback made me at times consider just heading home, thinking it was too hard.”
But after a week’s rest Peter was back on his feet and back on the road.
“I want to finish what I started,” he told his team. “I want to complete this journey and I will. I feel so supported and I’m going to do this.”
And complete his journey he did. Not just the 1100 kilometres of treeless wasteland that is the Nullarbor Plain but the entire 20,000 kilometre circumnavigation of Australia—a record-breaking feat. On October 9, 2016, Peter Tripovich arrived in Melbourne, back at his starting point, having raised more than $100,000 for ICCA and the children they support.
“Finishing the walk was a dream of decades coming true,” Peter says. “I’ve met some wonderful people over the walk—kind and generous. So many folk wanted to help by sponsoring a child or just making a donation to the kids. It made it all worth it on the hard days of struggle I faced.”