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Blame the emu: How an emu is (partially) responsible for Big Horse Trek

“Wait, what? An emu? But Bec, you don’t even own an emu.” I hear you say.

True. I have worked with emu's in a past life as a zookeeper, and I have owned a lot of animals over the years, but an emu isn’t one of them.

Ok, so here’s the story.

A year ago, I was in a bad way. I’d just had my second major spinal surgery. Physically I was doing the best I had in about 10 years. But I was struggling. I was isolated at home recovering. I was extremely lonely (I’ve never been one to have many close friends, and when something like this happens, it just amplifies those aspects of your life). I had a lot of time to think and to take stock of my life, and I knew I was extremely unhappy.

So, what do you do these days when you’re feeling crap and have to lie flat on your back for six-weeks because you’ve just had major spinal surgery? Scroll social media.

Barry (aka Rocketman) by Vanessa Perske, painted in recognition of Samuel Johnson's unicycle trip around Australia to raise money for Love Your Sister in 2013 & 2014

There I was scrolling Facebook and a picture popped up from the Love Your Sister page of a painting. I’d seen the painting before – it was Barry the emu. Painted by the amazingly talented Australian artist, Vanessa Perske. The post was written by Samuel Johnson; he was having an emu dilemma of his own. The emu painting had been previously donated to LYS to be auctioned off as a fundraiser. Amazing, right! It sold, and the lovely winner decided to donate him back to LYS for a second round of fundraising. Also, amazing! But then it happened again- he sold and was donated back! Ok, so this is not necessarily a bad thing (i.e. more money for cancer research), but Sam explained that he was getting a bit worried about the emu and his fate (and welfare). So, he decided he was going to keep Baz and get a whole lotta prints made to sell for fundraising. Brilliant idea! Anyway, as I was reading this story and looking at that emu, for the first time in a long time, I felt happy and even had a bit of a chuckle. It’s funny how something so random and unexpected can completely change your mood.

Not sure what normal people do when someone does something nice for them (whether they know it or not), but I like to thank them. So, I did just that. I sent Sam an email, explaining basically what I’ve just described above; that I was having a bit of a crap time and that one social media post made me smile, to thank him for unknowingly brightening my day, and to keep up the good work with the charity. I’ve followed LYS from the start, and love everything that it stands for, and everything that it has achieved and continues to achieve.

The beautiful Rusty, being scoped by a vet. He was very sick with a respiratory illness, and I was not even two weeks post-op (hence I'm hiding my face!).

Anyway, I sent the email and then completely forgot about it as I continued on my ‘merry’ road to post-surgery recovery, which included a big and unexpected distraction with one of my horses at the time (Rusty) becoming extremely sick with a respiratory illness. So, instead of following my strict recovery regime, mum was having to drive me out to the paddock twice a day to give him injections and medications.

Several days after I sent the email to Sam, I had a reply from one of the LYS volunteers, saying Sam had read my email and wanted to send me something. Well far out, I honestly hadn’t expected him to read it himself, let alone reply! I replied with my address, thinking he’d send a card or something through.

Barry taking pride of place on the mantle-piece

Blow me down, a few days later a big parcel arrived. And what was in it? A print of Barry the emu with the most beautiful message signed by Sam. I lost it. I bawled. At a time that I felt so alone and hopeless, here was a complete stranger showing me pure kindness for no reason other than to do something nice for a fellow human.

Now, how I got to coming up with Big Horse Trek after this was a lot more complicated and there were a lot of other factors, but for simplicity (and to not write and entire novel) at this stage of my storytelling, I’ll tell it like this:

Baz took up prime residence in the living room. He kept giving me these ‘looks’. It’s almost like he was trying to talk to me. I was going through a lot of things in my head about all sorts of aspects of my life, and the crux was that I wasn’t happy with any aspect. Now what the hell do you do about that? I could keep going the way I’ve been going and be extremely miserable, or worse (that idea clearly wasn’t working). Or I could make a change. The various options I came up with for change didn’t ever really seem to solve my problems.

One night, I wrote out a bit of a ‘bucket list’. I told myself to just put ANYTHING down, no matter how crazy or ridiculous, as if I had all of the time, money, and good health in the world; what would I WANT to do. One thing I’ve been wanting to do for the last 17 years was to horse ride a section of the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT), so down it went on the list. Then when I was looking over the list, I reminded myself that I should put the truth down – if I actually had all the time, money, and health in the world, would I just want to ride a section, or the whole damn thing? Of course, the whole damn thing!

On a 'rehab' walk not long after spinal surgery 2018

The next day I woke up with this niggling thought. It was the BNT. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I looked over the list again. Don’t be crazy, I could never afford to do that, time or money wise! Could my body even physically manage it? I went for one of my ‘rehab’ walks. All I could think about was the BNT. When I got home, I jumped straight online to try and do some research on this BNT thing, all the while with Barry watching over me, giving me the 'look'.

The BNT just wouldn’t leave my head. All I could think about was the last time I'd had an idea like this niggle in this way: it was when I had wanted to go back to Africa after a month-long holiday. Before I even got home from that African holiday, I knew I had to find a way to get back over there, despite having no money to go travelling. I'd fallen deeply in love with the continent. So, I got my thinking cap on and figured out a way to get back over there with minimal money. I managed to source a couple of fieldwork projects to volunteer at and the rest is history (and became the best cumulative two years of my life!).

The BNT idea felt just like that had. I gave myself a couple of days to really look into whether it would be plausible or not. If after two days of intensive research, budgeting, etc. it did not look possible in some way, shape or form, I’d put the idea to bed. Well, here we are a year later, deep in planning and preparations, so clearly, I thought I could pull it off – let’s see how I go! And every step of that planning I had Barry, watching over me, a silent symbol of hope and potential.

The first BNT books and maps I purchased within 24 hours of getting the idea of completing the entire trail with a horse (little did I know then that I'd need THREE horses!). And that little notebook on the top was where made my first plans for Big Horse Trek.

Maybe the BNT would be the ‘big’ change I needed to shake up my life and make me feel like I had some sort of purpose. Maybe I could make that purpose meaningful to me. I had always wanted to do something meaningful relating to cancer after my dad passed away from cancer in 1996. So, what better way to fulfil all of these things than to come up with Big Horse Trek and try and raise a crazy amount of money for cancer research?

Barry thought it was a great idea. He reminds me of this every day.

And that’s the story of how an emu helped me come up with Big Horse Trek.

Don’t forget to follow Big Horse Trek's progress on my website, Facebook, Instagram and my new social media platform: YouTube (more content to come!).

If you’d like to support my fundraiser for Love Your Sister, click HERE.

You can also buy your OWN copy of Barry (aka 'Rocket Man') from the Love Your Sister store HERE.

Check out the very talented Vanessa Perske's artwork on her Instagram.

For any non-Aussies reading this and wondering who Samuel Johnson is, and want to know more about Love Your Sister (LYS), check out this link:

About LYS

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