As with many ‘invisible disabilities’, I look ‘normal’, yet when I was 15 years old, I was dealt a heavy blow. “You have a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa”, my consultant told me. I don’t really remember much about what was said during that consultation other than the line “We can’t predict what will happen– we can only monitor your deterioration”. As a young teenager, I didn’t know what to think in the long term. One thing I was sure of, any dreams of joining the Police ended right there and then. Tuesday 17th March 2020 – three days before ‘Lockdown’ I officially received the diagnosis of Visually Impaired/ Severely Sight Impaired, and ultimately the path of my life altered. Two months prior, I was still living in Australia and working for a Work & Travel company. Basically, I had been travelling most of the world, quite literally ‘blind’.
While in Australia, I could have stuck to the normal backpacker route, but I chose not to. I carved out my own experiences by finding the Outback routes; I saw places in Australia that most people have never even heard of! Cloncurry? Roma? Mitchell? Chillagoe? Broken Biscuit? (Yes, that’s a real place). Traversing such huge distances, some of which were equivalent to several European countries, of course, came with logistical difficulties. I had no choice but to travel by bus across long distances. ‘Surely anyone who just doesn’t drive does that?’ I hear you ask, well yes of course, but losing my main navigator senses meant I had to plan EVERYTHING. There are many opportunities I did miss out on – as the main bus routes only cover the highways. I am sure the Queensland Bus drivers knew me on some routes. If I wanted to visit the local abandoned mines, caves or swimming holes I had to find another way of getting there. “Where there is a will, there is a way”, was never truer. I was fortunate there was usually a friendly local who was willing to take me and show me the more hidden gems in the area.
Looking back, how I survived Australia I do not know, especially my “88 Days Farm-work”! Herding and milking cows while I quite literally couldn’t see properly – looking back I was nuts, but I honestly, loved it! My bosses were fully aware of my struggles, so they just adapted my work responsibilities – otherwise, I may not have been able to complete my required days. Living in such remote, rural areas did come with some disadvantages but for me, living surrounded by kangaroos, kookaburras , and tree frogs was more enlightening to me than being in a city. Australia had been a dream for so long, and I knew it was then or never. My parents knew they’d never win the argument about me not staying for my second year, so they honestly just left me to enjoy my journey.
I managed to tick off *most* of my main bucket list items, despite the many logistical and transportation issues I had. Where I missed out on one experience, I knew there would be another. From Outback rodeos to Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Blue Mountains, Byron Bay, Bondi Beach, The Whitsundays, a helicopter flight over K’Gari/ Fraser Island, Twelve Apostles and of course the top of my list, Uluru!
There was something extra special about the Northern Territory that still gives me goosebumps – I vividly remember everyone’s reactions when ‘the big red rock’ appeared from nowhere out on the horizon and loomed over us. The sheer vastness of the central Australian desert – knowing the nearest real civilisation was 500 km away in one direction (and over 1000km in the other) still blows my mind. That day will always be the defining moment of my Australian adventure – the intense heat, the red dirt, the smell of burnt ground, the crunch of the sand and rock as we followed the base walk path and the sound of the cicadas. I felt like I was on a different planet compared to three days previous in tropical Darwin City. I travelled with Mulga’s Adventures, and I cannot praise them high enough – we also had the best tour guide in existence called Scruffy!
I could have chosen any one of my many backpacking adventures, but Australia was ultimately what changed my perspective on life – despite not even being registered blind at that point. Many people say to me that travelling with a disability is ‘inspiring’, to me I was just doing what I wanted and figuring things out along the way. I’d always say to anyone, to just go for it. There really is, always a way.
**RP is a condition that affects your peripheral vision, and photophobia (your retina’s ability to filter light) – which causes night blindness and extreme discomfort in bright light.
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- Karen WaltersBack