RIDING ACROSS AUSTRALIA WITH STEF GEBBIE
The Nullarbor Plain. Flat as a pancake, super boring, worth giving a miss? Not if you’re travelling by horse like Tasmanian Stef Gebbie. She and her horses, Richard and Micky (aka Tickles), are a few weeks into the Nullarbor portion of a trek that’s taking them from the Snowy River (VIC) to Margaret River (WA). Stef says ‘The Nullarbor has been a highlight of the whole trip. When you’re on horseback, you follow tracks that run next to the highway or just ride through the scrub, so it’s really interesting and varied. The cliffs above the Great Australian Bight were just amazing. It hasn’t been boring at all.’
The idea of doing this trip came to Stef in a dream. She was hoping to do the Bicentennial National Trail, which runs from Cooktown (QLD) to Healesville (VIC), with 17-year-old Richard, who’s ‘not getting any younger’. With much of NSW in drought, this wasn’t feasible, so she put the idea of a big trip off until, one night, Stef dreamt she and Richard were thundering down the Nullarbor. Thinking it could be fun, Stef did some research on saddles, other gear, and potential routes, and made it happen.
The journey’s been easier than Stef expected. She set off mid-April with Richard and picked Tickles up in Omeo, realising she needed a pack horse to carry food. Moving along the Murray River, they’d walk 25-30 km a day, stopping regularly for the horses to graze and for Stef to stretch her legs. When afternoon hit, they’d look for a spot to camp and spend the rest of the day just horsin’ around. For Stef, ‘The highlight of the trip has been spending time with the horses and getting to know them when I’m not working with them. The horses are great company – they’re very, very funny.’
Now they’re on the Nullarbor and have been joined by Alex, a friend who’s brought a ute and float. It’s meant that they can cover 45 km each day and don’t have to worry about finding food or water. Stef says ‘It’s a pretty amazing commitment considering it takes 6 weeks to cross the Nullarbor. I’m very, very lucky. She’s made our lives so much easier.’
This is the longest horse trip Stef’s embarked on but it certainly ain’t her first rodeo. She grew up on a sheep farm near the Tasmanian Trail and has done many multi-day trips with Richard over the 15 years she’s had him. Stef works as a tour guide leading hiking trips and she thrives outdoors – in fact, she says ‘The only place I really feel comfortable is outside!’ The Tasmanian guiding season lasts eight months each year, so she’s had plenty of free time to explore Scotland, as well as her own beautiful backyard.
Stef and the boys should reach Margaret River by January and she plans to ride across America in a few years’ time. And if you’re inspired to do something similar? Stef says ‘Just do it! The more you overthink something, the more hurdles and barriers you make for yourself. Definitely learn how to look after horses if you don’t have horse experience. But the nice thing about horses is that they’re also trying to look after themselves. The horses are helping you – most of the time – which is nice.’
Words by Amy O’Toole