From the time he was a teenager, Gregory Bryan had a dream to walk almost 500 kilometres through the Australian Outback.
While this may not sound appealing to most people, Bryan, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Manitoba, wanted to recreate his favourite author’s storied trek. Henry Lawson completed a 450-kilometre walk from Bourke to Hungerford, Australia and back in 1893.
In January 2011, Bryan and his brother Barrie, became the first people ever to recreate Lawson’s walk, and this summer he released To Hell and High Water: Walking in the Footsteps of Henry Lawson. The print version of the book has been released in Australia,and it is available as an e-book in Canada.
On Dec. 12, Bryan will host a discussion about the book at the University of Manitoba and share his experiences in the outback.
Bryan, who lives in Fort Garry, grew up in Australia where Lawson, also Australian, is a well-known writer and poet.
"(Lawson) is a very significant figure, and particularly significant in terms of Australia’s national identity," he said.
Bryan said even as a child he had an interest in Lawson and felt a connection to his historically-significant work.
"As a teenager I (found out) that he had done this walk in the Australian Outback, and that much of his writing was influenced by and even set in and around the places where he was when he was in the outback," he said.
Being such a big fan of Lawson’s, Bryan said he decided as a teenager that one day he’d like to do the same walk as Lawson to see and experience the things he saw and experienced, and to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of who he was and what he went through.
"It was always a life-long goal I had, without ever really having a conscious decision of the year I’d do it," Bryan said.
While To Hell and High Water is based on the 450-kilometre walk, he’s also done shorter walks before and after his 2011 excursion.
In July 2009, during Australia’s winter, Bryan walked one way from Bourke to Hungerford. While he said it was physically the hardest thing he’s ever done, he wanted to achieve the complete circuit and do it during the Australian summer, because that’s what Lawson had done.
So, Bryan travelled back to Australia in January 2011. He faced a drastic temperature change going from -20 C in Winnipeg to 47 C in Bourke, where he completed the walk in 15 days, averaging about 30 kilometres per day.
"It was really hard, it was so much harder than I thought," he said.
Bryan recorded his thoughts daily, knowing eventually he might want to write about his experiences.
Having duplicated Lawson’s walk, Bryan said he has a deeper understanding and appreciation of the man than most people.
"I do feel the kinship and connection with (Lawson). In some ways I consider that I know (him) better than anyone because I’ve been there and done that," Bryan said.
Bryan said he hopes his journey will inspire others to follow their lifelong dreams.
"Even ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. I’m no supreme athlete at all, this was just a dream that I had. If we want for our dreams to come true, and we put in the work necessary for them to be realized, they can be," he said.
For more information on Bryan visit gregorybryan.net. To hear more about his experiences in the outback attend his talk at the U of M on Wed., Dec. 12 from 12 noon to 1 p.m. or 7 to 8 p.m. in Room 222 in the Education Building.