The Mudgee2Sydney Walk was a fundraising walk organised by my husband, Mike, and me to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a debilitating auto-immune disease of the central nervous system, which my husband lives with every day.
New South Wales, Australia
270 km—11 days
- September 2010
- New South Wales, Australia
- 270 km—11 days
- Day 1 – Mudgee to Apple Tree Flat
- Day 2 Apple Tree Flat to Running Stream
- Day 3 Running Stream to Cullen Bullen
- Day 4 Cullen Bullen to Lithgow
- Day 5 Lithgow to Mt Victoria via Hartley Vale and Mt York
- Day 6 Mt Victoria to Katoomba
- Day 7 Katoomba to Faulconbridge
- Day 8 Faulconbridge to Penrith Oaks Fire Trail Woodford to Glenbrook
- Day 9 Penrith to Blacktown
- Day 10 Blacktown to Ryde
- Day 11 Ryde to MSRA office, Chatswood
- What I learnt?
Our aim was to raise $100,000 for continued research into finding a cure. It started on Sunday, September 12, 2010 and finished 11 days later on Thursday, September 23 at the MSRA offices in Sydney.
I wanted the letters ‘M’ and ‘S’, together standing for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), to be foremost in everyone’s mind. I was keen to create a decent long-distance walk in my home state, New South Wales (NSW), which mimicked typical symptoms of living with MS—niggly body aches and pains, heavy legs, brain fog, sensitivity to the elements, and overwhelming fatigue and exhaustion.
I chose Mudgee, just northwest of Sydney in country NSW, to begin the walk because it started with an ‘M’ and was an idyllic rural town renowned for its wineries. The only town starting with ‘S’ suitable for the walk’s finish would be Sydney, my hometown.
I invited my friends and the public to join me, for a small entrance fee, for all or part of the way. Apart from getting themselves fit, I expected participants to fundraise for this event. Foundation 5 Million (F5M), an empowering fellowship of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their families and friends, assisted us with fundraising tips and the provision of fun fundraising paraphernalia. Funds F5M raised from the M2S Walk went directly to research projects facilitated by MS Research Australia (MSRA).
We opened up the walk to the public at the start for two shorter events –a 6km fun walk and a 14km fun run around the Mudgee township. Mid-Western Regional Council, Mudgee Triathlon Club, Fire, Ambulance, Rescue Squads, Lions, and Rotary Clubs helped us develop and manage these events on the day.
The official walk began from the town’s southernmost point at Mudgee Bunnings with ten walkers. Sections of the walk involved walking on busy country roads with narrow verges.
To meet these concerns and fully follow Risk Assessment protocols and standard Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) procedures, Mike and I provided NSW Police with a completed Traffic and Management Plan. Our approval to organise and run the M2S Walk was contingent on our ability to pick up walkers at areas deemed unsafe and transport them to the next suitable drop off point to resume the walk. Volkswagen Australia assisted us with the supply of two Multi-Vans with seven-seater capacity for this purpose.
The first third of the walk, as explained above, involved walking beside narrow country roads; the second third on footpaths and bush tracks within the famous Blue Mountains region, a section of the Great Dividing Range in eastern NSW; and the last part negotiating Greater Sydney via suburban footpaths from the base of the mountains at Penrith to Chatswood, MSRA’s Head Office.
On average, the walkers covered 25km each day, making it a great fundraising challenge for everyone involved. As I often said, “I hope that one day when a cure is found, people with MS can walk freely—maybe not as far as Mudgee to Sydney–but more easily with increased mobility.”
The walk was an overwhelming success, raising over $150,000 for MSRA to fund research into finding the cause of, and a cure for, MS. We could not have done in without the individual walkers’ fundraising efforts on their Everyday Hero or Go Fundraise pages, our sponsors, and the community groups which offered us help along the way.
Our major sponsors included Mid-Western Regional Council, National Australia Bank, and Volkswagen Australia.
Other sponsors included Australian Rural Education Centre (AREC), Bevco Beverages Mudgee, Blacktown Workers Sports Club, Bunnings Mudgee and Minchinbury, Curves Mudgee, Discovery Central NSW Magazine, Eastern Rd Quality Meats Turramurra, Evanslea B&B Mudgee, Image Signs Mudgee, James and Lizzie Loneragan, Jan and David Vaughan, Kal Newcombe, Kristy Stewart, Lions Clubs, Lithgow Parkside Motor Inn, Living Earth Nursery Mudgee, Lucy White, Macpac, Mt Victoria Imperial Hotel, Mudgee Bakery & Café, Mudgee Guardian Newspaper, Mudgee Region Tourism Inc., Mudgee Rescue Squad, Mudgee Wine Grape Growers Assoc., Mudgee Triathlon Club, Nordic Walking, Pages Hire, Rotary Clubs, Royal Hotel Cullen Bullen, Rozanna’s Pharmacy, S&S Meats, Sarah and Tim Ferris, Simon da Roza, SKINS, The Athletes Foot, The Carrington Hotel Katoomba, The Oriental Hotel Mudgee, TR Bearcom Radio Communications, Trent Baker Podiatrist Penrith, Wholesome Bake and Wombat Hilltop Cottages.
Day 1 – Mudgee to Apple Tree Flat
On the stroke of 9am television personality Paula Duncan (of Number 96, Cop Shop and Home and Away fame) kicks off the 6km fun walk and 14km fun run from Lawson Park, at the corner of Church and Short Streets. Depending on your choice of activity, the participants finish their day with the much-loved Sausage Sizzle BBQ at Mudgee Bunnings.
It thrilled us to have Mudgee locals – sprightly 68-year-old Eunice Marskell and 78-year-old Dot Robinson – join us for the next four days through to Lithgow before handing over their fundraising piggy banks which netted nearly $2,500 in loose change.
The official Mudgee2Sydney long-distance walk for MS Research begins at noon. After cutting the ribbon to start the walk, nine walkers join me for a flat, level 14km walk to Apple Tree Flat.
Here, at the idyllic Logan Wines estate, we thank our town sponsors with a delightful wine and cheese event fully sponsored by Peter and Hannah Logan.
Day 2 Apple Tree Flat to Running Stream
Today we have reduced our walking party to eight for the potentially hazardous road walk. Our two support vehicles guard us either side with large visible ‘Caution Walkers Ahead’ stickers attached on their bonnets and boots. High visibility vests are mandatory for all walkers. I love fluorescent clothing. Add a walkie talkie into the mix and I am set for one hell of an adventure.
We could not have done this walk without our support drivers, volunteers for the two Volkswagen Multi-Vans, and Mike in our personal car. When they were not picking us up or giving weary walkers a brief rest, we loaded the vans with our supplies–luggage, water and an abundance of energy snacks.
After grabbing a photo opportunity beside Ilford Public School’s beautifully painted sign, we walk on towards Wombat Hilltop Cottages at Running Stream. Hosts, Peter and Terese Hay gift us a wonderful BBQ and salads for our evening meal.
Day 3 Running Stream to Cullen Bullen
We awake to an overcast day and require rain jackets but cool weather is ideal walking weather so there were no complaints.
There were plenty of smiles and laughter on this wonderful long-distance walk, raising awareness for people living with MS who could not do this walk. Except for Debbie Bird, a nurse and young mother of two from Sutherland, Sydney, and Barry Rochester, a miner from Portland near Cullen Bullen, who both had MS and walked the entire way with us while they still had the capacity. Both were wonderful inspirations to us. Their presence quickly quelled minor walker gripes and ailments. We did not have the added complication of walking with MS. Who were we to complain?
Halfway through our day, one of the Mudgee Guardian journalists drove out to visit us and see how locals Eunice and Dot were faring. Another interesting walker who joined us this day was Glynn ‘Chewy’ Baynham, Cullen Bullen Hotel’s publican, who hosts us at his establishment this evening. He is a jovial, overweight young man who is participating because he knows someone living with MS. He walks with us for two days to help raise awareness and ends up being hospitalized with swollen limbs.
“It helps if you train, Chewy.”
“Training. Never heard of the word.” Guess it was a stretch expecting a publican to train for this event. His intentions were admirable, his company was enjoyable, and he recovered, no doubt hoping this walk stays an inaugural one.
The locals at Capertee, a village 45 km north of Lithgow with a population of 145, cheer us on with their specially made ‘Go MS Walkers’ sign.
Day 4 Cullen Bullen to Lithgow
Overcast again, but with no need for rain gear today. It is another level slog surrounded by industry, most notably coal-powered Mt Piper and Wallerawang Power stations. Semi-trailers stop beside the road to throw a few coins into our fundraising buckets that some of the girls are carrying.
Energy Australia announced the permanent closure of Wallerawang in November 2014, because of ongoing reduced energy demand, lack of access to competitively priced coal and the power station’s high operating costs. In September 2020 Energy Australia handed over the keys to its new owner, Greenspot, who hoped the site will attract manufacturing and protective cropping food production businesses to generate employment for the local district. We are observing history in the making as the Federal Government moves towards gas energy and encourages local governments to diversify their local economy away from coal power generation.
I arrange a morning tea and toilet break at the conveniently located United Petroleum Station at Marrangaroo, which inconveniently provides out-of-order toilets for both men and women. A quick squat or hold your liquids is the recommended course of action, or distract yourself with a quick glance at Lithgow’s Championship Golf Course directly across the highway. I am getting into golf and lush fairways and manicured greens always catch my eye.
We still have work to do. This time, a steepish descent into Lithgow along the Great Western Highway. More industrial engineering feats from the past present themselves such as Farmers Creek Railway Viaduct nearing Bowenfels on the outskirts of Lithgow.
Eunice and Dot leave us today but not before Eunice visits KFC Lithgow for one final passing around of the fundraising bucket. Both ladies got into the spirit of the walk, despite their age, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. This evening we stay at the Parkside Hotel.
Day 5 Lithgow to Mt Victoria via Hartley Vale and Mt York
Chilly today but no rain, fortunately. I am looking forward to a bush walk today. The route on the Great Western Highway to the upper reaches of the Blue Mountains at Mt Victoria, is closed to pedestrians. It is an extremely steep, narrow, winding, and dangerous road with no verges. Red alert! We either get driven up the hill in our support vehicles or we find another way.
The plan is to turn left a few kilometres outside of Lithgow into Fields Rd, a country road leading to Hartley Vale. At the T-junction, turn right into Hartley Vale Rd and walk to Lockyers Track Campground. Have morning tea, regroup, and then ascend to Mt Victoria starting at Lockyers Trailhead. Walk this route till it joins up with Mount York Rd, turn right and follow it the entire way to the Great Western Highway at Mt Victoria.
I think we lost Barry briefly, but everyone is confident a local can find his way out of there. And he does. Phew! Snugly tucked away in a warm café, we spend the rest of the afternoon tucking into a tasty Ploughman’s Lunch and a warm coffee or hot chocolate. That evening the locals host a charity film night in our honour at the vintage Mt Victoria Flicks. The exhausted walkers preferred a warm bed and an early night at The Imperial Hotel.
Day 6 Mt Victoria to Katoomba
Yesterday’s walk was great, deep in the bush, free from noisy traffic and car fumes. The walkers are keen for more. Footpaths are sparse on this section of the Great Western Highway.
I find a neat little track alongside Station Street on the Megalong Valley side of the Blue Mountains which hugs the railway line, past Blackheath and Medlow Bath Stations, through to the United Petroleum Station at Medlow Bath. Here we jump into the vans for a short ride to Explorer’s Rd, where we resume our walk at Explorer’s Tree.
This is possibly one of the worst looking monuments I have ever seen in my life, a stump of a tree smeared in concrete, covered in metal rings, a roof, and enclosed in metal fencing panels. It once was a Blue Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus oreades) but the tree died in the 1950s and someone set it alight in 2005 causing minor charring. After we complete the walk, to add insult to injury, a car came along and damaged it further when the sandstone platform supporting it collapsed in 2012.
It is supposedly the tree on which explorers Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson, and William Charles Wentworth, carved their initials in 1813. The monument recognises them for the first known successful crossing of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales by European settlers. In August 2018, the state government awarded Blue Mountains City Council a heritage grant to preserve what is left of the tree and offer a better understanding of the place which includes an Aboriginal perspective.
We pose beside it for its historical significance, not its ascetics.
A small bush walk later, and we soon join newly laid pavement which leads us into the Blue Mountains’ major tourist town of Katoomba.
Our accommodation for the night will be at The Carrington Hotel, the Grand Old Lady of Katoomba, a landmark 19th-century resort-style hotel. Restored to its former grandeur in a run-down way, this heritage-listed hotel offers us what we need–a good meal, a bed, and warm stoked fire.
Day 7 Katoomba to Faulconbridge
Not one to miss an opportunity to raise more funds for the cause, I introduce you to FIBs. These are Fundraising and Information Booths (FIBs) I organised in the popular tourist townships of Leura and Wentworth Falls which we walk past today. Local Rotary and Lions Club have offered to man these booths. We visit each of them to raise enthusiasm and passion for our cause, amongst the local and tourist community. I am proud to report these booths raised a few thousand dollars selling F5m merchandise and accepting public donations.
The pathways were easy and level today, but there was little shade. Keeping well hydrated was a top priority as the temperature rose.
The walkers are holding up well. Deb and Barry are amazing. Our feet are taking a battering with the pounding we are giving them on hard road and pavement surfaces. Trent Baker from Penrith Podiatry recommends we apply Fleecy Web to the balls and heels of our feet if we need more cushioning on top of wearing reputable running shoes and quality socks.
So far, so good. Tomorrow we venture into the bush for hopefully a foot massage on more varied terrain. We end our walk today at Bulls Camp Reserve. Farmer Bron falls for a pup while the rest of us get to cuddle Sarah Hope’s young baby girl while she prepares a sumptuous late lunch for us.
Sarah, like many other wonderful volunteers who have helped us along the way, is a part of the Foundation 5 million (F5m) fundraising community. Helping us is one way she can support a family member who also has this disease.
Accommodation tonight is at Pioneer Way Motel, except for the organisers who booked their room nearly two years in advance. They honour last-minute bookings, but Mike and I must scrounge around to find alternative accommodation because they did not expect us.
I guess booking too far in advance can have proprietors questioning your genuine commitment. They don’t know me and how persistent and determined I can be. That’s the point. They didn’t know me. Always reconfirm closer to your arrival just to be on the safe side, even if the owners do not ask for it.
Day 8 Faulconbridge to Penrith Oaks Fire Trail Woodford to Glenbrook
Today we complete the Oaks Fire Trail, a 27km one-way trail starting from Woodford and finishing in Glenbrook. It is a popular hiking and biking fire trail, and is located away from danger, unless the Causeway below floods and we get trapped crossing it. This is unlikely today and we head off with 40 participants, our largest participation numbers to-date for any of the single days of the official M2S walk. More school friends, family members, a future NSW Premier and more walkers living with MS join us for this epic day.
The fire trail is wide and, apart from crazy mountain bike riders, we can saunter along, three or four abreast, without a care in the world. We take in the expansive scenic views as the medium graded trail winds through heath, gradually giving way to open forest. Arriving at The Oaks Picnic Area, named for the nearby casuarinas, the walkers enjoy a well-earned lunch.
From here, the track continues as a dedicated single-width cycle track towards the Glenbrook Creek Causeway.
A challenging steep road climb follows out of the valley up Glenbrook Gorge past the National Park entrance to Glenbrook station and the town of Glenbrook.
This balmy Sunday afternoon, we walk to Glenbrook Park to enjoy the festivities at the Glenbrook Spring Festival. The mood is good. Some join in the festivities, flinging their hair and dancing the afternoon away. Others rest their weary feet.
With dangerous road conditions from Glenbrook to the base of the Blue Mountains, we are grateful for the lift into Penrith where we will resume our walk. We order takeaway at our accommodation at Nepean Shores on the banks of the Nepean River and settle quickly for the night.
Day 9 Penrith to Blacktown
Today we walk through Western Sydney, heartland of the working man. This region is bereft of greenery and shade. People are doing it tough out here, but generosity still abounds.
Penrith Mayor, Kevin Crameri OAM, launches us on our way outside Nepean Shores beside the Nepean River in Penrith. With buckets in hand, we head for Minchinbury Bunnings, where the Lions Club of Cambridge Park is hosting a fundraising BBQ on our behalf.
Along the way, we receive wonderful support from Lions and Rotary Clubs who man BBQ fundraisers, at Mudgee Bunnings and Minchinbury Bunnings. My local butcher, Allan Waldon, donates the sausages from Eastern Rd Quality Meats, Turramurra. I cannot thank these organizations enough for sparing their time or generously donating goods to our cause.
Their efforts will hopefully lead to better therapies and ultimately a cure for Wendy Stevens, Debbie Bird, Barry Rochester and my husband, Mike Hemingway, who live with Multiple Sclerosis.
The footpaths are level but continue to tire the feet. All-the-way walkers have walked over 230kms in nine days and are itching for a rest. The day ends with a free drink and an interview with the local press at the Blacktown Workers Club.
A trivia night is being held at the Prospect Hotel, where we are booked for the night. It is a popular truckie stop that stinks of sweat, smoke, and beer. The walkers baulk at the accommodation. We promptly move ourselves to the Blacktown Travel Lodge and then return to the Prospect Hotel to sweep up all the trivia prizes at the charity event organised for us. We are getting tetchy, tempers are fraying, but we are eager to see the walk through to the end. There are now only two days left before we complete the M2S Walk.
These two wonderful participants, Kate Mayers, a Glenmore Park resident, and Barry Rochester, from Portland, each lost a staggering 20kgs before participating in the M2S Walk. Barry, as you know, is walking the whole way and has MS. Kate joins us for the Penrith to Blacktown leg. I admire the courage and determination it has taken them to lose weight, improve their health outcomes, and challenge themselves to walk the Mudgee2Sydney Walk to help others and raise awareness for people living with Multiple Sclerosis.
My colleague, Craig Malvern, joins me today. We are passionate Penrith Panthers National Rugby League (NRL) fans. It is fitting Craig should join us for this leg. When we did this walk it was 7 years since the Panthers had won a premiership. In 2020, the Melbourne Storm pipped us in our next appearance in a Grand Final. It is now 17 years since their last win. Not that either of us is counting.
Day 10 Blacktown to Ryde
After grabbing our free McDonalds Breakfast, we head to the Blacktown Workers Club for the official launch of Day 10. Unbeknownst to us, Blacktown Workers Club had arranged a $1,000 donation for our cause. I have seen plenty of these mega sized cardboard cheques before but never in the flesh. It chuffs me to be holding this one.
Once again, today is not an inspiring one, but each step gets us closer to the end. I have mapped a complicated route that avoids motorways and allows us to walk freely on footpaths the rest of the way. As always the support vehicles are on standby to assist us if needed.
We are heading to the Stamford Grand North Ryde, which doesn’t exist anymore, at the corner of Epping and Herring Roads, via Northmead, North Rocks, Carlingford, and Epping.
This evening we dine at The Ranch, opposite the Stamford. We use the opportunity to give Deb Bird honorary membership as a Ravenswood School for Girls Alumni by dressing her in our 32-year-old school uniform.
Seven Ravenswood school friends, including myself, took part in this long-distance fundraising walk. We have seen little of each other during our child-rearing years, but this walk brings us together and we form strong walking bonds from our participation in the Mudgee2Sydney Walk.
Day 11 Ryde to MSRA office, Chatswood
Today was another great participation day with friends from Sydney, who had watched our journey from afar, joining the event and cheering us home. From Ryde we head along Ryde Road, away from our eventual destination, to make sure we reach the suburb of Gordon, home to Ravenswood School for Girls.
Alumni, Head Mistress, and current Prefects join us for a celebratory morning tea. Barry walks around this private school in total bewilderment, though he praises the nibbles on offer. He walks off mumbling, “Anyone spot a Gents around here?” I am sure there was one.
We have one more hour to walk before we arrive at MSRA’s Head Office in Mowbray Rd, Chatswood. The Willoughby Mayor, Pat Reilly, whom I kindly requested wear his full ceremonial robes, to present us with our Mudgee2Sydney Walk Completion Certificates, is not available until 12 noon. We dither a while at the school before leaving at 11am to make sure we time a perfect midday arrival.
My husband and I spent months working out how we could make the Mudgee2Sydney Walk work. Large parts of the country section of the walk, from Mudgee to the base of the Blue Mountains, had questionable verges on which we could safely walk. It became easier once we reached the outskirts of Sydney, but it was still a challenge finding suitable footpaths alongside major motorways
NSW Police required a full Traffic Management Plan, which met strict risk assessment and Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) requirements before they would approve this public event.
Kirsty Stewart, who assisted Sisters Helen Clarke and Leone Wittmack plan their ‘Nuns on the Run’ Charity Walk from Dubbo to Darlinghurst in 2009, on similar country roads to ours, graciously shared their Traffic Management Plan with us. It reduced our preparation, but the Plan required many weekends away for Mike and I driving the Mudgee to Blue Mountains sections documenting the planned walk. We had to identify and photograph every section of road where no safe verges existed. NSW Police needed to see that we were aware of the dangers and knew how to mitigate the risks to walkers’ safety. Sadly, because of these complexities and frequent road upgrades, the chances we could run this walk again became prohibitive when it involved countless volunteer hours from ourselves for questionable gain.
Future fundraising activities would be far more manageable and profitable in the long term if we could generate a larger number of participants for annual events of only a day’s duration. The addition of the Mudgee 6km fun walk and 14km fun run that we ran before the official 270km Mudgee2Sydney Walk began were a great success and proof that these alternative events can work as standalone fundraising events. Community engagement was strong with Mudgee Rescue Squad, the Fire Brigade, Ambulance and Lions and Rotary Clubs successfully marshalling the event for paying participants.
This walk would not have been possible or as successful if the walkers had not trained sufficiently. Nor as much fun if we did not know where we were going. Mike and I meticulously planned the route. We chose road walking only where necessary, preferring to steer walkers toward established footpaths and well-marked bush walking paths.
Liz and I used this navigation part of the walk preparation to build our fitness and become familiar with the designated routes. Sydney walkers gathered for fun run events and weekend walks while country participants found bushland and paths near their homes.
From my experience in sales and marketing, I am a firm believer that the only way to maximise fundraising dollars is if you tell people about your event. I wrote an editorial for every regional newspaper to give locals the opportunity to take part, donate or help us run the event. I made sure councils and regional tourist offices along the route were aware of and advertised the event months in advance. We gained Council approval to set up my MS Fundraising and Information Booths (FIBs), aka street stalls, to promote and advertise our event in Mudgee, Leura, and Wentworth Falls. We engaged with Lions and Rotary Clubs for volunteers to man our fundraising booths and run sausage sizzles at Mudgee and Minchinbury Bunnings stores. By the time we commenced the walk, all inaugural events were well subscribed and we were on our way to reaching our fundraising target.
In addition, we took part at other events to advertise our own. They included the annual Mudgee Triathlon, the Australian Rural Education Centre (AREC) Farm Field Days in Mudgee in July, and the Mudgee Wine & Food Festival at Balmoral Beach in Sydney in August 2010.
What I learnt?
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” Henry Ford
But it might take an organiser like me to get it going.
I am indebted to my family especially my husband Mike and best friend Elizabeth Melchior for continuing to believe in me and support my MS fundraising efforts. We cannot thank enough all the other walkers who joined us, donors, supporters, helping hands, volunteer groups, and our sponsors who all played their part in assisting us to reach the final amount of A$150,000.
As Jeremy Wright, Executive Director of MS Research Australia commented, “It was a monster effort. If they had raised $20,000 it would have been a success. The money raised will buy two years’ worth of genetic research, and they generated interest every step of the way.”
The planning, training, fundraising, and walking of the inaugural Mudgee2Sydney Walk for MS Research was indeed a ‘monster effort’ but it was worth every step to bring hope, better therapies and ultimately a cure for the 3 million people in the world now living with Multiple Sclerosis.