“A few years ago, my husband was killed. My children grew up and got married. I also got cancer. I’ve beaten ovarian cancer twice.”
I need a second to absorb those sentences. It’s hard to believe they’ve come from the calm and grounded person sitting in front of me. Susanne and I sit together under white-limbed eucalyptus trees on the banks of a dried up creek bed, Susanne decked out in her khaki and a wide-brimmed akubra. After all she’s been through, perhaps it’s this peaceful place that has encouraged her to open up.
Now a community ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia, Susanne reveals it was a long road to recovery – physically and mentally – before she felt comfortable sharing her story with others.
“With everything that I went through, I couldn’t believe I was still alive and as healthy as I was. I started travelling around Australia to heal my soul and find my spirit for adventure. I absolutely loved travelling around the country, collecting sunsets and shells, being out in the bush all the time and camping by the fire.”
After finishing her travels and encouraged by her friends and family, Susanne signed up to become a trip leader with Intrepid Travel. In hindsight, Susanne believes the career change was a natural progression of who she is as a person. She would always serve as an unofficial guide for her interstate family, showing them the sights in Darwin whenever they came to visit. Now, a year into a new career leading tours to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love showing people my backyard, being able to slow them down enough to appreciate what is around them. Whether they’re coming from all around the world or from up the road – people are so busy with life, phones and wifi, but the great thing is when you bring them out into the bush, you slow them down and they get time to feel the heartbeat of the country.”
Kings Canyon is her favourite place to visit, she recalls how the grass waves in the morning breeze and the sun peeks over the canyon wall after a challenging morning walk. It’s tough, which is the whole point, but the reward is totally worth it.
While the scenery is knock-out, there’s another reason Susanne holds Kings Canyon so close to her heart. Swiping through photos (below) of her recent tours on her phone, she points and introduces every person in her group the same way a mother might name each of her children.
“By the end of the second night together, I truly believe we’re almost like family. Everybody is talking and sharing. We’ve got to know each other, we’re eating and sleeping together, travelling in the same vehicle and doing all the same thing. That camaraderie just gels.
“At night we have a campfire and call it ‘Outback TV’, where we all talk and swap stories. The other night we played some music on our phones and all danced around the fire. There were people from Holland, France and Switzerland coming together. Some of them even picked up pieces of wood to make clap sticks. Everyone was so into the groove they forgot about everything else happening in their lives and just enjoyed being in the moment.”
After the personal challenges of recent years, it’s this stripped-back, real-life experience that matters most to Susanne. When people from all ages, nationalities and different walks of life come together in the wilderness. The thing that unites every person on her tour is their attitude – a willingness to discover something new that’s essential for all travellers.
“Be prepared to absorb where you are,” says Susanne. “Challenge yourself to experience something that you’ve never done before. Do more than what you do in your everyday life. Come with that in your heart.”
Susanne admits she can be a bit corny at times, sometimes offering proverbs you might find on a postcard, but after her experiences she believes it’s important to be thankful. Thankful that we have eyes to see this incredible country, legs to walk it and lungs to breath in the country air.
And thankful for meetings like this, with inspirational people in Australia’s Outback.