I started my Churchill Fellowship at a fast pace in Melbourne. There was a lot going on. I thought that after such a busy first week that it was going to slow down when I got to Sydney. I was wrong.

Melbourne to Sydney by train

The train ride from Melbourne to Sydney was a long one. End to end was 11 hours and while it was made as easy as possible in terms of accessibility from booking through to the support available on the train, it’s still a long time to be sat there.

There is a service through which you can check in your bags before you get on the train and they will be loaded onto the train and off to meet you at your destination. There is a limit of 20kg on the weight of bags that can be checked in and I knew from checking in at the airport mine were closer to 30kg so opted out of trying to use that service.

I arrived with plenty of time to spare at the train station and was the first to be boarded onto the train when we started boarding. Staff got the ramp out for me and helped me with my suitcase. The luggage space was noticeably larger than we have at home which meant it could easily accommodate everyone’s bags. There was just a high level of service overall come to think of it. Surprising when the tickets were considerably cheaper than in the UK. The trip from Melbourne to Sydney cost me around fifty quid. One of the pros of a government subsidised rail service, I suppose.

I foolishly made the assumption that there was going to be WiFi on the train which I was wrong about. Not only was I wrong about that but also on the more basic assumption that we would have access to power outlets. I needed to conserve my battery for my arrival in Sydney and having not charged it before leaving, it was switched off for the journey. Something to be wary of for my next trip up to Brisbane when I’ll have both my phone and power pack fully charged.

Although confined to a small section of the train which is quite regular for wheelchair users, there was a button next to the seat from which you can call train staff who will get you items from the buffet car. The food provided was regular and budget. Both in price and quality. Not to say any worse than you would expect on any other train and was edible, hitting the spot when the hunger struck.

Fixing my broken suitcase

I was kept entertained with my book and the regular food being served, I remembered that one of my wheels had been grinding slightly against my sideguard which could only mean that when I had recently changed my axel I hadn’t lined it up correctly. As there was a lot of time to burn I thought it was a good opportunity to correct my earlier mistake.

All I needed to make the adjustment was my allen key which from memory I had thrown in the bottom of my bag, thinking I would need it again any time soon. I felt around inside my case but could not find the allen key set. I reached to the bottom and moving things around ran my hand from one end to the other. When that didn’t work I started getting things out of the case. Before I knew it, I was sat on the floor of the train compartment with everything unloaded from my case and dotted around. Still no allen key set though. As an afterthought I checked the side zip pocket, where I found it. Quite a sensible place to keep it really.

I repacked my case and stayed on the floor to adjust my axel, where I had better balance than I would have sat on a seat trying to do the same job. With the axel now sat in the correct position, I could get back to my seat to continue eating and reading.

With the difficulty that I had with the wheels on my suitcase and feeling nervous about the stability of the new temporary ones that had been fitted, I wasn’t looking forward to a late arrival in Sydney and making my way to the accommodation for the night which was the youth hostel.

Arriving in Sydney

It was a sense of relief and surprise that when we pulled into Sydney Central station I was able to see the name of the hostel in bright lights out of the carriage window. Even though it was extremely close, pulling the overweight suitcase along with its new temperamental wheels was still difficult.

I made it to the hostel and checked in for my single night stay. It’s quite an accessible setup they have at the hostel. Staff were friendly and when I asked if I could leave my bag there while I went away for the weekend before returning the following Monday, they were happy to do so. That was going to make my weekend trip out of town so much easier.

Road trip to Tathra

First thing the next morning I packed up all the gear I needed for a weekend away and got on the train from Central Station to Kings Cross. Picking up the car was fast and there were no issues with me putting my removable hand controls in there. That wasn’t said explicitly, but I connected them in the garage so I’m sure they would have said something if it was an issue. Probably.

Thinking that I would have my big case with me, I rented a suitably big car. The Mitsubishi Outlander is a large SUV which is bigger than I’m used to driving but I could tell it was going to be a fun car drive. I was on the road in no time and heading down to Tathra which was a five hour drive from Sydney and where I had a meeting with Chris who I was going to interview for my research.

Visiting Tathra hadn’t been in my original itinerary for the trip but when I was connected to Chris and he kindly offered to host me at his home. I arrived at Chris’ home and what an amazing house it was. Chris and his wife Wendy had bought 12 acres of land and built a fully accessible home which was nothing short of incredible. Words can’t do it justice so you can see for yourself with this video I took with my drone.

Getting out of Australian cities for the first time gave me the opportunity to appreciate what a green country Australia is. Far from what I perceived it to be from the images of the outback we normally associate it with. Being out of the city also gave me my first chance to fly my drone which I had been eager to do since I’d arrived in Melbourne. The stunning forestry and wave ravaged cliffs were the perfect way to capture my first drone footage of the country.

Long time, no see

After two nights in Tathra, I headed back toward Sydney stopping to meet an old friend Tim who I used to teach wheelchair skills with back home. Tim and his family emigrated over here about ten years ago and it’s a big change from where he was in central London to the peaceful seaside town he lives now just outside of Gerringong.

Tim gave me a tour of the town, showing me his favourite spot at a rockpool next to the sea. He calls it his happy place. I can relate to that when I think of how much I enjoy being at the lake and waterskiing back home. The rockpool is currently home to an octopus that enters through a pipe that runs in from the sea and Tim says offers something interesting to see when snorkeling. Seems about as far away from a hectic London lifestyle as you can get.

My original plan was to stop at a motel on the way back to Sydney and drive the final leg in the morning to get the car back for a 10am drop off. Tim kindly offered me somewhere to stay which was very welcome both for the company and to avoid another drive after a long day. A home cooked meal went a long way and it was good to catch up with Tim about life in Australia and his own venture into teaching wheelchair skills down under.

Back in Sydney

I dropped the car off with a quick inspection to reveal no damage done, I received the $500 deposit returned. The only extra payment that came through later on was for a couple of toll roads I used to get back into the city. Looking back, taking the toll roads was a bit pointless as a car crash meant it would have probably been faster not using them.

I headed back to the YHA hostel near Central station. This was by far the best choice for staying in Sydney. The central location of the hostel made accessing everywhere I wanted to go in the city extremely easy. Staff were helpful and when I rocked up at 11am after returning the car, they let me into my room even though it was a 2pm check in time.

The slight downside was the accessibility of the hostel. The only accessible bathroom, which had a sizable lip to get in, was on the fifth floor and my room was on the seventh floor. They did offer to switch my room to the fifth floor to make accessing the bathroom easier but by that point I’d met the other guys in my dorm and found they were pretty decent, so switching to a new dorm was a risk I was not willing to take.

Expanding scope

From my first day back in Sydney, I was out there interviewing people. I’m having the best time doing this. I’m wondering if this could be a full time job. Researcher? Reporter? Something to think about I guess.

When I set out on this fellowship, I had a clear idea of who I would be meeting and what the objectives were that I was hoping to meet from interviewing people. But since setting out, my original scope has expanded considerably. I’m looking beyond the immediate innovation environments for disabled people and looked wider to enbaling ecosystems and deep into personal aspects of what the driving force for disabled innovators are. Fruartration and opportunity leads to purpose.

Sydney gave me the opportunity to speak to several disability accelerator programmes, a chance to speak about purpose and how we find who we are through that, the barriers and opportunities faced by disabled entrepreneurs, talking more about systemic issues in the social model of disability and exploring the parallels faced by disabled artists.

Accessible transport

Getting around to all of these meetings has been effortless. In part because I have my power assist trike that devours the hilly terrain around Sydney. I’m not too proud to admit that these hills would be a struggle if I was pushing them. The other thing that makes getting round the city is the fantastic public transport system.

Level access trams, stations with staff ready to get ramps out for trains and ferries with accessible seating areas and deck space, meaning you can get the obligatory picture with the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney also offered my first let down with public transport since getting here. I had a meeting at in Mount Victoria, a town near the Blue Mountains around two hours North of Sydney. I arrived at the train station rearing to go, but when I started asking about accessibility of the train, I found out that there was no accessible toilet! This wouldn’t be an issue on a short ride but I’m not going to risk that on a two hour trip. I later found out there are some accessible services on this route but industrial action has held up the roll out of a fully accessible fleet.

The last week has offered me the opportunity to explore a new city and take a road trip to explore the inbetween. I had the chance to catch up with an old friend and make some new ones. The breadth of what my research could be is expanding and I’m enjoying seeing it grow. There are a couple of themes that are starting to come through and very slowly I’m starting to see how things could fit together.

Next stop, Brisbane. I’m looking forward to visit my final city in Australia. I’ve got a bunch of great people to meet and fun activities planned. But the 14 hour bus and train ride to get there is the pain before the pleasure. I jest, I enjoy the sense of adventure with these types of journey and it takes me back to my big ‘Rolling Back Home’ adventure from 2011.

You can see more about my ‘Rolling Back Home’ adventure in an article that Tim wrote for The Times newspaper here.


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