Peter Tripovich has proved age has no limits, with the 90-year-old recently completing a staggering 20,000 kilometre walk around Australia.
The Victorian farmer and World War II veteran from Echucha finished his lap of the country on October 9, making history as the first 90-year-old to do so.
Most ninety years olds – if even still with us – look for a little more comfort, or perhaps even consider a new hobby like crochet or lawn bowls, but not Peter.
He spent his 90th birthday on the road, literally, walking around Australia. And why not? This is something that he started when he was 79 years old, covering a staggering, 15,000km by his 80th birthday.
But why? Let’s start at the very beginning.
Peter grew up through the great depression years – lean times where items of need were often scarce. Peter was resourceful, but still faced a life of uphill struggle.
When only ten years old, Peter’s parents died, and as a young boy he moved out of Melbourne into the farming community of the Goulburn Valley where he learnt to run a dairy farm.
At a young age, Peter began to identify with the needs of those he knew lived in extreme hardship and poverty.
“I’d seen so many people in need and I knew that I could do my bit if I had the chance,” Peter said of the depression and the war years.
Peter eventually built up his own dairy herd of healthy Frisian cows on a farm near his hometown of Echuca. While out on the pasture each day tending to the needs of the farm, the idea of a big walk started to nag at Peter.
“I used to think that if I could walk around my farm each day, then I could probably walk anywhere. If I could walk around Australia, a bit at a time, the same distance I walked around the farm each day, then I’d really get somewhere,” Peter said.
“I chatted to some other farmers, and friends of mine from church, but they thought I’d gone mad, especially by then as I was in my late seventies, but I was determined to do something.”
It was at this time Peter got to hear through his local church about a charity group that he became really impressed with.
“I really liked what ICC Australia were doing to care for orphan children in other countries that had the type of hardship I endured when a young boy growing up in the great depression,” he said.
“I decided that if I was going to walk around Australia, I was going to do it for some purpose, and raise awareness and hopefully some money, for these poor children”.
Getting started was a serious matter for Peter, but he soon discovered that not everyone took him seriously. Peter recalls his first incident with a laugh.
“I was walking through Mordialloc the first or second day and I fell over and took a bit of skin off my nose and got a black eye. I went to a nearby clinic for a band-aid and when asked what I was doing, they didn’t believe me and thought I’d escaped from an aged care facility!
“I assured them I hadn’t, and indeed I had all my marbles and was actually embarking on the biggest adventure of my life.”
Peter continued to surprise his followers as he steadily paced north into New South Wales and eventually towards the top of Queensland, across the top end of Australia through a blistering summer and into Darwin.
Often the days would hit up to 50 degrees Celsius, but even then, on the hottest day of summer, Peter managed to knock off a mere 76km for the day.
Rising at 2am to beat the heat, Peter would head out onto some of the loneliest stretches of highway in the world, trudging along, sometimes wondering why, and if he was really making a difference.
“Some days were pretty grim” admited Peter.
“I used to live on baked beans and Weetbix most days, pretty humble fare, but it gave me the energy I needed each day. Meanwhile, across in South East Asia, something else big was going on.”
In teaming up with ICC Australia, money Peter raised became available to reach out to children living in extreme poverty.
Amongst many, Chari, a young girl surviving in a Thai border refugee camp, was one of the impoverished children that was accepted into the ICC Australia Child Sponsorship program from donations received as Peter slogged around Australia on foot.
Chari received nutritious food, education and a future filled with hope. Eleven years later and still in the program, Chari is still so very thankful to Peter and other supporters for their sacrifice and efforts to help children in need.
Peter unfortunately had to cut his walk short at Pemberton in Western Australia to go home.
“My wife was ill and I needed to spend time with her. Unfortunately, she never recovered. I was again left wondering if I’d ever complete my dream walk,” Peter said.
But at 87, he decided to take a trip to see for himself the impact he’d made in the lives of the children he’d walked for.
“I went to the Thailand and Myanmar border area on the ‘Big Build’ – an ICC Australia volunteer program,” Peter said.
“I met some wonderful children and even got to build a home for a very poor family. There were about 160 of us volunteers from Australia. It was so nice to be part of a program that is making a difference.”
Then at 89, and armed with a clean bill of health from his doctor, Peter hit the road again, this time with a new driver, Damien Bugge, also from his hometown of Echuca.
Peter wasted no time and after an Australian Day celebration for his kick-off in Pemberton, he headed down along the coast towards the vast Nullarbor Plain.
“One day I suffered a minor injury setback. I could hardly walk and considered even going home, but I battled on as I was so determined to finish what I started and not give up,” Peter said.
After recovering for a few weeks in Norsman, Peter was back on the trail heading towards Port Lincoln, Adelaide, Portland and then the final straight, back to the Melbourne City GPO building where he started the epic fundraising adventure over a decade ago.
“Completing the walk was a dream of decades coming true,” said Peter as he posed for photos in Melbourne among a crowd of supporters, friends and media.
“I just can’t believe I’m back here, but I did it. I couldn’t have done this without God’s help. He really gave me strength on those lonely days.
“I’m also so thankful for Damien, my driver. He saved me getting lost more than once
“I’ve met some wonderful people over the walk, kind and generous. So many folk wanted to help by sponsoring a child or just making a donation to the kids. It made it all worth it on the hard days of struggle I faced.”
To get involved with Peter’s charity, ICC Australia, visit: www.iccau.org.