"I DID IT IM IN HOBART BROKE HOMELESS BUT I DID IT".
Two weeks after setting out from Launceston and travelling on foot along the Midland Highway, sleeping in public bathrooms and staying up all night in roadhouses, surviving on muesli bars and the goodwill of strangers, Eliana Robinson arrived at the Elizabeth Street Mall in Hobart and sent a text message. Exhausted, freezing, recovering from two bouts of hypothermia and with no home to go back to, the 29-year-old was elated.
She had set out with nothing more than a First Aid Kit, two bottles of water, a change of tights, a hi-vis raincoat, an umbrella, and 'a couple of hundred muesli bars': meagre belongings to solely rely on for two weeks in the elements. But the goodwill of others ensured she arrived. Eliana found - for the first time in her life - that the kindness of strangers emerges if given an opportunity.
Eliana's walk raised $375 for support service Enterprizing Aardvark. Less than she hoped, but the journey was always more about proving her worth than raising money.
Eliana has a rare autoimmune condition that makes her essentially allergic to the sun, called photosensitivity. She is on Newstart despite the capability and desire to work, and has spent her life dipping in and out of homelessness. Her disability and poverty forever interlace; locking her out of a full life. She has frequently despaired, and describes spending days at a time alone in her room, in the dark.
But as of July 22 at 10pm, she knows a new fact about herself. She is capable of walking 208 kilometres between two cities; getting by on her wits, her force of will, and helping hands.
Eliana's endeavor - a mid-winter walk along a highway with meagre supplies and only partly-planned accommodation - would most likely not be recommended by most health professionals. (Even to someone who didn't have a disorder that caused them to break out into painful blisters in sunlight.) But sensible or not, for Eliana, it was revolutionary.
She spent one night curled up inside a toilet cubicle at Perth. Four businesses sponsored her journey with a room: Ross Caravan Park, St Andrews Inn at Cleveland, Robinson Cottage at Oatlands, and the Glenorchy Best Western Motor Inn. She spent a hallucinatory night straining to stay awake and watching the football at Mood Food roadhouse at Kempton. Another hotel room was paid for on her behalf as a gift along the way. And she spent two nights in the family homes of strangers.
"Sometimes it went better than I thought it would," Eliana said.
"Other times it went completely off the grid, and would have been quite disastrous if I hadn't been helped."
Two helpers along the way were Jenny and Neil Sims, who live in Oatlands with their dog, Shadow .
Jenny Sims overheard Eliana asking a shop assistant how she could get a lift to Oatlands. Eliana was running behind, and had to make her arranged accommodation check-in. Jenny dropped Eliana off, dropped her back the next morning so she could continue the walk from the same point, and then put her up when she reached Oatlands by foot.
"It's not something we would normally do - we don't pick up hitchhikers or that sort of thing," Jenny said.
"It was a gut instinct, I suppose. She had her big backpack and her big black glasses - I just spoke up without even thinking."
Jenny's household tends toward meat-heavy dishes, but she cooked up a big meal of potato bake, chickpea stew, and green vegetables for the vegetarian guest. After dinner, she heard Eliana and Neil, her husband, giggling away to Monty Python, and a silly Western movie.
It's an encounter she hasn't been able to get out of her head.
"She's been on my mind a lot since - how people can slip through the gaps, and just be so, seemingly, unsupported," she said.
"We're not in a position to do a great deal, but you can't leave somebody without a bed or without food. I don't know exactly how she got into her situation; it seemed like all these different things compounded.
"She never complained once, she was very positive about the whole thing - she's an impressive lady. I really hope somebody gives her an opportunity."
Eliana had been walking in a thunderstorm for four hours when she met Keturah Matepi-Triffitt, David Triffitt, and their children Hannah, 10, Lydia, 9, Ezria, 5, and Judea, 4, who were driving past Bagdad to their home at Ellendale. They paid for a hotel room for her, and after she finished her walk, they came and picked her up and took them back to their home.
Eliana has since travelled back to Hobart to go to a video store closing down sale with the Triffitts: Mrs Matepi-Triffitt told her to consider them her own family.
"I think that meant a lot to her," she said. "She isn't in contact with her own family."
Mrs Matepi-Triffitt said that God put Eliana in their path.
"She's been an inspiration to us, really," she said. "She's a very clever young lady; ambitious, determined - when she sets her mind to something, she's loyal to it.
"She's very genuine, very honest: no shortcuts for Eliana. And the beautiful thing about Eliana is that she did this charity walk for the homeless and the needy when she's lost her own accommodation.
"It is so courageous that she would set out and do this for others, when she is struggling with the same problem."
As for Eliana, she said that before setting out on her walk, she didn't believe that help, kindness or community spirit truly existed.
She sees small towns as being in a "help-each-other scenario", as opposed to her experience of Launceston. For her next rental, she is looking at affordable places in George Town instead of the city.
Her walk also exposed her to a sense of adventure that she had only experienced second-hand before, through her favourite books and movies.
She came across cows "as big as a BMW", and heard wallabies scurrying past in the dark. In Hobart, she enjoyed feeding seagulls at a bus stop. The walk was the first time she had seen sheep; she herded a flock off the road somewhere past Oatlands. "It was so cool, it was a mum and a dad and a bunch of little lambs, and they were so cute," she said.
The roadkill she saw sickened her; she was terrified during her games of Russian roulette with passing trucks, and the sight of a beheaded deer made her throw up. But she loved the smell of the timber trucks; a smell which was entrancingly similar to a new book.
"Every time a wood truck went past, it was a cozy reminder of being at home in bed, reading my book," she said. "That was a big surprise, I loved that one. It was a much more pleasant smell than the cattle trucks."
In fact, the saddest part of the journey - during which she cheerfully admits she feared she would die from cold and exhaustion more than once - is that it's over.
"It was difficult, it was tough, it was gory, but it was worth doing," she said. "I feel improved, and better, and stronger for doing it, both physically and emotionally."
" I'm just sad now that it's over with, and I have to come back to reality.
"Reality is so stark and caging that it can feel like the walk never happened - but when I step up and go 'ow', I'm like 'no, it happened'. It's nice having the blisters as a reminder."
The community is raising funds for four local charities as part of The Examiner's Winter Relief Appeal. Can you help?