The woman who rode Australia’s longest trekking route – a photo essay

Sunrise, fetching horses after a couple of days off on a property near Mutchilba, Queensland.



From a young age, Alienor Le Gouvello developed a passion for travelling and adventure. Her previous expeditions include a horseback trek in Mongolia at age 22 and a sidecar motorbike expedition from Siberia to Paris. Le Gouvello, originally from France, was working with an Indigenous community in Docker River near Uluru in the Australian central desert when she first discovered the existence of wild brumbies. In 2015, she embarked on her longest solo journey: 5,330km along the Bicentennial National trail, Australia’s longest trekking route, beginning in Healesville in Victoria and ending in Cooktown, Queensland, with just three wild horses and her dog for company. Since it opened in 1988, only 35 people have completed the trail. Le Gouvello is the second woman to complete the trip and the only person to have the same horses from beginning to end.


I work in remote Aboriginal communities as a social worker with kids so even my work is a bit of an adventure and means living in isolated places

Alienor Le Gouvello on the Bicentennial Trail through the Australian bush.



Le Gouvello’s horses were purchased through the passive trapping program of the Guy Fawkes River Heritage Horse Association. She spent nine months training the three horses she selected – Roxanne, Cooper and River – before the journey began. All the horses arrived in Cooktown healthy and strong and she says they did not sustain any injuries or require rest days.


The first 3,000km my horses were barefoot. Brumbies have amazing feet

A hat, jeans with belt and knife, a pair of plyers, pair of hobbles.



A horse being shod in the middle of the outback.



Alienor Le Gouvello at the beach.



Alienor Le Gouvello lying in her tent with her dog Fox.



The Bicentennial trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern escarpment. Other than her horses, Le Gouvello’s only other company was her dog, Fox, who joined her for part of the trip, save for when she was taking the trial through national parks or private property. “I hated the times I didn’t have Fox, because as much as I love my horses they don’t fit in my tent. I have had Fox for 12 years and he is my best mate.” Some days, towards the end of the day, Fox’s arthritis would flair up on the last few kilometres and Le Gouvello would carry him over her shoulders.

The morning ritual in the early morning fog on a property on Black mountain road, Queensland.



Silhouette of a windmill in Queensland.




The beauty of some views and landscapes is just the encouragement you need some mornings to remind you the hardship of such an expedition is all worth it

Sunrise hike leaving a property near Mount Molloy, Queensland.



Tough terrain on horse’s feet near Mutchilba, Queensland.



At the beginning of the high Victorian country, the track was tough and very steep and the horses were not interested in going up and down such terrain: “Being green [just broken in] horses, they lacked the work ethic and if it wasn’t for my mare, who had the most amazing stamina, setting the pace I don’t know how we would have gotten through.”

Le Gouvello with Cooper, a five-year-old buckskin.




I had a few meltdowns during the first couple of months wondering how I was going to manage to travel over 5,000 km with two ‘donkeys’. They eventually understood they weren’t getting out of it and we started working as a team

Using pliers to get access to the next part of the trail.



Going through a lot of farmers’ stations, fences were a real challenge. Grids on the properties she was travelling through did not always have a gate next to them. Le Gouvello had to undo fences with a pair of pliers to get through and always put them back up so that the farmers wouldn’t get upset. Another difficult aspect of the trip was food and water. Le Gouvello could not carry water for three horses so she had to find it every day. Some days they had to push on for extra kilometres to find a river or dam to rehydrate.

Mowbray River on the Bump track in Queensland.



One night while Le Gouvello was continuing the nightly tradition of grooming and cuddling Fox after dinner, he began to look concerned and anxious, and when Alienor looked closer she saw a snake between her legs – it was enjoying the warmth of the fire too. Without thinking she grabbed a stick from the fire and threw the snake in.

Cooking dehydrated peas and couscous.



Le Gouvello with fox the dog by a warm campfire.




I don’t like killing things if I don’t have to, but this guy was in our camp

Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and birds were a constant reminder that she was deep in the Australian outback. Other wild brumbies were a sight throughout the national parks but also a real threat to her horses. She spent many nights in parks staying up to look out for them.

Kangaroos looking towards the camera.



Alienor Le Gouvello on her journey along the Bicentennial Trail through the Australian bush.




When times are tough sometimes you meet wonderful people who are willing to give you a hand. I called them trail angels and felt like I had a good star watching over us

Cooper the horse getting close during a break.



Le Gouvello on her journey along the Bicentennial Trail.



Heading towards Mount Molloy, Queensland.



The Australian landscape, Queensland.



Towards the end of her journey, Le Gouvello contracted Ross River fever and also a staph infection. “Doing a trek so demanding physically, being sick really messes you, but I was determined to not abandon the trip. I did two visits to hospital and both times got back on the horse and carried on with excruciating pain and exhaustion.” When she reached Cooktown she was just relieved she had made it and it was over.

Le Gouvello riding Roxanne.




I was grateful to my horses for having been so amazing and carrying me with my sickness and exhaustion of the past few weeks. I was in awe of their achievement

Wonga Beach north of Mossman after 13months on the trail.



Wonga Beach north of Mossman after 13months on the trail.



Sharing a sunset with her dog, fox by the campfire at stannary hills dam, Queensland.



What would a truly disabled-accessible city look like?

To David Meere, a visually impaired man from Melbourne, among the various obstacles to life in cities is another that is less frequently discussed: fear.

“The fear of not being able to navigate busy, cluttered and visually oriented environments is a major barrier to participation in normal life,” says Meere, 52, “be that going to the shops, going for a walk in the park, going to work, looking for work, or simply socialising.”

That’s what makes an innovative project at the city’s Southern Cross train station so important to him. A new “beacon navigation system” sends audio cues to users via their smartphones, providing directions, flagging escalator outages and otherwise transforming what previously a “no-go” area for Meere.

“I no longer have to hope there’s a willing bystander or a capable staff member to provide direct assistance,” he says. “And on a very personal and powerful level it allows me to use this major transport hub in one of Australia’s largest cities with certainty and independence as a parent with small children. It’s a real game-changer.”

Meere is just one of the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who live in cities around the world. By 2050, they will number an estimated 940 million people, or 15% of what will be roughly 6.25 billion total urban dwellers, lending an urgency to the UN’s declaration that poor accessibility “presents a major challenge”.

For the physically disabled, barriers can range from blocked wheelchair ramps, to buildings without lifts, to inaccessible toilets, to shops without step-free access. Meanwhile, for learning disabled people or those on the autistic spectrum, the cluttered and hectic metropolitan environment can be a sensory minefield.

A staircase at Stanmore tube station.



Revolving doors in an office block on the Strand, London.



Cobblestones near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.



A wheelchair user prepares to attempt to board a train at a London station.



  • Stairs, revolving doors, cobbles and steps on to trains are a few of the features that make it difficult for people in wheelchairs to access their cities

Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Britain’s Equality Act and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act aim to boost rights and access, the reality on the ground can be very different, as Guardian Cities readers recently reported.

And yet, cities benefit from accessibility. One World Health Organisation study described how, like Meere, disabled people are less likely to socialise or work without accessible transport. Cities also miss out on economic gains: in the UK the “purple pound” is worth £212bn, and the accessible-tourism market an estimated £12bn.

Some cities, however, are leading the way.

Seattle: a sidewalk mapping app

AccessMap Seattle with inclines mapped by colour. green = 0 percent incline 10 = 10 percent incline. Sidewalk Maps for Low Mobility Citizens



Mapping apps make navigating cities a doddle for most people – but their lack of detail on ramps and dropped kerbs mean they don’t always work well for people with a physical disability.

Take the hilly city of Seattle, where several neighbourhoods have no pavements at all, and many streets have a slope grade (or tilt) of 10% or even 20%.

The University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology has a solution: a map-based app allowing pedestrians with limited mobility to plan accessible routes. AccessMap enables users to enter a destination, and receive suggested routes depending on customised settings, such as limiting uphill or downhill inclines. The image above shows Seattle streets coloured by incline: green means flat; red means a slope of 10% or above.

For example, while Google Maps sends pedestrians from University Street station to City Hall via Seneca Street, with its steep 10% grade, AccessMap sends them via Pike Street instead – a slope of less than 2%.

The OpenSidewalks project is crowdsourcing information such as pavement width and the location of kerb dropdowns.



  • OpenSidewalks is crowdsourcing information such as pavement width and kerb drop-downs

It also supplements data from Seattle’s Department of Transportation and the US Geological Survey with information from mapathon events. Now the Taskar Centre’s related OpenSidewalks project is taking it further by crowdsourcing extra information, such as pavement width and the location of handrails.

Singapore: universal design

The reception area of the CapitaGreen building has a lowered front desk. The building has won numerous accessible design awards.



By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be over 60, with this “silver tsunami” driving awareness of ageing and disability. The city may not historically be known for inclusive practices, but has recently won praise from the UN for its accessible “user-friendly built environment”.

The Universal Design principles drawn up by Singapore’s Building Construction Authority have encouraged accessibility in new developments since its launch in 2007.

CapitaGreen, in the central business district, is a 40-storey office block that has won a host of UD awards. Completed in 2014 at a cost of S$1.3bn (£700m), the Toyo Ito-designed structure features column-free spaces and a low concierge counter to help disabled people move around the building more easily.

CapitaGreen Braille handrail. Accessible building for cities



  • Braille directions on handrails in the award-winning CapitaGreen office block

Lift doors stay open longer, handrails flank both sides of staircases, and the chairs have grab handles. A hearing induction loop enables clearer communication for those using hearing aids, while Braille directions, tactile guidance and easy-to-read pictographs help the visually impaired. Routes into the office from underground pedestrian walkways and two Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations are barrier-free.

Singapore’s MRT has also been working to improve accessibility over the past decade. The 30-year-old nework has been getting more lifts, wider gates and tactile guidance, and more than 80% of the 138 stations have at least two barrier-free routes.

The title of world’s most accessible metro system, however, probably goes to Washington, DC. All 91 subway stations are fully accessible, along with its rail carriages and the entire bus fleet.

Sonoma: autism-friendly design

The Sweetwater Spectrum Community is a net-zero energy model of housing for adults with autism in Sonoma, California.



People with autism can be hypersensitive to sound, light and movement, and become overwhelmed by noisy, cluttered or crowded spaces. Sweetwater Spectrum, a $6.8m supported-housing project in Sonoma, California, aims to address this.

The site, which opened in 2013, includes four 4-bed homes for 16 young adults, a community centre, therapy pools and an urban farm – all designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects according to autism-specific principles recommended by Arizona State University to promote a sense of calm.

Inside the Sweetwater Spectrum housing project.



  • Inside the Sweetwater Spectrum housing project

Along with simple, clear lines, the homes are designed so residents can clearly see spaces across thresholds. Noise is kept to a minimum thanks to quiet heating and ventilation systems and thoughtful design, such as locating the laundry room away from the bedrooms. Fittings and decor reduce sensory stimulation and clutter, with muted colours, neutral tones and recessed or natural light.

Korsør: sport for all

Musholm sports, holiday and conference complex in Korsør.



The Musholm sports, holiday and conference complex in Korsør has won numerous awards, most recently from the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, for its 2015 redesign of the basic 1998 site.

At the centre of the venue, owned by the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, is a vast, circular sports hall, with an aerial ropeway and climbing wall for wheelchair users and an integrated pulley system. Outside, a 100m ramp spirals up from the base of the hall to a sky lounge. (The ramp can also be used as a wheelchair racing track.)

The 24 hotel rooms each have ceiling hoists, electronic curtains, beds that can be automatically raised or reclined, adjustable height sinks and accessible toilets. By the waterside, a private bathing jetty is wide enough for wheelchairs and accessible via a ramp.

The multi-purpose sports hall in the Musholm complex.



  • The multi-purpose sports hall in the Musholm complex

“Accessibility must be felt but not seen,” says foundation director Henrik Ib Jørgensen. Musholm, which cost €14.5m (£12.9m) to build, is run as a social enterprise. “Lack of accessibility, other people’s assumptions, body ideals and a lack self confidence among people with disabilities are often the biggest barriers for diversity,” he adds. “We wanted to create a place where there is space for differences.”

Denmark is also home to what is widely regarded as the world’s most accessible office building. The House of Disabled People’s Organisations in the Copenhagen suburb of Taastrup is the shared headquarters of some 30 different disability groups. Built in 2012 for 178m krone (£21m), the Universal Design includes drive-through lifts so wheelchair users don’t have to turn around, and small, tactile knobs on railings so blind people can easily tell which floor they are on.

Chester: an accessible historic city

Accessible shopping on the elevated walkways of Chester Rows



Chester in north-west England is renowned for its two-mile circuit of Roman, Saxon and Medieval walls and its elevated walkways, called Rows. But the city’s historic status belies its role as an accessibility champion: last year it became the first British city to win the European commission’s Access City award.

The Rows are accessible with ramps, a lift and an escalator, while the council’s 15-year regeneration strategy prioritises accessibility in new developments.

Take the £300m Northgate shopping and leisure development, to be completed by 2021. The site will include accessible stores, restaurants, housing and a 157-room hotel including eight accessible rooms with ceiling hoists. The hotel will include a changing places facility for people with complex or multiple and profound disabilities. (Unlike standard accessible toilets, these include a height-adjustable changing bench, adjustable sink, a toilet designed for assisted use and hoist.) Chester already has six such changing places facilities, including one at the recently opened bus interchange, and more are planned around the city.

The Storyhouse cultural centre has flexible seating, audio loops and accessible backstage changing rooms.



  • The Storyhouse cultural centre has flexible seating, audio loops and accessible backstage changing rooms

The accessible design of Chester’s year-old cultural centre, Storyhouse, was created after feedback from disability groups and the council’s access team. The £37m theatre, cinema and library complex has seven accessible toilets, a changing places facility, flexible seating for groups of disabled theatre-goers, audio description and hearing loops. Backstage, there is an accessible toilet, accessible changing rooms and lift.

Melbourne: Bluetooth audio cues

Users of Melbourne’s beacon scheme receive audio directions via their smartphones.



As David Meere discovered, in Melbourne, Australia, an eight-month pilot scheme is currently transforming how visually impaired people navigate public space. The project at Southern Cross station rail terminal uses Bluetooth and free GPS smartphone app BlindSquare to create a beacon navigation system.

Users receive audio cues via their smartphones, providing directions or real time information about issues such as escalator outages. Outside, the app provides real time directional information; inside, where GPS is unreliable, 20 wireless Bluetooth beacons means users still receive information. Audio cues include advice such as: “Approaching three escalators on left, followed by a set of doors – the doors on the left are automated.”

The trial is led by the charity Guide Dogs Victoria, which plans to install similar systems at Melbourne Zoo, Albert Park (home to the Australian Grand Prix) and the Docklands area.

“In many situations, the person with low vision and blindness will have greater knowledge than the sighted person,” says Alastair Stott of Guide Dogs Victoria. “It’s a complete role reversal.”

  • Saba Salman is editor of Made Possible, essays on success by people with learning disabilities

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