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Trekking Larapinta to Close the Gap

Geoffrey Leeson is what you might call an accidental hiker.

“I wouldn’t call myself a big hiker,” he says. “[But] when somebody asked me that on the trek, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve hiked through the Andes, and I’ve hiked through the Himalayas, and I’ve hiked through the Austrian Alps… ”

Laughing, he admits, “I think I am a hiker — without having actually ever thought about it.”

The long-time Oxfam supporter recently took part in Oxfam’s Larapinta Challenge, a 120km trek along the high ridgelines of the West MacDonnell Ranges, just outside Alice Springs. Geoffrey and his trek-mates successfully raised $85,000 towards Oxfam’s work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, including the Close the Gap campaign.

Photo: Kate Bensen / OxfamAUS

With the support of 200,000 Australians who’ve signed the pledge, the campaign aims to end the health inequality gap that sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People expect to live 10–17 years less than other Australians.

For Geoffrey, this is a cause that is very close to his heart.

“I lost my partner four years ago,” he says. “He was a Torres Strait Islander and even though he had access to the best medical services that were available in the country — because he was an urban Indigenous man — he still died way too young from diseases that are endemic within the Indigenous community.

“In fact, his baby brother, his older sister and he all died within 18 months of each other from very similar health conditions. So I really did the trek in memory of him and his family.”

Walking over the bright red rocks, through fields of native flowers and grasses; snaking through serpentine gorges to swim at ancient waterholes; and sitting around the campfire at night, looking up at an endless sky filled with stars gave Geoffrey the opportunity to reflect on his time with his partner, Percy.

“I got to talk about him a lot to my fellow trekkers. They were all very interested,” he says. “On the very first night, we all had a bit of a talk about ourselves and the vast majority of the people on the trip said that they didn’t know any Indigenous people… My experience was just the complete opposite. A lot of my best friends are Indigenous, and that’s through my connections to Percy… I feel very privileged to have that connection.

Photo: Kate Bensen / OxfamAUS

“I found that when we were walking along, I was talking about Percy a lot, because there was a lot to talk about. People were really interested. So he was very much with me in spirit.”

Geoffrey encourages anyone who is thinking of tackling the Larapinta Trail — with places available in our September Huma Charity Challenge trip — to give it a go and do something good in the process.

“You won’t be disappointed,” he says. “It’s such a unique landscape and a unique experience and just thoroughly rewarding.”

Want to get involved with Close the Gap? Here’s how.