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australia Historical Physical Vintage

Arthur Barrett – Victoria’s First Walker

Tim Erikson of the Victorian Race Walking Club has done significant work in documenting the history of competitive walking in the state of Victoria. This Original article deals with Arthur Barrett and his 1893 walk from Melbourne to Sorrento.

On the afternoon of 25th January, 1893, 1 was standing on Princes Bridge in a highly disgruntled frame of mind, having missed the boat to Sorrento. The time was 2.40 p.m., and the temperature, 103 degrees in the shade. Suddenly the thought struck me, “The earth is flat, and I am on the surface of it. It is only 40 miles, and, if I walk along the beach, I will be there by 11 p.m.! Why not? But, before I start, I must let them know at home where I am going.” Thrilled with the idea, I set off along Batman Avenue to the Richmond malthouse, where I lived, and told a carpenter, Jack Goyder, about it. He gaped – he knew; I didn’t. The time was then 3 p.m.

Proceeding along Church Street and Chapel Street, 1 arrived at the Elsternwick Hotel, where I asked a man the way. He told me, and off I went, arriving at the Mordialloc Hotel at 5.40 p.m., where I had a good wash and drank a gallon of water. Again I inquired the way, and, at 6.50 p.m., I got to the old Carrum Hotel. On going into the dining room, there was “Peggy” Miles, my old schoolmaster of Melbourne Grammar. He cross-examined me about my doings. Hearing of my proposal, he exclaimed, “But, ‘Silky’ (my old nickname at school), it is still 40 miles to Sorrento.” This was a body blow to me. However, I drank two bottles of beer and ate the inside of an apple pie (I would not eat solids), and then commenced to ruminate. As “Peggy” Miles had told me the way, off I went again, leaving the hotel at 7.55 p.m. At first I was a bit stiff, but the stiffness wore off, and I got to Frankston at 8.50 p.m.

Going up the hill out of Frankston, a terrible thing happened to me – a bad blister developed on my heel; so I stamped on it, when the pain was so “exquisite” and, marvellous to relate, I became completely refreshed. It then got dark, and I could see only by gazing up between the overhanging trees, where there was a glimmer of light. As far as I was concerned, the moon set at 10.40 p.m., and along that part of the road I had two bad falls on heaps of stone. However, it was no use lying there, luxurious as it seemed! Having been told to go straight on and turn neither to the left nor to the right, I obeyed instructions, and in time went down a long hill to what I now know to be Balcombe Creek. There was no water in the creek. and I was beginning to feel very thirsty. Crawling up a hill (Mt. Martha), which seemed miles long, I came to a stone house, with two water tanks fitted with taps, but two fierce dogs barred the way. So on I went, down again, and at the bottom of Mt. Martha was another creek; this time only mud. Then I was done; no sound of the sea and nearly dead with thirst – I was lost.

Suddenly I heard the click of horses’ hoofs on the road and a few minutes later up came a buggy with two horses. “Stop,” I cried. ” I am lost. Come back and tell me where I am.” The buggy stopped and two men got out and came towards me. “Great Scot,” said one “it is Silky.” They were Davy and Bert Nicholson, old school mates. They got the truth out of me, and, when that was over, I said I wanted some water. They had none, but Davy said, “I have a bottle of claret,” and he gave it to me. Sitting in the buggy was another acquaintance, Miss Bluebell Stapleton, and she said, “Artie, I have a bottle of milk.” I accepted the milk, and drank it straight away. Having told me the way, they went on. Refreshed, I reached Dromana at 1.45 a.m., and went past the Rosebud lighthouse doing “six knots.” I was now “full of beans,” and it was not until dawn that famine intervened and some weakness came. When it is pitch dark and one cannot see more than a few yards ahead, there is nothing to be apprehensive about, but when the road shows up a mile ahead, a distance becomes alarming, because a mile is 1760 yards, and that means 1760 steps, and each step an effort. Then came some corners and little hills – they didn’t help. “Surely Sorrento must. appear soon,” I thought – and it did. Around a corner, there were the baths and the pier. I had done it!

Overcome, I staggered up to a cow which was lying on the road. As I approached, the cow got up, and I lay where it had been lying. It was hot and lovely! The time was 4.45 a.m. I stayed in that spot until 5.30 a.m., and, when I went to get up, I was so stiff that I almost failed to hold my balance. Then a humorous incident occurred; a venerable old man approached me and. clutching at my coat labels, he began to pray. He said, “Oh, young man, turn from your evil ways. Seek the Lord. You have been out drinking and lying drunk on the road. You will run your life. What a shame to see a young man like this. Kneel and let us pray.” “Let me go,” I exclaimed, “I have just walked down here from Melbourne.” It was his turn to gasp, as I left him and went on my way. And that is how my walking began.

– Arthur Barrett