Today on the show, I chatted with adventurer, writer, mother presenter, and citizen of the year 2021, Hayley Talbot. If you haven’t heard Hayley’s story of solo kayaking the Clarence River Valley, you are in for a treat. In 2017, Hayley decided to kayak the 400 kilometre Clarence river having never kayaked before. We talk about what it means to rely solely on yourself, and the skills necessary to not only navigate the river, but to survive. We also talk about the Australian black summer when the bushfires of 2019 and 20, burnt more than 46 million acres. Deeply impacted with this devastation, Hayley shares how one small idea can have a great impact. I could sing Hayley’s praises all day long. But instead, I’ll stop there and welcome you to this beautiful and inspiring conversation with Hayley Talbot. Enjoy.
Hayley, thank you so much for joining me today, I’m super excited to talk to you because I think you’re pretty darn amazing. I’m so inspired by, you know, your achievements and your adventures and the initiatives that you’ve started. And you’re such a leader and such a great role model. And so I really thank you for being here today and taking the time to chat with me. And I really just wanted to start with, you know, the biggest adventure that you’ve been on. And I’m guessing that would be the solo 400 kilometre kayak of the Clarence River. What blows my mind is, when I read on your website, you said that you’d never kayaked before. But you knew when the time came, you would be the person you needed to be.
How, firstly, how does the desire to come about to do something so enormous and potentially dangerous, come about? And then where does this unwavering belief in yourself come from? That you just knew you would be the person you had to be?
I think because when I had the idea, I was wholly committed to, even though I wasn’t ready, it was the fact that when the time came, I would be the person that I needed to be to achieve it, because I would dedicate myself to the diligent preparation of the task. So I had faith that I would take those steps, and I would gain that knowledge. And I would seek out the people that could teach me and I had whole faith in the preparation, I guess. So it was a journey. And that is reflected, I think in the, you know, roughly two years that I took to prepare, you know, it wasn’t something that I decided that I would do and then went off and did a couple of months later. I really knew that starting from scratch would certainly improve my kayaking ability. That it if I didn’t put the time into preparing and being ready, then I was not honouring the faith that my family had in me to ultimately be at peace with allowing me to go and I say allow obviously not with the permission type of a meaning so much as you know, is a big deal for my for my husband to trust me as well to trust me with my life. His wife, the mother of his children, we have two young sons. It was huge for him to exercise that faith in me as well. And so I really needed to honour that by being ready. And by being sure that I was doing everything that I could do Come home safely? Absolutely. And, what did all that preparation look like? There was, um, I guess so. Firstly, the trip that I did was a source to see solo unsupported navigation by kayak of the Clarence river on the north coast of New South Wales on. Yeah, such a massive river system, it hadn’t been done before, I felt a deep calling out to the river. And initially, I think it was a metaphor. You know, if I had followed my husband to Sydney, for his work, the kids were really little, I was suddenly pulled out of everything that I had known. I’d lived in Sydney before, but never as a young mother. And so I found that was deeply challenging personally. And yeah, so I was, yeah, so. So being separate from my family, I felt as though I was really dreaming of home and my community. And this metaphor that I was travelling in my mind ended up becoming an idea that I thought, well, maybe if I actually do it, maybe I should just do it. You know, I was writing all these fighting words to myself. I’m a prolific journalist, I’m always writing. And I was filling journals full of these really provocative words to myself. And it ended up getting to this point where it was like, why don’t you just go paddle that river? Why don’t you go and do that? There was a challenge back to myself and, and from there, once that decision was made, then it was accumulating the knowledge and the skill. So in terms of the prep, the first thing I did was get a $150 kayak off-country. So we tend to, you know, like the money thing I didn’t like so Okay, why don’t we have the resources to go and get the five and a half grand kayak that I ultimately needed to do the trip safely. This one was like 150 bucks, Gumtree, picked it up with the guy and bonded, the first time I put it in the water was at Palm Beach, like, not even on the pittwater, which was the flat water, I put it in on the beach side. So I had no idea what I was doing. I charged out three waves and made about the back and looked back at the shore, to my husband and my two little boys, and just was, yeah, it was kind of a watershed moment. And I had a lot of those in the prep, there were so many moments where,
you know, there was just incremental repacking to the comfort zone, I just pick it out a little bit further and grow into it, pick it out a little bit further and grow into it. So it was always a pretty gradual process. But generally, just following my nose after the kayak purchase, I had a baby carrier, like a hiking baby pack. And I was just buying five kilo packs of rice from the grocery store and just adding to it just making it heavier and heavier and heavier and hiking with the weight. Getting out in the bush and getting comfortable in the bush and getting out on the water as often as I could. And just getting my confidence up and trying to expose myself to as many different things as I possibly could from weather and wind and temperature and all different types of things like that. I really just wanted to try in my preparation to prepare so well that the expedition was a holiday.
I heard you say in another interview that you had some jerks along the way. Maybe a little judgmental of your desire to do this.
Yeah, yes. All of the above. I think what I ended up doing was actually a dream that a lot of people had, I realised afterwards. And they hadn’t done it for whatever reason. And he was this bubbly kind of lady who’s got no skills whatsoever saying that she’s going to go and do this thing. And yeah, like in retrospect, I kind of get where somebody they had a lot of experience I had nothing and and in one respect they weren’t they were right. Like I had no idea what I was in for when I made the commitment to do the trip. I didn’t know that there were waterfalls on the clarinets. I didn’t know that there were impossible gorges. I didn’t know that the first at least 150 kilometres of the river is barely palatable. It’s climbing and dragging the river runs underground, it runs through forests. It’s not something that you can easily navigate. It was incredibly challenging. And so yeah, I kinda have a little bit of a chuckle about that. Now at the time, you know, there was, there were a few people sort of thrown a little bit of shade, particularly around the boat that I chose to take. A lot of people said, You’ll never make it down the Clarence in that boat. And it was made of corflute, which is like a light corrugated plastic….