Ben Sturt's story

As a twelve year old British school boy, Ben Sturt was inspired by an article in the National Geographic about the adventures of Victorian explorer, Captain Charles Sturt and his expedition to find a central ocean in Australia. Ben vowed to recreate the expedition of his distant ancestor when he was grown up.

In 1999, Ben and his friend Steve Macdonald visited ACU member university, Charles Sturt University, before embarking on their epic trek across the central Australian deserts, through the Strelecki, Sturt Stony and Simpson deserts. During their 10 week odyssey, Ben and Steve recreated Captain Sturt’s expedition with the aid of a team of camels (named Chewy, Munro and Siobard) and a support crew in a pink Land Rover. The expedition also raised money for the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

While Captain Sturt and his team rode on horseback and dragged two whaling ships across the Australian desert, Ben and his friend, Steve, who was the first registered blind person to circumnavigate the UK in a kayak, wanted the expedition to be man powered.

Ben Sturt and Steve Macdonald with Chewy, Munro and Siobard

Camels were the best animal to help with their journey, being highly attuned to desert environments and able to go longs periods of time without water. Despite searing heat and temperatures over 40 C, Ben and Steve walked during the day and slept in traditional swags; a canvas bag with a thin mattress. In the open desert they encountered plenty of wildlife, and because it was winter, there were fewer snakes but scorpions often crept into their bags at night. They were often bitten by very large ants and were attacked a few times by wild bull camels, but Ben fondly remembers his time in the desert. It is a time that made him feel alive and he would be very happy to return to the uncomplicated, nomadic lifestyle!

Recalling the expedition Ben said: “I would encourage everyone to do something like this. When your focus is purely on survival, getting from A to B, it makes life very simple. It gives you a different perspective. When you wake up in the desert and discover your camels have disappeared it makes worrying about everyday things seem more manageable. When I have been dealing with a tough situation since then, thinking back to what I encountered has made me much more resilient!

“I remember the first three weeks were the hardest, we left the noise of a city and trekked into what we thought was a desolate and bleak landscape. We wanted to give up many times and found it hard to adjust to the rhythm of life in the desert but then you adapt to your environment and it is civilisation that becomes alien.

“It was an amazing experience, I have always enjoyed travelling and have walked and hiked in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I still meet up with Steve and the support crew and last year we did a sponsored charity endurance event (100km in under 30 hours) walking the South Downs Way, raising money for the Gurkha’s Welfare Trust.”

Ben is always looking for a new challenge!

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