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Have (Dis)Ability, Will Travel

Summary

In her 70s, 120,000 kms covered, Lyn Lillecrapp still loves driving and camping across Australia by herself: she shares her tips for travelling with disability.

When you talk to Lyn Lillecrapp, it’s easy to imagine a world where there is no ‘dis’ before ‘ability’.

120,000 plus kilometres into her travels around Australia, Lyn is plotting where to visit next.

“COVID restrictions slowed me down”, Lyn explains, “but I’m back on the road now and will cover another 16,000 kms in the coming months.”

These figures become especially impressive when you learn that Lyn is a “wheelie”, travels alone, and is now in her 70s!

Swimming Success

If Lyn’s name sounds familiar, you may remember her from three Paralympic Games (Toronto 1976, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992) and several International Stoke Mandeville Games.

In 1992, Lyn was honoured with the Order of Australia for “service to swimming, particularly as a gold medallist at the Stoke Mandeville World Wheelchair Championships”, and took part in the torch relay for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Lyn Lillecrapp holding her Order of Australia medal sitting on the edge of a pool
Lyn Lillecrapp received the Order of Australia Medal in 1992 for services to swimming
Lyn Lillecrapp torch bearer at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games
Lyn Lillecrapp, torch bearer at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games

Her ‘Visionary’ Father

Having contracted polio at the age of two months, Lyn was paralysed from the waist down. Initially she walked with calipers and crutches, but to preserve her shoulders, in the 1980s she changed to using a wheelchair.

Lyn’s drive and thirst for independence was very much nurtured by her father:

“My Dad was a visionary who was well ahead of his time in terms of attitude to disability,” she recalls fondly. “He was badly injured during the war, and knew he likely wouldn’t be around long. Very early on in my life he made sure I had the capability and knowledge to look after myself.”

That knowledge included some of the basics of car maintenance amongst many other things. He also shared his passion for camping.

“My father said his ideal ‘home’ was camped under a gum tree, beside the Mighty Murray with the billy on the boil,” Lyn continues, ”I guess the travelling, camping lifestyle is in my blood.”

Driving

Lyn passed her driving test in October 1963, again thanks to the research of her father who discovered the New Zealand brand of Ross mechanical hand controls, a cog system under the steering wheel with rods going down to the pedals.

Lyn’s car was a manual transmission – automatics were rare and very expensive in the 1960s in Australia – so the hand controls had to operate the clutch as well as the brake and accelerator.

“The accelerator was like a motorbike throttle, the handle for the clutch had to swing down round the bottom half of the steering wheel.”

Back then, the process of changing gears to go round a corner was intense to say the least. As well as operating the brake, clutch and accelerator with her hands, Lyn also had to hand-signal her intention to turn!

Lyn was tested by a “rather petrified” Police Officer in Albury. “He’d likely never seen hand controls before. You could see the sweat dripping down his forehead,” Lyn remembers.

In passing she managed to pull off her only ever “perfect” reverse park.

Once on the road, Lyn never looked back. Only a year later she moved out of home to live in Melbourne, regularly driving the five hour trip to visit her father in Albury.

Side view of Lyn Lillecrapp in the driver's seat of her car
Lyn in the driver seat of her car ready to drive with her Trigger Accelerator and Brake Lever

Travelling Across Australia

However, she only started to scratch her travel itch in 2003. At that point, Lyn was still working and was limited to her remaining three weeks of annual leave.

With borrowed camping equipment, Lyn travelled through Victoria, the Snowy Mountains and on to the NSW South Coast, then up to Wollongong. Despite some challenging weather, the trip was a success – she was hooked and has never looked back.

“The only problem I had was when a Southerly Buster blew in at Narooma and the tent’s stitching collapsed. So I stayed in a motel for the night, repaired the tent, then onwards and upwards!” Lyn recalls.

Once she retired, Lyn ramped up the travel, often hitting 25,000 kms a year, covering almost every part of Australia, including trips across the Nullabor, and through the red centre.

Map of Australia with routes marked out in black
Lyn’s map of her travels, black marking her journeys so far

Upgrading Her Hand Controls

Aside from COVID, the only potential spanner in the works for her continued travels was her shoulders.

Lyn’s arthritis had progressively worsened, and the effort required to operate her car’s hand controls wasn’t helping.

So in 2020 Lyn started researching alternatives that would be less taxing on her shoulders and thumb, and discovered the Fadiel Trigger Accelerator and Brake Lever supplied by Total Ability.

“The new controls have made a big difference,” Lyn notes, “as it’s a simple push down to brake and it’s very effective, only requiring a light push. To accelerate you pull on a lever which, again, is light and requires no effort.”

“I also love the fact that the indicators and wipers are on the handle.Your hand doesn’t have to come off the handle to operate them. The ease of function is so much better.”

With a new car due – Lyn has her eye on the latest Nissan X-Trail to replace her current one – it was also important to ensure the new equipment could be transferred to a new vehicle.

Her Set-Up and Tips for Travellers

Lyn hopes the story of her travels encourages others to get on the road, and is keen to share her tips and favourite places to visit.

Aerial image of the Kimberley Western Australia Lyn’s favourite place… so far, The Kimberley in WA

“I’d love to return to the Kimberley in WA, Kununurra and the Bungle Bungles. As I drove in, I had a special feeling of being enveloped by the mountains.” Lyn explains.

“However, my next trip will be to a swimming comp in Alice Springs, then up to Darwin, across through western and central Queensland taking in Mount Isa and Charleville, and finally to visit a friend in Brisbane.”

Lyn’s camping system has also evolved. With the knowledge from 20 years on the road travelling, she has reduced the amount of gear and effort of setting up.

The tent is long gone: sleeping quarters are behind the driver’s seat with an air bed on top of a false floor. On the passenger side there is the remaining equipment, including a fridge powered by an auxiliary battery.

Lyn has adapted her car in other ways to ensure she is safe and able to carry out maintenance, including a clever system for replacing a tyre in case of punctures. She has minimised as much as she can over the years and is now ready to travel at a day’s notice.

Though she initially was more impulsive after she retired (“I just decided to go and didn’t worry about how long I’d be away for”), in hindsight Lyn recommends that people do their research before they travel: “Suss out what you want to do, whether you want to tow or not tow (a caravan or camping trailer), how often you are going to go, how long and where you are going to go.”

Life On the Road

Lyn is very well received by fellow travellers at the camping grounds, but has some funny stories about the occasional person who can’t quite believe what they are seeing.

“One time in Queensland in 2004 when I was pitching my tent, I was being watched closely by a caravaner,” Ly recalls with a grin. “As I was about to hook up the last loop on the fly, he wandered over and said ‘Can I help you?’! I told him thank you but I was almost finished. He then asked ‘How do you manage all of that?’ I shot back: ‘Very simply, I’m closer to the ground than you are!’ ”

Very little holds Lyn back, but there are some limitations to where she can go.

She’s not going to visit Australia’s deserts any time soon – as we know, wheelchairs and sand don’t play well together. “I’d love to go to the Tanami Desert and to Cape York, but the wheelchair would probably get bogged, although my new fat tyres might make it easier now.”

Lyn considers that she has had a very good life: “I’ve never wanted for a job, never wanted for a roof over my head, nor for food, and I’m now able to do what I want to do, travel, and I have wonderful friends.”

Her continued love of driving across Australia means that Lyn isn’t ready to stop travelling. However, at 77 she remains philosophical, saying “we’ll see what happens with all of my plans. As the saying goes ‘man proposes and God disposes.’ ”

Would you love to drive, but don’t know where to start? Download our FREE “NDIS Guide to Vehicle Modifications” here.

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  • Driving with disability is possible with the right driving products.
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