Monday 12 November 2018

Adventure + Sustainability = Jon Muir

Here's something surprising about the man often called Australia's greatest living adventurer: sometimes he'd rather talk about chickens than big mountains he's climbed.

Jon on the farm, in the flesh
That's how Jon Muir opens his latest public speaking event, in fact, with an anecdote about swapping sustainable farming tips with fellow Australian mountaineer Tim McCartney-Snape at an awards dinner a few years ago.

I saw Jon speak in Brisbane last week, part of a national tour to promote a new World Expeditions trip he's running (more on this below) and it was enlightening in so many ways.

If you haven't heard of Jon Muir (not to be confused with the Scottish-American naturalist/conservationist John Muir, who died in 1914), here's a pocket-sized resume of his considerable achievements.

Left school at 16 to pursue a life of adventure. Started sailing then rock climbing and in 1988, at the age of 27, climbed Everest solo and without Sherpa support. Then climbed a bunch of new routes on mountains most of us have never even heard of, like the 6864-metre Changabang in northern India.

North Pole stroll
He has walked alone and unsupported across Australia, hunting and gathering en route, trekked to the North and South Poles, tackled various sailing expeditions, paddled more than 6000km in a sea kayak - and made award-winning films about some of his adventures.

Last year he received Australian Geographic's Lifetime of Adventure Award, which honours those who have not just lived extraordinary lives but given back and inspired others in the process.

He is also very much his own person. For the talk I went to at the University of Queensland, he wore a kilt (it's comfortable, he says), accessorised with a black singlet and several necklaces made from crocodile teeth and/or boars' tusks. His trademark mop of brown hair and beard might be grey now, but at 57 he still looks very, very fit.

Suzy & Jon Muir + chickens
He's a great storyteller, generous, witty and so utterly unpretentious it's like listening to a mate telling you what really happened on the extreme adventures he talks about.

What shines through brightly, too, is his love of simplicity and the wild, natural world that sustains us, which has led him and his wife Suzy to start sustainable farmstays on their property near Grampians National Park in western Victoria.

I could have listened to him for hours and wanted to share a few snippets from his talk. So here are 9 more surprising things you (probably) didn't know about Australia's greatest living adventurer:

1. He has peed on top of Mount Everest. Let's get this one out of the way first. One thing that sets Jon apart from other public speakers is his boyish honesty. So unlike other accounts of scaling the world's highest peak, his ends with relief of a different kind: from being able to finally pee after holding on for so long on the ascent (it's not easy with a down suit, harness and other gear at altitude).

Harvest time at Inanna
2. He grew up around backyard farmers. Wollongong in the 1960s, pre-television, was full of migrants growing food and sharing their crops with each other, which sparked Jon's lifelong desire to live close to the land.

3. He's afraid of water. Yes, despite completing more than 50 solo sea kayaking expeditions. He can swim of course, but he recognises that although we might enjoy being in and on water, we're land animals. "I'm not a marine mammal, I'm not a fish, it's not my natural environment," he says.

4. He's not particularly goal-oriented. This might seem counterintuitive for someone who has racked up so many summits and expeditions that just wouldn't have happened without at least some planning. To clarify: he does plan, he just doesn't get hung up on getting where he planned to go. "When you're at the cutting edge of what you're doing, you're not going to hit your objective most of the time. I love that," he explains. "To me the objective is the cherry on top of the pie. I'm more interested in the pie."

Yoga in the Coorong, Sth Australia
5. He meditates - with a gun. To keep himself physically and mentally in tune, he does yoga every day and meditates in the bush surrounding his property, often with a gun by his side so he can return home with dinner (perhaps a feral rabbit) as well as a clear mind.

6. Short trips are good too. You might think an extreme adventurer would sniff at a day trip or a "weekend escape" but Jon loves them. So while he and Suzy have done plenty of epics together, they also love weekends away, for the chance to be playful and try things you could never do on a long trip.

7. He has 76 chickens. An "empire" rather than a flock, he says. They provide him and Suzy with meat, eggs, chicken poo for the vegetable garden and hours of entertainment. His prize rooster is Enzo the Magnificent and apparently quite the gentleman, often finding worms for the hens.

8. Solar batteries are optional. Who knew? When Jon and Suzy took over their property, Inanna, it had an ageing solar battery system that soon konked out. In the spirit of adventure, they decided to see if they really needed batteries so for 18 months used electricity only when the sun was shining and spent their nights by candlelight. That'll get you in tune with nature's rhythms.

Big-sky-mind adventures
9. Adventure is all about psychology. People think it's all about physical strength and endurance, Jon says, but it's more about inner strength, attitude, maturity and a whole lot of other stuff, whether you're adventuring alone or with others.

During question time after his talk, thinking about all the trips Jon and Suzy have done together, I asked if he had any tips for adventuring as a couple. Know each other's strengths, he said, listen to each other (and have regular "councils" using a "talking stick") and take turns taking the lead.

Inspiration, a window on an epic life AND relationship advice from one of the world's great modern-day adventurers, what more could you hope for from a 2-hour talk? Maybe a few last words. For Jon, life is "just a series of moments" and "having a go IS success".

Big thanks to World Expeditions for hosting me at this event. The new 5-day "Off The Grid with Jon and Suzy Muir" sustainable farmstays in western Victoria are on 16-20 March and 2-6 November 2019 and will be an amazing hands-on way to learn some real life skills from Jon and permaculture guru Suzy - natural building, organic farming, aquaculture, energy harvesting, sustainable food systems, bush tucker and more.

There's also a doco about the couple, Suzy and the Simple Man, released late last year. You can watch the trailer here.