This book really fits this time of restriction and confinement, a time to pay attention to inner realities. Liz Byron is hoping that trekking 2,500 kilometres will make her a better, stronger person. The destination on the map is never the reason for the preparations, planning and progress she undertakes as she travels south along the Great Dividing Range. She is on her way to a place inside herself where peacefulness dwells with its friends – awareness and acceptance.
Her struggles, fears and dreams are the travelling companions, alongside her deeply loved donkeys. They are present in the midst of her efforts to complete the many physical tasks that give her the space to explore her inner terrain.
The reader sees Liz’s reflective, inquiring mind working in all the natural rhythms of resting, rising, loading, walking, feeding, settling. This repeated cycle is the sanctuary that grounds her in the trek she is experiencing and frees her to range over what has happened to her. What she makes of her life, lived in the shadows of intergenerational abuse, tragedy and desperate unhappiness is a testament to the mystery of forgiveness of others and of oneself.
Learning about the total strangers who support Liz as she walks through one of Central Queensland’s worst droughts is a heart-warming and joyous experience. They affirm for us the life-giving power of our shared humanity as, so often, the right person for that exact moment happens along. This is especially so in those times when the end of the donkey’s tether has been reached. After a nasty slip on metal stairs that badly hurts her ribs, Liz is greeted at a gate by one of these strangers with, “How are you feeling?” (rather than the usual “G’day”). Liz feels invited to say, “Terrible”, and the chance for helpful sympathy opens up.
Another such is the meeting with Paul. Flustered and bothered, Paul is failing to make headway in writing terms for going into partnership with a friend. Liz’s need for a camping spot is amply reimbursed when her legal background sorts Paul’s problem sweetly. His almost disbelieving relief at such a timely solution for something beyond his usual male capability is delightful. Even better though is Liz’s meeting with Neil and his hitherto estranged son, Dennis – not to be spoiled by a mere summary here though.
But always rippling along on the surface of her deeper currents are the donkeys’ extraordinary gifts to Liz. The “look, just a look”, the donkeys give ferocious guard dogs who then back off and slink back to their homes is a study in the dignified power of donkeys. And the loading saga at the beginning of the book with the supremely confident horse handler is in a comedy class all of its own.
This is a book I did not want to end. Indeed, I can see myself returning to it for its balm and sense of truth over the times to come. It covers territory as memorable for itself as the varied characters who inhabit it, especially the indomitable soul of the author.
Peter Hume, July 2020
Firstly, thank you for the opportunity to read your book prior to publication. It was a unique experience for our Book Club and was most appreciated.
I was fully engaged in your journey from the start. You led us most skilfully from place to place in your life as well as on the trail.
You reacquainted us with the rigours of this land and we were shocked to learn of the treatment of country working dogs and (not for the first time) tales of the wanton ripping of trees from this fragile land. Thankfully, your journey balanced this out with the kindnesses and generosity shown you and your donkeys along the way.
There is no doubt we will all want to have the acquaintance of a donkey or three in time to come, particularly as you have given us an unforgettable introduction to the various aspects of their personalities, their innate initiative and patience. And we will not forget how loyal they were to you and your well being. Perhaps we should not be surprised by the deep connection that develops twixt ourselves and the animals we take to heart, however I think it’s appropriate that we are.
Your remembrance of your childhood terrors were sadly all too real and our hearts went out to you. My husband listened quietly as I read this excerpt to him by way of increasing his understanding of the possible depth of memories recalled from long ago. And mentioning it to a friend brought a moment for her to reveal her own family’s experience.
I truly believe your readership will be broad, in keeping with the subjects you touch upon.
Thank you again, most sincerely, and every best wish.
Thellie Ferris, Book Club Member, November 2018
I wanted to write to you after having been given the opportunity to read your manuscript and share my thoughts with you.
I truly couldn't wait to get back to reading about your journey which is why it only took me 2 days to complete it.
Your writing was so pleasant and smooth to read, despite introducing some tragic experiences you have lived through. I felt that you approached these with such honesty and rawness without it creating too heavy a feeling in the reader.
I was hooked by your reverence and love for your 2 four legged friends. Their journey with you was such a sweet part of the story and gave me a beautiful introduction to their true natures, rather than the old sayings about them simply being 'stubborn mules'. I am now excited to get to know some personally one day.
You showed such grit and determination to find your way back to yourself in the most amazing way. It could easily have been a fortnight or a month long retreat but you prepared yourself for something that would open your mind and heart on a daily basis over an enormous 6 months solo trek.
You are an inspiration Liz and I am hoping to persuade my Book Club to take this as book for our September reading.
Rae-Lee Diamond, August 2018
Thank you so much for the privilege of reading your enthralling book. I did read it in two sessions, the first portion before Christmas and was so enthused by your preparations and anticipation of your trip that I almost wished I was going with you (almost...).
Then after the chaos that is Christmas I was able to continue with your journey with you. I felt privileged to be allowed into such a personal story of your life and so relieved when you came through it all to the completion, through the drought, distance and heat and also through the trauma in your life and to ‘a better place’.
I hope you are now happy and contented. I am in my life. I have seven donkeys and you know how calm, loving and grounding they are. They are a joy in my life.
Dianne Walmsley, February 2019
I am humbled reading your manuscript. It has been an emotional ride, which I wasn’t entirely prepared for. I initially sat down to start the manuscript, to read just a few pages, and I honestly couldn’t put it down. It puts "Wild" to shame. It has been an agonising read, but at the same time it is an ‘easy’ read. You have a wonderful writing style and you weave your ‘past narratives’ in through the walking journey with an expert skill.
My heart broke reading about your son; and your many other sorrows. How you endured it and got through it all is beyond me. I have two young children and it reminds me to hold them close, and closer still.
I am currently on page 116, and I have been captivated the whole way through.
I sincerely hope that your manuscript finds a publishing place and look forward to chatting further.
Kit Carstairs (Editor, The Manuscript Agency), February 2018
I am a bit of a slow reader and have not finished yet but wanted to let you know I am totally loving this book. I am a wee bit jealous of all that you have achieved both personally and physically!!! Super woman. You so need for it to be published into a proper book. Love it. Awesome story of your journey. Thank you so much for sharing. I have people lined up after me to read it already as all the donkey people I know are wanting to read it too.
Good luck in the hope of getting it published into a book form.
Elizabeth, November 2018
Hi Liz, have read 'the only way home', it's a great read, your story told your way, again it's great. Best wishes getting published. When you do, let me know, I would like to get a copy.
Steve, October 2018
I have finished reading your book. WOW!!! it was a roller coaster of emotions and amazing and very courageous of you to put it all down in the book. I was not expecting what I read. The way you interweaved your story with the donkey trek was well done. But most importantly I loved reading about [donkeys] Grace and Charley and the way you told their story.
It was quite harrowing at times and I got quite angry at one stage but that’s what happens reading a well written book. Thank you for sending it to me.
Linda, September 2018
If you like donkeys and you like a good read, Australian author Liz Byron has written a page-turner you’ll want to get hold of. ‘The Only Way Home’ is a reflection of Liz’s life experiences with and without donkeys. It’s a beautifully written plot that resonates with many.
Chris Thelander, September 2018
Thank you very much for sharing your story with me. I finished reading your story last week. I felt as though I had just come back from an expedition through the landscapes of rural QLD. I even googled the locations whilst reading the story. I am from Singapore and realised how little I knew about Australian geography and the people of rural Australia.
There is a quote I love: "you can’t hone a soft heart without tempering by human affairs”. I used to wonder what it meant to have a “soft heart”, because I knew deep down it wasn’t about feeling weakened or vulnerable from all the life experiences. Later I came to realise that a soft heart in this context means “yuan rong” in Chinese. Yuan meaning a circle or completeness and Rong meaning to accommodate. To sum it up it is to be considerate and accommodating, and tie off all loose ends in a peaceful manner. This is how I felt after reading your story.
Someone I greatly respect once said: “the greatest miracle of the 21st century is self-discovery”. This is something I would like to share with you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you can find meaning in it. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I am limited to helping people relieve physical pain and illness, but the one thing I cannot treat is the pain from the heart and soul. To treat that, requires the power of wisdom and truth.
Kaylin, September 2018
Thank you for sending "The Only Way Home". Attached is my husband’s response to your story. I thoroughly enjoyed it too. If you are ever down our way (East Gippsland) you are welcome to stay, with donkey hugs mandatory.
Judy Wright, November 2018
I wanted to send you a message to say I have finished your wonderful book. A book full of so many emotions, experiences and life. You should be extremely proud of "The Only Way Home". Congratulations on completing a book so full of passion, beauty, sadness, inspiration and more.
Jules Ferranato, September 2020
I’m up to page 88 and wanted to thank you for the privilege of reading your story of discovery.
It is wonderfully written, and I am enjoying the unfurling adventure/journey.
Bunkie, July 2017
I loved the book. Beautifully written it breathes. Every chapter began with the feeling of a deep calm breath and a sense of peace. I can’t tell you why - I don’t know.
Thank you for sending it to me. I’m sure many people will love reading it…
I am an avid reader, usually a book a week. I have just put down "Only Way Home" - having read it twice. I had to read it twice for two reasons: one because of its depth and two, because I have two hats. The first is my professional hat being that of a Human Resources Manager for a large law firm. We are always on the look-out for reading for our legal practitioners, particularly those that will build the elusive "soft skills" essential to modern practice. Your journey book is an example of a gruelling adventure entwined with a message of carefully planned escape, compassion for innocence, inner reflection and eventually, self-acceptance. Unlike an exclusively "adventure" book, or merely a "self-help" book, it will be well read.
My second hat is that of a parent. Your acute insight into the life of rural Australia as a visitor - particularly in drought-stricken Queensland - enabled me to reflect on the strength it takes to overcome my own unhealed childhood trauma to put my children's needs ahead of my own. Naturally the most heart-felt scenes are those with the animals; your tender, often funny recall of the journey's most dangerous or unexpected events made me laugh and cry.
I'm convinced this book will also make an excellent audio-book, with both the trek journey and your past - often traumatic or tragic - interwoven with great skill. The dialogue fairly jumps out of the page, especially those awful station dinners! I wish you every success with its broader publication
Jane Oliver, December 2018
Jacqueline from our Book Club wanted me to pass on her feedback but doesn’t have time to write it herself. What she said was… I thoroughly enjoyed reading Liz's book and particularly the way the two stories intertwined [the trek story and the back story]. Liz's way with words and descriptive verse made her story flow beautifully. I felt as though I was on that trek with her, like I was actually there. I was impressed at the immense forethought that she put into the whole trip, with meal plans and having exact quantities of supplies sent ahead at precise locations.
It can't have been easy for her, as a vegetarian, to end her day at a cattle station and be offered a roast beef dinner. She handled these situations with such grace and appreciation. Her ability to recognise her need for assistance only added to her all too human side. This human side was very much in evidence in her reaction to the handling of station dogs.
Her recall and descriptions of the many places she travelled to were wonderful and she showed such honesty in telling her story. It shone through brightly, as did her love, dedication, communication and caring of her donkeys. It was touching and showed her loving and nurturing side making it clear that she did what she had to just to survive the multitude of tough times during her life. It would be wonderful to have a photo of Liz and the two donkeys taken at a distance from behind included in the book. It would show she is heading in the right direction, in life and on the trek. It would allow one to see the deep connection between Liz the donkeys.
R, Book Club Member, November 2018
I presented your book "The Only Way Home" to my Wingham (NSW) Book Club of 10 members as our book for the month of September and had to let you know what a positive response they had! Everyone in the group enjoyed the story immensely and really loved your writing. They were so impressed with the way you wove your background story into it, just perfectly. Not too heavy not to light. They were all amazed at the tremendous journey you undertook late in life, how the strength of your character shines through and your openness and honesty blew them away.
Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to dive into such a soul-stirring and lionhearted Australian story by a heroic 'sister' .. we truly hope to meet you in person one day soon.
Rae-Lee, September 2018
I have to thank you so much for a chance to preview your book. Indeed I was so delighted to read a wonderful story I passed it on to my 97 year old mother-in-law because she would have delighted in your gems about the country people you met along the Trail. She declared it a very good read.
As a neighbour, I was always intrigued by your gentle donkeys when you moved into the cottage at the front of our valley. Your book exposed to me what a champion donkey little Charley was. Her journeys with you were of biblical proportions. Perhaps that was why I always thought of that perennial Christmas favourite "The Small One" whenever we passed your place.
Charley's journey with you down 2500 kms of the Bicentennial Trail I discovered was paralleled by your own giant human journeys through life.
Your honesty in facing your demons to emerge as the woman who became our neighbour makes this book an outstanding contribution both to men who can learn about the "new womanhood" and to women looking at a strong "sister".
Most amazingly, you have woven the "warp" of your journey through being a strong woman with the "weft" of the physical journey down the Australian Great Dividing Range to produce a tapestry with a powerful character. Especially, in your facing some tragedies of motherhood that most families would dread, you have turned them into highlights in the tapestry that must help us all in our own life journeys as we too explore the question of which way is home.
Thanks for the privilege.
Jim Monro, November 2018
This fairly short book is the story of one woman's journey, both physical and emotional, as she treks through Australia with 2 donkeys as her companions whilst she mentally develops to prepare herself for her new life as a soon-to-be-separated woman. Initially, Liz has no knowledge of donkeys and their behaviour, but she works with them, getting to know them, their personalities and how they think and react.
The development of their bond is fascinating and her recording of their interactions and how the donkeys behave is insightful and shows someone who has truly spent a great deal of time with donkeys, gained their trust (and she in them!) and developed a deep understanding of them.
The trek itself is across varied terrain, and a natural environment foreign to me, but the descriptions of the countryside and the people encountered brought it all to life. There were trials and tribulations along the way, with issues for both Liz and her donkeys, but that just goes to show that plans can go awry and need re-thinking.
Overall, I found this a good short read, and enjoyed the insights into donkey thinking and the bond that develops between them and "their" human.
Carole, Reader Review, Donkey Breed Magazine (UK)
I must admit I was surprised to receive this in the mail as my wife (Judy) had not told me it would be arriving. We are members of the Donkey Society of Victoria and receive the Donkey Digest which shows our two littluns on page 12 (Plonka and Wonka).
Your book arrived at a good time as I had just come out of hospital following a hernia operation. This also coincided with my resignation at work (we both work with Offenders / Prisoners – Judy in Parole and myself in a Prison) as I had an awakening (more of a slap in the face) at a recent Card Reading. Your book amplified a number of “to do’s” in my life and it appears my need to run away wasn’t going to fly!
So, what was I expecting? Judy tells me this is a book about trekking with donkeys. OK, cool. This is something I have wanted to do and no doubt I can use this to help identify packing issues, do’s & don’ts, survival tips etc. We now have two ideal donkeys’, (Donnie and Jindi – came across from Helen at Laura, SA) with which I can begin training and a state forest down the road to prepare physically. I am also pencilled in for a pack-saddle workshop at the end of November and an encounter with an old friend (who recently purchased a pack saddle outfit) would suggest the moons are aligned. And your book arrived a day before our first bushwalk with the two donkeys.
Sorry if I jump back and forth. Judy and I are fortunate that we can open our house yard at times and allow the horses (a paint quarterhorse and a palomino appaloosa) and the four donkeys to explore while we sit on the veranda watching their antics. We have a long driveway to the front gate, heaps of trees and some very nice “roll” areas. For the donkeys this is more about rubbing against trees, running up and down the driveway and pretty much misbehaving while for the horses it’s about fresh pick. This spot is where I begin to read.
I’ll be honest. I started reading and began taking notes – as though I was doing a book report. I was also looking up at our guys thinking “Yes, I could do that” which seemed a distraction. I became hooked and found this to be an easy read, motivated by finding out what problems would arise next and a need to detail areas of concern. My initial notes were somewhat odd, and I smile now looking at them. They seem trivial and detailed the following comments: personal history integrated in chapter, 4km’s an hour, one tethered other doesn’t stray, balanced packs – carry day’s consumables, routines & priorities.
I’m not sure where I stopped. Stopped taking notes and just kept on reading. It won’t be odd to my wife when or if she reads this that I think I was picking out the pieces that I needed to make my trek workable. When I say pieces, I guess I’m saying am I mentally ready to go trekking. And then you go and mention Meditation. I have been told (by so many card readers) my head is full, way too many thoughts, always trying to plan the logistics, work out the finer details. I need to clear my mind. Try not to control the things I have no control over. Just try to enjoy the moment. Why I struggle to take this path is beyond me but somewhere down the line I’m going to have to master this before moving forward. I haven’t told her yet that you meditate as it will surely result in a “I told you so”.
So, your book has now left me the question – why do I want to do a trek? I do miss those times I have enjoyed bushwalking, even the years I spent in the army marching with full kit 40kms a day… I catch myself thinking back to what I enjoyed doing and wonder how things went astray. I think my idea to go trekking is to fill up the packs and return with “less baggage”. Maybe I can drop stuff along the trail and return refreshed and wiser! You highlight so many issues that I know will struggle with, especially relating to people in general. As the car sticker says, “the more people I meet the more I like my dog”. (I don’t have a dog by the way) Reading your book has only brought the question to the surface and I guess I have no true answer. Maybe I’m not ready.
Thank you again for “The Only Way Home”. I found it timely.
John Wright, November 2018
Yes I received the book [two days ago], and finished reading it yesterday, it was quite compelling reading and I kept wanting to keep reading more to see what happened next. It is very well written, a nice style with a little bit of the BNT and then relating that to past events in your life. This must have been very difficult for you to put into print and bare you soul and all your past traumas, but it is important for all of us to understand that our past makes us what we are today. The book is very thought-provoking. I very much admire you for being able to write a book such as this and putting in such an effort to do so.
I am glad that you experienced the wonderful spirit and generosity of the country folk. It is something that unfortunately less and less Australians who only know the cities are aware of. The section of the BNT that we trekked started where yours finished (Mt Perry). We didn’t need very much help along the way at all, but we did meet a lot of lovely people. The experience of spending eight weeks in the Queensland bush, taking in some of its history and way of life was a very positive thing for us. As was spending this time with our two donkeys, and walking at their pace. We came across so many people who wanted to come and talk to us about what we were doing and to meet the donkeys. There were the occasional ones who just couldn’t understand it, but most thought that what we were doing was a great thing and would love to be able to have the chance to do something like this themselves.
I am very glad that I have read your book, and I hope you will be able to successfully publish it. Thank you for making it available to our Donkey Digest readers. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. It would be lovely to catch up with you if you are in our area. We are near Boonah.
Julia Byatte, Secretary - Donkey Society of Queensland, October 2018
I just wanted to put my two cents in. I’ve just had a read of Liz’s manuscript and I found it absolutely captivating, and heartbreaking. Liz balances her walking narrative with her ‘historical sorrows’ (to put it lightly) with great skill, and foreshadows events so well that we know to expect something, but not what it is until it bowls us over. It was such an emotional ride, one that I really wasn’t prepared for. As I said to Liz, I initially sat down to start the manuscript, to read just a few pages, and I honestly couldn’t put it down. It puts Wild to shame.
I sincerely hope you have the time to give it a read, it deserves to see the light of day.
Kit Carstairs (Editor, The Manuscript Agency), February