An inspiring journey throughout South Australia

One South Australian family is currently winding their way through the Clare Valley and inspiring everyone they come across on their way to Adelaide.

Travis Saunders and Fiona Churchman have been riding along the Mawson Trial with their severely autistic eight-year-old son Patrick, affectionately known as Patch, on a journey of education, inspiration and awareness.

Patch was diagnosed with autism at 21 months old.

He communicates non-verbally, which has resulted in the Saunders family moving states several times from the Northern Territory to South Australia and to New South Wales in order to give him the best possible support they could.

In 2016, the trio traveled to the United States and set out on a three month cross-country cycling trek from Washington State to Washington DC.

The goal was to teach Patch to believe in himself, show him that anything is possible and to provide him with a community environment.

Once they got home on Australian soil, Travis began developing an idea to set out on another long distance journey and create an educational documentary complete with footage from the original trip through the States.

It was not until a chance meeting in a dog park with Adelaide filmmaker Sean Austin that the project really took off, and the Mawson Trail was pinpointed as the ideal location.

The crew departed from Blinman in the Flinders Ranges on October 13 and are now 13 days into their journey.

Arriving in Clare on Monday afternoon, Travis said it has been a challenging but rewarding trek so far.

“It has been really, really challenging and really tough, a lot tougher than anything we did in the States,” he said.

“Bare in mind we crossed the Northern Cascades and the Rocky Mountains and the Mawson Trail is actually tougher because it is off road and there is steeper inclines as well.

“As a journey it has been an incredible experience so far and certainly different travelling with a film crew, but in terms of our relationship with our son it enables us to teach him on the road and offer a curriculum that cannot be offered in schools.”

It has not been all smooth sailing for the crew during this journey.

Originally there had been a Kickstarter fund set up to generate funds for production, however the goal of $100,000 was not met.

That did not stop the documentary from going ahead though, as the film crew made the decision to work on the project for free.

There has been six members of the crew volunteering their time to make the project happen, including Sean’s father.

Despite all the limitations from a small budget and the various challenges that have crossed their path, Sean said it has been such a rewarding experience.

“With all the challenges it provides opportunity to learn as well,” he said, “it has been so rewarding in so many ways, it just keeps giving.

“It has been a learning process for everyone, certainly for all of us learning about autism and even learning about parenting, these guys are awesome.”

The crew will be traveling through the Barossa Valley and the Adelaide Hills over the next few weeks before finishing up the 900 kilometre journey at Adelaide Oval.

The post-production part of the documentary could take up to a year to complete.

Travis and Sean plan on showing the finished product in schools and at film festivals with aims to take it as high as it can possibly go.

Travis said he hoped the documentary would help the public develop a better understanding of autism after viewing the project. 

The Saunders family’s progress can be tracked in real time here.