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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
He’s paddled a sea kayak solo for thousands of kilometres along remote coastlines. But perhaps his greatest challenges have involved crossing Australia’s deserts alone, without resupply or external support. Combine all this and you have one of the most extraordinarily versatile adventurers on the planet.
Muir was born in Wollongong in 1961 and grew up in the shadow of Mount Keira, south of Sydney. Here he became obsessed with rock-climbing and mountaineering, and after seeing a documentary on Mount Everest dropped out of Fig Tree High School two years early to pursue climbing full time.
Rock-climbing in Australia was followed by alpine climbing in New Zealand and the European Alps, then Himalayan expeditions, including two attempts on Everest. Eleven years passed before he was to stand on the world’s highest summit, alone. Although attached to the Australian Bicentennial Everest Expedition, Jon had climbed without Sherpa support – a first for any Westerner.
He would apply a similar philosophy to polar exploration, reaching the South Pole in 1999 and the North Pole (from Siberia) in 2002, without huskies or mechanised support. And just when many Australians were looking overseas in search of adventure, Muir was rediscovering Australia, especially its deserts and remote coastlines.
Whether it was trekking across a dry Lake Eyre, paddling the coast of Cape York or making his first three attempts to cross Australia solo and unsupported, Muir strived for simplicity, to put as little between the landscape and himself. He became adept at finding water, hunting and locating bush tucker.
In 2001 he made the first-ever unassisted crossing of Australia from Port Augusta (SA) to Burketown (Qld), covering 2500 kilometres in 128 days. Accompanying him was his trusted Jack Russell, Seraphine, who sadly died after taking a bait, just as they approached ‘civilisation’.
In 2007, Muir completed a solo walk to the geographic centre of Australia, an expedition he rates as harder than his continental crossing. In August 2015 he was out again, this time attempting to make the first unsupported crossing of the Gibson and Little Sandy deserts in Western Australia.
Jon Muir has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to mountaineering, a Centenary Medal and the Australian Geographic Society’s Adventurer of the Year.
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