Inspiring Alumni - Kimberley Wallace - Outward Bound

Inspiring Alumni - Kimberley Wallace

Inspirational, Life after OB

We catch up with alumni Billy Wallace whose life choices have been defined by her 21 day OB journey in 1995. Home for Billy is currently on Macquarie Island where she works for the Australian Antarctic Division as a Survival Training Instructor. She shares the highlights of life on a sub-antarctic island in winter!!

Can you please share with us a little bit about your OB experience – when you attended, highlight, lowlight, and if it influenced your life pathway in any way?

Hi there! So I was 19 or so when I attended OB way back in 1995. I was already really interested and involved in the outdoors by this stage. I remember there was a sponsorship for women to go to OB opportunity in a cereal box and I thought I would apply and go for it. I got it!!! I still remember arriving to discover that everyone seemingly on the course was there for a major reason, they all hoped the course would help change their direction in life or help to solve some issues or answer some questions. 

For me I was just interested in the outdoors and didn’t think the course would affect me in any dramatic way. Well turns out I was wrong! Looking back now I realise it was possibly the most pivotal event for me that has led to the role I am in today and the life I live. 

For me, the biggest takeaway from OB was seeing the work the instructors did and realising this was the life I wanted to live. I felt fit and healthy and good being there. I loved how the course allowed people to reflect on their lives and to realise strengths they didn’t even know they had.

What aspects of the Outward Bound philosophy do you still draw on in your life today?

As someone who had a background in the outdoors (I grew up camping from a young age) I found all the tramping and camping stuff pretty easy and fun but was super surprised when I went onto the high ropes course how absolutely scared witless I was. I still remember some of the folk in my group that had really struggled with stuff I found easy would be swinging around having a whale of a time whilst I stood on a platform crying.

It was those folk that encouraged me to get through that. They were strong when I wasn’t. To realise everyone has strength in them, we can overcome obstacles if we have the right support and belief, and if you can combine people’s different strengths as a team there is nothing that cannot be done.

Billy Wallace

Billy's watch - Hathorne 374

You’ve worked for Hillary Outdoors, World Challenge and numerous search and rescue organisations. What role do you think outdoor education plays in developing our rangatahi to be resilient members of society?

There is something so grounding about partaking in challenges whilst in the outdoors. It is such an amazing medium to really distill down what really matters, get rid of the noise that we fill our heads with sometimes. Get rid of the TV, get rid of social media, get rid of cell phone and Wi-Fi reception for a while. 

I think mental health is a huge issue for all of us, and in the outdoors life can be distilled down to the basics, food, drink, warmth, shelter, support of good friends. When the ‘noise’ of society is taken away it becomes clear that these simple things are the most important.

Not what we look like, who we think likes us or not, politics within family or school life. Outdoor education is so powerful in part because the lessons are sometimes so subtle that younger folk especially don’t feel like they are being forced to learn stuff. It’s about the soft skills, the human interactions.  By being challenged in the outdoors, without even realising it people are learning skills and strengths that can be transferred into their ‘real’ lives.

Can you tell us what a normal day looks like for you as a survival training instructor on Macquarie Island?

Well, firstly Macquarie Island is halfway between NZ and Antarctica but is owned by the Australians who I work for when I am not in NZ. 

Macca as it is affectionately known is what I would call a ‘big little island’! It is only 35 km long and only 5km wide but it is super exposed to the furious 50’s (the latitude we are in) weather.

Strong winds, rain, and cloud are fairly commonplace here, but that is all worth it for the fabulous wildlife and the amazing walking around the island we can all do.

So back to the question, my main role here is to make sure everyone is trained in skills they need to stay safe when they are out and about on the Island. There are 6 huts on the island and people can go to these huts for work or recreation. My job is to train folk to stay warm, dry and safe when they walking across the island. I will teach people how to read maps, use GPS, radios, what clothing works best in bad weather, what to do if something goes wrong, how to not get lost! And what to do if you do get lost!

As there are only 16 of us on the island (Station leader doctor, chef, plumber, carpenters, electricians, mechanic, weather forecaster, coms technicians and wildlife rangers) we are all our own fire team and Search and Rescue team. I teach everyone SAR skills in case we need to rescue one of our team that has hurt themselves when they are ‘down island’ so if we had to put someone in a stretcher and get them up or down a slope how do we do this with ropes to make it safer.

My other job is to be the store's caretaker for the year. I get to drive forklifts around and manage any cargo that comes down and gear that needs to go back! Too much fun!

Billy on Macca

Macca search and rescue training

What has been a wildlife encounter highlight for you since you’ve been on the island?

This island is truly amazing when it comes to wildlife. 5 different types of penguins, seals and sea lions, albatross and birds called Giant Petrels. It is David Attenborough on steroids it really is. Living here is like living in a wildlife documentary. 

One amazing moment was when myself, chef and the doctor were watching a pod of orca (we get heaps around here) not far off the coastline, when all of a sudden one jumped completely (Like I mean right out) out of the water like a dolphin, we all squealed at once!!!!

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen! It wasn’t until later in the day that I realised the Doctor had managed to capture this moment in a photo! Thank goodness as no one would have believed us!

If you weren’t involved in search and rescue and mountaineering, what else would you see yourself doing?

It is interesting, I keep asking myself what I might like to do next. I think it would be something to do with people. I get a huge kick out of helping motivate people (especially young women) to realise there are so many amazing things we can do.

Growing up it was not until I got to university that I started to meet amazing women getting out and doing things.

I really believe ‘if you can see it you can be it’, so if in any way I can act as a role model to show other women, young or old, some of the opportunities that are out there then that is great.

And who knows I may continue to do this kind of work for as long as I can, as part of me feels like I have hit the jackpot! 

So a massive thanks to Outward Bound for being a gateway to this world I now find myself in. So important for places like these to exist so that our youth have opportunities to learn about themselves and others through the medium of the outdoors.

Map training with Billy

Orca off the coast of Macca