Completing the first ever circumnavigation of the world by flying boat has earned a Williamstown man the accolade of ‘Adventurer of the Year’.
Michael Smith, owner of Yarraville’s Sun Theatre, will accept the Australian Geographic Society (AGS) award at a glittering ceremony in Sydney on Thursday night.
The prestigious event acknowledges the year’s most remarkable Australians in the fields of adventure and conservation, this year featuring special guest speaker and legendary conservationist Dr David Suzuki.
Mr Smith last year realised a decade-long dream by completing a six-month solo journey around the globe in his Searey amphibious aircraft, Southern Sun.
The journey began as a quest to retrace the Qantas Empire Flying Boat route of 1938 from Sydney to London.
From London, Smith’s wife Anne encouraged him to continue around the globe, a decision that threatened to turn to tragedy during a storm approaching the western coast of Canada.
But Mr Smith returned safely and says the interest in his journey and the Adventurer of the Year honour has been entirely unexpected.
“It has been pretty amazing, I was actually genuinely shocked,” he said.
“I didn’t really see what I was doing in that frame. Most people announce they are going to do this sort of thing, I literally just decided to do it.”
Involving 480 hours of flying, the 210-day journey took in 80 stops across 25 countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, England and the US.
Mr Smith said one of the most memorable periods of the trip was the unplanned three weeks he spent on Adak, a tiny community in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska where he was stranded while waiting for weather suitable for the gruelling 23-hour trip to reach Japan.
“It was such a bizarre place, there were only 100 people living there amid the ruins of what was one a 3500 person town around a naval base,” he said.
“I spent a lot of time taking long walks, just going around and meeting people along the way, it has been a really strong memory.”
The eye-opening trip has given Mr Smith a greater sense of optimism in humanity and a realisation that people around the world share many of the same values and hopes.
“If I have an overall take-away around this it’s the generosity of strangers,” he said.
“The evening news may have us convinced the world is an unsafe place, but no matter where I went people bent over backwards to help.
“The average person on the street just wants to feed their family, wants to give their children a better education and opportunity than they had, and actually cares about their local community.”
Mr Smith has also returned with a stronger sense that Melbourne’s inner-west is a special place with a vitality and community spirit worth embracing.
“There have been a few spontaneous community things in Yarraville this year, like Quentin Tarantino coming to the Sun Theatre in January and screening the Grand Final in front of the theatre and having over 1000 people come together there, that have really made me realise the sense of community we have here.”
The epic trip will soon be featured in a documentary, tracing the journey from its beginnings and featuring Mr Smith’s reflections upon the grand adventure.
“I filmed quite a bit from the plane, we have got some beautiful footage,” said.
“I never turned the camera on myself so we have made it an interview-based documentary.”
Further details: Southern Sun on Facebook