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Over 8 years ago, Rich East left his old life behind in Hobart, Tasmania to travel around Australia with his cat, Willow, in their self-built campervan. Since then they have visited every state and covered countless kilometres on their heartwarming tale of adventure, but it wasn’t until he met Steph in Perth in 2016 that he could begin to call his life complete.
In 2015, Rich gave up a promising career in IT, sold his house and all his belongings to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
‘I was depressed and could see my mental health declining, so I knew I had to make a change, and what I came up with was to put my life into a campervan and travel for a while,’ Rich said.
‘It was months and months of research and organising before I was ready to hit the road. I like to call it the world’s most well planned mid-life crisis. The only problem was that I had made a promise to look after Willow. It felt crazy but I knew I had to take her with me.’
Rich has no regrets in making that choice as he looks back on their remarkable journey together and the friendship they forged.
‘It was beautiful to see Willow thrive on the road, seeing her roll around in the desert sand, seeing her enjoying the experience as much as I did,’ Rich said.
‘That was over 8 years ago, and although we have rented for short periods, we have mostly been out exploring the wilds of Australia. We have seen the Great Barrier Reef, the tropical savannahs of northern Australia, the wildflowers of Western Australia, and many a forest in between.’
Rich wasn’t sure what he was looking for when he headed out on the road all those years ago but said that things started to make sense when he met Stephanie Dury in 2016, although at first, Willow wasn’t so sure.
‘Steph was on a working holiday visa from the UK and although our paths were undetermined, I invited her to travel with Willow and I for a couple of months,’ Rich said.
The rest is history with the pair soon falling in love. However, their futures together remained undecided until a moonlit evening at Rainbow Beach, Queensland 3 years later when Rich popped the question. Not ones to do things the conventional way, the two were married on their stand-up paddle board amongst the water lilies on a Brisbane reservoir.
‘We returned to Hobart, and I guess people were expecting us to settle down, but we had bigger plans,’ Rich said.
Rich found work at a local cat shelter which happened to be the same shelter Willow was adopted from all those years ago.
‘I was helping out with their marketing and fundraising activities which involved a fair bit of my IT knowledge. It was sort of an “aha” moment when I realised a career didn’t have to be what I thought it was,’ Rich said.
‘I realised I could use those skills to help animal welfare organisations across the country.’
Now the inseparable three have left Hobart on a new adventure around Australia in their tiny home on wheels.
‘Like anything, living in a small space together requires a lot of trust and communication, and that goes for Willow too,’ Rich said.
‘We have to be in tune with how Willow’s feeling to make sure all her needs are met.’
Inside their campervan Willow has a vented litter box, access to her food and water, and of course a stockpile of cat treats at the ready. Willow has a choice of naps spots to choose from throughout the day, but at night she can be found snuggling up on either Rich or Steph’s legs.
‘Willow’s living situation is unusual, but that doesn’t stop her from doing all the usual cat things like stealing our seats when we get up or scratching everywhere but her scratching post,’ Rich said.
‘When I tried to count how far we’ve been I lost count at 100,000km. But over 8 years, that’s not actually that far. We like to go slow and really enjoy our time together. Over a week, we rarely travel more than 350km.’
‘Cats have this innate ability of teaching us how to live in the moment. I think that’s their greatest gift to us. I’m not really sure what the meaning of life is but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with spending more time with our pets.’
‘We don’t really know what the future holds for us, but I know that the three of us will be together,’ Rich said.
‘For me, Willow is that once in a lifetime cat. From the depths of depression to building this new life on the road exploring Australia and helping other cats, she’s been with me every step of the way and I’m so grateful for everything she’s given me.’
Rich shares his adventures with Steph and Willow on their website www.vancatmeow.com
Right now, the three are currently exploring outback SA on their way through to Exmouth, Western Australia.
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