From the North Pole to the South, and into the skies: a woman for the record books

Linda Beilharz at the South Pole. Picture: icecapjourneys.com.au
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Linda Beilharz's fantastic adventures are a gift to the world's budding dream-chasers. Matilda Schier talks to an ice legend.

Few people can claim to have trekked to both the North and South poles. Very few can claim to be the first woman from their nation. 

Extraordinarily, these feats aren’t even the most important of Linda Beilharz’s incredible snow-capped, sky-scraping, philanthropical life journey.  

Immersed in hundreds of chilling nights, with temperatures dropping to -38°C, Beilharz, 62, has spent large chunks of her life trekking enormous chunks of ice. 

Requiring swimming in survival suits, extensive circumnavigation and incredible willpower, she is no stranger to the merciless magnificence of the elements.  

She now works in Central Victoria as a chief flying instructor, sustainability educator and women’s health executive officer. Beilharz spends her days giving back to the public, the environment she cherishes and younger generations of explorers.

From the North Pole to the South, and into the skies: a woman for the record books
Linda Beilharz heading for the pole.  Picture Linda Beilharz / The Australian Museum. 

Beilharz’s visions of voyaging the poles and the Greenland and South Patagonian icecaps were sparked when she mountaineered with like-minded buccaneers. 

The camp-fire conversations were about venturing somewhere so remote “you would never hear unless you’re among it”, says Beilharz.

Inspired by these tales, Beilharz became the first Australian woman to ski 1100km from Antarctica’s edge to the South Pole in December 2004 – without realising she was entering the record books.

She says:

Gender doesn’t need to make a difference, though we are limited by our gender expectations.

She read stories of expeditions with little female representation, and says she learned from being among women in the outdoors that gender did not have to be a barrier. 

In 2006, Beilharz was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women, and was later named Australian Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2010. 

Three years on, Beilharz was presented the Order of Australia Medal.

From the North Pole to the South, and into the skies: a woman for the record books
Linda Beilharz. Picture by Matilda Schier

Previously on the board of the Bendigo Sustainability Group one of its founders in 2007, Beilharz worked closely with Ian McBurney, another local sustainability educator. 

She was heavily involved in the foundation’s governance, and worked six strenuous months alongside the Federal Government to establish a trust fund now worth over $200,000 for environment conservation.

McBurney says that being in her presence imparts “the feeling of standing on an ice-cap”, and that she carries a peaceful aura from her exploration with her in all her work.  

In the early days of working together, he learned that Beilharz would walk through streets “with a backpack full of bricks”. He was in awe of a woman so warm and welcoming, yet capable of such physical exertion, he says.  

Beilharz compares mountaineering to her current work at the Bendigo Flying Club, being immersed in the “pretty blokey” aviation industry encouraging her to support budding female pilots.  

Like her other adventures, piloting has opened a new scope of hidden experiences. Recently she took part in the Darwin to Coffs Harbour Outback Air Race, helping to raise $750,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. 

Beilharz says:

 I find different meaning and purpose in life through every chapter.

Ian McBurney says Beilharz’s clever and strategic charge has touched all those who encounter her.

“The way we change our behaviours is when we see those in our community leading the way,” he says.

She has transformed visibility for women in male-dominated areas and provided adults of future decades education for nurturing the planet that nurtures humanity. 

“I was born at a lucky time in a great country” says Beilharz.

But her ice-cap stories of “doing the daily grind every day and not seeing progress” reminds that extraordinary feats are just ordinary people doing what others deem unthinkable.