Conversation with Lizz Hills: Trek2Reconnect and the National Assistance Card

May 6, 2024

We recently caught up with Lizz Hills who shares her inspirational Trek2Reconnect journey as well as her experience with the National Assistance Card.

Last month we were lucky enough to talk to Lizz Hills - adventurer, environmental educator, volunteer, Citizen of the Year 2023, mother, author and National Assistance Card holder - about her impressive journey across the continent. 

On January 28th 2023, Lizz Hills started her Trek2Reconnect. Lizz completed 153 days trekking 6,000 km across Australia.

Lizz was inspired to complete the trek by her work with young people through the environmental education organisation Wild Mountains. Her mission was to spread a message of hope and encourage action for the earth. Lizz wanted to show that we all have the power to make a big impact on it – even, as Lizz put it, a “middle-aged mum with a disability.”   

When she was 21, Lizz went on holiday to Thailand. She fell off a train which resulted in a brain injury from a fractured skull, and post-traumatic amnesia. She woke up in Brisbane with 30 broken bones and no memory of what had happened to her. Prior to her accident, Lizz had been a rock-climbing instructor, scuba diving master, had her own business, and had been enrolled at university. After her accident she didn’t know who or where she was. Reflecting on her recovery journey, Lizz described an impressive list of achievements that prove her poor prognosis from her doctors was wrong and her husband’s premonition that “with the right TLC I could do amazing things” was right.

[Lizz Hills on her Trek2Reconnect]
“I've lived with a brain injury for 20 years and I have been very supported in my journey from being a newly brain injured person who was told they’d never go back to university, they'd never get a job, they'd never have children... To being supported to... I'm now studying a Master's..."

"I've got a great capacity as a volunteer for many different organisations and I've had a beautiful son. I really think that I couldn't have done [all] this without the great support systems around me, including the National Assistance Card, which helped me feel confident enough to undertake a major journey of 6,000 kms on foot, and by bike last year across Australia.”  

Support systems for the Trek2Reconnect 

Lizz maintains that “support and a lot of planning” were key to her successful trek across Australia – with her support network of family and friends, particularly her husband, playing a vital role. Lizz and her team spent a great deal of time planning for all situations to ensure her health and safety and make sure proper mitigation strategies were in place. The National Assistance Card was suggested by one of her support team as a “safety net” after a conversation about how she would manage situations where she might become lost or unable to communicate.  

“I used the Card when planning to walk the Trek2Reconnect."

"When I first mentioned [the Trek] to the people around me, my key support group, they were like, ‘Hang on a tick, Lizz. How on earth are you going to do that? What happens if you get disorientated? What happens if you get confused? What happens if we lose you? What happens if you bump into another person?’"

"And what the National Assistance Card did was, I could wear it around my neck so no matter what happened, people would know who I was and how to get hold of my nearest and dearest.” 

Other supports Lizz utilised during her Trek, along with the National Assistance Card, included phone reminders and apps; lists and processes of what needed to happen each morning and evening; guidelines, such as “tools down” when it reached 36 degrees; and a set of  picture communication cards she developed with her husband to use when she became too tired to communicate her basic needs at the end of the day, such as needing a drink of water or even just a hug. All these supports and strategies worked together to support Lizz to achieve her goal.   

“I feel very grateful to have been able to achieve it [the Trek2Reconnect]. I had a good support crew... ‘Just do it’ doesn't work for people with brain injury. We need a lot more support structures around us, but when we can and we feel confident, which is [a] big thing for me. I think it's important to step forward. I just want to try and do things in my world.” 

The National Assistance Card 

Utilising the National Assistance Card to support a 6,000km trek across Australia is admittedly unusual, however its function as a “safety net” can apply to everyone.    

When discussing the different ways the National Assistance Card can benefit cardholders, Lizz graciously shared her other experiences, shedding light on ways the Card had provided sometimes unexpected support. 

Brain injuries can be challenging for the individual, their loved ones, and the broader community, especially when the effects aren't readily apparent. For Lizz, the Card helped her acknowledge her brain injury, and made her disability feel less invisible and more validated.  

“What I really noticed is it [the National Assistance Card] helped me own up to a brain injury as well, which I know sounds strange. But. Yeah, it helped me to feel like the disability wasn't so invisible. And that it was a bit more legitimate.” 

Lizz talked about how the Card had been useful for facilitating conversations with her friends and family about her brain injury and how it affects her, for example how she is sometimes unable to attend events due to the impacts of her brain injury. This has helped them understand brain injuries better, normalising her experiences and fostering understanding within her support network. 

"I'm a very optimistic person. I'm a very capable person. And I'm a very passionate person. So sometimes people forget that I'm a brain injured person, if that makes sense..."

"The National Assistance Card let me reintroduce the fact that I have a disability. The fact that sometimes I don't cope... It allowed that conversation to open up. It allowed me to share that sometimes life is really challenging simply because I have a brain injury, not only because of the rest of the stuff that we all have to deal with in our lives.” 

Lizz was also able to share with us that the Card has helped her build her confidence in going to events because she knows that with the Card, she will be able to communicate her needs in any situation no matter what impacts she might be experiencing. 

“It [the National Assistance Card] builds confidence… I'm not very reliable. Part of that is because I get worried that something is going to happen, and I wouldn't have been able to explain myself. So having this tool and then being able to have conversations with my friends and family that might not identify me as a disabled person with a brain injury has been really helpful and second to that I now have a card that if I'm feeling a bit wobbly and I'm going to a family picnic I can put around my neck and it's just that lovely visual. So, it's enabled me just to go, well, ‘give it a go if you get in trouble, they'll understand’.” 

“Unpacking a story” 

For Lizz, completing the National Assistance Card application helped her to “unpack” her story and think about what she might need help with when she is out in the community and how to articulate her needs and the assistance, she might require due to her brain injury. Something she hadn’t considered before. 

“[The Card application] helped me vocalise...what I would want to say if I was in a situation where I needed help...and even thinking that through, was really helpful. Being able to think about how I might have been perceived by other people and then having to put it in [writing and] a video that... you know, ‘I'm not drunk’ or ‘I'm not crazy’, ‘I’ve just had a big day and my brain’s not functioning well’, and to think about what that looks like to other people.”   

Lizz enjoyed the freedom of being able to use her own words for the written and video information linked to the QR code on her Card:  

“I really like how there was that QR code [on the Card]… It helped me in my own space and my own time to… be able to say what I would want to say if I was in a situation where I needed help.” 

After her accident, Lizz struggled with denial and believes that exploring the impacts of her brain injury sooner may have been beneficial.  

“I think, for me, the early stages of a brain injury, I was in quite entrenched denial and I think unpacking a story would have been very helpful.” 

As a result, Lizz believes the process of applying for the Card could be valuable alongside recovery, prompting people to identify areas where they might need support and consider how they interact with the world. Lizz wishes she had had access to the National Assistance Card soon after her accident to help identify and navigate the challenges she faced.  

“The process of getting the Card I think could be really valuable in conjunction with recovery. Just to get you to map out how you're going to engage with the rest of the world and to think about the types of things you might need a hand with.” 

The fact that the information printed on the Card and linked to the QR code on the Card can be updated as needed was seen as a real benefit by Lizz who liked the idea the Card could evolve with her as needed. 

“I also like to feel that the National Assistance Card is flexible and that it can change with me. Like I believe that I could take my photo again, I could re-record a video if I deteriorated or if I felt there was another angle that I really needed support in.” 

Lizz advocated for extending eligibility for the Card to “a whole range of people with challenges”. While also emphasising that the Card needed to remain an optional resource for people to choose if they wanted.   

Community focus 

Lizz explained her perspective and experience with the National Assistance Card and how she viewed it as being very different from other supports she has been involved with because of its community focus. Instead of just centring on self-help, the National Assistance Card empowers communities to assist people, even when they may not be able to articulate their needs.  

“It [the National Assistance Card] is different from other support programs because it involves other people. Most support programs I've been on are about me and how I can help myself. This is about how the rest of the community can help me when I'm in trouble, without me needing the confidence to have it all together to be able to explain my situation when I'm having a problem. And that's really cool.” 

The community focus of the Card goes hand in hand with the inclusive, understanding and supported environment Lizz hopes will be achieved through the sharing of stories like hers, in interviews like this and in an autobiography she wrote. 

“I really found that through sharing my story [in my book] that there were so many other people that could identify and it just helps reduce any feelings of isolation... You don't need to be alone with a brain injury disability, but it can feel like that, and you can be put to one side very easily. So, when we start sharing this invisible disability then people can connect with that and they can better understand it.”  

“A safety net” 

Ultimately, Lizz views the National Assistance Card as one of the valuable tools in the “arsenal” of her support system, a system that has her key support people at the centre and helps her to navigate the challenges of living with a brain injury while achieving both ordinary and extraordinary things.  

“I think that we need many tools in our lives. Many tools in our arsenal, so to speak, and the National Assistance Card is one of those tools. And I've found it very useful in facilitating some difficult conversations. And, useful just like a security blanket or a safety net.” 

The Brain Injury Association of Tasmania and National Assistance Card Service are very grateful to Lizz for generously sharing her story and her experience with the National Assistance Card.  

Click on the links below to find out more about:

The National Assistance Card:

Lizz Hills: 

Wild Mountains: 

Apply For The National Assistance Card

Applications for the National Assistance Card are now available online through the secure application portal.
How to Apply →