As a child, Judeland Anthony, never imagined he would again be able to play on a beach.
Mr Anthony was hit by shrapnel during war in his homeland when he was just 11.
“I came into a situation where I had to take shelter, but unfortunately it was just my bad luck that I was in between those who were firing,” he said.
“The bomb, it travelled in the air and it exploded and a piece of shrapnel went through my back and came through my side.
“As a result of that I couldn’t walk, it cut all of my nerves, I became paraplegic.”
Mr Anthony said for years he was almost entirely confined to one room.
But after moving to safety in Australia with his family, he said things started to turn around.
“It was like [being] a bird released from a cage, I can fly as high as I can,” he said.
This week he and fellow disability advocate Steven Sweeney were the first two people to trial a new beach-friendly wheelchair at Tidal River, in Wilson’s Promontory National Park in Victoria’s south-east.
The chair, a first for national parks in Australia, allows users to push themselves across sand and into water.
“I could never have imagined that this would happen during that time [the war],” he said.
“This is all a dream come true for me.”
Manual wheelchairs are not able to travel on sand, and in the past Wilson’s Promontory has had one wheelchair that can be taken on sand but it needed to be pushed by someone else.
The new wheelchair, which Mr Anthony described as a “monster truck” version of a normal wheelchair, gives users complete independence.
He crossed Tidal River, raced along the sand and dipped his feet into the water at the beach on the new chair.
For Mr Anthony, that independence is vital.
“It’s your dignity as a person, you don’t want people to tell you what to do or to help you, it’s your self-respect,”
Parks Victoria chief executive Bradley Fauteux said it was unreasonable to expect the only people who could enjoy Wilson’s Promontory were people who could walk there.
“Providing that access and making sure people can have those same experiences is something very important that an agency like Parks Victoria can do,” he said.
“And I think we have a responsibility to do it.”
Bill Forrester, the founder of Travability, a company that specialises in inclusive tourism, said he hoped the new chair inspired tourism operators.
“It’s really important that it sets an example, so not just Parks Victoria but a motel operator at Lakes Entrance could think ‘I could buy one of those or maybe we could get together in the town and get a community one’,” he said.
The new wheelchair at Wilson's Promontory allows the user to push themselves. ABC: Elise Kinsella
Mr Forrester said going on holidays could still be tough for people with a disability.
“A lot of tourism operators don’t understand what disability is, as silly as that sounds,” he said.
“But I’ve coined a phrase that disability is the only minority group that anyone could join at an instant, which simply means people with a disability represent the whole population.”
The new beach wheelchair at Wilson’s Promontory National Park can be booked in advance by anyone who needs to use it.