About Chris Dewhirst

Michael Dillon Photograph: 1991.

Chris Dewhirst & Heather Martin at Everest Balloon Base Camp, 1991.

After reading The White Spider – about the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, by Heinrich Harrer – Chris Dewhirst, aged 14, started rock climbing. In the 1960s and early 70s, while still a teenager, he pioneered hundreds of first ascents throughout Australia.

In 1967, with his 17-year-old school buddy, John Moore, he made the first ascent of the North Face of the Acropolis in Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania’s original World Heritage site.

North Face of the Acropolis. A gem of a photograph from Grant Dixon.
Chris Baxter Photograph – 1966/67.

On multiple occasions during 1968 through 1971, (with a dark moon rising) Chris used his climbing skills to set anti-Vietnam War protest banners high on city buildings. Escaping arrest was hair-raisingly more difficult than placing the banners. However, when Gough Whitlam was elected, in 1972, withdrawing our conscripts from Vietnam, he also expunged criminal records to do with protesting the Vietnam War.

Sack Fraser – Not Vietnam. (In 1969 Malcom Fraser was the Minister for War in the John Gorton Government.) The Princess Gate Towers, long since demolished, are now Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Reconstructed photograph from the Melbourne Herald – 1968.

In 1969, with Chris Baxter – the founding publisher, and editor of Australia Wild Magazine he made the first ascent of Ozymandias on the north wall of the Buffalo Gorge in NE Victoria.

Steve Monks on Ozymandias Direct:
Simon Carter Photograph – 1994

Below – Chris Dewhirst on the first ascent of the East Face of Frenchmans Cap, in 1972. (From David Neilson’s compelling autobiography, Chasing The Mountain Light.)

Chris Dewhirst on the first ascent of the east face of Frenchmans Cap – 1972.
Photograph: Ian Ross.
The East Face of Frenchmans Cap, where Tasmanian Tigers live in a wilderness forever protected.
From Grant Dixon’s gem of a book: Wild Light.

Together, with Gil Freeman – gifted teacher and mentor – Chris Dewhirst established Sydney Road Community School: a small, government funded secondary school of 90 students, inner Melbourne – valuing diversity, deep-dive learning experiences, individuality, shared responsibility, and respect.

Sydney Rd Community School: 1972 – 2022.

As a teacher, Chris was passionate about introducing inner-city teenagers to the wilderness: kayaking, trekking and rock climbing. In 1972, ten kids could squeeze into the back of a transit van, and six into a two door, red Monaro – together with climbing ropes and jaffle irons – and head for the Grampians, no questions asked, no forms signed, and no kids left behind. (And, unfortunately, no longer possible.)

The Ascension on Mt Rosea in the Grampians. Victoria’s first Grade 21.
First ascent Chris Dewhirst & Bruno Zielke – 1969.
David Jones, Wall of Fools – The Grampians
Simon Carter photograph.

In 1973, Chris climbed the Salathe Wall, and the Nose, on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, at the time, perhaps the most difficult rock climbs on the planet. (Below: Tom Frost using aid while climbing the Salathe headwall in 1962.)

Tom Frost using aid on the first ascent of the Salathe in 1962. Chuck Pratt Photograph.
El Capitan: Mariposa County.

Together with Himalayan hippy, Gerry Virtue, in 1979, Chris established Adventure Travel, pioneering the first 10-day, commercial rafting trips on Tasmania’s Franklin River, introducing hundreds of intrepid punters to a wilderness that must be preserved forever. In 1982, along with thousands of fellow Australians, he participated in the NO DAMS Franklin and lower Gordon River blockade, mostly avoiding arrest.

Below. The Rock Island Bend picture, on the Franklin River in SW Tasmania, by Peter Dombrovskis was used extensively in the campaign to save the Franklin, one of the most beautiful wilderness rivers in the world.

Peter Dombrovskis Photograph.

Franklin and lower Gordon Blockade – 1982.

Photograph of unknown origins.

In 1980, Chris Dewhirst established commercial hot air ballooning in Australia.

Chris Dewhirst Photograph.
Emi Cataldi photograph.

And in 1983, with the assistance of his brother, Mike Dewhirst, and Melbourne City Councillor, Richard Wynne (and to the everlasting consternation of CASA), Chris introduced commercial ballooning to the city of Melbourne – a metropolis of 5 million people. Melbourne remains the only major city in the world to permit commercial ballooning on a daily basis. Between 1983 and 2023, some 200,000 passengers (enough to fill the MCG twice over) have now seen Melbourne from a hot air balloon.

Global Ballooning. 
Picture This Ballooning.
Balloon Man.

In an expedition sponsored by National Geographic, in 1985, Chris Dewhirst, Aden Wickes and Leo Dickinson in one balloon; and Brian Smith, Phil Kavanagh and Jan Reynolds in a second balloon, made the first attempt to overfly Mt Everest in a hot air balloon.

Jan Reynolds Photograph.

In 1991, Chris Dewhirst and Leo Dickinson, in one balloon, and Andy Elson and Eric Jones in a second balloon, made the first successful hot air balloon flight over Mt Everest.

Everest overflight 1991 – Leo Dickinson Photograph.

In 1995, with the assistance of commercial pilots – Kiff Saunders (Global Ballooning), Ben Roberts and Chris Shorten (BalloonMan) – he established commercial hot air ballooning in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Buddha Balloon, Kathmandu: Thomas Laird Photograph.

In 2012, Chris Dewhirst created another world record, dropping 22 skydivers in a gaggle from a Go Wild balloon over the Yarra Valley, Victoria.

Mark Fraser Photograph.

Chris has also flown a balloon from Switzerland to Italy over the European Alps.

North Face of the Matterhorn from a balloon. Chris Dewhirst Photograph.
The Alps by Balloon – 2006. Chris Dewhirst Photograph.

In 1986, Brazilian hang glider pilot, Manuel Navarro created a world record, when he was dropped by Chris from 32,000 feet above Cowra, in NSW. (Unfortunately, Manuel paid the price by serving 7 years in jail for importing cocaine, into Australia, inside hang-glider frames.)

Hang Glider Drop from a hot air balloon: Aerial Focus Photograph.

From flying the Sydney Opera House balloon across Australia, in the great bicentennial balloon race, organised by balloonist Ruth Wilson, coming last as it turned out…

Sydney Opera House Balloon – Jan Reynolds Photograph.

…to establishing Byron Bay Ballooning with Thomas Dattler in 2005…

Thomas Dattler Photograph.

…to living in a cave for months on end in Cappadocia, Turkey, while flying commercial passengers and training pilots – Chris Dewhirst’s life has been one full of adventure and pushing the limits.

Kapadokya Balloons Photograph.

Chris has over 4,500 hours as pilot in command of aeroplanes, balloons and airships. He has been a test pilot, a Chief Pilot, a CASA Authorised Examiner, and a CASA Approved Commercial Flying Instructor.

Emi Cataldi Photograph – 2020

His awards include the Order of Australia (OAM) for his contribution to adventure tourism, the Royal Federation of Aero Clubs of Australia Oswald Watt gold medal for his flight over Mt Everest, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diplome Montgolfiere, and the UK Royal Aero Club’s Salomons Trophy

He now lives the quiet life on a small property near Byron Bay with Heather Martin, his wife and partner of 33 years, and occasionally climbing at Mt Arapilies with his son, Alex, and riding the New York bulls.

Photograph: Louise Shepherd – 2010
Photograph: Jan Reynolds – 2023