26 June 2023

Goulburn teenagers up for learning from Kokoda Trail trek

| John Thistleton
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Group with backpacks on in the bush

On a training walk with their mentors and backpacks. The team prepares to tackle the Kokoda Trail next month. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

Since January a team of Goulburn and Crookwell high school students and their mentors have been preparing to tackle the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.

They began walking in Goulburn, then up Mount Gray and Rocky Hill and as their fitness grew, they tackled the Corn Trail from Braidwood up and down the Clyde Mountain and have completed other courses at Bungonia National Park and Canberra’s Brindabella Mountains. They completed some of the hikes with other students from Braidwood, Queanbeyan and Canberra who will accompany them to Papua New Guinea.

Luke Wallace, a mentor and Goulburn Mulwaree Council Youth Service team member, is already seeing a more confident, positive outlook among the students.

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Luke said the trekkers, aged 14 to 19 years, were drawn from applications from young people wanting to be challenged and willing to work hard for a goal. They are learning the value of working hard for something, new skills and teamwork before they leave on 3 July.

Meeting each Monday afternoon, the students are also preparing mentally for the 98-kilometre Kokoda Trail.

“Over nine days we will be ascending and descending 6000 metres, so it’s pretty full-on, so you have to be mentally strong as well,” Luke said. “It’s effectively walking to the same height as base camp at Mount Everest.

“Being in a tropical rainforest we are going to have 30-degree heat, but we could also have torrential downpours for eight days in a row.”

Youth mental health services provider headspace has been working with the group to help them recognise when they are underperforming, and how to self-regulate to get in the right mood to achieve the day’s goal of putting one foot in front of the other.

Youth Service team member Luke Wallace

Youth Service team member Luke Wallace says the Kokoda Trail hike will be a life-changing experience for everyone involved. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

“A task like this you cannot do it by yourself, you need the help of your mates,” Luke said. He expects the adult mentors including himself will quickly realise they will need the younger ones’ support too. They will all become one another’s peers.

“Without the young people even knowing, they are mentoring us,” he said. “When we’re struggling they will be lifting us up to keep us going,” he said.

On the trail they will split into two groups, Goulburn, Crookwell and Braidwood in one, and Canberra and Queanbeyan in the other. They will start at either end of the trail and camp at villages and on the track along the way.

At the halfway mark the two groups will meet at a local village for a rest. They will also have a cultural day interacting with the villagers, playing games with their children and learning what it’s like for them living remotely.

Also preparing the young team are Goulburn Mulwaree Youth Service team member Anna Wishart and Senior Constable Barb Beard – youth officer for the Hume Police District.

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While flights and insurance add to the preparations, the Kokoda team has received financial backing from the Terry Campese Foundation. Former Raiders star Terry Campese founded the organisation to provide more opportunities for marginalised young people in the community.

The foundation holds an SAS challenge each year, supported by local businesses who are put through a combat-style weekend of 30 hours. This year they raised more than $350,000 towards the Kokoda Trail hike.

“It is going to be incredible,” Luke said. “To see the young people grow and achieve a goal that seemed almost impossible. When we first started we showed them where we would be walking and what the training would be like and how long they would be walking; they all laughed and said, ‘Yeah, right’.”

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