Here’s to mateship, courage, endurance and sacrifice
While the media last week fixated on the political “divide” in Australia, with vastly divergent views expressed on the carbon tax at the forums and some confrontations between people with passionate viewpoints, it’s worth remembering that every day of every week, Aussies are getting on with their lives and doing remarkable things.
It’s worth remembering that there is so much more that unites us as a nation than that which currently divides us.
All that is great about Australia was on display in a rain-soaked corner of Queensland last weekend.
More than 2,400 Aussies of all ages and from all walks of life took part in what is regarded as Australia’s toughest endurance event – the Kokoda Challenge on the Gold Coast hinterland.
The Challenge is a 96km trek through rugged hinterland – the same length as the Kokoda Track – and must be completed in 39 hours (in honour of the 39th Militia the first troops to set foot on the track during World War II).
Participants set off in teams of four – representing the Kokoda values of mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice - at 7am Saturday morning and walk (or run) the distance of more than 2 marathons without sleep or rest.
The Event is unique in so many ways – it signifies our enduring ties to our rich history, it is an opportunity to honour our diggers and the values they represent. In the age of easy living and instant gratification, it is a chance to challenge and test boundaries of endurance and ability.
The personal challenge is immense and no doubt life-enriching for those who take part. They are honoured at the finish line with the presentation of “dog tags” from Kokoda veterans.
But it’s not just about a weekend trek. Teams also raise funds for The Kokoda Challenge Youth Program – a unique personal development program for young people aged 15-17 that includes physical training, learning about the history of Kokoda, participating in community service and ultimately walking the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
The beauty of the Youth Program is that it brings together high-achieving kids and those who might be described as “troubled teens” – to work together to achieve team goals and instill a spirit of community contribution and personal achievement.
The results have been phenomenal – literally turning lives around and helping young Australians achieve their full potential.
It is awe-inspiring to think that both the Event and the Youth Program were the brain-child of one dedicated Aussie – Doug Henderson, a Vietnam Veteran who, while attending an RSL conference in 2004, was struck by how little he knew about our history in Kokoda and determined to educate younger generations about the Kokoda campaign and the Australian values it embodied.
In just six years the event has grown incredibly, and so too has the number of Aussie teens who get the benefit of participating in the Youth Program.
All without a cent of Government funding. No politics involved. (I only know of the event through a friend who is involved.)
And that’s where the real Aussie spirit is found – the event, and the youth program, is only possible due to an “army” of volunteers who give their time. More than 300 volunteers sacrificed their comfy weekends to help out – most ending up as sleep-deprived and exhausted as the competitors.
Others commit to a full 14 months of volunteering as Youth Leaders working with the “Kokoda Kids” to achieve their goals. This spirit of self-sacrifice and contributing to the community through volunteering is a crucial part of what the kids learn.
The Kokoda Challenge got much less media coverage than the two incidents of confrontation with our political leaders last week.
But it really is worth remembering that those values which unite us – mateship, courage, endurance and sacrifice – are alive and well and quietly being practiced in our communities. You just don’t often see them on the six o’clock news.
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