Walking the Kokoda Track for the 5th time with young people who are facing challenges in their lives is Leading Senior Constable Andrew Brittain. He is the Youth Resources Officer for the Geelong Region. He has a total of 28 years police service across Western Victoria, including general policing and time in the Air Wing and has been in his present role for 10 years. Between 2010 and 2014 he was seconded to the Education Department and worked with a leading teacher running the Operation New Start Program in Geelong, working with young people at risk. He was awarded “Policeman of the Year” by Highton Rotary and “Worker of the Year” by the City of Greater Geelong.
As part of his current role he is the police facilitator for the Geelong Kokoda Youth Program. This program involves taking young people who are facing challenges in their lives on a life-changing experience walking the Kokoda Track. This year  will be Andy’s fifth year of taking a group along the Kokoda; 47 young people have done the trip so far, 45 of whom are back at school, university or holding a steady job.
Each March, the 13 State High Schools in the region are asked to nominate 3 students from Years 9-11 for the program. These young people may be struggling in some way – having been touched by homelessness, family problems with drugs or suicide, etc. The youths then embark on a 20-week long fitness course with Mick O’Malley, and a range of other training to ensure that they are prepared for what lies ahead of them.
Organisations are identified who agree to pay $6,000 to sponsor one youth, and can send one of their own staff for $6,000. So, the party can be 28 participants plus support crew and local porters, etc. The support crew includes paramedics. Thankfully, no-one has had to be evacuated from the track, but several have needed support to continue.
During the journey participants climb hills, wade streams, lay exhausted on the ground, etc. They follow a hard track which enables the group to make contact with history, the war in PNG and battles between the Australians and Japanese over the Track.
As part of last year’s preparation, the youths met a 92-year-old Kokoda veteran from Ocean Grove who described his experiences. While on the walk the group visited a cemetery with 4,000 graves and placed poppies.
The motto of the Geelong Kokoda Youth Program is appropriately “Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice”. This motto was developed at Gallipoli by the @Anzac Forces and is carved in the 4 stone pillars in the monument that overlooks the Kokoda Track.
On September 15, 2017 Gabby Right will be walking the Kokoda Track. She is looking forward to making strong connections with all that are attending. She’s currently in Year 10 at Grovedale Secondary College, plays netball for the U17s and coaches their U13s at Kardinia. The sponsor for her walk is the Belmont Rotary as they feel it will be a great investment.
Andy states, “If we don’t look out for each other we have got troubles. We are thrilled to have Keith Fagg as our patron. Gabby’s already displaying the correct attitude and leadership qualities. There are 14 young people and 16 adults in the team. The team are into their fifth week of 20 weeks training. The Kokoda trail is 96km long and we aim to complete the walk in 10 days”.
Written by Gemma Nicholls
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