Author: JennyRead

No cure like the Great Outdoors

Lismore branch manager Jenny Read reflects on the positive influence Northern NSW charity The Buttery is having in the lives of young Aboriginal men.

Recently, in my role as branch manager for the Greater Building Society in Lismore, I was given the opportunity to attend day one of The Buttery's Youth Wilderness Adventure Therapy Trek near the Clarence River. The Greater is proud to support The Buttery, which is a not-for-profit charity doing admirable work Northern NSW.

The Buttery was able to take ten Aboriginal youths between the ages of 14 and 18 from impoverished families on this trip, which was to be used as a vehicle for intense counselling and personal development. The Trek consisted of a nine-day expedition, with a day each for preperation and follow-up counselling. Despite being set over 80km of the region's most rugged bushland, which was to be covered mostly on foot and in canoes, all ten participants completed the journey.

The boys set off on day one into Yarrahbah National Park and were asked to participate in team and leadership activities such as compass and map navigation. Tasked with finding their designated campsites through thick scrub, the teams worked together to reach their destination. Once at camp, the group was taught to use fuel cookers, prepare camp meals and set up and take down camping equipment properly, relishing in their new-found skills and responsibilities.

The Trek then moved into the second stage, which saw the boys enjoy five days of canoeing down the Nymboida River. Each day yielded more highlights and challenges than the last, as the group was taught how to identify, prepare and eat bush tucker in traditional ways, eating everything that was caught, including ten turtles and three goannas (caught under Indigenous rights). The boys powered through a testing day which saw them climb a nearby mountain, navigating their way through difficult terrain in order to arrive at their campsite by dark, and were rewarded with a rest day with which they relaxed, whittled spears and bonded as a team.

As the trip wore on, it was obvious the boys were gaining confidence as a result of their participation. The nightly routine of sitting and talking around the campfire was given a certain gravity by the "Talking Stick" (cow bone), which was passed around respectfully. The boys were able to speak honestly and open up in a way in which they would not previously about issues concerning them including racism, spiritual belief and drug and alcohol abuse.

Counselors also led morning and evening discussion sessions during which the boys were offered support. The idea behind these routines was to encourage the boys to speak openly and with confidence about their thoughts and concerns about the world around them, in the hope that they will be more likely to reach out for counselling if they need it in future.

On the completion of the Trek, all ten participants said they would gladly go on the expedition if asked again, which indicates the value they received from the opportunity to overcome such a significant challenge. Following on from the Trek, all of the boys continue to work with counselors from The Buttery's INTRA outreach program, and the initial formal follow-up after the Trek indicated the boys are more engaged with their schoolwork and local community as a result of the experience.

Speaking personally, it was an honour to be a part of The Buttery's Youth Wilderness Adventure Therapy Trek, and am so pleased that with the support of The Greater Building Society, The Buttery has been able to effect such positive change in the lives of the ten young participants.

To see more about The Buttery's great work, or to help out, visit their website here.