By Mel Macarthur,
(With thanks to Robyn, Sarvana, Sam and Leah, my companions on the journey)
Well, ten days of my time were spent leading a group of four young women (aged between 16 and 17) and their three mentors on a seven day hike on the Overland Track in Tasmania. This walk was part of an ongoing program called ‘Broadening Horizons’, which operates out of the Bidwill Uniting Church Community Centre.
This program requires the participants to commit to a series of one day and overnight walks in the Blue Mountains and Royal National Parks. These walks are designed to introduce the participants to self-sufficient bushwalking and to increase their fitness before they undertake the longer and more demanding hike across the Overland Track.
The criteria for participating in the Broadening Horizons program are that the participants must: reside in the Mount Druitt region; lack the financial and equipment resources to travel to and hike the Overland Track; be between the ages of 15 and 19; and participate in the preliminary walks to attain the necessary fitness, discipline and experience to convince the leader that they can successfully walk the Overland Track.
The program is ongoing, and may even be widened, as the feedback we have received from the young women on this walk and the young men on the previous walk has led the organizers to believe that it has been very beneficial for the participants. The young women were given the opportunity at the completion of the walk and before our return home to share their thoughts with myself, as the trek leader, and their mentors about their experiences on the Track. They were also given the opportunity on their return to talk with the organizers at Bidwill Uniting, which they were all very willing to do.
The feedback from the young women was interesting, not the least because on the first day we walked through some of the worst conditions I have experienced in Tasmania for that time of year (mid-December) in my forty three hikes. On the highest and most exposed sections of the Overland Track there were near gale force winds and stinging sleet, which hammered unrelentingly, and near horizontally, on Gore-Tex hoods throughout the day. Referring to the weather conditions, comments from the young women, such as like ‘I loved it’ left me rather surprised. The comments included those from participants who had been blown off their feet during the course of the day. All the young women felt a sense of achievement in pushing through in adverse conditions. Perhaps the adverse conditions were just what was needed to test resolve and discipline and promote that sense of achievement?
The environment certainly had a profound effect comments like the following attest to that. ‘I liked that there was nothing to distract me out there’; ‘everything was still and vast and I had time to analyse stuff’; ‘it (the environment) draws stuff out of you’ ; ‘I could focus on myself’. Referring to the relationships between the participants on the Track, comments like ‘we all just connected’ were heartening and affirmed my observations.
Of interest to me over the time were the negative comments from the young women about the SBS documentary ‘Struggle Street’, which in my opinion was a crassly mercantile ratings exercise, masquerading as journalism. What I saw on the Overland Track was a strong and spirited group of young women with lots of potential, whose efforts mocked the ideologies underpinning ‘Struggle Street’. Exercises like Broadening Horizons chip away at stereotypes and show the strengths of young people in the West. We are compiling a DVD of this trek. We will give a copy to SBS, however I rather suspect that they will adhere to their established, blinkered and superficial practice and ignore the strengths of residents of the outer West.
I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to walk the Overland Track with such fine young women and their mentors. My long experience of Tasmanian conditions could not have been put to better use than to lead this trek.