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REPORT: TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2019

Patron: His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Li AC Governor of South Australia

Distribution:  See below 

REPORT:  TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2019 

Introduction

  1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted at Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 15 to 20 September 2019. This was the eleventh year of treks conducted in SA.  The remote location supports one of the key elements of success of the program; a peaceful setting in an ancient land, free from electronic, mental and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered.  Fifteen males, of whom eight came from SA, indicated they would attend however illness and a panic attack left 13 participants to make the journey.  Participant comments and journals from the trek provide an early indication of significant positive shifts in thinking which occurred as a result of the program.

Aim

  1. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting, and positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships. 

Objectives

  1. The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants through group and individual challenge, achieve the following:
    a) an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
    b) exposure to various strategies which will bring about positive change,
    c) individual responses which are effective in achieving goals,
    d) improve interpersonal relationships, and
    e) enhance self-esteem.

Validation

  1. Four standard psychometric instruments are administered to quantitatively evaluate the trek outcomes. These are:
    a) Life Satisfaction Scale (HILDA) for comparison with Australian normative data,
    b) Positive and Negative Interactions,
    c) General Perceived Self Efficacy Scale, and
    d) DASS 21.
  1. Qualitative evaluations are also measured through the entries in daily journals which are completed by the participants.
  1. Since commencement in 2009 each trek has been independently evaluated and from 2012 has been undertaken by Flinders University staff. This trek will follow the evaluation process.

Participants and Staff

  1. Of the thirteen participants, one was an ex NSW police officer, one a SA paramedic, two ex RAN, 6 ex-Army and 3 ex RAAF.   Four had been operationally deployed across one or more theatres.   The average age of the group was 55, outside the target age which aims at younger veterans.
  2. The success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the messages delivered by facilitators. During this trek, six experienced facilitators were employed to deliver the fourteen formal sessions. When not engaged in delivery, the staff were utilised as mentors to the participants around the campfire and during 4WD vehicle movement. This interaction of staff with small groups of participants assists in building trust and reinforcing messages. The trek utilised local and interstate staff to achieve a blend of skills and experience. All staff departed Adelaide for Moolooloo a day in advance of the participants. This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content.  Two participants from trek 2018 were utilised as mentors. The total number attending was 34.  Interstate staff and trekkers were accommodated at Keswick Barracks.  This location is economical and safe for vehicle parking.
  3. Staff                                                                                                                            Participants
                                             

This trek was the last for Dogs Kearney OAM who has been involved since the Trek’s inception in 2009.  A presentation to him was done on the last night of the trek.

Assistance

10. TAFE SA. During this trek four students from TAFE SA attended with the task of producing vision and sound which will be utilised to produce new DVDs for the Foundation.  They used their own vehicle and displayed sensitivity which enabled them to fit into the trek group easily.  At no time were they overtly noticeable and managed to capture some excellent comments and vision which will be used appropriately.

11. Supacat Staff. Supacat is an international company that provides support to the foundation.  This year the Managing Director (MD) offered two of his staff as general hands.  Both contributed at the base and in the bush. No doubt they will report their experience to the MD which will enhance the relationship.

Location

12. The trek is supported by a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 27 km northeast of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is approximately 520 km from Adelaide. Travelling these distances is time-consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages of having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offsets the disadvantages of travel. A trip of this duration also permits the participants to get to know each other en-route. The feedback from the participants on the travel and location is positive.

 Medical Risks

13. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. A satellite phone was on hand if the RFDS or medical advice was required.  First-line medical support was provided by a paramedic based with the team.  First aid kits were also available and a number of the staff were qualified St John, Apply First Aid.  An AED which was purchased as the result of a successful grant application added to the medical capability.  In terms of risk management, the longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo. No medical issues arose.

Transport

14. Six hire 4WD, two Pioneer Tank loaned vehicles and three personal 4WD were utilised to transport the staff to Moolooloo on Saturday. A self-drive hire-bus driven by two volunteers transported the team to Moolooloo Station on Sunday.  At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in the 4WD vehicles.

15. During the trek, the 4WD vehicles were used to travel between locations. This is in alignment with the program logic which utilises the small group environment of the vehicles to prompt further discussions and reflections on issues as they surface following the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refers to this practice as mobile consulting rooms.  It also affords the chance to mix different individuals and staff with an aim to maximize exposure to others’ views. This has proved to be beneficial; many of the trekkers have remarked on the advantages of spending time in the company of a few individuals as opposed to a larger group. 

Weather

16. The weather was optimal for trek delivery with no temperature extremes apart from a 4 degree morning. The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a long period without recent rain, so the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks were relatively stable. This increased the ease of 4WD travel between locations.

Communications

17. Telephone. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy or non-existent with the nearest service at Parachilna and Blinman. Fixed-line communications were available through a link established at the shearers’ quarters. A satellite telephone was available in the bush if an emergency arose.  It was not required.

18. Radio: While in the bush UHF CB hand-held and vehicle-mounted radios were used for communications on simplex. Duplex on Channel 3 was available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.

Program

19. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content. Enclosure 1 indicates the participant responses.  The messages conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and understanding cognitive strategies for behavior management. A selection of topics including How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior, Communications etc were delivered. The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful. This is further enhanced by the group sharing its personal experiences. The daily journals also provide useful insight into the power of the program and how the content is being understood by participants. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other veterans cannot be overstated. This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek; “veterans helping veterans” supported by credible messages which are based on first-hand experience.

20. Two new staff were given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by experienced facilitators. This is essential for staff succession planning.

21. All bar two of the facilitators are selected from past participants.  These are normally individuals who found the trek so powerful they decided to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery.  Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others

22. The tenor of the week is relaxed yet highly focused on outcomes. This comes as a surprise to most of the participants whose expectations are for a course run along military lines. This is the antithesis of the program.All bar two of the facilitators are selected from past participants. These are normally individuals who found the trek so powerful they decided to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery.  Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others.

23. The inclusion of staff other than ex-military provides a balance and different skill sets. Sessions linked to this expertise provide advice and encouragement in a form that is perceived differently to that presented by the veterans.

Journals

24. The use of a period set aside daily to complete individual journals has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal reflections on the various lessons of the day and the daily experience of the trek. This practice provides an opportunity to review and anchor the day’s lessons.

25. Past trekkers have commented on the usefulness of this record of reflections as a reminder of the strategies and tools to use after the trek. With consent, the journals are used to provide qualitative data to supplement the quantitative psychometric evaluation of the program.

Partners

26. A Partner’s Handbook was posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;
a) provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
b) provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
c) encourage support for what may be new ideas and behaviours. 

Staff Debrief

27. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback and comment. The comments will be reviewed by the Operations Director.

Program Viability

28. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand-driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact for each trek indicating a will to attend. This has worked well to date, particularly in SA where male numbers remain high.  The best disciples of the program have been past trekkers who are the source of at least 60% of attendees. However, to ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:
a) continue to advertise the program, targeting those who need our support,
b) focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
c) convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of the benefits offered, and
d) ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

Visitors and Media

29. Before each trek, a media release is distributed. This year the release was distributed through RSL Care SA. As a result, the Messenger Newspaper offered to publish short stories submitted by participants.  To date, only one has done that.

30. No visitors, apart from TAFE and Supacat attended the trek. The travelling time by road required for visitors to attend the trek is a challenge.  Past visitors have reported they gained an enhanced understanding of the power of the program and the significant benefits gained by participants.  Visitors will continue to be invited.

Costs

31. This year judicious shopping and successful donation seeking reduced costs. For example, the average single meal cost was reduced to $3.01.  The catering staff is to be congratulated.

Other savings were achieved as follows:                                    Saving

  1. vehicle hire costs, less 50% granted by the hire coy,    $ 3418
  2. donated processed meats, and                                          $ 210
  3. donated 50 dozen eggs                                                        $ 300

Although not finalised at the time of writing, the trek will cost approximately $32K.

Viability

32. Sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires continual monitoring as SA funds are dependent on a number of irregular sources. Each October the Foundation raises funds through a major fundraising activity organized by Adelaide Exercise Physiology; the Veterans’ Support Walk. These funds are complemented by a number of other organizations, corporations, and individual donors. This year significant funding was received from Veterans SA, Supacat and a private donor.  A number of smaller donors also contribute and collectively this is significant. This support is much appreciated and vital for our ability to continue to conduct the treks.

Annual Trek Delivery

  1. Participant numbers will dictate the number and location of future treks offered. This will be assessed and adjusted as needed. The existence and efficacy of the trek anecdotally appears to be well known and understood among ex-service organizations (ESOs). However, minimum participant numbers are required for group dynamics and to establish the benefits of peer-to-peer support. To ensure participant numbers are met, the foundation will continue to promote the trek through ESO networks, health providers and our best referral mechanism – word of mouth from past participants.

Conclusion

  1. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying the content with impact. The disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This, in turn, aids recovery.
  2. The role modeling exhibited by the trek staff, coupled with the credibility of being surrounded by others with similar lived experience allows participants to talk openly about content they have often never shared.  Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants are able to recognize and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviors and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realization that other ways of coping are possible and achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.
  3. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the objectives. This was gained through the pursuit of the philosophy which is supported by the staff. The experience is intended as a circuit-breaker.  Following the trek participants describe having a new understanding of their choices in thinking and behavior; a shift in their world view.
  4. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a “Trek Bible” which contains a brief on all the sessions covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive.
  5. The follow-up support among trekkers is immediately evident by the setting up of closed pages of the trek’s social media accounts. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized.
  6. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans. The principles may also be applied to other vocations. The trek is unique, and may not suit every veteran but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatments.  The efficacy of peer to peer programs is now well established in academic literature.
  7. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com

Operations Director
Trojan’s Trek Foundation
7 October 2019

Distribution:
Minister for Veterans’ SA
Member for Mayo
Secretary RARC Ted Chitham MC
Supacat MD
TT Board Members 8
President RAR Assoc SA
CEO RSL Care
Staff

Enclosure 1. Participant Evaluation Combined

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Supacat speaks

For the past two years, the Foundation has been receiving support from an International Company named Supacat, who is the world’s leading specialist in high mobility defence vehicles. As part of this support, the Managing Director offered two of his staff to assist with the running of the 2019 trek in SA. The offer was accepted by Moose and duly came to pass in September. Following the Trek, both members wrote a short brief about their experience.

I am pleased to report that the experience was most beneficial for both the Foundation and the members. Their commentary is below and speaks for itself. In short, the staff and I would be happy to have them back at any time.

Moose Dunlop OAM
Operations Director

Hi Sarina,
Going into the Trek I didn’t really know what to expect. Antony and I were driving 10 hours out of Melbourne to the middle of nowhere, to spend a week with people we had never met and participate in a program we knew very little about. But from the minute we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms and immediately made to feel like part of the family. The trek philosophy is really quite simple, it’s veterans helping other veterans, they do this by providing the participants new approaches to life, telling personal stories, asking questions and genuinely caring about what these people are going through. There is no psychologist, there are no professionals, there is no one analyzing each individual, they are just blokes helping out blokes. After spending a week helping in the kitchen, providing an extra set of hands and taking part where possible I couldn’t agree with Antony more that this is probably the most worthwhile organization for helping veterans and first responders and I feel proud to have been part of it.
The staff themselves where some seriously good people, with big hearts who have all been through their own life struggles and through the support of Trojan’s Trek have been able to move forward with life and are now giving back and helping others in similar situations to themselves. Additionally, a select few of the staff were absolutely hilarious, in their own special way.
This program is absolutely sensational!
Cheers,
Mackenzie Brown | Mechanical Engineer

Sarina,
Volunteering on the Trojans Trek at the Flinders Ranges was quite simply an amazing experience. I had no idea what to expect and of course, there was a bit of nervousness there.
Once we were there Mack and I volunteered to help out with everything, from kitchen hands – early starts and late finishes, repairing leaks from broken water pipes on the farm, participating in group discussions, providing advice to participants on a one on one capacity, driving the vehicles to what seemed like being a participant at times. I think we did it all.
The conversations with the participants and facilitators over the week were both funny and serious. At times I felt like I had never laughed so much or on the verge of crying from hearing some of the participants’ stories. The facilitators do an amazing job, using their past experiences to deliver messages and advice to the participants giving those ideas and tools to use in their own lives.
Being able to witness the change in the participants from arrival to departure needs to be seen. Some of these guys have never slept more than 4 hours a night and hearing that they have slept 10 hours whilst on the trek was amazing to witness. Even though I was there as a volunteer I know I personally benefited from the learnings and advice that was given. Having been touched by mental health issues in my circle I truly feel this is one of the best programs around and Supacat is definitely supporting the right charity.
If the opportunity arises again to be able to support Trojans Trek I’m in without a question and I encourage others to do the same.
Antony Buysen – Technical Advisor

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TANKS FOR THAT

I have written before about the generosity the Foundation receives from the community. 

It was 9 years ago after I had been interviewed by Peter Goers on radio 891 ABC Adelaide that I received a call from Tim Harper. Tim is the owner of Pioneer Tanks SA and during our chat he asked me if we hired vehicles to take the veterans to Moolooloo station for the treks.  I replied that I did after which he offered me the use of two of his company 4 WD to save the Foundation hiring charges, a significant cost.  Since that day, on every SA trek we have gratefully borrowed vehicles from his company.  Total savings in the vicinity of $15K.

And yesterday, Saturday 10 August, I spoke to the Bentley Car Owners club on a couple of subjects requested by Tim. Naturally one of the subjects was Trojan’s Trek after which the Foundation received a donation through the web site. The group, which have an interest in all things mechanical, arranged for a partly restored Series 2A Landrover, once the source of many cups of tea for the diggers compliments of the Everyman (Salvation Army) in the late 60s. The vehicle was loaned by the Military Vehicle Museum, 10 Sturton Road, Edinburgh.  A very basic piece of British engineering on display.

Thanks to a great group of fellows for your interest and conversation.    

Moose Dunlop OAM

Operations Director

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Young Veterans’ Charity Walk, Sunday 27th October, 2019

This year’s walk has taken place. Please join us next year!

Online entry form here

Download the entry form to mail here

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SUPACAT STAFF ASSIST

Treks always involve a lot of organisation and preparation.  As one can understand, to take a group of sometimes brittle, 35 to 40 individuals away to the North Flinders Ranges from Saturday to Friday and cater for every conceivable issue is a big ask.  This is in addition to delivering a very structured daily program.  And when the nearest reasonably stocked shop, butcher, chemist, etc is more than one and a half hours away, it is important to arrive carrying everything to face the myriad of issues which may and do arise. 

Simple subjects like dietary restrictions, allergies, physical handicaps, equipment and so on, must be known and be 100% correct.  To do this a number of the staff commence ticking off lists 5 to 6 weeks before the start date. Much of the tasking falls to the chefs and the medic along with other specialists in the team.  This early checking process also has the advantage of benefitting from ‘advertised specials’ which in some cases can save up to 50% on single items. 

The staff of Supacat Melbourne are aware of the mammoth responsibilities of this process and decided to help by collecting a long list of 104 non-perishables which they will send over to the trek with two of their own staff who will work on the trek as general hands. 

They also became aware that the camp chairs which are used during the treks were getting old and some were in poor condition.  To assist they collected money and forwarded $350 in Bunning’s Gift Cards to purchase 6 new strong camp chairs. So there is a very practical example of hands-on support from an unexpected quarter which will save costs and effort. 

Our thanks go to them for their help.      

Moose Dunlop OAM Operations Director

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4 RAR ASSOCIATION SA CONTRIBUTE

Moose and Chris Pepper the SA President at the hand-over.

This is not the first time the members of the SA Association have contributed financially to the Trojan’s Trek program. Of interest, most of those who seek help by attending the programs are ex-Royal Australian Regiment members.  So it is appropriate and well-targeted as this money goes directly to those members and families in need.  A number of the other battalion associations have also contributed over time, and although the amounts may not seem significant to some, the gestures of support for those who replace us is most welcome.

NOTE:  Since the above report was written the SA 4 RAR Association committee met as part of their normal schedule.  Among the agenda items discussed was donations to veteran organisations. In the words of president Chris, “the committee decided that it would provide on-going support to the Trojan’s Trek Foundation because of its low profile and very good outcomes.”

Thanks very much to the committee. The benefits are manifold and benefit veterans and families.

Moose Dunlop OAM

BOARD WORKSHOP

Over the weekend 22 to 23 Jun, the Trojan’s Trek Board met in Brisbane to discuss the way forward for the Foundation. This is the third occasion in the last 4 years the board has gathered for the purpose of future strategy and direction and the first under the new Chairman Paul Keady. The meeting was also utilised to conduct the bi-monthly board meeting which is usually conducted with half of the board 2,000 km away.

The forum was facilitated by Peter Keith, one of the foundation facilitators.  Topics discussed included; review of purpose, finance, clients, partnerships, trends over time, marketing and growth.

In summary, the time spent resulted in the sharing of experience and opinion while not overlooking the Foundation purpose. The time was well spent and will result in building closer professional relationships among the board members.

Thanks to Mates4mates for the use of their splendid facilities.

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Programme Evaluation shows success of TT

Since the Trojan’s Trek program was commenced in SA in 2009 and in QLD in 2015, each participant attending is asked to complete four standard psycho-social instruments on three occasions.  This data is later independently analysed to measure outcomes by the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation in QLD for the QLD attenders, and by Flinders University staff in SA for those attenders. 

The reason for this is simply to ensure that the program remains relevant and beneficial to the participants.  Very few peer support programs are subject to the same scrutiny.  Naturally the board and the staff are also interested in the evaluations as it provides a scientific method to gauge success.  To date the results over 10 years have set new bench-marks for peer outdoor support.  Following is a selection from the data analysis completed in SA for the 2018 trek.

“There was marked improvement in 100% of participants between Day 1 and Day 6 on their total DASS21 scores (reduction in scores for depression, anxiety and stress). All 11 participants who responded at the 2-3 month follow up continued to show improvement over their pre-test/day 1 scores.”

Note: The DASS 21 scores are a significant measure of individual risk as depression (one of the elements measured) is almost always present in suicide or attempts.

Change in outcome areas – pre Day 1/post: Day 6
 
Key:      Y = Improvement          N = Decline       N minor = one difference N/Ch = No change    N/Ch P = No change; healthy/positive initial scores            N/A or blank  = Not applicable/No answer
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TROJAN’S TREK ANNOUNCES NEW PARTNERSHIP

TROJAN’S Trek Foundation is proud to announce that the Adelaide and Country Primary Health Networks (PHN) have signed a contract with the Foundation which will greatly assist in the delivery of the SA trek in September this year.

By way of background PHN is not a service provider but is focused on commissioning services which are guided by community, clinical and stakeholder input.  The organisation is funded by the Commonwealth Government and has a clear goal of improving health outcomes for the community.

This objective fits nicely with the foundation objectives which concentrate on mental health as it applies to veterans and first responders.

The Chairman Moose Dunlop OAM, said it was appropriate and he was very pleased to be associated with an organisation resourced by the Commonwealth with responsibilities for community mental health.

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TROJANS TREK RECEPTION AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE ADELAIDE

In response to an offer from the Governor of SA, His Excellency The Honourable Hieu Van Le AC, 62 supporters of the Foundation attended a reception at Government House on the evening of 13 Nov.

The ballroom provided a fitting backdrop to the gathering, many of whom had not met face to face with the Board or each other.  The support which had been provided over 10 years of operation was acknowledged by His Excellency in a stirring speech.