REPORT QLD AND SA 2016
From: Lieutenant Colonel Moose Dunlop OAM (Retd) 0408 088 886 email@example.com
“I have learnt so much about myself and how I react with people.” Trekker 2016
1. This report covers the QLD and SA treks. Trojan’s Trek QLD was conducted from 8 to 13 May on, and around the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) Range Facility at Captain’s Mountain on the Darling Downs. This facility provides a very suitable location at which to base the trek. It is also a generally free mobile phone free environment. It offers a slice of early Queensland history and a remoteness which has an impact on the messages delivered. The QLD trek was the second run in that state resulting from a satisfactory pilot program run in 2015. The date for the QLD trek was brought forward to give a more even calendar spread for the treks.
2. In SA, the male and female treks ran from 17 to 23 September. This year because of the number of individuals under instruction in both states, the staff deployed one day earlier than the usual practice. This worked well and will be adopted for the future for both states. A number of staff from SA and QLD travelled to respective states to assist with each trek. The longer term intention is to train and employ staff from QLD and SA in those locations to make each chapter self-sufficient in staff.
3. For the third year, the SA treks included a female version which was conducted concurrently but separately to the male. This year reinforced earlier experience with the female team, confirming that females are not as flexible or resilient in terms of overnight stays or change. This aspect of female behaviour will be closely examined from a number of points of view to ensure that the trek provides the outcomes which are sought. There is no doubt that the qualitative outcomes which show huge personal gain by the men are not reflected in the female experience. It is the opinion of the author having seen three female trek results that the female members are so obsessed with their personal circumstances that some of the important messages, quickly understood and journalised by the men, are lost on most of the female trekkers. This topic is discussed later in this report.
The bush in SA was looking good having had substantial rains over the previous months and for the second year in a row. Both treks experienced rain which fell in both locations. This had no effect on the QLD trek but had a significant impact on travel during the SA trek.
4. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships. This aim has stood the test of time and remains current and appropriate.
5. The trek is a designed as a circuit breaker. The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants, through group and individual challenge achieve the following:
– an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
– exposure to various strategies which will bring about positive change,
– individual responses which are effective in achieving goals,
– re-connect with others,
– improving interpersonal relationships, and
– enhance self-esteem.
6. These objectives have been reviewed and remain valid. The philosophy backing the trek is one which enables successful condition self-management resulting from changes in participant perception. This in turn changes behaviour and personal interaction in a positive way, and although these objectives appear simple in concept, the successful delivery depends heavily on the credibility of the advice given. Therefore the part played by the staff in the process cannot be over-emphasised. As mentioned previously, the female benefits from this trek were not as obvious as those reported in the personal journals of the males.
7. In order to justify the program’s claims to successful outcomes, four standard psychosocial instruments were again used to measure outcomes.
– Life Satisfaction Scale (Hilda) for comparison with Australian normative data,
– Positive and Negative Interactions,
– General Perceived Self Efficacy Scale, and
– DASS 21.
8. These are completed on three occasions:
– prior to the commencement of the trek,
– Immediately following the completion of the trek, and
– two to three months later.
9. A total of thirty five participants attended the treks. The breakdown was as follows:
10. Two serving members from 7 RAR and two serving VIC police officers attended the SA treks. This was the fourth male police officer and first female who has attended a trek.
11. Apart from one RAN member, none of the female members had qualified for operational service. One woman was a Victorian police officer and one a registered nurse. This is disappointing as the foundation is set up to cater for veterans although assistance is provided to others if space permits. In spite of the lack of operational service, all had some form of mental health illness. Four were diagnosed with PTSD, one with depression and two with complex medical conditions. All carried clearances from their doctors to attend but for most, a period in the bush was beyond their capability. This may relate to a lack of understanding of the conditions to be expected or a lack of resilience of the individuals. Either way, the impact of the experience is significantly lessened by individual complaints about everything from the use of swags to long drop toilets. The female team staff were continuously involved in settling minor complaints or reassuring the trekkers that things will get better. This is in stark contrast to the men who are much more resilient in more basic conditions and are clearly prepared to make the most of the trek. This issue will be explored separately. For the third year, CPO Vickers from the RAN attended as a staff member. Her contribution was valuable and appreciated. It is hoped she can continue to contribute.
12. The intent to train and employ competent staff in both states thus avoiding inter-state travel remains current. Two male and four female potential staff members were involved.
13. QLD. Providing sufficient competent staff to deliver material for the Qld trek proved to be challenging again this year. To resolve this Dogs Kearney and Moose Dunlop flew from SA to take part in the trek. A chef and a kitchen staff member carrying stores also travelled by road from SA to Milmerran. A number of local staff “in-training” were employed on the QLD trek to provide experience for them and also to permit the QLD Director to gauge their potential to replace the older hands. This exercise was successful in identifying a new chef and some male presenters.
14. SA. Normally the SA trek is more difficult to conduct because of the requirement to provide expert male staff presenters to both male and female teams which are sometimes up to 10 km apart. To ease that problem this year the female team was relocated to a new camp site which was more accessible to the presenters and the base. It differs from the site used previously in that there is no stone building which in the past was the base for the team. However the new site has a shower shed, long drop and running tank water. Sleeping accommodation is in swags, the same as previous, and a tent was supplied as a base to hold excess equipment. It offers advantages over the previous site mainly because it removes the need to travel significant distances to deliver the program, meals and the like. Communications are more reliable and the track to the old site is often badly eroded by weather. As previously indicated, the new location, although considered adequate for purpose, was not embraced by the women trekkers.
15. QLD. The QLD trek experienced some precipitation which did not inconvenience the program. The trek area was subjected to below zero temperatures on two mornings.
16. SA. An extreme weather event affected the SA treks. Very heavy rain fell on Tuesday which resulted in local flood warnings necessitating the withdrawal of the teams from their locations back to the vicinity of the shearers’ quarters. The female team was housed in the shearing shed and the men in the shearers’ quarters where they remained for the duration of the trek. No vehicle movement was possible for 24 hours because all the creeks were impassable. The program continued in to be delivered in sequence but at a different venue. After about 36 hours, limited vehicle movement was possible, exercising care crossing creeks.
17. The funds for the 2016 treks were raised in both SA and QLD and devoted to activities in the respective states. Funding security remains one of the matters which demands continuous attention particularly the SA Chapter which is the poor cousin in the funding stakes.
a. QLD. The QLD trek was funded by RSL Care and RSL Qld who have maintained their financial support since the commencement of the QLD trek.
b. SA. The SA treks were funded from a number of sources. Each year in October, the foundation conducts a major fund raiser with the Veterans’ Support Walk. These funds are complimented by a number of other organisations and corporations as well as individuals. This year a $10K grant was secured from RSL Care SA and a significant grant from the Reid Thyme Foundation was received. The foundation is most appreciative of this support.
18. Transport requirements to and during the treks were as follows:
a. QLD. One 13 seat bus to carry the team and one staff supervisor to Captain’s Mountain, the start point. Six vehicles (3 x 4 WD vehicles and 3 x AWD Vehicles) were hired for the duration of the trek. These were supplemented by a Hilux 4WD owned by one of the mentors. The vehicle with the enclosed trailer was driven from South Australia. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Brisbane in the 4 WD vehicles.
b. SA. Two 22 seat buses to carry the two teams and one staff supervisor per bus to Moolooloo HS. One bus with driver came from a bus company and the other was hire/self-drive. Twelve 4 WD vehicles; (10 hired and 2 borrowed,) 2 towing a covered and an enclosed trailer. These vehicles were also used to transport the staff to Moolooloo HS on Saturday prior to the start. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in these 4WD vehicles.
19. The insurance excess which applies to hire vehicles in the case of accident remains a matter of concern. In spite of a payment of $33 per day per vehicle to reduce the insurance excess to the minimum in the case of accident, the excess remains at $2,500 (single vehicle accident) and $550 (multiple vehicles). No claims were necessary.
20. QLD. The trek location is approximately 300 km west of Brisbane. The base was established at the SSAA Range complex which is 20 km west of Millmerran on the Gore Highway. The facility is well presented, has a full time curator, an industrial kitchen, dams and a capability to cater for about 200 people. The property occupies approximately 400 acres which varies in type and relief from north to south. The property adjoins a national park and state owned forest covering a further 30,000 hectares to which the trek had unfettered access. The hiring arrangements with SSAA are most agreeable.
21. SA. The trek established a base at Moolooloo HS Shearers’ Quarters which is 32 km NE of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies approximately 540 square miles 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 in having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offset 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 location is positive.
22. A period is set aside daily to complete individual journals. This has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal responses to the various lessons of the day and to make general comment on the trek. This has proved to be satisfactory from the point of view of progressive comment and also provides an opportunity to collectively review and anchor the day’s lessons. Although these comments are qualitative they do represent the perceptions of the participants at the time. These comments are used to complete qualitative assessment.
23. The messages which are conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and behavior management. These are simple subjects; but the style and method of delivery combined with the surroundings make the messages much more powerful. The journals reflect accurately the participant responses to the various lessons and the positive responses appear to be related to simple messages. This year the female responses were generally critical of the staff, weather, program, swags, accommodation etc. to the extent that in some respect the messages may have been overlooked. The female view aside, there is no doubt having read the journals, that the live-in nature of the trek when shared with other veterans is a significant factor in the success of the program. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other veterans cannot be over-stated.
24. A doctor was not available in either state on this occasion but this was not considered a problem. Adequate coverage was provided as follows:
a. QLD. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Millmerran, approximately half an hour away by road from the base. First line medical support was provided by an ex-defence force medical member. A number of other staff are also qualified as senior first aiders. The longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Captain’s Mountain. No medical or psychiatric issues arose.
b. SA. The nearest fully equipped hospital is at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. First line medical support was provided by a Victorian Ambulance para-medic and a female registered nurse. The para-medic reported with his own vehicle and equipment. A number of other staff are also qualified as senior first aiders. The longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo. No medical or psychiatric issues arose.
25. Program content in both states is the responsibility of the Project Director, Moose Dunlop. The delivery of the male program and most aspects of the female program is the joint responsibility of the Chief Instructor Dogs Kearney and civilian consultants Peter Keith and Andrew Badenoch. This year additional content was included in both programs and delivered by Tim Smith and Andrew Badenoch. The value or otherwise of these additions will be evident when the journals are analyzed. Additionally, a number of female centric topics were presented to the female team by the two female facilitators, Anna Sutcliffe and CPO Amy Vickers. These treks again utilized the opportunity to provide further training for other past trekkers who are part of the succession plan. In all a total of two male and four female facilitators were exposed to the requirements of facilitation. This training was an extension of the Train the Trainer weekend held in SA in March 2016
26. In the opinion of the participants, the lessons and program outcomes appear to be more effective when simple and delivered by a veteran as opposed to clinician in consulting rooms. This is in accord with the philosophy on which the trek is based; that is veterans helping veterans with messages which are credible and based on first-hand experience.
27. The inclusion of two civilian experts provides a balance to the ex-military presence. They deliver sessions linked to their expertise and are skilled in providing advice and encouragement in a form which is perceived differently to that provided by the veterans. The balance is fine but necessary to gain the confidence of the attendees. The gains from their inclusion are manifold.
28. Telephone. Mobile telephones do not operate north of Hawker in SA and are patchy in the Captain’s Mountain area in QLD. However, telephone communications are available via a landline at the Shearer’s Quarters and at the SSAA Complex at Captain’s Mountain. A satellite telephone was available in the bush during both treks if an emergency arose. It was not used.
29. Radio. While in the bush, UHF CB hand held and vehicle mounted radios were used for communications on simplex. Duplex on Channel 3 is also available at Moolooloo for contact at greater distances by UHF.
30. There is no doubt that the isolation and the live-in nature of the treks are powerful catalysts in conveying opinions and promoting disarming honest comment from all concerned. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence, the male treks were an outstanding success. The female version achieved limited gains compared to the male treks. This is the third female trek run in SA and confirms my opinion that the female trek in this form may limit the potential gains to be made in behavior management. The reason for the difference in perceived value for the two treks based on gender is puzzling. Even a change of the leadership of the female trek appears to have made little difference to outcomes.
31. In the first instance, it is very difficult to attract female attenders and in this case only one navy female had experienced operational service. That three were diagnosed with PTSD, one with depression and two with complex medical issues related to employment does not show the military up in a good light. Nonetheless, in the opinions of the female participants, they appear to have universally achieved a number of goals and leave better equipped to face the challenge. By their own admission, not only have the participants faced and discussed their problems frankly among the other attendees and staff, many have formed relationships which are based on personal and common problems.
32. For most this is the commencement of a long journey; understanding and further help will assist in their arriving at a better place. The real test will be to carry the determination into each individual’s domain and anchor that in their lives. It is desirable that participants form a mental strong point to which they can retreat before consolidation and continuation. It is this aspect of the total picture which requires much greater external support and follow-up from existing supporting networks.
33. One of the discoveries which more than half of the group became aware of was that they and their families have lived through personal problems thinking they were alone in their pain and frustration. All of the participants exchanged email addresses and intend to maintain contact and provide advice and assistance to each other via social media and email. This internal bonding is proving most valuable in their respective journeys.
Moose Dunlop OAM
Lieutenant Colonel (Retd)
12 October 2016
Distribution: TT Board Members (7) CEO RSL SA
Secretary RARC Ted Chitham MC CEO RSL Care SA
President RAR Assoc SA CEO RSL QLD
TT staff (e copies) Minister for Veterans’ SA