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REPORT: TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2020

INTRODUCTION

1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted on Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 13 to 18 September 2020.  This was the twelfth year treks have been 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.

2. Due to the devastating fires over the summer which had impacted many individuals; firefighters and first responders were encouraged to attend through publicity and open information sessions on Kangaroo Island.  This was a change in approach to the normal practice when first responders are taken more by exception. Twelve males, all from SA, attended.  Of the total, six firefighters, one police officer, and five ex-military made up the contingent.  The average age of the group was 40 with three being under 30.  This was a lower average age than usual and is seen as an advantage as younger participants appear to embrace new concepts willingly.  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.  The three-month Independent analysis following the trek has not yet been completed.

AIM

3. 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

4. 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 that will bring about positive change,
c. individual responses that are effective in achieving goals,
d. improve interpersonal relationships, and
e. enhance self-esteem.

VALIDATION

5. Four standard psychometric instruments are administered to qua

ntitatively 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.

Qualitative evaluations are also measured through the entries in daily journals which are completed by the participants.

6. Since commencement in 2009 each trek has been independently evaluated.  This trek will also be evaluated using data collected at before, after, and at the 2/3 months point.

COVID 19

7. Because of the complications caused by COVID 19, only one staff member from interstate (QLD) attended.  This was manageable and the staff requirement was covered by SA based members.  A COVID Marshall was briefed and appointed for the trek.  He fulfilled the requirements and ensured that where appropriate, practices met the medical advice.  The most onerous task was the contact point cleaning when changes to the vehicle passenger lists were necessary.  Other changes were implemented with meal serving and delivery but no issues were too difficult to resolve.

PROGRAM DELIVERY

8.  Success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the messages delivered by facilitators.  During this trek, three experienced facilitators were employed to deliver the fourteen formal sessions. Three mentors were also used to reinforce the messages.
Moonbeam's RestWhen 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.  Three participants from trek 2018 were utilised as mentors. The total number attending including base staff was 25.  Only one member required accommodation at Keswick Barracks on the night before departure.  This location is economical and safe for vehicle parking.

9. The total attending was 25 as follows:

10. The observer attended to understand and record the trek at first hand. He is employed under the DVA Community Grants scheme to study the program generally with a view to introducing additional sessions, particularly as they relate to delivery and the impact on partners.

LOCATION

11. The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 36 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 in 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 SUPPORT

12. The nearest fully equipped hospital was 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.

EQUIPMENT AND VEHICLES

13. All equipment was satisfactory except for 8 of the cheaper folding chairs which have never been robust enough for the bush. As a result of a call on return, I was informed that they will be replaced by new stronger versions to be donated by one of the firefighters. Six vehicles were hired from Complete Ute and Van at 50% discount and a 200 series Landcruiser and Hilux were loaned to the Foundation by Pioneer Tanks. This represents a saving of $5,200 in hiring costs.

14. 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 cool 5-degree morning. The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a period without recent rain, so the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks relatively stable. Some creeks showed the effects of 25 mm of rain in March which changed the landscape and creek lines in places. 4WD travel between locations was comfortable.

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 but on this occasion, it did not operate. 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.

PROGRAMME

19. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content. 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 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 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 sufferers cannot be overstated. This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek which is based on shared first-hand experience.

Dogs at Pendulum Wall

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

21. All 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.

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 de-identified and 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.

PROGRAMME VIABILITY

28. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand-driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact indicating a will to attend. This has worked well in SA where male numbers remain reasonably high but are diminishing. However, with the experience of this trek, the inclusion of first responders added to the vast pool of experiences and the younger age of the participants was beneficial. The inclusion of first responders is worthy of discussion. In any case 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 Mt Barker Courier and the Islander will each publish an article about the trek and its impact on those attending.

30. No visitors 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. The SA business community provided excellent support by way of consumables and food organized by Jackie McCandless who is a local Adelaide hills resident and Shane and Colin the trek chefs. Approximately $1060 worth of bread, eggs, and other meat items were donated. The donors will be acknowledged. The CFS Volunteer Association has promised $5,000 to help defray the attendance costs of firefighters.

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. This year because of COVID this activity will be virtual. The success of this is not guaranteed and may affect future SA funding.

TREK DELIVERY

33. Participant numbers will continue to 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

34. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush, and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying content with impact. The frank and disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This in turn aids self-management and recovery.

35. 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.  Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants 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.

Moolooloo landscape

36. 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 Foundation 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 behaviour, a shift in their worldview. From one of the journals,

Thanks, Moose, you have turned the light on I can see a better way of coping with my problems.  Trojan’s trek was the best thing I have ever done to help me with my problems with people that understand. “ 

37. 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.

38. 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.  This group established their own closed FB page.

39. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans (and others).  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.

40. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com

 

 

 

 

 

Moose Dunlop OAM
Operations Director
Trojan’s Trek Foundation
30 Sep 2020

SEEKING FIRST RESPONDERS

It was in March that the first attempt to attract first responders to attend a SA trek was launched.  The occasion was at a gathering of first responders at the Parndana hotel attended by HE the Governor of South Australia, the Honourable Hieu Van Le, AC and the Mayor. As the Foundation Patron, HE spoke highly of the work of the Foundation, advertising the benefits offered by attendance.

Sadly COVID 19 put paid to that initiative but with the situation in SA on the improve it has been decided that a trek can be conducted with attendance limited to those states with no infection spikes. Sadly, individuals from VIC, NSW and the ACT are excluded.

Lesson in the creek

To re-launch the 2020 trek, Moose spoke at a meeting on Sunday at Penneshaw.  In attendance were Jane Abdilla, Health and Wellbeing representative SAFECOM, Dr. Jeremy Wells, the KI Medical Practice Director together with representatives from SPAM, CFS WH&S, the Penneshaw Progress Association, KI RSL President, Lions Club of Kingscote, CWA and local brigade members.  The gathering heard presentations from several speakers, each related to early addressing of mental health and stress illness.

A good level of interest in trek attendance was shown. It is hoped that this can be converted into completing the Annex A on the web site.

Enquiries to Moose 0408 088 886 or Paul 0435 780 237 or read more here.

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Feedback from Trojan’s Trek, 2014.

The following qualitative comments are taken at random from participants journals and correspondence. Thanks to everyone for allowing us to post these.

Trojan’s Trek was up there with one of the most, if not the most enlightening experience I have had as a Vietnam veteran trying to come home since I returned from Vietnam over 40 years ago. ….” Moose, I say you can teach some old dogs new tricks”  Honk honk!! 2014 trekker

“It was our absolute pleasure to lend you and the Trek our xxxxxxxxx (the best Daddy & Husband in the whole wide world) although we did miss him very much we knew he would be nothing short of amazing!! He was chuffed to be asked to go on the Trek as staff this year and had no hesitation at all accepting the offer as he and I both know if it wasn’t for TT we wouldn’t be the happiest little family that we are today. So THANK YOU to you and Moose for giving xxxxxxxxx the opportunity to ever go on the Trek in the first place, to gain the tools and change his mindset to become one of the most amazing and positive people I know – partner of 2014 participant.

When I sit back and think poor me, I know now to stop and engage some common sense, I am not alone! Being in this environment has taught me humility and respect.

Wow! Where to start? I suppose the beginning but in the journey, where is the beginning? I am surprised just how quickly and unplanned the panic sets in. I was apprehensive about doing a journal but I think, albeit slowly I am finding the process helpful.

I would seriously consider coming back as a mentor as well as trying to influence some digger mates to consider coming on 2014. I find just being in the middle of the wilderness with like-minded blokes to be very grounding, peaceful relaxing.

Yesterday here was only the first day and already I feel like I have known some of the blokes here for a while.

Being here is really reinforcing where I am at, where I want to be and who I want to be. I sincerely hope to one day spend my time being a part of this and sharing my knowledge …It makes me fell alive again.

I have gotten a lot out of this journey, met some amazing blokes who I will be mates with for life. Before the trek I could not even sleep, just toss and turn with thoughts what have I gotten into, how did my life get so f…d up. Should I just bail and go the lone wolf and stop inflicting my family with this CURSE.

I was told the drive was 3 hours by Dave which probably helped me get there. So it was six but what the f..k you’re here anyway go for the ride, that’s three hours less counselling.

I was made feel at home, I was not judged(?) The first day’s talks were inspirational. Poxy got my head going, poke here poke there, amazing shit activated previous knowledge, synapses are firing

I can help others by my example just by turning up, that is the start of a new improved life. I will now be more interested in my family instead of interesting. Got to open up to Dogs a little more about relationships with family and girlfriend.

It was really good having Craig and Mick on the trek because they really understand as they have been there as well.

“A penny for our thoughts” and I got quite choked up because I was upset that the time was coming when I was going to have to say goodbye to these amazing blokes.

They have been so supportive and actually understand what I am going through I can actually talk to blokes who I can open up to and trust, this stuff is just priceless.

I think it has already made such a big impact on my life and I’m so grateful to be able to call every one of these blokes my mate, both trekkers and staff

I feel like I belong, like somehow I am meant to be here, this is my moment, my time. My choice to fix me. Being on this program and surrounded by others who are in similar boot, I hope to gain the tools or at least begin to.

If I wasn’t here, I know I would not live to see Xmas.

These blokes call themselves farmers, over the past 3 days they have only planted the seeds but the fu…rs have started to germinate.

..it’s all those jars filled with pent-up emotions/feelings/experiences have all been smashed …it is a relief. I told the boys my story. The support feedback I’ve received has been incredible. I was finally free of my demons?

Then a mate from the army said “hay have you seen Trojans Trek, you’re a vet you should go”, my reply was “nah mate I have no issues”. I asked him when it was that was October 2011, and something must have been saying do it as I filled out a leave application for September 2012. I found myself as the time was getting closer becoming more and more excited. I am happy to say that I don’t think I am the same person anymore.

Recently my wife was diagnosed with Bowel cancer, and during the initial days when clouds formed, I found myself calm. For the last 7 weeks now we have faced this new challenge with drive and positivity that I don’t think I would have had if I had not gone through the Trojans program.

Talked at length with Andrew about my time in Somalia and found myself talking about stuff that I usually find uncomfortable. I am finding answers to why I think I am what I am. Dogs makes a lot of sense and I am mainly here because I see myself failing as a father at home.

Webster’s defines self-realisation as:“The fulfilment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.”

“The above I believe encapsulates the overall intent of Trojans Trek (TT). As a participant I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to be at one with myself in order to commence addressing my problems. As a result of my service I had indeed slowly adopted a victim mentality, and was so wrapped up within my own self doubt, pity, fear and anger that I had effectively shut myself off from most around me. I was well aware that I had issues and problems that needed addressing, but now with hindsight I was waiting for help.

TT made me realise that the person who could provide me with the most help was myself. Assistance and support was (and still is) available, but no progress would be made until I came to the realisation that I firstly needed to understand why I feel like I do, and that the selfish methods I was utilising to deal with those feelings were not in my or my families best interests both from a physical and psychological perspective. I felt alone amongst those who love and support me. This situation was ludicrous.

I am of the opinion that the remote location and the fact that all involved were returned servicemen contributed significantly to the effectiveness of TT. I felt that I could talk to anyone around me without being judged, pitied or provided no more than ‘lip service’. I understand now how ridiculous it was that I felt I could not do this with those at home who love and support me, but the week away with veterans in the same situation has provided me with that insight. It also allowed me to ‘dry out’ which in turn provided me with the clear head required to rationally address my thoughts and feelings. The calm surroundings far away and totally removed from the pressures that accompany everyday life assisted in this process immensely.

The TT program is in my opinion a very effective tool in shifting perspective and allowing returned servicemen to ‘re-boot’ their head and commence the path to becoming well again. I am now of the opinion that closed room counselling sessions are nowhere near as effective as the approach adopted by those involved in TT. For that they are to be congratulated. As a result of my experience I fully intend to become involved in any future TT as I feel that I would gain great satisfaction from assisting those who are travelling the same path that I am, as well as providing me with a reminder that my past lifestyle and attitude is no more than self destructing.

…..I also wanted to say thank you again for the week and all the mentoring and advice you gave me. Matt and I sat down over the weekend and talked at length about the trek and we both came to the conclusion that we had both learnt so much and I know now that am in a better place and it will keep on improving. My parents spent the weekend with us and I took on board everything you said about my relationship with my dad. I showed him the nail trick and listen to all his stories about his D Coy 4RAR reunion. I was just happy to have him and mum down here. When they left on Monday I put my arms around him, gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. Something I have never ever done, He was a bit taken back but I know we both aren’t use to it. Anyway thanks again, you were a real inspiration and I know a lot of other younger blokes would get so much out of the experience of the last week.

If the world had more men like those I listened to this week, it would be vastly different. Each man I have listened to has got great strength not only in their minds, but in what they say. This trek for me wasn’t about finding out what my problem is! It’s about finding out some ways to deal with it. The men on the course have been legends. With some it’s been evident from the first time I met them, others it’s taken me ‘til now to see. Time with everyone has helped me to understand a legend isn’t something in a book or a movie, it’s us. This is one experience I will never forget and will pass on to those I know. Life is too short to be a grumpy, uninteresting old man. Thank you everyone for this week long journey.

He really did get a lot out of going and I’ve already noticed a change – Partner of 2014 participant.

Overall I thought the course was absolutely brilliant. There were no expectations before the course, however it has been one of the best things I have done in a long time.

In response to Trojans trek it was invaluable to be with the other veteran’s despite the different campains/ conflicts we were all involved with. As we share a common bond of varying level of ptsd, and the inability to discuss many of our experiences with any other than each other due to content, and fear of judgment (shit that is so far out that could not possibly happen).

Many times with different participant’s the comment was simply shit I haven’t laughed this much in a long time, how bloody true is this very fact.

I simply make this plea; there was very little support for the Vietnam vet’s upon their return please do not make the same mistake with us and those whom are to return in the future.

The simple fact is the true benefit is being away from everything (Tele news, the papers, the radio, and to some degree society) and given the opportunity to think reassess and absorb words of wisdom from others who experienced the issues some time before us. So please keep the program going and thank you to those who took time out to help us.

Went for a walk with the boys and had to stop because I needed time out. The boys were concerned but realised I needed time out. Was memories good and bad from my childhood to the present came rushing out at me in no particular order while. I was looking at a small running stream. Did a calming routine that I have been taught here and was able to focus. Today I am in myself and at peace.

Something has come together for me today. Feeling great this morning, did not wake or stir last night. At home I regularly use sleeping tablets to help me sleep. I am really looking forward to getting home tomorrow, not because I am not enjoying myself but because I think the penny has finally dropped. I feel like a kid who has fallen off his bike and is sitting in the dirt feeling sorry for myself waiting for someone to come and help me. But now I feel I have been helped off the ground and dusted off. I am not back on the bike- that’s up for me to do myself but I have the tools ….

I came to the trek with blinkers (sic) on, both about my life and the trek. I believe I will leave minus the blinkers, in a better state than I arrived and with a better understanding of who I am, what I have done and what I can do from here on in.

The activity has been beneficial for myself and I believe that I will be able to use much of the advice given.

There is now a good relationship with my husband but how many years of counselling, and at what cost to us and financially for the govt. How many couples haven’t made it, how many young people, sons and daughters of veterans found other ways to cope because the help the veterans were receiving was way too slow to save the family? What I saw in Trojan’s Trek was the opportunity for the older veterans to get alongside the younger veterans and speak truth and life to them – Partner of 2014, participant.

I have found since returning from Trojan’s Trek that I have totally different outlook on life and now I deal with things that in the past would have had me” losing it”. I deal with negative things a lot better. My wife has commented on the change in me since I came back. I have done a number of courses for PTSD, but I have found that TROJAN’S TREK has been the best and most beneficial by far!! Thanks Moose and all the staff.

Trojans Trek was an extremely mentally fatiguing time for me; it took me a few days of rest when I got home to process what I had been through, even though I got and still have some of my best sleep out in the bush in swags. To this day even though some of my worst memories from being wounded in Afghanistan one of the best is sleeping in swags, so what better place and environment I think to take veterans than out in the bush.  2014 trekker