Senate debates

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Trojan's Trek

10:58 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about an initiative in South Australia called Trojan's Trek. For some current or ex-members of the military, coming back home and adapting to the normalities of everyday life can feel nothing short of a huge struggle. Today I stand to recognise and acknowledge the wonderful work of a unique program in South Australia which aims to deal with this issue by taking an interesting approach. Trojan's Trek is a program which aims to help current and ex-Army personnel who have returned home from service and need assistance in dealing with military induced stress.

Military induced stress is a serious problem which can have a long-lasting effect on the lives of both current and ex-military members and, by extension, their loved ones. Some people find it difficult to recognise or admit to having any form of mental health issue. Often they do not want to ask for medical help, and it can be hard to find alternative ways to deal with mental health issues. Currently, for those who are affected, there seem to be only two ways to deal with military induced stress—through counselling or pharmacology. But Trojan's Trek is aimed at providing a different way to help affected veterans return to a normal way of life in a non-clinical way.

Trojan's Trek is an initiative by the Royal Australian Regiment Association in South Australia. The program takes a practical approach to dealing with a serious and important issue. The direct purpose is to provide veteran-to-veteran and culture specific advice and support to those who require it. The key here is veteran-to-veteran contact. This means that people have someone they can relate to helping them, someone they can talk to and spend time with. These are people who have either had to deal with or have experienced some of the situations and emotions.

Veterans arguably have a deeper bond than most other colleagues do. When on assignment their working hours are generally not nine to five. When on assignment they live and breathe the daily challenge. Many of these current and ex-service people have gone through some form of traumatic event. Trojan's Trek is about bringing a sort of normality to the experiences they had on service, or at least making it normal for them to talk about.

Military induced stress illnesses can have an effect on the way a person interacts with their loved ones when they return home from duty. For some current or ex-military personnel it can be very difficult to come back home and return to their old way of life, the life they led before they went into service. Some turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Trojan's Trek is a drug- and alcohol-free zone, which would certainly add to the challenges that some of the participants face.

The trek involves a group of people who are dealing with a range of different emotions. Some might be angry; many are probably emotionally scarred. Some might be finding it hard to continue with or maintain relationships with their partners, friends or family members. It is only natural that these issues come up, if you stop to consider some of the things that these men might have experienced.

Colonel Moose Dunlop is a Vietnam veteran who is the director of Trojan's Trek. He knows firsthand about all the stresses and struggles that those in the military can have in trying to adapt to a so-called normal life when they return home. He also knows firsthand how hard it can be to admit that there is a problem in the first place and then ask for help. He knows this because it took him 30 years to do so himself. That is one reason he is so adamant and passionate about helping those who need help.

Moose knows only too well the importance of speaking out and taking action against military induced stress and knows that Trojan's Trek is a unique and positive way of getting those who are affected talking. He says, 'We believe the bush is a great teacher due to the isolation.' And he believes that the bush, combined with the experience that these ex-servicemen have, is the ideal combination to be able to best help them.

Moose remains adamant that this program is not treatment for the veterans, but he says, 'We do provide advice from people who can walk the walk.' These men who need help and guidance are more likely to relate to other men who can understand their experiences because they have been through something similar, men who also had to come home and deal with the normalities of everyday life. Moose understands the importance of showing these men that they are not isolated or alone in their feelings of struggling to fit back into their old routines and their normal lives.

The 2012 Trojan's Trek will be held in September over six days in the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The limit for the number of participants for treks is currently 12 people. There were 11 participants in last year's trek, ranging from 26 to 64 years of age. These treks are suitable for current and ex-members, regardless of their fitness levels. 'The physical side is minimal. It is an emotional journey,' says Moose.

Moose believes that there is a demand for holding the treks more often; it is because of a lack of available finances that they are not held more often. Although Trojan's Trek is based in South Australia and targeted at South Australians, Moose says that between five and eight per cent of the participants do come from interstate. He believes that this initiative needs to be expanded into other states around Australia and he believes that there is in particular a demand for such a program in Queensland. 'It can be replicated in other states,' Moose says. He adds that the biggest reason for not expanding the program into other states would be 'financial restrictions'.

The treks come at no cost to the participants, which is why Moose and the men behind the organising of the event rely so heavily on donations and know the true importance of the donations. Trojan's Trek is funded by donations from the government, corporations and individuals. Fundraising events like the Torrens Trek, a fundraising run or walk around Adelaide's River Torrens, also directly raise money for the event. Although large donations from organisations are essential to funding the treks, Moose says it is the little donations that sometimes mean more to him, because some of those who donate have hardships of their own and they still choose to support this program.

It is important to understand that Trojan's Trek is not going to solve all of its participants' problems in the space of six days. But this trek will allow those who participate to see that they are not alone in the way they are feeling. It will help them to understand that their thought patterns can be changed. It will help them to understand that they can adapt back to a normal life. It is about showing them that they can learn to live in the real world again, not about solving all of their problems at once. The issues run much deeper than that. But the first significant step is showing them that there is a support base for them.

There is a Trojan's Trek website which contains a video with all the details about the program. One former Iraq veteran, known as Townie, appears on the video, and I think he sums up perfectly just how helpful Trojan's Trek is. He said: 'The counselling sessions were clinical. Trojan's Trek was personal.'

Senate adjourned at 23:07