Twenty-six Junior Legatees and their Australian Defence Force mentors have begun a tough training program to prepare them physically and mentally to trek the Kokoda Track.
The group recently attended a training camp at the Outward Bound outdoor education centre in northern New South Wales, which was designed to help them develop the physical and mental resilience and mateship they will need to push through the most gruelling parts of the 96-kilometre trek through the Papua New Guinean jungle at the end of August.
The training camp, known as Exercise POPONDETTA PRELUDE, involved team-work challenges, mental resilience training and a four-hour, 8.8 kilometre trek of Mount Warning, which started at in pitch-black darkness at 4am and saw the group summit just in time to watch the sunrise.
Legacy Australia Chairman Tony Ralph said the special relationships formed between the Junior Legatees and their Australian Defence Force mentors during the training camp would be a great asset during the Kokoda trek, and beyond.
"Our Junior Legatees have already gone through some very tough times in their young lives because one of their parents has been killed or incapacitated as a result of their service," Mr Ralph said.
"These young people are very special members of our Legacy family, and Legacy exists to support them and their families through their toughest times.
“We also provide opportunities such as this Kokoda trek, to help them grow as people and strengthen their resilience so that they may flourish in life, despite their adversity.”
Mr Ralph said it was particularly meaningful that the camp included a group of current serving members.
Navy is providing three mentors for the trek, Leading Seaman Communications Information Systems Freya Halliday, Able Seaman Electronics Technician Submarines Haydn Bonderenko, and Leading Seaman Cryptologic Linguist Bianca Lestuzzi.
“They recognise how special these young people are, and are devoting their time to mentoring them through this very challenging activity,” Mr Ralph said.
“This shows our Legacy families that the Australian Defence Force still very much cares about them, long after their loved one – once a serving member - is gone.”
Commander of the Coordinating Headquarters for Operation LEGACY AUSTRALIA KOKODA CHALLENGE 17, Colonel Chris Austin, said the Australian Defence Force felt privileged to be have been asked to support the Legacy youth initiative.
“This is an extension of the wonderful association that Legacy and the Australian Defence Force have had over many years,” Colonel Austin said.
“It is vital that we keep it going, because any one of our Defence families might need the support of Legacy one day.
“This group is going to face mud, rain, pain, discomfort, sleep deprivation, and perhaps even homesickness on the Kokoda Track, and they are all going to be challenged - probably more than any of them have ever been challenged before in their lives.”
Colonel Austin said the Junior Legatees have been paired with a mentor in their home town.
“They will train with them over the coming months, help them prepare for the mission ahead, and eventually do the trek with them in August,” Colonel Austin said.
“These supportive relationships they have started to build will ensure the Junior Legatees have someone by their side when the going gets tough, not just on the Kokoda Track, but also into the future.”
Junior Legatee Thomas Kaye, whose father suffered a heart-attack and lost his life while he was serving at Navy base HMAS Cerberus, said the Kokoda challenge had given him something to really look forward to.
“It’s good to have something so significant to work towards - to have a goal and at the end of it all to have proof that you can really persevere through something as tough as this,” he said.
The group will set off on its Kokoda Trek from Popondetta in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea on 28 August which falls in Legacy Week. This year marks 75 years since the Kokoda campaign of the Second World War ended.
To help provide trekking equipment and porters to the Junior Legatees, please visit Legacy Australia’s fundraising page at https://www.everydayhero.com.au/event/LegacyKokoda2017