Recently nine students and two staff from Traralgon College participated in an eight day Operation Flinders exercise (hike). The program is held on Yankaninna Station, in the Gammon Ranges National Park, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Yankaninna Station is located 65kms east of Leigh Creek in the Northern Flinders Ranges and some 650kms from Adelaide and is served by a bitumen road and dirt track. The terrain is rugged hilly country with some large mountains. The country is saltbush, native pine and mallee with large gum trees along dry creek beds.
The dates for the program (including travel) were Tuesday 15th March - Thursday 24th March. This is our story…
Day 1 (Tuesday) - We departed Traralgon College at 7:00am on Tuesday 15th March in a mini bus and Kia Carnival. We stopped for lunch at Charlton, tea at Renmark, SA and finally arrived at Morgan Caravan Park by 8:00pm. We were all tired but still very excited for the trip ahead.
Day 2 (Wednesday) - We left Morgan Caravan Park at 6:00am the next morning, stopped at Victory Park, Peterborough for breakfast, Lunch at Leigh Creek, and finally arrived at Yankaninna Station at approx. 2:00pm. There we met our team leader (Brendan) and Assistant Leader (Tavares) who had a back pack for each of us with sleeping bag, eating utensils, ground sheet, shelter (hootchie), wet weather gear, tent pegs, rope and water bottles. We quickly packed our backpacks with our gear and began walking to our first campsite. On our way however, the sky opened up and we got very wet. We set up our first campsite in the rain, which wasn’t the start we were hoping for as we were cold and wet. Later, the rain passed and we were able to light our campfire, cook a nice hot meal, dry out and warm up ready for the next day.
Day 3 (Thursday) - The next morning we were issued with a teddy bear as the team mascot. The bear at all times must be able to hear, see and smell what is going on in the Team. We named him ‘Greg’. The Team Leader (Brendan) issued duties to the students (team members) each day including the role of Team Captain. Other Team members were responsible for cooking, digging latrines, building the fire, minding Greg and other duties normally required in a camp and during a 'trek'. Over the course of the program all of the team were taught basic bush craft and navigation skills.
The Exercise route was spread over a 100km circuit around Yankaninna. Teams walk an average of 100km over the eight days, but this can vary depending on circumstances. Distances walked each day vary depending upon the activity at the campsite they have been and generally between 8 and 15kms.
Teams spend each night at designated night locations. Each campsite had limited facilities to support each team, with sufficient rations for our dinner that night, breakfast the following morning and lunch that we carried with us. A supply of water, implements for cooking and digging toilet pits were also provided at each campsite. There were nine other teams on the exercise with us at that time. However, at no time do the Teams meet or mix, although we are aware of each other's presence from evidence at campsites and from radio 'chatter'.
The weather began heating up and average temperatures were in the mid 30’s for the duration of the trip. The terrain was extremely dry, rocky, uneven, unpredictable and unforgiving. The bushes were extremely sharp and constantly scratched our legs, there were prickles everywhere, and the rocks meant there wasn’t very much even ground, putting extra pressure on our feet, ankles and knees. After the second day, we were all tired, sore and our feet were beginning to swell and blister. Thank goodness for sports tape and our Assistant team leader (Tavares) who was soon named ‘Doctor Bush Doctor’ and his trusty assistant (Tyler) who not only helped us with our feet and first aid issues but also entertained us for hours on end with their funny role play, humour and wit.
Day 4 (Friday) - The next day we visited two historically significant sites, the Mount Rose copper mine and chimney. They were fantastic and over 100 years old. The chimney in particular was very tall and could be seen from very long distances away. We even referred to it days later, as it came into view from time to time. That night we had a very special visitor to our campsite. Noel, who is an elder from the local Adnyamathanha community (the traditional owners of that part of the northern Flinders Ranges). Noel taught us about his culture. We learned about the Adnyamathanha dreaming and partook in the presentation and consumption of traditional food (Noel’s famous Kangaroo stew). Through the telling of dreamtime stories and songs, we were taught the basic values caring, sharing and respecting each other, their elders and the environment.
Day 5 (Saturday) – This is a day we will remember forever. We had a very hard but rewarding day; this is the day we climbed Mount Rose. The summit of Mount Rose is 744m above sea level. It is extremely steep with very tricky terrain. Sharp rocks of all sizes, some quite large, slipping from underneath your feet as we struggle to balance from the weight of our packs and climb to the steep, never ending hill to the saddle and on again to the summit. Not everyone makes it, but we did… and we’ll never forget the feeling, or the view.
Day 6 (Sunday) - After the success of climbing a mountain we decided we’d try our luck jumping off a 30 metre high cliff (with a harness of course!) We were given the opportunity to abseil and were asked to place our trust in the staff and other team members to overcome our various fears. This improved our self-confidence, by overcoming challenges perhaps we initially thought we would be unable to achieve. Although nervous at first, we had a great time. This activity also helped bring us closer together as a team and group.
Day 7 (Monday) – The seclusion and feeling of isolation on the trip was coming up more and more in conversation. The kids were missing other people. It just so happened that we ran in to an older couple named Cedrick and Hettie. They invited us back to their place, and there hospitality was much appreciated. We were allowed to stay at a nearby campsite for the night and were invited to join them for supper where they cooked us damper and told us stories, and shared a fair bit about themselves with us. They were fantastic people and a breath of fresh air.
Day 8 (Tuesday) – The Last full walking day! We climbed just shy of the extremely steep and high summit of Yudlamoora (a mountain) and made our way to camp in reasonably good spirits, all tired, sore and desperately missing home and loved ones. For tea we had celebratory BBQ which tasted so good! It was a clear night, the moon shone bright, the stars were out, and there were no hootchies in sight as we all slept under the stars on our last night in the Flinders Ranges.
Day 9 (Wednesday) – With a 5:00am wake up call, we woke up and got ready for our short walk to our pick up point. Once there, we had completed the Exercise and were presented (individually), with a T-shirt and a set of dog tags. Two specific awards were also presented based on performance. Tyler won the most valued participant award for his outstanding leadership, teamwork, effort and humour and was presented with a boomerang. Whilst, Jordan was awarded ‘Greg’ our mascot for her effort, resilience, improvement and humour throughout the trip. We departed Yankaninna at about 9:00am by mini-bus and arrived at Adelaide airport by 4:45pm. We quickly freshened up, had tea and departed Adelaide airport at 7:30pm and arrived at Melbourne airport at 9:15pm. We got picked up at Melbourne airport at about 9:50pm and arrived back in Traralgon by 1:00am Thursday morning.
Other highlights that need to be mentioned were the:
- Teamwork, resilience, support and encouragement the team showed throughout the trip.
- Nick’s and Tavares’ Stephen Curry vs Derrick Rose ongoing debate and sledging which kept up constantly entertained and laughing.
Overall, it was one of the toughest, most physically and mentally challenging experiences we have ever had. It was not easy. But we did it! We walked 100km, we climbed a mountain, we finished! Although it was hard, everyone on the trip has come away with something positive and learned something new about themselves. If we can remember this, when times get tough, when things don’t go quite to plan, when we’re facing things we don’t think we can handle… We can overcome them. With the right attitude, good supports and friends around us, we can do anything!!
A very special thanks to:
- GDF Suez (Engie) and Traralgon Rotary for your generous sponsorship! It wouldn’t have been possible without it.
- Luke and the staff of FLO (Flexible Learning Option) for all the support, planning, food, transport and laughs along the way.
- Hollie and the Traralgon Rays Outdoors team for providing us with boots, socks, and a fun day with prizes.
- Brendan and Tavares for being excellent leaders, support and getting us all back safe and sound.
- The parents for all your support, co-operation and understanding.
- ‘Tango 5’ – For being legends, climbing Mt (Derrick) Rose, pushing through all the challenges and adversity we faced, working together and completing the 100km walk. Be proud of who you are and all your achievements and continue to support one another.