Epic trek for House students

25 Jul 2023

Two longtime mates are setting off on the expedition of a lifetime to tackle Western Australia’s 1,000km Bibbulmun Track in support of the Cowboys Community Foundation’s NRL Cowboys House.

Tablelands local John ‘Ando’ Andersen and Townsville’s John Hall will embark in mid-August on the world-class long-distance hiking trail, from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills to Albany on the south coast in a fundraising effort that will benefit Indigenous students from remote communities boarding at the House.

The pair have been planning and training for months, drawing on years of hiking knowledge and experience, which includes the famous Kokoda Track, to ensure success over the 8-9 weeks it will take to complete the walk.

While the trekkers will have their own physical challenges for the hike, ‘Ando’ is anticipating a very special journey that carries with it some deep personal connections.

“I spent a lot of time myself up in the communities in Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf country and Torres Strait since the early 1980s and I just think NRL Cowboys House is a fantastic thing to help bridge the education gap,” he said.

“Everyone keeps talking about giving these students a chance to reach their potential whether in sport, academic, to get a trade, to make their way in the world.

“NRL Cowboys House gives these kids opportunities, they’re living together, they’ve got people who inspire them and give them the encouragement they need to keep going.”

Their Bibbulmun Track trek will specifically benefit NRL Cowboys House’s social enterprise program, teaching House students real-life work skills and what’s involved in running a small business, building on the current running of the House pie van, donated by Rotary.

Preparation is at the heart of the experience that will test their personal strength, endurance and mindset, with both walkers putting in the time to ensure a smooth journey.

John Hall himself has worked in regional development supporting remote communities including Doomadgee, Mornington Island, Normanton and Burketown, seeing the importance of education in changing the lives of young people and their families.

He said preparations for the trek include understanding the unfamiliar conditions and terrain they’re likely to encounter.

“Because I’ve been so busy, Ando’s done most of the planning and he’s really done a lot of research and sent me all the information I need to do the planning component, which is quite extensive and makes sure we’ve got all the right gear that suits the circumstances,” he said.

“We’re from North Queensland, not south-west Australia, so we’re dealing with different temperatures and it’s about making decisions like what clothing to wear and what you pack, remembering you have to carry everything you take.

“In terms of physical training, I actually got behind due to commitments to Rotary, so I am on a crash course now. What I’m doing is starting at the base of Mount Stuart [in Townsville] and I’m up to 9km and 13kg.

"I started at 6km with 10kg and am working my way up to 18km with 15kg, which is what I’m hoping to keep my weight down to.”

But despite the hard work and graft it will take to complete the track, both say the effort will all be worth it for themselves and the students at NRL Cowboys House.

“I know it’s going to be wet; we’ll be setting up camp in rain and at times it’ll be miserable, but you just look back on all that stuff and say it was worthwhile being able to help these kids,” Ando said.

“When we finish, I think it’ll be a feeling of fulfilment – for us a great feeling, but also I think a bit of melancholy too, because it’s all over.

“At the same time, we know there’s been some money raised by it, and that’ll be a great feeling.”

To learn more about the Bibbulmun Track, visit bibbulmuntrack.org.au.

To support their Bibbulmun Track trek and NRL Cowboys House’s social enterprise program, donate at https://www.cowboysfoundation.org.au/fundraiser/teamjohn/bibbulmun-track-trek.