UPDATED: The Menslink Great Walk ends with great success, great fundraising and great relief

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Menslink walkers at Parliament House

Menslink Great Walk participants reach the end of their trek at Parliament House. Photo: Todd Wright.

UPDATED 6 November: We did it! The Menslink Great Walk concluded, slightly ahead of schedule, at Parliament House, where it began five weeks ago (not really, it just feels like that).

We completed the Canberra Centenary Trail and raised a current total of $335,000 from more than 2000 people.

And while there were a few quiet vehicular shortcuts as the end approached, pretty much everyone who started also finished, albeit with some hobbling.

Raiders legend Don Furner arrived at lunch in the Red Hill park on a scooter, while others, like Adash Janiszewski from Providence Consulting, climbed literally every mountain along the way.

Great Walk

Justine Saunders (Menslink deputy chair and Border force deputy commissioner), Sarah Rajic (Capital Recruit), Genevieve Jacobs (Region Media), Julie Dobinson, (DDCS Lawyers), Cecilia Blewitt, (BAL Lawyers).

The cause was always excellent: Border Force deputy commissioner Justine Saunders – who is also Menslink’s deputy chair – and ACT Corrections Commissioner Ray Johnson both spoke powerfully on the trail about seeing the effect of police records and incarceration on young men, and how hard it is to fix in their lives.

Ray Johnson says that once the cycle of involvement in the justice system begins it can be near impossible to break free, with often catastrophic consequences for families. Menslink’s work in diverting young men and boys who are in trouble, struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues and family breakdown is critically important.

Speaking at last night’s dinner, mentors Travis Doherty, who has just stepped down as Village Building Company CEO, and Allbids’ Rob Evans, both reflected on providing consistency and belief for young men who often lack positive male role models.

Vantage Strata’s Chris Miller says that because of stories like these, the sore feet and leg muscles were more than worth it.

“I really wanted to be part of something that’s so important to the community”, he said. “The commitment from everyone on the walk was outstanding, and the friendships we formed were, too”.

That camaraderie has been a strong feature of the event, and while there was certainly plenty of business networking happening at the start, many longer conversations about life evolved as we slogged through 140 km, sometimes in the pouring rain.

Family and friends flocked to meet the group as we approached Parliament House, including at least four dogs.

Rob Evans’ beloved Rex would have won the prize for the world’s most chilled canine, but we also welcomed labradors and labradoodles, children large and small, and some security staff who just wanted a selfie with the Border Force chief.

The Great Walk was a true Canberra event: strongly community-oriented, low fuss and low key and focussed on our beautiful bush capital. It was fun and it did good. Hundreds of young blokes will benefit from counselling, mentorship and support. So will their families, school and workmates and the rest of the community.

Good work, Walkers – and now on to 2022.

Menslink walkers

Menslink walkers Ian Mackay (Southern Cross Club), Ben Henderson (Capital Chemist), Julie Dobinson (DDCDS Lawyers), Rob Evans (Allbids) and Chris Miller (Vantage Strata) on the trail near Chapman. Photo: Martin Fisk.

UPDATED 5 November: It was a soft day on the trail and fairly slippery one, too, as we walked from Coombs across the Chapman Ridge.

There were lovely misty views as we headed towards the valley of the Murrumbidgee, the beauty of the Red Rocks lookout (with waterfalls running everywhere) and the extremely welcome sight of the Tuggeranong basketball stadium looming at the end of the day.

More than 2000 individual donations have now been made to this massive fundraising effort, and they’ve come from across the community, from friends, colleagues and strangers who believe in the cause. The generosity is amazing – if you are one of those 2000 people, thank you from the bottom of our footsore hearts.

We enjoyed a terrific lunch at the Communities at Work Galilee School, where principal Tim McNiven talked about the close links between Menslink and his work ensuring that kids who are struggling to complete school get through. The chocolate protein balls were outstanding!

The going was slushy after lunch and we did see a red-bellied snake on the trail – although it had recently been dropped from a lolly bag.

ACT Corrective Services Commissioner Ray Johnson talked on the trail about all the young blokes he’s seen in his policing and corrections careers. As the ACT Chief Police Officer, he wanted to understand more about diverting kids from the criminal system and keeping them out of custody wherever possible. He’s walking for those young men and their families.

Nathan Ross from the Village Building Company is one of several from the construction and property sector on the walk. He’s spent his career in construction and knows what the pressure on young blokes can be like to look tough, to hide their feelings and take unnecessary risks.

Tomorrow, the final day takes us through the Wanniassa Hills, Mugga Lane, on to Red Hill and thence to Parliament. There will be celebratory drinks for sure, but also plenty of people heading home for a deep, long Radox soak.

And the best news all day came from the Southern Cross Club, where tonight’s big dinner will be held. They’re waiving the no thongs rule!

Rob Evans from Allbids

Allbids’ Rob Evans hikes towards a foggy Black Mountain tower on the Canberra Centenary Trail. Photo: Martin Fisk.

UPDATED 4 November: Yesterday’s sunny skies seems like a distant dream for the Menslink Great Walk team, who have squelched their way through steady soaking rain between Belconnen and the Arboretum on Day Three of our trek.

But the good news is that the fundraising total has hit its $300,000 target, and every cent goes towards funding services for the vulnerable young men and boys. You can donate here.

While the bushland walking was straightforward, it was soon apparent that our shower-resistant gear was no match for the weather.

We started delicately skipping over puddles and ended up wading straight through ankle-deep water along the Bruce Ridge, the Aranda Woodlands and on to the Cork Forest. We’ve never been happier to see the Village Centre appear through the mist.

Some are already battle-scarred: there is a bloke with a blister that should have a content warning and tycoon of the construction industry whose hips are screaming.

BAL Lawyers CEO Cecilia Blewitt says the strength of community on the walk has surprised her and changed her understanding of how deep support for the charity runs in Canberra. Each night, we’ve been hearing deeply personal (and private) testimony from people who now volunteer for Menslink.

From a former police officer who saw terrible things in the service and wanted to encourage others to speak about their feelings to a young bloke struggling with deep depression, they’ve decided to give back.

The support for Menslink is also deeply entrenched among the corporates supporting the walk, from Geocon, which has provided the accommodation, to 24-hour media help from Threesides Marketing, shirts from Intersport and Southside Physio’s mobile massage table, which is getting quite a workout with all the tight hamstrings and seized up lower backs.

Ian Mackay heads up the Canberra Southern Cross Club, where we’ll be dining tomorrow night. He sees a continuation of the community service tradition in the walk that feels familiar for clubs that also support many charities, sports clubs and not for profits across the ACT.

Tomorrow, the Centenary Trail takes us along Eucumbene Drive, Cooleman Ridge and Mt Arawang before we follow the Murrumbidgee to Tuggeranong. The walk is almost halfway through, so how much harder can it be to do another 35 km?

Menslink walk

Julie Dobinson (DDCS), Grae Munro (Detlevs), Bjarne Krahe (Southside Physio), Adam Lawrance (Lawrance Private Wealth) and Chris Miller (Vantage Strata) close to the One Tree Hill summit. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

UPDATED, 3 November: After a blistering trudge around Gungahlin yesterday, today’s section of the Canberra Centenary Trail took the Menslink Great Walkers through gently undulating woodlands at the back of Hall, past kangaroos grazing on meadows of wildflowers and sun-dappled woodlands.

All very bucolic and peaceful, and a gorgeous reminder of how much bush surrounds us in the national capital – apart, that is, from the 100 knee-challenging, hip-grinding steps up to One Tree Hill’s summit.

And today, a lot of people who had been a bit sniffy about walking poles suddenly felt they were a very wise choice as they hauled themselves up those stairs.

The view along the way and from the top of Canberra’s original surveying point is truly spectacular. Julie Dobinson from DDCS lawyers commented that you can see both how big, and how small Canberra is. It’s somehow much easier to imagine where the Molonglo wound through the valley below, cradled by the surrounding hills.

Julie’s a long time family lawyer and has seen at close range how hard life can be for families who are struggling with breakdown, substance abuse or anger issues. She’s spent many years working on women’s issues across her career but says you can never lose sight of the whole family dynamic when times get tough. That’s her motivation for the Great Walk.

Community service is a big factor for many of the business owners on the trail.

Chris Miller from Vantage Strata is a born and bred Belco boy and values the way Canberra functions like a big country town, where we expect to step up and help each other.

Grae Munro from Detlevs Electrical feels the same way: starting as a young tradie himself, he’s acutely aware of the pressures on young blokes who often find it hard to reach out for help.

While young men and women suffer depression and anxiety at much the same rates, only one in 10 males will reach out for help. Silence can be deadly: suicide kills more young men than any other cause. Menslink visits school across Canberra, Queanbeyan and Yass to talk with young men about the hassles of life and the walk will help to fund this program.

Today was a relatively easy day – just under 20 km and most of us were finished by lunchtime.

Tomorrow, it’s a longer slog through the back of Belconnen to Black Mountain and the Arboretum. There are a few mountain goats who are heroically running up any summit they can find, but we’re also expecting a wet and more challenging day. You can donate to the Great Walk fundraising here.

Menslink Great Walk

The Menslink Great Walk began at Australian Parliament House. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

2 November: It’s day one of the Menslink Great Walk, and I’m no longer entirely sure why I thought this was a good idea.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, we are 27 km in, walking through the Mulligans Flat woodland and every muscle in my legs is screaming at me to stop. Just stop. Right now.

“Go and lie down behind the Mulligans Flats woolshed,” my legs are saying.

“Surely someone will find you and carry you to the bus.”

And there’s four more days and 110 km to go along the Canberra Centenary Trail!

Next to me, Colonel Mark Coyle from the Australian Army is striding along with ease.

He’s done this all before. He’s walked from Sydney to Canberra, been on postings everywhere from Bosnia to South Sudan and is well versed in how to save your feet (elevate them above your waist so the blood flows back down).

After we started this morning, Mark and a couple of other very fit blokes hopped up Mt Ainslie as a brief detour.

But his reason for the walk is the same as all of us: to show young blokes that we, as a society, care about their well-being and acknowledge that they are a big part of our future.

Thirty walkers are committed to raising $10,000 each on the walk. If everyone hits their fundraising target, Menslink will have about 20 per cent of their running costs for the year. It takes around $1500 on average to support a young bloke through mentoring and counselling and this year, Menslink will support around 700 young men and their families.

That can make an immeasurable difference across our community as Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan and Ngunnawal elder Aunty Violet Sheridan both said when we launched the walk this morning at Parliament House.

Nick Georgalis from Geocon, who is sponsoring the walk, says he’s motivated by all the young blokes that work for him.

It’s the same for Don Furner from the Raiders, and Menslink deputy chair Justine Saunders from Border Force, who was previously the ACT’s Chief Police Officer and saw first-hand how badly things can go off the rails when young men don’t have positive role models in their lives.

It wasn’t completely smooth sailing today: more than one person got lost in the bush behind the War Memorial, and someone (possibly connected with the strata industry) ended up on their way to the airport and had to call an Uber to catch up.

Tomorrow is a mere 20 km, but that includes One Tree Hill at Hall.

I got through the first day relatively intact thanks to three months of training, and the walk is all about resilience – the same resilience that Menslink hopes to build in young men and boys who need our help as a community.

As Mark Coyle says, “Let’s walk to show the standard and the commitment … we have to be a small part of that world that the young men of Canberra can aspire to”.

You can find the Menslink Great Walk fundraising page and all walkers here.

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Congratulations Rob Evans of AllBids, who has so far raised over $19,000. The charity auction was a great idea. Thanks guys.

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