MENTAL HEALTH MONTH Paddling from the Darkness
A group of NSW Correctional Officers has completed the journey from Walgett to Bourke on the Namoi , Barwon and Darling Rivers to raise awareness of PTSD , Depression and Anxiety amongst Correctional Officers and their families .
They want the stigma of mental illness to be addressed and removed and treated like all other workplace and lifestyle issues , not forgotten about or ignored . “ It ’ s OK to stick your hand up and ask for help ”, is the message they want to get out there . “ You are not alone ”.
Casting off near Walgett on Monday August 3rd , Geoff Kelty and myself ( Wayne Cole ) were waved off by support crew member Greg Mohr . The river was flowing well .
As we began what was to be a 500km trip over fourteen days , we passed locals fishing , exchanged greetings and continued around the many twisting bends that define this part of the river from Walgett to Brewarrina . It didn ' t take long to realise that the further we paddled , the more we had to keep our minds on task and focused on the job . In the opening days we faced a few challenges that kept us on our toes . Debris and blocked rivers became familiar but luckily only once we had to do a complete portage of kayaks and equipment . Our Support Crew struggled in getting to us due to a lack of communications ; we were unable to send “ sat pics ”, so using calculations and the occasional fixed location , they needed our help as much as we needed theirs so that they could get to us with essential food and water .
We covered 40km minimum per day which kept us on track for arrival times to Brewarrina . Our morning started at 0600 , when we would wake up , breakfast and break camp and be on the water by 0730 . We would take a break at 10kms , 20km for lunch , 30 km and finally , 40km when we would make camp for the night . This was to be our routine for the seven days it would take to get from Walgett to Brewarrina . During the days we were confronted with a number of very thought provoking moments . On one particular occasion we could hear a strange metal sound coming from the distance . It sounded like wailing and continued for a number of kilometres . Eventually we came around a sweeping bend and saw the source of this apocalyptic sound . A broken , twisted and rusted windmill turned slowly , slowly and we laughed , relieved to finally know what the ungodly sound was . Not far from this we passed an abandoned homestead from a once strong rural era and that moment we both felt a very strong sense of isolation . We made camp that night and chatted quietly about this . Knowing that our Support Crew would get to us , we enjoyed a few extra comforts that evening for dinner .
Day 5 dawned like any other , but little did we know that at the end of that day , we would be near broken , defeated by weather , wind and the harsh realities of our location . The wind started around 0900 and blew fiercely in our faces for the entire 40km . We had been averaging 9 to 10 minute kilometres for our journey thus far , but on day 5 we managed only 14 to 16 minutes per kilometre . We messaged our support crew to request an ETA on our location as we felt this day could end our trip . That day , I personally reflected on a number of life changing matters I had witnessed within my career and strongly started taking stock of my life and the future I wanted to see . That afternoon we hit the 40km mark and immediately beached the kayaks as we were physically and mentally done . And then , a glimmer of hope . Our Support Crew contacted us and said they were in a boat , ( thanks to Shane McLean !) and heading in our direction . Whilst waiting , we had tried to assemble our tents for the night as we didn ’ t have the energy to even cook dinner . We could hear the faint sound of a motor boat and about 30 minutes later our full support crew pulled into the shore , with sandwiches , an outstanding beef stew and the smiles we so badly needed , plus conversation with good mates who we have shared so much with over our careers . As they left we waved them off and fell into food comas . It was very , very good ! I look back now and to us , Day 5 was our day of reckoning . It was that crossroad , that hurdle that some in life view as a barrier . Days 6 and 7 came and went without issue . Our minds had faced the darkness and we were not going to let it take this moment from us . We powered into Brewarrina feeling as mentally fresh as the day we cast off , but to me day 5 was still the day that truly tested us .
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