Clarence Coast Motors general manager Geoff Wicks presents Kokoda Challenge directors Scott Campbell and Stuart Jonklaas a cheque to raise money for rural mental health education initiatives.
Clarence Coast Motors general manager Geoff Wicks presents Kokoda Challenge directors Scott Campbell and Stuart Jonklaas a cheque to raise money for rural mental health education initiatives. Bill North

Tackling mental demons on the Kokoda Track

CONQUERING the 96km Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea has become a symbolic pilgrimage for every day Australians putting their physical endurance and mental toughness to the limit.

Most who retrace the footsteps of the Diggers in 1942 return to describe a life-changing experience.

It is fitting, therefore, that Grafton-based trekking company Kokoda Campaign Tours has teamed up with the Black Dog Institute to promote mental health awareness to coincide with the 75th Anniversary of the gruelling Kokoda Track Campaign.

The company will donate one dollar per kilometre per participant in each of its treks in April, July and November to the Black Dog Institute.

"The money we're raising is going directly to running programs in rural NSW and training up presenters so we can bring the Black Dog to Grafton," Kokoda Campaign Tours director Scott Campbell said.

"It's not going to take away from other mental health services such as Headspace or Beyond Blue. It's just another tool we can have."

A retired corrective services officer and current Rural Fire Service captain, Mr Campbell and fellow director Stuart Jonklaas came up with the initiative after Clarence Valley Anglican School invited the Black Dog Institute to speak at the school, where both men have children who attend.

Craig Semple to give talks on depression , black dog.07 OCT 2015Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
Craig Semple to give talks on depression , black dog.07 OCT 2015Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

The speaker was former Grafton policeman and now Coffs Harbour resident Craig Semple, who spoke about his experiences with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"After the day of talking to the students, there was a talk for parents and teachers," Mr Campbell said.

"That's when we met Craig Semple and it went from there. He was back up here last month talking to police about these issues, which, to be honest, was an absolute breakthrough.

"The key focus on mental health in the Clarence Valley at present here is youth. But it's bigger than youth. It doesn't matter if you're young, old, rich or poor, mental health affects everybody and we need to focus on the big picture.

"Emergency services workers who've seen the worst things ever, or a bank teller being held up, it affects everybody. It's non-dsicriminatory.

"And the Black Dog does a lot of good research.

"Our target is to raise $50,000 and we are looking for more corporate partners to come on board."

If you are able to lend your support to the 2017 Black Dog Kokoda Challenge or would like more information visit http://kokoda2017.gofundraise.com.au/cms/home.

Clarence Coast Motors in South Grafton has already pledged $1000 to the cause.

"It's a cause that needs to be spoken about," Clarence Coast Motors general manager Geoff Wicks said.

"Here is someone prepared to talk about it and we're happy to assist in funding that."

Darcy Kean hands over the first Sunburst cheque to Craig Semple and Lee-Ann Lloyd ahead of their Kokoda trek to raise money for the Black Dog Institute. Coffs Harbour, February 15, 2017.
Darcy Kean hands over the first Sunburst cheque to Craig Semple and Lee-Ann Lloyd ahead of their Kokoda trek to raise money for the Black Dog Institute. Coffs Harbour, February 15, 2017. Keagan Elder

>> RELATED STORY: Former copper taking on the Black Dog Kokoda Challenge

Craig Semple was a career detective in the NSW Police Force for 25 years from 1988 until his retirement at the rank of Detective Sergeant in 2013. For the last 20 years of his career he was stationed at regional commands including Hay, Wagga Wagga, Grafton and finally Coffs Harbour.

"During my career I didn't keep count of the suicides I attended and investigated," Mr Sepple said.

"I can only guess that the number would exceed 40 or 50, and probably by a fair margin.

""Most I attended involved men living in rural communities. Many were farmers. A few were adolescents.

"I always found it hard to reconcile how things could get so bad that people took their own lives. A lack of education about mental illness led to my ignorant belief that suicide was the result of victims lacking the strength and courage to face their personal problems.

"During my own recent battle with depression and PTSD my understanding of mental illness and suicide has dramatically changed.

"I now understand that the loss of those lives had nothing to do with strength, courage or weakness. They simply fell victim to an illness.

"In many cases earlier intervention and treatment may have saved their lives."



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