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A big adventure

The group of Huddle participants and Marly Batenburg of the Huddle (far right) at Mt Macedon.

The unlikely group huddled together at Melbourne Airport; some half asleep, others chatting with nervous energy. There was 40 in all - a mix of adults and young people, each with a large backpack almost bursting at the seams and clunky hiking boots, ready to face a test like no other.

Their destination? Papua New Guinea, to complete an intense six day Kokoda Trek.

Victoria Police has conducted the hike every year since 2006, each time with a different group but the same objective; to grow the relationship between police and young people.

This year the participants included seven police officers, two paramedics, six students from St. Bernard’s College, 13 corporate sponsors and eight young people from North Melbourne’s not-for-profit arm, The Huddle.

Those from The Huddle are aged 19 to 22 from migrant and refugee backgrounds including Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Each one a leader in their respective community.

The group begun their training in February, training every Wednesday and every other Saturday since.

Head of Education and Careers at the Huddle, Marly Batenburg, has been training with the group every Wednesday and Saturday since February. Batenburg helped motivate, prepare, and inspire the hikers.  

“They would wake up early to hike Mt. Macedon every other Saturday and showed up every Wednesday to train. They got themselves fit…both mentally and physically so that they would be prepared for the challenge.

“The entire group, which is nearly 40 people, has really come together. They’re all so different, they come from different places and from so many diverse backgrounds, but they’ve really come together and I know that they will all support each other.”

Batenburg’s praises didn’t just rest on the Huddle participants, but on Victoria Police and their capacity at creating such a successful and impactful program.

“Throughout this entire program they’ve made everyone feel welcome, informed, and safe,” she said. 

“On the days when we were hiking and it was raining and there was thunder and lightning, I never once doubted that the police had it under control. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of this program to really affect all of the participants, from The Huddle kids to the police themselves. They are all learning and growing throughout this experience.”

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs