General, Stories and Articles

Beyond Billabong

Billabong to Beach

“There’s nothing to do!” That’s the cry of every teenager across the country, and for the boys from remote communities around Australia, this is so close to the truth, that many fall into the pitfalls of idleness. However, boys and young men who were finding very few constructive activities in life, are now saddling horses, performing vehicle maintenance, making belts, creating artwork, doing computer courses and finding opportunities in life which they have never before been offered.

Beyond Billabong is a life and rural skills training program which creates meaningful opportunities for indigenous youth across the country. Based in Longreach, the four-week program aims to instill and develop the participants’ confidence and sense of self-worth; allowing them to make positive and productive life choices, opening opportunities for change,providing avenues to acquire valuable skills, and an ability to achieve.

Every element of the Beyond Billabong – Billabong to Beach program endeavours to challenge and encourage its participants. From horsemanship to leatherwork, artwork to computing, vehicle operations, team-building and leadership exercises, the program provides the support and resources needed for each participant to experience personal success. Horsemanship is a key component in the course, not only for the rural skills and accreditation it provides, but also for the relational elements that are developed through the horse-and-rider relationship. Learning how to interact calmly and honestly in a relationship where trust is essential provides a good foundation for better and more effective interpersonal relationships.

Boyd Curran is a man with a vision, and is the driving force behind Beyond Billabong. He’s been working in personal development training for indigenous youth for the past 9 years. “As a parent you provide love and care and you educate your children. Kids have a right to be educated and loved” Boyd is passionate about instilling similar hopes and ideals in young indigenous people and the program emphasizes respect.”

During the first week each participant is outfitted with boots, jeans, shirts and an Akubra hat and there is invariably a positive response. Horsemanship and leatherwork are the two ‘hands on’ activities for the week, and the pivotal element ensuring participants receive the most benefit from the program, is the quality of delivery and the personal support offered. The horse instructors, supplied through Andrew Currie – Jamie Peters and Ashley Kerr, and the men at Kent Saddlery – Ben, Daniel and Lyle Kent, all bring a standard of moral and professional excellence to the program. They encourage, support and instruct the participants in developing horsemanship and leatherwork skills. The leatherwork component involves crafting leather products which the young people can then wear with pride.

During the second week, hidden talents are often revealed in the painting segment. Individual artworks are donated to the Beyond Billabong Foundation, and later auctioned to raise funds for indigenous youth support programs. Computer work is also covered in the second week.

The third week is a time of adventure for participants, when they are flown to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. There they meet role model sports people, and experience life in a totally different environment. Boyd explains that it’s much more than a holiday: “We are building their confidence, showing them that they deserve to have a quality life … one of the greatest learning experiences in life is being challenged to do something you don’t think you can do,and going out and doing it. To get on a plane, a bus, and go surfing are all huge life experiences for them.”

Clint Miller, 31, joined the Beyond Billabong initiative, using his expertise to build the program and its procedures. His brother Luke, 29, has taken on a role as team leader. Luke, an AFL player and Australian Surfboat rowing champion, had completed a carpentry apprenticeship, and is now doing what he always really wanted to do. He says that “It needs patience and consistency, and you have to be flexible and give a bit of freedom.”

Back at Longreach for the forth and final week, focus is on vocational opportunities, building individual pathways, and talking about hopes, aspirations and needs.

Everyone involved with Beyond Billabong has a confident and expectant hope that, along with other educational and employment groups, the young participants will find meaningful jobs. Beyond Billabong guides its participants into, and supports them throughout employment,with an emphasis on commitment for life – both personally and vocationally. The success of the program is not measured by employment outcomes, but by the growth of the individual.This is often reflected in a motivation to continue with positive life choices;securing a future for themselves, and in a culture already many generations strong, ensuring a stronger future for generations to come.

It’s been satisfying to connect with these young people and see the hidden potential bubbling to the surface, even after one week.

When they’ve finished making their leather gear, there’s a sense of excitement and realization that “I can do this! I made this!”

I’m encouraged to see the way they’re inspired to believe they can be successful and do something worthwhile.

Ben Kent

During the week I could see the change in the participants attitude, as they realized that there’s “more out there”.

The leatherwork was challenging for them, but as they finished a project they were proud of their achievements.

The course was very worthwhile. It opened my eyes to the challenges the participants face.

I got a lot out of it.

Daniel Kent

Image captions:

1) Boyd with trainees

2) Daniel with two trainees

3) Ben with trainees and leaders

4) Daniel and Jacob with trainees