CAUTION – Trigger warning.
Bradley’s Diary, Day 1.
Willy, Maurice and I decided enough was enough.
It was time to reintroduce that hallowed tradition back into college. You dear reader know the one I’m talking about. That age old practice of taking a bunch of VC lads deep, deep into the jungle and putting them through a military assault course that would have crushed even the hardest special forces soldiers. Our aim was to break them into little, tiny pieces and reforge them into men of steel, men so resilient and tough that they would eat up woke buzzwords like anxiety, veganism, and plant-based products for breakfast.
And so, our journey began. We loaded our soldiers, [Privates Tristan, Josh, Zach and Atticus] onto the bus and hit the highway. Cruising along the freeway, we took a sharp left at Coffs Harbour and headed inland, threading our way further and further into the dark forbidding forests of the hinterland. We traversed steep mountains and waved in a friendly manner at the backward hill folk that inhabited small, unnamed hovels along the mountain road. Finally, after much sweating, we arrived at our destination, the glorious township of Ulong.
Immediately we went to the campground and set up our swags under heavy rain and lightning. Some recruits took 40 minutes to open their mattress due to technical difficulties, but the boys banded together to help the less able members.
With camp set up, we went into the wild lands of the Nymboi-Binderay National Park to begin testing the recruits. We parked at an old gold mining site called the Italian camp [named after a group of Italian gold miners] We began our swim, the water was so cold it burned. 1.3 kms upriver we swam and walked, barefoot, battling snakes and leeches, near drownings and swooping birds. Private Atticus found a large red intestinal worm as he was drinking from the river. Halfway up we came across a surprise waterfall with a large diamond python residing at the top. We christened these falls Python Falls. Willy got so close to the beast it almost bit him on the face.
Pushing on through another 500 meters of swimming we reached Battery falls, a glorious cataract that showcases the natural magnificence of the Little Nymboida River. The troops fatigue, hypothermia and leech borne diseases melted away, replaced by awe and admiration for natures’ glory. Barefoot and triumphant, we trudged back to the bus, knowing we just accomplished a feat that other schools in the state never will.
Cold and undefeated, we drove back to the campsite for a quick debrief before rendezvousing with the local restaurant, the Ulong General Store and Café in the Valley run by Kate and Vincent. There, we seven, we brave seven soldiers of fortune, ate 12 pizzas. Because that is what people full of resilience and awesomeness do.
Once the troops had been fed, we returned to our campsite, which was close to the Ulong Community Centre. Our return coincided with a hapkido lesson being taught by Master Jim Walker of the Australian Hapkido Federation. 6th Dan Master Walker had a discussion with the boys about life, philosophy and he taught them some self-defense moves for use in different situations. His generosity in sharing his time and expertise with us was really appreciated.
By about 10 o’clock we pulled up stumps and settled in for the night. During the nocturnal hours most of us woke up in agony as our necks and shoulders were torn from the swim. Hairy little creatures lurked in the bush and trees outside our swags, screeching and fornicating. Intermittent screams and incomprehensible gibberish burst forth from the area where the recruits were camping, and I don’t know why. The rain continued all through the night, nearing a flood. It was hell.
Bradley’s Diary Day 2
Instructors Willy, Maurice and I woke up at the crack of dawn. Quickly we rushed over to the recruits and began screaming at their tents to help motivate them to wake up. Someone threw a stick. From there, we force marched the troops back to the Ulong Café in the Valley and dined on bacon and egg rolls with hot chocolate for breakfast. I personally watched several hairs sprout from the chests of each recruit, such was the masculine cholesterol levels contained within each bacon and egg roll.
As we devoured our breakfast, many of the locals who we had met the night before at the Hapkido lesson filtered in to have a chat with us. In a small town with a primary school of 16 children, we were invited to stop in next time we were camping to read to the children in the primary school and work with them and share some things about our life. Again, the hospitality of this village really hit us as the people were so welcoming. We established friendships and links and have come away determined to keep the relationship alive between Ulong and VC.
Then, with the troops fed, we embarked on another adventure. Drill Instructor Willy drove us deep into the forest and we hopped from swimming hole to swimming hole, forcing the troops to test the water. From the looks on their faces it seemed to be freezing. After this, we returned to the campground, packed up and hit the road.
The entire camp was magic. It was great to spend time surrounded by genuine, decent human beings in an awesome setting. We are already booked in to go a few times next term because it is a resilience and character-building experience we would like to offer to other young men and women who wish to see and participate in something unique. Really proud of all staff and students that put in their best efforts to make it what it was.
From little things, big things grow.