As the sun shone brightly in the clear blue skies above, the warm morning air made us feel a lot like we might have been home in Yuendumu.  It was, however, the fresh and soothing sound and feel of the gentle rolling waves, pushing their way into the beach from the vast Pacific Ocean, that made it clear to us all that this was definitely not Yuendumu….we were at Bondi Beach.

We had all heard of Bondi, and we even got to venture into the lifeguard tower made famous by ‘Bondi Rescue’, but none of us had ever been there, and hardly any of us had ever experienced, first-hand, the continual rolling action of an ocean swell…a part of nature so different to what we are used to as desert people living on country in remote, spectacular Central Australia.

While the rolling Bondi waves may have been a different experience to life at Yuendumu, along with the sands that had changed from red to white and the level of surrounding activity that had gone from slow to hectic, there was no way that some of us were not going to give this crazy activity called surfing a red hot go!

So, with the help of the ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ team, wetsuits were fitted and boards were provided, and before we knew it we were looking the part, ready to take on the might of the sparkling, sun-drenched Pacific Ocean.

Of course, to be wearing a cool looking wetsuit and carrying a big foam board is one thing, but what then? We didn’t want to only look cool….we wanted to be cool, so it was off to some starting instruction (done on the sand) from the team that knows how to do this stuff.

We quickly nailed that, or so we thought, but we needed to prove that our recently acquired skills could easily transfer from sand to sea so we checked our leg ropes, placed those big boards under our arms and trundled, confidently, in the direction of the water. By this time our smiles were most likely matching the size of the perfectly curled waves coming our way in a pattern that reminded us of rippling red desert sands, but we dare not suggest that the tension in our stomachs was probably of a similar size.

From there, it was up to us. With the nearby support and guidance of the instructors, we all commenced, one by nervous one, jumping onto our (seemingly not so stable after-all) boards, laying on our over-excited stomachs, pointing towards the white, sandy beach and the relative chaos of Campbell Parade, and waiting for that next friendly wave to take us into the familiarity of solid ground.

As wave after wave and board after board propelled their smiling occupants beachside, some of our newly minted ‘surfies’ took near immediate falls into the wet, salty stuff while others managed to get all the way through to the beach even if the associated froth, bubble and sand in the waves that rolled with and over them had them spluttering and spitting shrieks of joy as they emerged unscathed.

As time went by, some of our group ventured, after further instruction, towards standing up on these blue, foam beasts. The challenge to beat the ocean, to hold back any fear in this supported environment and to test the limits of our own abilities was too much not to try….and the results were amazing.

Did that mean we grew some future world surf champions? Maybe, but that was neither the point nor the measure. Did we see ambition and a real desire to give something foreign a go? 100% we did! And did we see huge smiles, hear massive laughs and experience genuine support in and amongst the group for giving things a go regardless of how well we managed to do this funny activity called surfing? Without doubt we did, and it was the whole group that felt it, not just those that gave the surfing a crack: it was also the couple of students who didn’t wish to surf but still joined in the fun; it was the yapa support staff; and it was the others who helped organise the wonderful activity as well as those that simply joined us on this day of great excitement and engagement.

Now, while we could yarn all day about the excitement of the surf lessons and the newly found art of surfing, this was clearly not the only activity we undertook during our time in Sydney. We were offered and provided so many more amazing opportunities, some of which included:

  • A visit to GWS Giants where we toured their administrative centre and their training facilities, and even managed to play some footy games on their ground at Homebush. As an added extra we did a really interesting classroom exercise which they ran us through getting to know a bit about ourselves, our passions and our goals for the future. Thanks so much to The Giants, particularly given it wasn’t only about kicking a footy.
  • A full day at Taronga Zoo, where the amazing staff even took the time to treat us to some ‘behind the scenes’ activities not available to the general public. We came face to face, for example, with a big, sleek Diamond Python, we got up close and personal with a couple of endangered, but hugely cute and entertaining fur seals, and we got front row seats (and hence felt the splash) of other much larger seals that would dive for fish right in front of our wide open eyes. We also got to roam the vastness of the zoo, each picking out our favourite animal, and we finished off the day with a Wild Ropes Adventure which totally tested our willingness to take a challenge, face our fear, plan for risks and, ultimately, bask in the glory of achieving success.
  • The Blue Mountains gave us a view into some majestic east coast scenery including a walk in the incredibly green, lush and moist rainforest at the bottom of the Jamison Valley. To get into the rainforest, however, we were transported via the Scenic Railway along with some of the loudest screams (mostly of joy and excitement) experienced on the whole of the trip. As the ‘train’ started its descent from Scenic World on the cliff edge, all seemed perfectly sedate, until the angle of that descent quickly lurched downwards at an angle that seemed to be defying gravity. The screams commenced, at first lightly, but when we suddenly hit a part of the downward trip where we entered the blackness of a rocky cavern, the volume and intensity changed. Seconds later we emerged safely, and in one piece, into the fresh mountain air and crystal clear light. The sounds of relief and laughter filled the vast valley in front of us, the soft breeze that moved the surrounding leaves continued on its journey and the bird songs that bounced of the sheer cliffs that lifted hundreds of metres above us caused us to quickly forget any perceived danger we may have felt for those few seconds. Another challenge accepted.
  • We’ve all seen the Sydney Harbour Bridge right? But we haven’t all been there to witness its size, shape and structural beauty first-hand. Well, this trip was allowing a first up experience for everyone, with one amazing added twist….we were there to climb it! Yes, you heard right, a mob from the southern Tanami Desert, an area known to be dry, remote and flat, were standing in front of this iconic bridge in the centre of one of the world’s great cities about to do the unimaginable….climb ‘way up there’. Some of the mob had expressed concerns given the height, and while a couple of the yapa support crew sat the experience out, our younger group were up for yet another challenge. So, we got decked out in our less than fashionable ‘climb suits’, listened intently to our safety and training instructions, and then casually sauntered onto the incredible web of paths and ladders on this steel behemoth held together, apparently, by around 6 million steel rivets (and some crossed fingers). From there, it was perhaps fair to say that as the climb takes you further and further way from the ground below as well as from the actual water of Sydney Harbour, it also takes you into a place of sheer amazement and beauty. The views, it would seem somewhat crazily, are placed there purposely to take your breath way, the structure is one of wonder, and even the traffic below reminds you that this bridge is still a practical part of everyday Sydney. After a number of stops to allow other climb groups to move ahead and to provide us with an opportunity to drink in and reflect on the beauty of our surrounds, we got our photos at the very top then slowly made the once in a lifetime journey back down.
  • A Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony was conducted by Uncle Les, close to where we all stayed in the beachside suburb of Maroubra. While we could not, unfortunately, co-ordinate this to have occurred at the very start of our Sydney visit, it did happen and it allowed mobs to both connect and to offer a welcome on this First Nations country by the sea. The occasion clearly formed an essential part of connection and country.

There have been so many people and organisations to thank for helping this amazing trip take place, and while some have already been mentioned above, perhaps, the two main acknowledgements need to go to:

  • The Greater Mines Affected Area Aboriginal Corporation – the primary funder of this amazing initiative which offers the young people of Yuendumu an opportunity to expand their horizons and their knowledge, encourage attendance and good behaviour at school, contribute positively back to community and to enhance personal and social development skills.
  • Sio Ratu Foundation – a registered charity, based in Sydney, coincidentally reached out to Wanta just as we were commencing our planning for an Interstate Rewards trip. This led to an amazing partnership where Hannah More (founder) assisted us enormously with food, accommodation, activities, contacts and the list goes on. Thanks so much, Hannah, your generosity knows no bounds, and we are and will be forever appreciative.

Written by Neil Mackenzie, Social Enterprise and Southern Region Manager.