Journey of self-discovery
A SELECT group of Palmwoods special needs students got even more than they bargained for when they embarked on a journey of self-discovery through the wild Northern Territory.
Although their mentor buddies went along to help, it was obvious there would be no room for scaredy cats on this adventure.
They scaled Nourlangi Rock and swam through a cascading wall of water at Florence Falls.
They watched monstrous man-eaters leap out of the water to clutch their food at Jumping Crocodiles and surveyed the land to see the Outback in all it's glory.
For many it was a mind-opening experience as vast as the changing landscapes around them, but it all began long before their week in the bush.
Organiser and Palmwoods State School teacher Allen Eade said the trip was the end product of a two year process where students were involved in running, advertising and organising fundraising.
It was all a part of building confidence, resilience and life skills long before they hopped on the plane.
"The whole idea is to let these kids gain confidence by placing them in an unfamiliar environment away from daily distractions so that they can reflect on their behaviour and experiences," he said.
"It's something they may not have the time, or the ability to do at home."
The group was made up of eight special needs children, seven mentor students who went for support and travel buddy Palmwoods Pete a blue, cat-like puppet.
Mr Eade said taking a small group of 15 allowed students build better friendships and have a more intimate experience.
"When they get back, their sense of belonging, and how they see themselves, is greatly improved because of the fact that they maybe weren't part of the cool kids before but they sort of are now," he said.
Although students were challenged on a daily basis, it seemed the biggest challenge would be getting them there.
"Half the kids had never flown before, so they were pretty amazed by the plane," Mr Eade said.
A few nervous faces filled plane seats while others were too busy popping their ears to worry about take-off.
Some students like Lauren Herrmann experienced serious pre-adventure panic, and tried to stay home.
"I panicked when getting on the plane and taking off because I had never been on a plane before," she said.
But fast forward one week later, and crocodiles, dingos, and plane trips are all child's play for these super kids.
"I had the best time and I didn't want to come home. I feel like I can do anything now!" Lauren said.
Grade seven student Neve Notley was chosen to be a mentor.
She said the trip taught students some things they never could have learnt at home.
"For me the trip really changed the meaning of special needs. I have realised now that it is just a label, and just because some kids are given that title doesn't mean they are any different to all the other people across the world," she said.
She found out first-hand how deceiving appearances can be.
"I had several mates that were already my friends before we went to Kakadu, but during the trip one of those mates told us he was also a child with special needs," she said.
"We were gobsmacked!"
One of the key desired outcomes of the trip was to challenge students to step out of the mould placed on them by society or their peers, because in the Outback, surrounded by bush and the wildlife, these boundaries don't exist.
They saw dingoes and crocodiles at spitting distance, and wallabies frequented their verandahs at night.
They experienced the beauty of Aboriginal rock art and saw the run-off from the big wet.
But most importantly they arrived home with a new lease on life and the confidence to tackle challenges head on.
"I tell kids about the things I did as a kid: shooting, fishing wilderness trips with the family, but it's one thing to tell them and another to show them," Mr Eade said.
"Kids just don't get the opportunity to do these things any more and that's why we take them out of their comfort zones hoping to let them experience something they may never ever do again."