The exercises accommodate up to 100 participants, and teams operate independently and trek more than 100 kms over eight days. Participants are confronted with physical, emotional and psychological challenges in an isolated and unfamiliar environment. Activities undertaken include daily cross country hikes, abseiling, team building activities, bush survival skills, navigation and first aid skills, and an understanding of Aboriginal culture and the history of the Flinders Ranges.
It is an intense physical, emotional and psychological challenge which gives participants the chance to expand their view of the world to a point where they ‘see’ other people virtually for the first time and they realise the world has far to offer them than they ever thought. Operation Flinders provides a window through which to see what might be possible for these young people, and can be the key to opening up their imagination.
Both participants and adult leaders carry backpacks containing sleeping/camping equipment, personal items, water and a limited supply of food. Each day involves a cross-country hike to a designated night location (or stand). Each stand has limited facilities to support the team. It consists of trunks with sufficient rations for the team for dinner on the night of arrival, breakfast the next day and rations that are carried for lunch. A supply of water, camp equipment and cooking implements are located at these stands.
Once the program commences, participants will be expected to complete it. There is no opportunity to ‘opt-out’, as they so often do when faced with challenges in their daily lives. Teams will generally go through an initial ‘storming’ phase, followed by acceptance or ‘norming’, then finally ‘performing’ when the team comes together and are working effectively.
Team members are responsible for campsite cleanliness, cooking the meals, building the fire, and other duties required to maintain the camp area. Over the 8 days the team walks in a pre-determined route around the property to finish in the vicinity of where they first started. The distance of the daily walk varies, generally between 10-15km. Each team is issued with a teddy bear that represents the team mascot. Once the team has completed the program, on the final morning they are individually presented with a T-shirt and a set of dog tags. Individual awards may also be presented.
Participants also have the opportunity to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Youth Leadership program as Operation Flinders is a licensed provider of this program.
Q & A
Q & A
The Operation Flinders program has been running for over 25 years. Pamela Murray-White set up the first Operation Flinders exercise in 1991. Pam was a teacher and former army officer. She had taken leave from her teaching duties and served for four years in the Australian Army, attaining the rank of Captain. Upon completion of her army service she returned to her teaching duties at the Beafield Campus dealing with students with behavioural problems. She realised then that there were some outdoor elements of army life and culture that could have some positive effect on some of the Beafield students. The first exercise was conducted in 1991, with a modest 35 participants. By 1993, three exercises were being conducted for up to 100 participants.
In recent years, in excess of 400 young people per year have been given the opportunity to participate.
Operation Flinders conducts 5 exercises each year, with a maxi mum of 100 participants on each exercise. Supporting the young people are 30-40 base and field staff on each exercise. In 2015/16, nearly 400 young people participated in the Operation Flinders exercises. Since its beginning, Operation Flinders has helped over 7,000 youth.
The Operation Flinders exercises are held on Yankaninna Station in the far northern Flinders Ranges, approximately 585kms north of Adelaide and 50kms east of Leigh Creek. The country is classic Flinders Ranges terrain with flat open plains, some moderate to high ranges with broad creek beds identified with large gum trees. The average rainfall is between 250mm and 300mm per year. Temperatures range between a maximum of 45 degrees Celsius m id-summer and can get down to 2 degrees Celsius mid-winter.
Participants are sourced from a number of agencies and authorities, most via the Department of Education and Children's Development. Other agencies that nominate young people include Families SA and other community groups. Participants have generally been identified by the agencies as being 'youth-at-risk' That is young people who, without some form of active intervention or diversionary program, may be at risk of leaving school, criminal offending, drug/ alcohol abuse, self-harm, or not realising their full potential.
Each Exercise is of eight days duration. The Teams arrive with their counsellors in mini buses or similar, at pre- determined points well away from the base at Yankaninna. They are met by their team leader who has a backpack for each participant containing sleeping bag, eating utensils, ground sheet, one-person shelter (hutchie), wet weather gear, tent pegs, rope and water bottles. They transfer essential personal gear from their own packs to the issue packs under the supervision of the team leader.
The Exercise route is spread over a 100km circuit around Yankaninna station. Teams walk an average of 100km over the eight days but this is dependent upon the Team Leader, who may implement minor variations. Distances walked each day vary depending upon the activity at the campsite they have been at, generally between 8 and 20kms. Teams spend each night at designated stands (night locations).
Each stand has limited facilities to support each team, with sufficient rations for the Team's dinner that night, breakfast the following morning and lunch that they carry away with them. A supply of water, implements for cooking and digging toilet pits are also provided at these stands. A number of the stands have 'long drop' toilets in the vicinity. There are no tents. Each participant carries an individual 'hutchie' that they can erect to cover themselves in the event of rain. At no time do the Teams meet or mix, although they are aware of each other’s presence from evidence at campsites and from radio 'chatter '. Each Team is issued with a teddy bear as the team mascot. The bear must, at all times be able to hear, see and smell what is going on in the Team. The Team Leader issues duties to Team members each day including the role of Team Captain. Participants are taught basic bush craft and navigation skills. Other specialist activities undertaken include:
The Abseiling Stand
Staff members instruct the teams in abseiling on a 20 metre high cliff. Team members have to place their trust in the staff and other team members and are assisted to overcome their various fears. This stand also improves the participants' self -confidence, by overcoming challenges perhaps they initially thought they would be unable to achieve.
The Aboriginal Stand
This Stand is staffed by an elder from the local Adnyamathanha community (the traditional owners of that part of the northern Flinders Ranges). Participants are exposed to Aboriginal culture and gain a better understanding of the challenges and issues facing Aboriginal people. They learn of the Adnyamathanha dreaming and partake in the preparation and consumption of traditional food. Their normal rations are also available. Through the telling of Dreamtime stories and songs, participants are taught the basic values of caring, sharing and respect for each other and the environment.
Each Team inevitably undergoes a 'storming' period early in the Exercise when they complain about the physical aspects of the camp, object to the discipline, or are fractious and difficult to control. They generally take three or four days to settle to their circumstances, come to terms with their surroundings, develop relationships with other team members, and form a Team. The second phase of the Exercise is the 'norming' phase, when participants come to terms with their situation. The third phase is called the ' performing' phase, occurring usually over the last two or three days when they have come together, are enjoying the experience, are in high spirits and are working well to achieve Team and Exercise outcomes. As the Exercise draws to a close, participants may also go through a 'mourning' phase. They realise and begin to regret that the Exercise is coming to an end and they will have to go home and face and deal with the issues they left behind. They also generally don't want to leave their team leader who they have come to respect and admire.
Since 2007, Operation Flinders has provided a New Directions follow-up service which provides further opportunities for participants and agencies post-exercise, to ensure recommendations made by adult staff are followed through, and changes made by participants have a long- term effect on both the individual and the wider community. The follow-up program utilises existing service providers to refer the participants on to. This has been a most significant development for the Foundation.
Independent evaluations of the Operation Flinders Foundation program have been carried out in 2001, 2003 and 2014. Details of these evaluations can be found on our web site.
The 2014 evaluation employed a pretest-postest control group design with a 6-8 week follow-up. The selection of the control group, drawn from the same population, enabled the measurement of change, by comparing Operation Flinders and control group participants on key outcome measures.
The program had the greatest impact for young people presenting with elevated risk profiles related to recent offending and truancy behaviour. Given the program’s sensitivity with this cohort, strong evidence is provided that Operation Flinders is meeting its objectives as a crime prevention program.
Together these findings indicate that Operation Flinders is an intervention of change that can impact attitudinal, value and behavioural outcomes which translate to reduced criminogenic risk and positive educational engagement, at least within the short term.
The 2014 evaluation provides further grounds for optimism that Operation Flinders is achieving its aims and is delivering meaningful crime prevention outcomes.
After allowing for Government support, donations in kind and fundraising events, it costs $1,650 per participant which covers all camping/ hiking equipment, some field staff salaries, food and other provisions, medical/first aid supplies, 4WD vehicle transport, insurance costs, t-shirts, hats & dog tags for all participants, and 24-hour headquarters operation.
The Foundation has a four year contract with the South Australian Government (Attorney-General’s Department), which sees Operation Flinders receive $447,000 per year. This accounts for approximately one-quarter of the Foundation's annual income. This is particularly encouraging as not only does it assure the Foundation of long-term funding, it recognises the important role the Foundation plays in working with the young people of the State, and validates the results the program is able to achieve. The remaining three-quarters of the funds required to run the program annually are raised from corporate, philanthropic and community support and major fundraising events. The Foundation also receives a significant amount of in-kind support from a variety of organisations to run the program.
The Foundation has seven full-time and two part time employees. The Foundation's database indicates volunteer support from over 500 people who provide time, knowledge and expertise to the Foundation in a myriad of roles, from serving on Boards and Committees to helping set up camp sites and chopping firewood in preparation for exercises. Without this assistance the Foundation simply could not function. The goodwill and support provided by these volunteers is one of the distinguishing features of the Foundation.
The Foundation can, and on occasions does, run modified programs using the existing infrastructure and resources, for different client groups. Operation Flinders has in recent years implemented a specialised outback leadership program for students referred through the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra and Perth, along with a tailored leadership and team-building program for a group of young indigenous leaders from the west coast of SA.
Please visit www.operationflinders.org to find out how to support the program.