In the rural town of Longreach, police and teachers are mentoring disadvantaged young people (aged 14 to 18 years) at hands-on shearing camps.
Through the Longreach and Central Queensland LDAT’s Central West Queensland Youth and Wool Industry Program, participants learn practical skills and complete their Certificate 2 in Agriculture, creating employment pathways.
The program is aimed at students who are at high risk of disengaging from education and community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up a large proportion of the students.
In rural Longreach, education and employment can be scarce. Young people often go to boarding school in larger regional towns to complete their high school education. But for young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, this isn’t an option.
The local high schools are run by passionate teachers, but staff and funding limitations mean that subjects offered are often limited too. This impacts young people’s opportunities to go to university or access other training.
Leilani Ah Wong is the LDAT lead and Senior Constable at Barcaldine Police Station. She explained some of the history of the program.
“The program started with Laurie Bateman – a police officer and shearer. He set up camps for disadvantaged kids, country children who are academically challenged and interested in agriculture,” Leilani said.
“It’s a way for youth to be exposed to police and job prospects in the shearing and wool industry. We get to know each other for a whole week on a personal level, working side-by-side and building relationships.”
The wool industry program eventually joined with other services in the area to form the Longreach and Central Queensland LDAT. The funding, administered by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), has helped make the program more sustainable and reach more students.
The camps are run through the local high schools, under supervision of school staff and police.
They provide a vital opportunity for young participants to learn new skills and complete their Certificate 2 in Agriculture.
“The Cert 2 is important for job prospects,” explained Leilani.
Through the camps, students experience working hands-on at a sheep station and see if they want to pursue any of the skills they’ve tried. It’s not just all shearing, either - responsibilities include mending fences, rustling sheep and cattle, and cooking dinner.
Over the course of 2023, three camps were delivered. Initially, the Community Action Plan intended to deliver more, but staffing shortages and COVID outbreaks made this challenging.
For the students who were able to attend the three camps, it was clearly a valuable and enjoyable experience.
Of the students, 95% reported increased confidence in their employability skills. In the evaluation survey, many students could articulate with confidence their plan for leaving school and career goals.
For those participants who still had more years at school to complete, they confidently felt they could have a holiday job rousting (assisting with sheep shearing).
There were also lots of social benefits.
Participants noted that they had engaged with other students that they normally wouldn’t have, if they hadn’t attended camp. Ninety per cent reported increased confidence to engage in their community, feelings of positive peer connection and confidence to engage with their peers.
Another important aspect of the camp was alcohol and drug education.
By the end of the camps, 85% of students reported an increase in their knowledge of the harms associated with alcohol and other drugs.
Advice to other LDATs
Leilani explained that to make the most out of being a part of the LDAT program, she leans on ADF staff for support and advice.
An advantage of working in partnership with the ADF is the ability to seek out information on alcohol and other drugs that allows her to have more informed conversations with the students.
“Dawn [our Relationship Manager] often sends me extra information. Recently I was on a call with her, she’d just come from a seminar on vaping and was able to share her insights. When we had downtime in the sheds, I asked the young people what they thought of vaping, and we were able to have that discussion.”
Leilani enjoyed building rapport with the students so that she could act as a mentor and be able to provide them with factual information.
And, the students came away from the camps with improved education and employment prospects, a deeper sense of friendship and community, and more knowledge about the harms of alcohol and other drugs.