Connections with others

John and Dylan's story

The YFS Rail Trail project was the ticket John, 20, and Dylan, 17, needed to turn their lives around.

Just six weeks after the pair started the project’s conservation and land management traineeship, they’ve gone from struggling to get out of bed before midday to reporting to work at 7am sharp. And they’ve never been late.

“Knowing I have something to do each day instead of sitting at home and wasting my life is awesome,” Dylan said. “It’s keeping me out of trouble. I’m not running amok and being a stooge.”

Dylan left school two years ago when he was 15 years of age. He got involved with the wrong crowd and soon ended up in court. He’s never had a job, but is looking forward to being employable once he finishes his traineeship.

The Rail Trail project is funded by the Skilling Queenslanders for Work initiative. It supports people like Dylan and John to develop skills that can help them find and keep jobs.

The trainees are employed by YFS to maintain the Bethania to Beaudesert Rail Trail – an old railway spur line that we are clearing while experts explore its recreational potential. They end up with skills valuable to any workplace and a qualification in conservation and land management.

The project is a bit of a family affair for John. He’s the second member of his family to join – his nephew finished the project just before John started. Six weeks into it, and the guys have learned a lot already.

“Being Aboriginal, it’s always great to get out there and get back to the environment,” John said. “Also, being out there with the boys is always fun.”

While they have learned a lot about managing the land, what they’ve enjoyed most is developing their social skills.

“Team work is the main one because we can’t leave one person out there on the trail doing it all,” John said. “With that comes communication I guess. We are now pretty good at communicating. It’s also teaching me how to spend money better.”

Dylan added: “We get paid fortnightly, so I have had to budget more. I can’t just go and spend it straight away. We also learned how to pull apart a whipper snipper.” 

Aside from developing employment and social skills, the project is connecting the trainees, who are mostly Aboriginal, with First Nations culture. The project’s manager is Tony Sharp from the YFS social enterprise, Substation 33. He and his team are always working to build Aboriginal links into the project.

“The trainees are now involved in an Aboriginal welcome to country and a smoking ceremony on day two,” Tony said. “More often than not, it’s the first time they’ve been involved in a smoking ceremony.”

“It was great,” John said. “The ceremony protects us from snakes and the like, and lets the ancestors know we are on their land, so they can give us permission.”

The Rail Trail team works with Aboriginal organisations such as the Mununjali Housing and Development Company and the Scenic Rim’s Indigenous Men’s Group. Also, they have strong connections with Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. But sometimes, cultural insights come in the most humble of ways.

“Just last year, a 50-year old emerging Elder joined the project as a trainee,” Tony said. “The things he taught me and the guys was amazing. He recognised that some of the gouges out of the big 400-year old trees are there because the ancestors made canoes out of them. Before that, I walked past and I used to think a bulldozer had run into those trees.”

Recently, Logan City Council announced its intention to take the project on, which Tony is hoping will further activate the trail’s development.

“My hope is for a trail with significant Aboriginal linkages including its proper naming using Aboriginal terminology,” Tony said. “I want to see a 43 km wildlife corridor that’s safe for animals to travel across and through, peppered with Aboriginal cafes, guides and tourism initiatives.”