So much more than just a calf...

Illawarra youth camp at Malanda teaches life skills


The Malanda Education Dairy Youth Camp provides opportunity for young people to learn skills for life.


"While we try to teach our children all about life...the farm teaches us what life is all about." - Anonymous

On the surface, the Malanda Educational Dairy Youth Camp was a chance to learn and to have fun. In reality, organisers say it is about so much more than that.

They say the biannual event at the Malanda showgrounds sows the seeds that ignite lifetime friendships and helps establish the foundations for teamwork, hard work and dedication.

It also teaches life skills - including public speaking - and is a valuable chance to stretch networks in an industry that is so much bigger than North Queensland's stunning hinterlands.

Mentor returns with life lessons

One of this year's mentors, Simon Tognola, started his own career with Illawarras at Malanda's camp. The Queenslander returned to share his knowledge having now clipped cattle at the world's biggest dairy shows in Canada and the United States.

He has prepared and co-owned champions at International Dairy Week and the Victorian Winter Fair, and his networks and friends today include international names at the top of the global industry's elite. He blends cattle photography and marketing in his role at STGenetics Australia. He credits his early love of cattle to his grandfather, Kevin English, and says the camp was an important part of his development.

"A lot of my best mates today are the people that I grew up with at this camp or that I've met through other camps," Mr Tognola said.

"That's where a lot of my networking began at a lower level. It was a foot in the door to meet other like-minded people in the industry and to branch out and make new friends."

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Mr Tognola confirmed that the next generation coming through were exciting. Numbers were deliberately trimmed this year because of the concern regarding COVID-19. In all, 25 young people were included, aged between 10 and 18 years.

This year's mentors included Mr Tognola, brothers Michael and Phil Hentschke, from South Australia, and Paul Newland, from Queensland.

Calves were trucked to the venue, so that the young people could work with them and prepare them for the culmination of the camp - show day - which involved washing, breaking to halter, clipping, leading, judging and a team contest.

The camp included a first aid lesson from Queensland's Ambulance Service, while Carey Accounting Group shared some tips on budgeting and a snake handler debunked some theories on reptiles. A water fight reminded everyone not to forget to have fun.

Champions in more than ways than one

Kimberley Daley, 15, was the overall champion student of the camp.

"I think the kids were really good across all ages," Mr Tognola said. "I was really impressed with Kimberley. She's a great team person, and she really stepped up and looked after her whole group. She's someone who could be a future mentor of the camp, for sure.

"Having less numbers this year was actually positive because we could really work one-on-one with the kids who were a little bit shy and bring them out of their shells a little bit more."

Michael Hentschke said the camp - which was funded by the breed societies - was well organised. He was impressed with the entire program.

"The young people were enthusiastic to learn and the show confirmed the quality of the cattle on the Tablelands," he said. "Kimberley demonstrated a high level of leadership to win, supporting others while competing in all the activities to a high standard."

A 'properly mad heifer'

One of the organisers, Greg English, said the development of some of the young people always excited him. He noted that they had all watched in disbelief when Lachlan Johnson unloaded his heifer on Wednesday.

"Lachlan is one of the shyest people you'd ever meet in your life, and he came to this camp with this properly mad heifer," Mr English said. "We saw her get unloaded on Wednesday morning, and she galloped out of the truck with Lachlan swinging on the end of the rope. We couldn't see how he was going to get her show ready by Saturday.

"Well, he won the senior parader's class with that heifer, and we were just gobsmacked. She led like she was on a piece of cotton. It was wonderful to see the return for him for the incredible amount of effort he put in. And, ultimately what that did for his overall confidence.

"To me that is the essence of the camp because it shows kids what they can achieve and what is possible.

"If you start by doing what's necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing what seems impossible. And, then they wonder, 'What else I can do?'"

Twelve-year-old Mary English won the junior champion and supreme champion heifer with her Illawarra, Eachamvale Cindy 60. Mary said Cindy had always been really easy to handle and to teach to lead.

She said together with her siblings they had spent an hour a day working with the heifers in the week leading up to the camp. She said it wasn't hard work to be down at the dairy, because she liked "all the cows, and helping Mum and Dad".

She said she came away with some valuable lessons.

"I like leading the most because I'm most confident in leading," Mary said. "I didn't really know how to judge before the camp, and now I understand it. So that was good. It was also really good helping all the other inexperienced people learn a bit more."

Her brothers and sisters had helped prepare 18 heifers so that everyone could have their own heifers at the camp.

Experience teamed with younger members

The camp mother Bronwyn English said deliberately blending experienced young people with the less knowledgeable children in teams exposed some wonderful qualities.

"The experienced kids got to mentor the younger ones, and quite often those kids take more in listening to a peer than an adult," Mrs English said. "Especially with the clipping, and it was wonderful to see the kids there offering each other advice and helping each other out.

"Each group became like a big family, and they all worked really well together. We had feedback forms at the finish, and that was noted a number of times on those that it was really good how the kids all helped each other out. And, the experienced kids took some additional confidence in knowing they could be a leader too."

Mr and Mrs English said it had been suggested that the young people return and show the same calves at the Malanda Show on June 24 and 25.

"A fair few have said they'd like to," Mr English said. "It will be a great follow on from the camp for them to back up what they've learned at the show.

"We'd really encourage everyone to consider it."

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