The best bits of Queanbeyan and surrounds.

‘I loved it’: Braidwood’s Ernie Guinane on trekking Larapinta with mentors

‘I loved it’: Braidwood’s Ernie Guinane on trekking Larapinta with mentors

Those that are close to him know that Terry Campese has a passion far greater than football. His passion is providing opportunity to, and supporting, young people from tough upbringings.

From the outside looking in, Terry’s career may have looked like every boy’s dream; but growing up in a modest Queanbeyan single-parent household meant Terry didn’t have the advantages some of his teammates did. through the Terry Campese Foundation (TCF) he launched a program that he knows “would have had a huge impact on me as a young man if it existed”. 

The TCF Mentor Program for disadvantaged youth runs each year in the Queanbeyan, Goulburn and Braidwood regions. The program spans 20 weeks and culminates in the trip of a lifetime to Larapinta, in the Northern Territory. Spots are limited to just eight places per region, and this year the demand was high.


“We’ve had huge demand this year, especially in Braidwood – there were 30 applications,” Terry says.

“To see what the kids were like prior – we get to hear their background stories, whether it be family, whether it be intellectual disabilities, whatever it might be, we know everyone’s story.”

Young people in the program are initially flagged by mentors and teachers from Queanbeyan, Goulburn PCYC and Braidwood High School, and are then required to apply online. 

Braidwood High Year 9 student Ernie Guinane was “ecstatic” when she was selected to be part of the mentor program. 

“My sister did it last year, and I was like ‘Nah, I’m not going!’” Ernie says.


“And she came back and told me about it … and I was like ‘Yeah I’m going!’”

Ernie grew up in Captains Flat and now lives south of Braidwood with her dad, Tom. As a junior member of the Rural Fire Service, she loves volunteering and being out and about in her community. In the weeks leading up to the trip to Larapinta, Ernie and the other participants would meet with their mentors and participate in “walk and talk” discussions, working on building communication and trust within the group. The three groups – one from each region – met up multiple times before embarking on their Larapinta trek. 

“Everyone has different backgrounds, all the mentors, so we have school teachers, youth workers, case workers for not-for-profits, tradies,” Terry says.

“And the thing I love about it is there’s about 10 support staff and the kids tend to gravitate towards people they connect to, because of the diversity we have in the group there is someone for everyone.”

The Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory runs 223km across the West MacDonnell Ranges, west from Alice Springs. The TCF Mentor Program groups trekked 12 of the Larapinta trails over nine days and clocked up 107km of walking. 

“I stayed at the back, and I helped everyone through with my very very good jokes” Ernie laughs. 

“Like – why is skim milk so hard to make? Because you have to throw the milk across the lake!” 

At the end of each day, after walking across the rugged Larapinta bushland, the group would come together to share what they learned and discuss their ‘highs and lows’.  

“My first low was finding out I wasn’t able to put wood on the fire!” Ernie says, but was happy to report by the end of the week she had been promoted and her Rural Fire Service skills were put to good use. 

“My high of the week was meeting everyone and seeing the growth in the Braidwood kids … and to be able to reflect on everything,” she says.

“Everyone from the Braidwood group grew heaps, in their own way, they noticed something different about themselves but so did everyone else.

“It was so good to be away from busy life and stuff that drains you. I was away from my phone and I loved it. We got to experience night skies, you didn’t see civilisation anywhere.”

Terry describes the Larapinta trek as “a time of great introspection”.

“There’s a lot of reflection on a trip like this and a lot of lightbulb moments – some happen right at the start, some happen on the last day, some happen two weeks after,” he says.

“It’s a huge growth experience and one that will be here for a long time.”

He focuses a lot on the volunteers that got the group to Larapinta, and encourages the young people in the program to be grateful for the experience. 

“The sponsors and people that donate and support the program, I just let the young people understand there is a lot of work that goes into it: a lot of hard work and generosity, and we were lucky enough to have a couple of them come along on the trip this year to see where their money goes,” Terry says.

“It’s just a collective effort of a lot of hard work, which has huge outcomes, and it’s awesome to be a part of.

“The mentors for one are all voluntary, they all take that time out of their week  and on the weekends and the trek as well to support these young people and they do a tremendous job.

“If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t be the program that it is.”

Also accompanying Terry and the mentors on the trip was Alfie Walker, a traditional owner in the Gundungurra (Goulburn) area.

“Alfie’s one of the support staff, he does some of the cultural activities and did a cultural talk at Bungonia for the group, because we try to add that cultural aspect in as well. Seven out of eight of our youth from Queanbeyan are First Nations and around 50 per cent from the other groups, so we always try to get that cultural element into the program.”

Says Ernie: “Alfie’s like the grandpa of the group. He taught us about the connection and the respect for the land … And he told us the story of the blue-tongued lizard and the octopus.”

The TCF Mentor Program has big plans for the future, including hopes to travel to Papua New Guinea to walk the Kokoda Trail in 2023. Preparations have already begun for another Special Forces Challenge, which raise the money for the treks. The Special Forces Challenge earlier this year raised most of the money needed for the Larapinta trek.

According to Terry, the friendships and relationships made on each trip continue long after the group have taken off their hiking boots. All eight of the young people that participated from Queanbeyan this year have been employed by Terry’s Burrito Bar in Tuggeranong. 

“Just to see the progression and growth of the young people, it’s very rewarding,” Terry says.

“I don’t see myself as anything other than someone who helps and supports the kids.”

For more Queanbeyan news, like Q! News on Facebook and follow us on Instagram

About the Author: Holly Winchester

Part Jennifer Coolidge, part Jennifer Garner (gaudy and geeky), Holly idolises Dolly Parton and Princess Di and loves NRL. When she's not creating killer content, you’ll find Holly at the Maccas drive thru getting her chai latte fix or buying 1990s memorabilia for the walls of her Googong home. Specialist subject: the Woolies carpark.