Canberra refugees get first Australian bush experience

Canberra refugees get first Australian bush experience

For Nazir Rahimi, the bushland surrounding Canberra reminded him of the many mountains near his former home in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"There's lots of mountains [around Canberra], and it was normal for us back home to climb some of the mountains in Afghanistan, even though they weren't really for hiking," Mr Rahimi said.

Afghani refugee and hiking participant Nazir Rahimi with First Hike Project coordinator McComas Taylor.

Afghani refugee and hiking participant Nazir Rahimi with First Hike Project coordinator McComas Taylor.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Despite being in Australia for five years after he fled from the war-torn country, the Afghani refugee said he's never been able to experience the Australian bush.

That all changed this weekend.


Mr Rahimi was among 15 young refugees and migrants in Canberra who got to take part in their first encounter with the bush, participating in a 20 kilometre hike and overnight camping in the Namadgi National Park

The experience is part of the First Hike Project, which started in Perth before it expanded to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

This weekend's hike is the first one being conducted in the ACT.

The program's coordinator in Canberra, McComas Taylor, said the project has been a way for many recent arrivals in Australia to experience something new.

The two-day hike will go through the Namadgi National Park.

The two-day hike will go through the Namadgi National Park.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"It's easy enough for most Australians to get out into the bushland because we grew up here and we have transport, but if you haven't, where do you start?" Mr Taylor said.

"The attraction is the wide-open spaces and the beauty of the natural environment and experiencing something new and different to what you can experience in the city."

The hikers come from a mix of participants of Dickson College's refugee English program and Multicultural Youth Services, with backgrounds from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

As part of the hike through the national park, the participants also cook their own dinners on a campfire, complete with damper and marshmallows.

"It's Australian camping at its best," Mr Taylor said.

"The program is a win-win. The hikers get the experience of being in the bush and it's wonderful for the guides and volunteers as well.

"There's generally a feeling of disempowerment in the refugee community, but this gives ordinary people the opportunity to make a real contribution."

Mr Rahimi said he's looking forward to being able to venture out into the bush for the first time with his peers.

"I expect it's going to be a strange experience at first, but it's going to be really enjoyable," he said.

"Everything I've seen in Australia has been lovely. It's peaceful and safe and you can do anything."

While this weekend may be the first time the First Hike Project is running in Canberra, there are already plans to expand it.

A hike for eight refugee and migrant girls has already been slated for late November, and further hikes are also planned for the end of summer next year.

"The program sells itself. As soon as people hear about it, they want to become involved," Mr Taylor said.

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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