It was hot and dry, the flies were many and a group of enthusiastic youth were ready to work. With Western Local Land Services as the Youth Network’s major partner the opportunity arose for a team of participants to gain some practical skills in one part of the life of a LLS Biosecurity Officer. The work was tedious, smelly and frankly a little gross. Western LLS was preparing some 50,000 meat baits for the upcoming aerial fox/wild dog baiting program and we had a team of youth ready to help share the load.

First the safety brief and then kitting up in protective gear.

Maddison, Chloe, Maggie, Kagen and Max repping the blue overalls

Next was laying out the fresh meat on the racks to dry.

Senior LLS Biosecurity Officer Grant Davis with Chevarli and George laying out meat

Then counting out crates of 100 baits to give to the biosecurity officers to inject with 1080.

Evan and Alex with their crates of 100 pieces of dried meat

Finally sealing the filled bags and adding them to the pile.

Cooper with the finished product

We set up 3 hour shifts for the youth in small groups thinking that anything longer than that would be too much, that they would get tired, bored or too grossed out. We were immediately proven wrong. Despite being asked to arrive at 8.30am we had participants turning up at 7am including Chevarli who was first to arrive most days, followed closely by Maggie. There was no complaining and all the youth having completed their 1080 handling training were all cautious and responsible when handling injected meat.

For 2.5 days the baiting preparation area was buzzing with energy, enthusiasm, dedication and a lot of laughter from the total of 13 Youth Network participants who volunteered to be involved. Every adult in the vicinity commented on how incredible the Youth Network participants were, their work ethic, care for their roles and their great personalities and absolute respect for everyone else. Never would any of us have thought that drying out meat could be so enjoyable but that is exactly the story of this program; you don’t need to find things that are fun for young people to do, it’s about creating an environment that allows everyone to find fun and joy in everything they do regardless of how boring, dirty, smelly or uncomfortable the work is. That is character building, it is creating in young people a sense of contributing to something even when it’s hard. Seeing these youth refuse to leave even after completing their designated 3 hour shift, helping and supporting each other, following directions and showing gratitude for the opportunity provided was truly remarkable.

As a result of their efforts the baiting preparation was completed 2 days ahead of schedule, a huge feat and a massive testament to the work of these youth, some as young as 14. From the success of this initiative Western LLS have also accepted to officially register every participant of the Youth Network into their work experience program allowing them to continue gaining on ground experience and receive mentoring from local staff in addition to the continued support and training they will receive as the Youth Network continues. Some of the staff have already committed to providing written references for the participants based on how impressed they were.

We at Western Landcare NSW cannot wait to share more of the incredible successes that have come out of this program.