BEN Nolan has returned from the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea a changed person – and with new-found focus.
The 17-year-old volunteer firefighter honoured his grandfather’s memory while also possibly re-tracing his great-grandfather’s steps.
‘‘He was a ratbag before, but he’s a different kid,’’ mother Kerrie said.
‘‘He’s a lot more focused. Anyone who has a child, go send them to Kokoda.’’
Ben is a dual member of the Illawarra Cadet Brigade and Oak Flats Rural Fire Brigade.
His grandfather, Alan Margerison AFSM, a former captain of the Oak Flats brigade, died of a heart attack during a fire call to Dunmore in 2003, aged 61, after 36 years’ membership.
Ben’s father, Chris, is the current captain of the Oak Flats brigade.
Ben’s great-grandfather, Walter, did an army tour of Papua New Guinea, although it is uncertain whether he was ever on the Kokoda Trail.
Oak Flats resident Ben undertook the 10-day, 96- kilometre trip in April as part of the NSW Rural Fire Service’s Courage Under Fire initiative.
Twelve NSW RFS representatives (including three specially selected young members) participated in honour of family members who had lost their lives in the line of duty as firefighters.
The ARA Group provided sponsorship for one young person to take part. Mick Webber, an employee of the group, is also a volunteer firefighter with the RFS’ Wollondilly branch and mentored Ben along the way.
‘‘It teaches you about setting yourself a long-time goal,’’ Mr Webber said. ‘‘After a year of preparation, it was such an overwhelming feeling when we got to the end.’’
Last Thursday, the NSW RFS presented a memento to the ARA Group in appreciation.
Oak Flats High year 12 student Ben also discussed the trek.
‘‘It was an amazing experience...Really challenging; aches and pains always. You’re fighting them with every single step. I knew that if I got to the end of Kokoda, I could do anything I wanted to do.’’
He felt he’d matured a great deal.
‘‘Before I was struggling a little at school,’’ he said.
‘‘Now I know I want to go to uni [and] really focus on my HSC to get the marks I need.’’
His grandmother, Lyn Margerison, was ‘‘proud as punch’’ of her grandson’s efforts.