Bundaberg police officer Mark Cartner has been recognised for his years of dedication helping local youth through the Walk of Life program.
Senior Constable Cartner won the Queensland Outdoors Recreation Federation award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for his passion for and development of an outdoor program that helps teenagers stay on track.
Senior Constable Cartner established the Walk of Life program in 2014 after working as detective investigation child abuse for more than a decade beforehand.
“I started as a detective working in Cairns covering remote areas in Cape York, organising frequent expeditions to places like Aurukun, Pompuraaw, Kowanyama, Lockhart River, Coen, Yarrabah to cover investigations in those areas,” Senior Constable Cartner said.
“I had the opportunity to see some of the horrific lives some children lead, and felt somewhat powerless to help those kids.
“I could in some cases stop them being further abused, and this was a very satisfying part of a difficult job, but after the court case or investigation was over I was left with giving them a handshake, wishing them well and moving onto the plethora of investigations you are always juggling as a police officer in a busy area.”
Senior Constable Cartner said he could clearly see the link between kids’ behaviour and trauma, and he always hoped there would be something out there to help them.
“Fast forward to the end of my detectives’ career, I got to the point where I’d had enough of child abuse work, it takes its toll, and I was looking for a career change. By this time, I was in Bundaberg,” he said.
“At the same time, I was working as a detective I’d spent most of my personal time volunteering in youth groups, using my bush skills and ability to run expeditions to show kids how to plan, organise and execute a multi-day expedition.
“I thought that maybe I could combine my child protection knowledge and my practical skills running expeditions to remote areas to run a program as a crime prevention/child protection initiative.”
He said it was by chance at this time a local school-based police officer position became available.
“By co-incidence the local school-based police officer wanted to vacate her position and become a detective, so I approached her with this idea, later met with the school principal at Kepnock State High School and pitched the idea,” Senior Constable Cartner said.
“Twenty minutes in her office convinced me that this was something I should try.
“That was in the end of 2014, I started as a School Based Police Officer in 2015, ran my first expedition in April of that year and haven’t looked back.”
The start of the Walk of Life program
Senior Constable Cartner’s life skills, policing skills, interest in child protection and crime prevention and his current role working with secondary students are all combined in the Walk of Life program.
The program was initiated by Senior Constable Cartner, based on outdoor education principles and teaching students a variety of life skills over a school term.
These skills are then put to the test in an expedition, generally a multi-day canoe experience or hike covering distances of up to 100 kilometres and lasting from three to five days.
Senior Constable Cartner said the Walk of Life program was about building confidence and resilience in teenagers.
“Kids realise the importance of working for a goal and preparing to achieve something worthwhile,” he said.
“We’re currently running the program in Kepnock and Bundaberg North State High Schools.”
Students participate in a number of activities including cooking, dehydrating their meals and first aid to help give them vital skills to make the right choices later on in life.
“Sometimes I’ll take the kids shopping before we cook to give them an idea of shopping for good cheap products, not just buying fast food – useful life skill stuff,” he said.
“There have been calls to expand the program but there’s only one of me so I’m trying to work out how to be more efficient with my time to fit more programs in.”
Walk of Life program expands
After almost four years of running the Walk of Life program Senior Constable Cartner attended a forum with the Australian Association of Bush Adventure Therapy in Melbourne, this is where he realised others thought as he did, that taking kids out in the bush setting could be a therapeutic exercise.
“They suggested during that presentation I should link up with a University to have my program evaluation,” he said.
“Again, by coincidence, immediately after this I found out that the Queensland Police Service had put an inspector position in the University of Queensland as a visiting fellow, specifically for the purpose of linking police with researchers, so we have an evidence-based practice when we develop our methodology.
“Very foresighted, I met with him and he put me in touch with a senior lecturer at the university and we’ve been running an evaluation on the program and looking at outcomes.
“We are hoping to have the evaluation done by the end of this year, but already interim findings show students reporting that the program has had a positive effect in their lives and changing their attitudes about police officers – me in particular and police more generally.”
Senior Constable Cartner said he never expected to be awarded for the Walk of Life program as his only objective was to help young people.
“I was very honoured to be nominated, let alone shortlisted as a finalist,” he said.
“So, to get the award out of many worthy recipients was quite a thrill for me.
“I’m not used to winning things, I tend to work in areas that receive little recognition.”
Senior Constable Mark Cartner received the Queensland Outdoors Recreation Federation award for outstanding individual achievement from the Minister for Sport Mick de Brenni at a presentation dinner last year.
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