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Trek of a lifetime for aspiring Indigenous teens

David Prestipino -

Two brave Indigenous teenagers have recently walked the same hallowed paths our Anzac heroes took through the depths of Papua New Guinea during World War II.

Newman community members Kevin and Cheyenne, who were recently sponsored by Roy Hill to complete The Y WA's Kokoda Track program, hiked 12-19km each day in early October, taking 10 days to complete the 96km trail through tropical rainforest.

The pair and 12 other youths between 15 and 25 years were accompanied by seasoned leaders from Y WA's Kokoda Track program, aimed at developing aspiring young leaders.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity included the pair exchanging culture with PNG locals and detecting how the landscape differed to Newman.

Roy Hill Community and Indigenous Affairs advisor, Paige McLean said it was the first time Kevin or Cheyenne had ever left Australia.

"It was a very emotional welcome back, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house," she said.

"They bonded well as a team and learned a lot about hiking and the PNG culture."

All 14 participants prepared for six months before embarking on their adventure, undertaking hikes, boot camps and gym sessions, as well as nutritional adjustments.

Kevin and Cheyenne both said the gruelling route was incredibly challenging but worth it.

"It was uphill, walking through pouring rain on the edge of cliffs, like mountain goats," Kevin said.

Kevin and Cheyenne with Roy Hill Community and Indigenous Affairs advisor Paige McLean. (Image: Roy Hill)

Cheyenne said the trek was quite difficult but the adventure was an incredible experience.

"The trip was very hard but great... we would definitely recommend it to other young people," she said.

Roy Hill Community and Indigenous Affairs manager, Bill Lamb said the pair's flights, accommodation and equipment were all covered by the company.

"We value the strong relationships we have with Traditional Owner groups and the local communities where we live and work ... and we're very proud to give back to the residents of those communities," he said.

Y WA is part of the global YMCA movement, and Roy Hill's funding for Kevin and Cheyenne was an example of several company initiatives designed to boost Indigenous employment and preserve First Nations culture through the Pilbara.

Roy Hill has worked closely with Traditional Owners of the land it operates - the Kariyarra, Palyku and Nyiyaparli people - to promote training, employment and business opportunities since the first days of project.

Led by mining magnate Gina Rinehart, Roy Hill now has a multitude of Indigenous-focused community, philanthropy and employment programs, and fosters First Nations engagement through several sponsorships, including Perth's annual NAIDOC Awards and funding for Indigenous designers to showcase their talent at New York Fashion Week, the world's biggest fashion festival.

The three Traditional Owner groups regularly provide cultural training to new Roy Hill employees, sharing important knowledge about their history, culture and language, with existing Native Title agreements distributing significant royalties to each Group, and agreements with four additional groups in the Pilbara on the horizon.

The company's Indigenous social investment program, the Hanrine Foundation, has also won numerous awards for its work across WA, including funding the Perth Children's Hospital Foundation to develop pioneering facial recognition technology, which can now identify rare diseases in Indigenous children.

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