The end of another year and planning for the next one.

As previously mentioned, Wodonga TAFE has provided training options specifically for students with mental health issues for over 12 years now. The Student named programme and training course, River 2 Recovery ( We can thank student Will for the name), started as ‘the boat project’ and quickly developed into something much broader than building boats and ‘the river experience’. Students developed confidence through a guided self-directed learning model of teaching. This method did not develope over night but followed years of success through education bridging courses run at Wodonga TAFE. The group bonding in R2R was achieved via commonality within the group with most (not all) being members of St Luke’s rehab services and a process of inclusion and building on individual strengths.  Individuals are ‘targeted’ and encouraged to interact with others through often simple exercises that facilitate communication. Students were well aware that the expectation of the group would be more than building boats, it would be sending out a personal and group message that mental illness is normal and common and despite the label people can still achieve. Assertive follow-up of students was a must. ie;- it was put to me by a worker that I wouldn’t get one student to class in the winter as the student likes staying in bed. With a few personal phone calls and words of encouragement the student gained close to full course attendance.                                                                                   Not all ended up rowing and starred on TV but we had many quiet achievers working behind the scenes and in the class room over the two years. I recall when we started it was suggested that the project wouldn’t go ahead because the local mental health service felt Water + Mental illness is not possible, too risky. I wrote a letter highlighting that part of the students progress over 2 years was that risks would be assessed and the group would determine with expert advise if it was going to be possible or not. Even though we made this point at the start of the TAFE course ‘ the organisation’ still made a blanket dicision before consulting the students that the trip would need to be a short one, not the full length of the Murray. As it turned out the R2R group  were accepting of the decision and understood the reasons given but they were somewhat resentful about not being consulted.  As the group progressed well into the first year of planning St luke’s appointed a project manager, and a reasonable balance was found between mental health agency organisational needs and independent student planning.   I understand consumer planning continues about future boat projects with members of St Luke’s,  I hope the freedom we developed in the decision making process continues and is complimented by using local input and expertise.

Next year Wodonga TAFE will continue to provide vocational training via our REAL Options courses for students who have experienced mental health difficulties. 2014 has been successful despite some students having health issues. The Parkland’s project was very productive with some members moving on to higher study and making commitments to voluntary and paid employment.


Real Op Draft course overview 2015 poster

BUILDING BRIDGES flyer page 2 for 2015



Students finding a voice continue to spread a possitive message.

River 2 Recovery features on Compass ABC.

As part of Mental Health Week, ABC TV’s Compass program follows an ambitious scheme helping people with mental health issues turn their lives around. This Huckleberry Finn style adventure called River to Recovery, involved participants from Albury Wodonga who spent two years building boats from scratch and then rowing them down the Murray River. The course was designed to develop confidence and trust, but along the way this unlikely group found their river trip was more a journey of self discovery.

ABC TV Sunday 12 October, 2014 6.30pm

Congratulations to Seb, Dave and Maz.   All three and other stars featured in the ABC Mental As…………., Mental health week programme. A great deal of effort and personal time was committed to assisting the ABC compass team to produce a mental health week story. It was largely filmed last June and was produced a bit like a re-enactment of the R2R trip. Thanks must go to the Hawksview cattle property management for providing a ‘River like’ setting for the re-enactment. The boats, past and present students, and St Luke’s staff were featured within an idyllic setting and the film emphasised  ‘the healing effects’ of the river environment.

What happens in the future will be up to the R2R crew and St Lukes. The outcomes have been very positive regarding students assisting in the mental health field via mentoring and actual employment. Some have returned to TAFE this year and all have gained confidence and are engaged in meaningful activity.

This year we are coming close to completing a training partnership with Albury Wodonga Parklands and a small group of students completing Certificate one in Work Education. Next year we will continue with our REAL Options units in Work Education for students with mental health issues.

After 12 years of developing this unique form of vocational training for students with mental health issues it has been pleasing to see our students from this R2R course gain national recognition via the Compass programme and for one of our courses for students with mental health issues gain some brief time on the national stage.

At Wodonga TAFE we value our partnerships with community support groups such as St Luke’s and fully expect continued co-operation and support in training programmes in the future to assist individuals with mental health issues ‘find their voice’ , confidence and re-engage in the activities of life that are often taken for granted by others.

Bryan Winnett.

Teacher Foundation Studies Dept. Wodonga TAFE.

2014 ‘The red carpet launch’. River 2 Recovery THE MOVIE !

Students from last years River 2 Recovery class have been engaged in filming conversations about mental health issues and thier recent river trip with Suzi Taylor from ABC Open. The Launch for the move is at Wodonga TAFE on the 6th of Feb 2014 5pm. What a great idea and what a great way to end the project. Suzi has been working with the crew now for several months and has followed the projects progress and individual personal developement. The work on the film, story boards etc.., and the effort from the small film crew has been a pleasure to watch. The film evening should be a fitting way to celebrate the students achievements.


This only feels like the end ! I like to think it is more like a start.

2nd December 2013, the journey down the mighty Murray River is over. Lots of smiling joyful faces were to be seen on the shores of Lake Mulwala as the rowing crew pulled in. Members of St Luke’s from far and wide, TAFE staff, friends and family.

On the day I spoke about how over the past 10 years Wodonga TAFE has been providing courses specifically for students with mental health difficulties, often in various stages of recovery. We have had students attend short courses while inpatients and often students who are in residential care. Past students have been business people, university graduates, mums and Dads. Mental illness does not discriminate on grounds of socioeconomic status. Our students often go on to employment and further studies as outcomes but like our R2R group often what may seem like a small achievement is that our students can find a voice. Often over a short period students discover the ability to express themselves in front of others. For example our R2R students hosting public events and ‘Blogging with the ABC’, conducting formal media interviews or simply talking with fellow students and sharing ideas. Some of our students have come from the depths of despair and shone a light on others through new-found leadership skills.


In finding a voice one finds confidence and often due to positive feedback from others greater self-esteem. In finding a voice you can express your thoughts and ideas to move forward and discover or uncover new interests. Or you can express your thoughts collectively to effect change. The R2R group now have a long list of community supporters and via media have and will touch thousands. Community events like the R2R project engage members of the community on a level that all understand, rather than formal clinical training sessions aimed at public awareness or destigmatization which can sometimes leave people cold and not really have an impact. People need to see that mental illness is ‘NORMAL’. As our students discovered it’s not 1 in 5 people , it’s closer to 1 in 2.  Every one knows someone so why not talk about it? Community events like R2R assist people to talk. I look forward to further qualified consumer involvement in direct mental health service planning and delivery and I’m still enthusiastic about providing equity in education via community partnerships and courses that assist students to be comfortable in taking on vocational pathways.


The next step;- is to have a review and wind up of the R2R project via a ‘red carpet event’. We look forward to Suzi from the ABC presenting the students documentary early next year and the presentation of TAFE certificates. Two years seems to have gone fast but the results have been fabulous.

Thanks and Best wishes to all.

Bryan Winnett. ” The teacher”.

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Over half way !

The R2R project launch was held on the 22nd of November. (see the R2R Facebook page)

A great success with a large crowd lining the bank and cheering the group on as they left for the journey down the river. The depth of community support was great to see from fellow travellers on the road to recovery to members of parliament. Tim Fisher was his usual entertaining self and MC at the launch event. The students achieved one of their many aims by attracting media and gathering members of the local community together to raise the profile of issues associated with rural mental health. It is a huge step to take to put ones self ‘on display’ and send a positive awareness message to our community. Seb and Colin gave wonderful speeches and proved to be more than worthy representatives for the student/ R2R group.

Wodonga TAFE via Bryan and Anne Maree visited the rowers on their trip at 12mile reserve and Corowa. The strength of the team was very visible as was the determination of individual team members. We are all looking forward to the final celebrations on the 2nd of December at the end of their journey.

The Murray River starts as a trickle and apparently it is hard to spot its source. However the rowers have found the Murray to be long and wide and together they are navigating with ease and progress is fast and effective. Along the river, anabranchs, billabongs and streams offer many choices. Making the wrong choice is somewhat problematic but not insurmountable. Modern technology is providing improvements all the time via instruments like portable GPS devises. Even better technology is becoming common place and we are all learning new techniques and better ways of doing things to make travel that little bit easier. The River 2 Recovery is proving to be a very apt name indeed. This group of people are improving choices for themselves and others and via this project others will learn new ways of doing things and the hurdles found via community ignorance will not be as high. The recovery process is hard but with greater understanding and equity it can ‘flow more gently’.

Corowa IMG_0457 IMG_0456IMG_4201


First River practice Albury with the VRA, St Lukes and TAFE.

IMG_4173  IMG_4147IMG_4140All rowers performed very well and the craft all moved through the water in a very stable manner coping with the current with ease. We are all getting close to the start of the trek down the river. TAFE training is coming to a close so it is with some sadness that the students are leaving but also the excitement is building with the expectations of the launch Friday next week, 22nd of November. I hope locals support this unique talented group of people the last two years worth of Thursdays have been an absolute pleasure to be involved in. From little things big things grow on so many levels!