Jim Vass trecks the Kokoda Trails

Wish You Were Here – Raising funds to Find a Cure for Pancreatic Cancer

Posted on December 19, 2017 by ATB Chartered Accountants

In September 2017, ATB Director Jim Vass trekked the Kokoda Trail. As part of the “Wish You Were Here” team, Jim set off to raise awareness and funds for Pancreatic Cancer, a cause close to his heart. Supported by his family, friends, ATB Chartered Accountants and their clients and business partners, Jim and the team have helped make a huge difference.

Touched by Cancer

With a friend battling Pancreatic Cancer, Jim realised there had been limited advancement in finding a cure for the disease and he wanted to do something to raise awareness and funding.

‘A mate of mine who I’ve known since he was 14 years old, lost his father at an early age to cancer. And now his uncle has been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. So this is a cause that’s become important to me.’

Making a Difference

The group wanted to do something that would represent the challenges faced by cancer patients from the initial diagnosis and throughout the treatment. The Kokoda Trail was raised as a suggestion as it needs stamina, determination and courage to make the 96km journey to the Kokoda village.

‘When trekking Kokoda was raised as an idea, I initially said no because I didn’t think I would be up to the challenge due to a history of back problems. Two months later, while at the footy with my friend, I was walking along and I realised he wasn’t walking as fast as me, he has bad knees from playing soccer. It made me realise that if he was prepared to do this for a cause, then I could too.’

Preparation and Training

‘We met up and started training for the trek. We were doing hikes in Galston Gorge, Berowa Heights National Park. We walked the Jerusalem Bay Track from Cowan to Brooklyn, part of the Great North Walk in Ku-ring-gai National Park.

‘We were all still saying, “yes we’ll do it, it’ll be fun. It’ll be something to talk about for the rest of our lives”. In hindsight, we didn’t really train enough!’

The Start of an Amazing Journey

‘We left for Kokoda on 1 September 2017. After a flight to Port Moresby PNG via Brisbane, we had a debrief with the trek master. We were given our tent, told what to bring, and we were ready to roll for the next day. We had a relatively late start at 8.30 am.’

Before starting on the trek in earnest, the “Wish You Were Here” team visited the war cemetery outside Port Moresby, a cemetery with 3,300 soldiers buried in it.

‘Walking around, you realise how young all the guys were. The oldest was about 31 years old, the majority of the people who had lost their lives were 19, 22 or 23. It was sad to see that loss of humanity.’

The Trek

‘As we started the trek, we realised how difficult it is. The heat, muddy conditions, the mozzies, the steepness of the hills. You spend so much of your time looking down so you don’t trip over the tree roots or slip in the mud that you don’t get to see much of the scenery.’

It wasn’t just the physical elements, the emotional impact of the trek affected the team as well.

‘You’re thinking “this is so tough”, and then you start to think about the young kids who had to do this trek during wartime. And we have porters to set up our tents and cook for us! The soldiers didn’t have anything, propping their feet up on trees while sleeping, so as to not slide down the hill… It makes you really consider how tough these guys did it.’

The team was aiming to complete the trek in 7 days, but the promise of warm food and cold beers at the end spurred them on to complete it in 6 and half.

Walking an average of 15 kms, 10 hours per day. Jim was satisfied that it ‘wasn’t a bad effort.’

In Celebration of Life

Following their trek, the team touched down in Sydney with one last goal – to celebrate life. The finale of the adventure was a Gala Dinner held in November.

The Gala was in a massive old train maintenance building that had been converted to an exhibition hall at Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh, Sydney. More than 630 clients, business partners, friends and family came and experienced a wonderful night of entertainment and speeches.

Ms Deni Hines and the Australian Girls Choir performed at the event and Peter FitzSimons, author of “Kokoda” and Ambassador for the “Wish You Were Here” team was a guest speaker.

‘We’ve had really positive feedback on the event. Everyone had a good time. Clients who came along were touched and moved by the whole thing.’

The Wish You Were Here team have raised over $220,000 for the Avner Foundation so far.

Invaluable Support from ATB

‘My ATB colleagues really supported me along this journey. Michael and Paul had tables with some of their clients… other ATB business partners… and other accountants that believed in the cause and what we were doing. It was an opportunity to give back to our clients and raise money for a worthwhile cause.’

‘From my perspective we’re saying we’d like to help. You have to try to make a difference if you can. It’s one of my passions – to help people. If you can make a difference, it’s terrific.’

What’s next?

in 2018, Jim is looking to do the “Oxfam walk, a 24 hour, 50km charity event” through rugged bushland, then he’s ‘…aiming for Base Camp, Mt Everest in 2019…’

Watch this space for Jim’s next adventure, and in the meantime, click here to lend your support to the Wish You Were Here GoFundraise.