• More than 100 local kids camp out at Wungu beach as part of the Footprints in the Sand program. (Supplied)
When Gwenneth Yeatman lost her brother to suicide, she could've despaired, but instead, she decided to start something positive.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

5 Jul 2017 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 5 Jul 2017 - 12:57 PM

Ten years ago, Gwenneth Yeatman was devastated to learn her younger brother had taken his own life. 

The next morning, her emotions still raw, she drove past his house in the far north Queensland community of Yarrabah, only to see something strange: a group of children were standing outside, looking at the house and crying. 

The kids weren't relatives or close friends, and Gwenneth wondered why they seemed so upset. 

A few days later, she found out. 

"My older sister told me, 'that's them little kids that he used to pick up off the streets'," Gwenneth recalls. 

Unbeknownst to the family, her brother would drive the streets at night, picking up any kids who were wandering around, taking them home and feeding them. He'd ask his relatives for food, never telling them where it was going. 

'I thought who's gonna look after these kids now?'

"He was educating them about what drinking and smoking could do, smoking yandi - how that can lead to domestic violence He was telling these kids not to do what he'd do," Gwenneth says. 

When she realised what her brother had been doing, Gwenneth says she "lost it": "I thought who's gonna look after these kids now?" 

Less than a month later, Gwenneth had a solution. She started a school holiday camp for the local young people, taking them to a secluded beach called Wungu, where she and her brother used to camp with their family. 

She remembers trying to come up with a name for the program:

"I read about this Christian poem, about footprints in the sand, and I thought that'd be the ideal title for it. Because it says in there, when there was only one set of footprints in the sand, it was then God said that he carried him. And I thought, we all need to be carried sometimes."

A decade on, Footprints in the Sand has become hugely popular with local youth.

In a community where the average age is 23, and the unemployment is over 60 per cent, the camps provide a welcome distraction for more than 100 kids at least once a year. 

The free camps run for a week, teaching young people about traditional hunting, drug and alcohol awareness, first aid and healthy living. 

"When they're out here, it's just like a whole new world to them," Gwenneth says.

"There could be big family fights happening down there in the community, and when the kids are our here, they don't care."

Earlier this year Gwenneth was named Yarrabah's Woman of the Year - a title she was reluctant to accept. 

"When I won it, I was like I'm not coming in there [to Cairns]... it was like a shame thing for me," she says. 

"Then my boss from Mission Australia, she said your brother would be proud of you. Go and accept it. And I said you know what I didn't even think about it in that sense, that it was him getting recognised for his works through me. 

"I just couldn't stop crying when I went home. I even took it up the cemetery, sat down and had a little cry there." 

 

But in Gwenneth's line of work, it's the positive results - not material rewards which spur her on.  

"When you give from your heart, and all that thing that comes back, gee it just makes your heart dance," she says.

"And all them really good qualities come out in these kids, and you know you're doing the right thing. 

"I'm hoping even if it's just one young person will take my advice, listen to me, and start to turn things around, I know I've achieved what I set out to achieve and that'd be my ultimate goal. Even if it's just one kid."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.

Multicultural Mental Health Australia

Local Aboriginal Medical Service available