Pic credit: Getty Images

Help from the Desert

To raise money for young folks with severe disabilities, Youngcare CEO Greg Johnson trekked 250km across the Simpson Desert. He also packed an M.J. Bale tuxedo. This is Greg's story.

MJB: Greg, you've sent us some incredible photos. We've seen our suits worn by gentlemen in many unique places worldwide, but never a tuxedo in the Simpson Desert… what gives?

Greg Johnson: The biannual Simpson Desert Challenge is a major fundraiser for Youngcare. It's a pretty tough ten days with no luxuries at all. My view was, well, bugger it, let's try and add a completely different twist by wearing a dinner suit/tux to dinner each night. It created a lot of intrigue from fellow trekkers, our support crew, the cowboys that joined us and especially the Birdsville locals. I am genuinely an M.J. Bale fan, and in my professional career pre-Youngcare, I have worn at least 20-plus M.J. Bale suits and dozens of shirts, ties etc.

Pic credit: Getty Images

MJB: Tell us more about the Simpson Desert Challenge – what it involves, how much distance travelled, conditions etc.

GJ: Over ten days, we covered about 250kms. There were no bathrooms, no showers, and very few changes of clothes. [The Simpson Desert Challenge] is designed to take people to a time and place where there is no choice and no control, just like the young folk with severe disabilities that we help. These young people live in aged care homes and nursing homes with no choice or control. They have done it for decades. We did it for ten days. Just imagine for a moment you are 20-plus or 30-plus years of age or had a partner, friend or sibling living like this…

We had three medics and a helicopter as part of the support crew, along with four vehicles and three horses, and three packhorses, so we were looked after in that respect. When we got in at night-time, it was a case of setting up your tent, grabbing a 'meal' and eating around the fire and then repeating the next day. But those night skies have to be seen to be believed. The stillness, the beauty and the extremes were stunning.

We only had to carry our food for that day, plus six-eight litres of water and warm jackets to begin with. It was a very simple process after that – just walk and walk and walk over hundreds of sand dunes and kilometre after kilometre of gibber rock desert. Some days were over 35km, with 4 am starts to beat the heat, while others were less than 20 km.

MJB: What was the hardest part of the journey?

GJ: The food! If I ever see tuna in a sachet – it's like cat food – again or freeze-dried food packs, I cannot promise how I might react. That said, every meal is designed for the bare minimum of support: high carbs, high fat, zero flavour, zero taste and zero joy!

All but three of the 16 trekkers had major issues with blisters, strains, muscle tears etc. No idea why, but I was one of the lucky ones. There were quite a few breakdowns with some people when self-doubt kicked in, and that was tough to watch, but the way that people got around each other and supported each other was simply beautiful to see. Every person that started finished. Some finished easily, and others struggled for days, but every single person walked into Birdsville, under police escort, by the way, with a smile wider than the Sydney heads.

MJB: Tell us about Youngcare and the work that your organisation does.

GJ: Youngcare is a Brisbane (Meeanjin) based NFP helping young people with severe physical disabilities. It receives no government funding. Youngcare came to life in 2005. Our foundations are based on four pillars:

  1. Youngcare builds homes for these young people and gets them out of aged care facilities and other inappropriate accommodations. These young people now live with dignity, choice and control, making their own decisions on their own lives as a basic human right. In FY23, we delivered six homes for 18 people at a cost of over $10m

  2. Youngcare also provides financial Grants to stop young people from entering aged care in the first place by funding things like home modifications, ramps/rails, air con etc. Our Grants totalled $1.2m in FY23.

  3. Youngcare provides a free telephone support line to assist people in navigating the complexity of the NDIS & other agencies.

  4. Youngcare advocates with Govt and Communities to create awareness, understanding and change. We are that noisy but polite buzzing in the ears of Govt!

While Brisbane based, we are a national NFP with homes in NSW and QLD and with Grant recipients in every state and territory.

MJB: How can the M.J. Bale community help Youngcare?

GJ: Lovely question! We love to have people follow us on social [media], share our stories, and re-post to highlight the problem we are trying to address. And just keep an eye on our events which they might support by attending. Donations are always appreciated, and in these tough economic times, every dollar is truly valued.

This might sound odd, but when you see a disabled person with or without their carers, just acknowledge them and strike up a conversation. Normally, most of us very politely avoid the discussion in these situations, but I can assure the wonderful M.J. Bale community that you will make their day and melt their hearts.

For those that are able, our adventure challenges are a fantastic way to get involved. They are mind, body and soul experiences. They are also genuine money-can't-buy experiences. We alternate from 'hot' one year (Simpson Desert/Munga – Thirri ) to 'cold' the next year with our Ten Peaks Challenge. The latter is trekking the ten highest peaks in Australia over five days, camping in the snow. Next week we start recruiting for the 2024 Ten Peaks Challenge, so for those brave folk, give me a call! I have done both, and you might be surprised as to which I think is the tougher event.

MJB: You have an incredible organisation, Greg. We're in awe of your great work and look forward to working with Youngcare in the future. On a very selfish note, it would be remiss if we didn't ask how the tuxedo performed in the Simpson Desert; given the temperatures and harsh conditions, how did it hold up? Honestly?

GJ: Honestly? It exceeded my expectations. I would get to camp when it was 35 degrees and get into my tux, including cuff links, studs, bow tie, black shoes, and black socks and still be more comfortable than anyone else there. I say that with my hand on heart.

Being a bush boy, I thought I knew the benefits of wool, but until you experience the extremes like we did over really short time frames, you may not appreciate it. As the temperature dropped and dropped, I just carried on while others were getting on the fleeces.

I am worried I have not done it justice, but I will tell anyone that wants to know the M.J. Bale suits are the real deal.

MJB: Much like you. Onya Greg!

For any of our M.J. Bale community that would like to learn more about Youngcare or the 2024 Ten Peaks Challenge or donate time or money, please go to www.youngcare.com.au or call 07 3041 3400.