Tackling Kokoda for mental health

By Rhys Williams

Corowa resident Don Burrowes has seen first-hand the devastating impacts of mental illness on a community and plans to do something about it this month by taking on the Kokoda Trail to raise money for mental health research. 

Don arrives in Papua New Guinea on Monday 22nd July to embark on the 96km walk, which will take eight days to complete. In that time, he hopes to raise $5,000 for the charity Australian Rotary Health. 

The 59-year-old laments that while there is great awareness around mental health conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, he believes psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar are largely overlooked, particularly in men.

“Men don’t advocate for themselves well and people with those illnesses don’t advocate for themselves well at all because they often can’t publicly speak to identify the issue,” Mr Burrowes told The Free Press.

“Ideally I would like to raise about $5,000 for Australian Rotary Health to be targeted at research into improved treatments and ultimately a cure for Schizophrenia.”

1 in 5 Australians are affected by a mental illness every year and Don has seen close family members and friends impacted by schizophrenia as well as other mental illnesses.

Having overcome his own mental health issues after being involved in a serious car accident and as a result suffering from post-traumatic stress, Don see’s the long arduous journey on the Kokoda track as another personal challenge he will have to defeat.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s done Kokoda has said that after day three you will question why the hell you agreed to do the walk,” he said.

“I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself for when I get to that point and knowing myself and what I have overcome, I’ll be able to drudge on.”

Don is also using this experience to pay tribute to his wife’s father, who was part of the Kokoda campaign in World War 2.

“It’s my intention to carry a photo of him with me in recognition of the service he and all the servicemen gave in this bloody campaign. He survived and returned to civilian life afterward but would never speak about his experience other than to teach his children to speak in Pijin English.”

Mr Burrowes has been ramping up his training in preparation for the walk by hiking the Kosciusko summit, trekking the Baranduda ranges, cycling and at least two gym sessions a week.

Don has currently raised $623 and will need much more support if he’s to reach his goal of $5k.

To support Don in his fundraising campaign, donation can be made at