L-R: Kevin Commins, Jacob Garrett, Ian McPhedran, Dr Kyu Kyu Than, Kenton Reeder and Michael Clarebrough at the launch of the Colin McPhedran Commemorative Trek
A commemorative trek to raise funds to assist Burnet’s work in maternal and child health in Myanmar has been officially launched.
Inspired by the mass exodus of refugees from Burma during World War II, The Colin McPhedran Trek was conceived by Kevin Commins, a paramedic, and psychologist Michael Clarebrough, both of Melbourne.
In February 2017 Michael and Kevin, along with Jacob Garrett and videographer Kenton Reeder will retrace the route taken by one of those refugees, Colin McPhedran.
Then aged 11, Colin, his mother, brother and a sister were among 40,000 refugees who set out to walk 450km from central Burma west into India to escape the Japanese invasion.
Eighteen thousand of those refugees died of starvation and disease on the track. Colin was the only member of his family to survive.
Colin McPhedran would eventually immigrate to Australia, raise a family of his own in Bowral NSW, and live as an active member of the community until his death in 2010.
His story is told in an autobiography entitled, White Butterflies.
An enthusiastic mix of around 60 friends, family and supporters attended Thursday night’s launch, hosted by Burnet at the AMREP Seminar Room.
Speakers included Colin McPhedran’s son Ian, an award-winning journalist and author, Professor Robert Power, Head of Burnet’s Centre for International Health, and Dr Kyu Kyu Than, Senior Technical Coordinator with Burnet’s Myanmar Program.
IMAGE: Professor Robert Power at the launch of the Colin McPhedran Commemorative Trek
With around $40,000 in donations still required to support the trek logistically, Mr Commins said excitement is building as the event, which has been three years in the planning, draws nearer.
He said he and his fellow trekkers were inspired by Colin McPhedran’s story and wanted to make the most of their opportunity to support Burnet’s work in Myanmar.
“There’s a gap in the historical wall,” Mr Commins said.
“Most Australians are acutely aware of the implications around the Kokoda Track, but this was ten times bigger and nobody knows about it, and that seems like an oversight.”
Professor Power told guests of Burnet’s 17 projects focused on marginalised populations in Myanmar and of his appreciation for the trekkers’ support.
“We’ve had a long engagement in Myanmar and we feel very much a part of the fabric of that country in terms of our own work, and there’s a really nice tie-in with the trek,” he said.
The Colin McPhedran Trek will raise awareness of community health concerns that persist in Myanmar and raise funds to assist Burnet’s work to address those health issues.
You can visit the official website or donate to The Colin McPhedran Trek appeal.