The last survivor of Sandakan: Billy Young’s story
We meet with last remaining Sandakan survivor, Billy Young
After tackling the world’s highest mountain last year and raising much-needed funds for brain cancer research, supporters of the Mark Hughes Foundation set themselves another ambitious target – the Borneo Coast to Coast trek.
Led by former Newcastle Knights legend Paul ‘The Chief’ Harragon and Mark Hughes himself, the group of 36 trekkers tackled some incredibly tough conditions as they followed in the footsteps of WWII Aussie POW’s on the Sandakan Death March.
The team biked, hiked and climbed their way across Borneo, trekking more than 250 kilometres over 10 days to raise over $350,000 for brain cancer research. It’s their toughest challenge yet, but nothing compared to what those who are battling brain cancer go through every day.
We caught up with two nib employees who took on the Borneo Coast to Coast challenge to gain insight into the highs and lows of the experience.
Catherine Calvert (Cat), World Nomads Group senior UI designer: My highlight was our final morning, sitting 4km up on top of Mount Kinabalu with a view over the valleys and (what felt like) all the terrain we had traversed over the preceding eight days down below us. It was quite special to have time to be able to reflect on everything we’d achieved and how far we’d come together. The lack of oxygen literally took my breath away, but that was nothing compared to the view from above the clouds as the sun rose over Borneo.
Jessica Marzato (Jess), nib infrastructure and systems coordinator: It’s impossible to pick just one – the trek was full of amazing moments I will never forget, such as how we were included into the group so easily and how it felt like a family. A few other highlights include how willing everyone was to open up and share their stories, reaching the summit of Mount Kinabalu and watching the sunrise. Walking down the mountain with the last group was a big highlight for me. Being part of that group with some individuals who were really struggling and having everyone rallying to help each other finish was pretty special.
Cat: Coming down off the mountain was the toughest part, both emotionally and physically. My body had coped relatively well until that point but the relentless descent down the mountain – 9km straight down, with no flat areas – turned my legs to jelly and made my quads and calves burn for days afterwards. It was also our final day together as a team and the realisation that our adventure had come to an end was really sad.
Jess: I think the hardest part of the trek was the day we finished the Sandakan Death March. After lunch, we went to the war museum where we watched a 20-minute documentary with actual footage of the prisoners on the march. Whilst we were walking, we had moments where we thought we were tired, hungry and hot. To watch the conditions those men were in when they completed the march… We were completely healthy and still many struggled, but they were not healthy, they were not well fed and they did not even have shoes or sunscreen; it was very confronting and tough on an emotional level.
While the trek is now complete, the challenge of raising awareness and funds for brain cancer research is far from over. Visit markhughesfoundation.com.au to show your support.
The Mark Hughes Foundation has been formed to raise much-needed funds for research, awareness and to support brain cancer patients and their families. Brain cancer is the biggest killer of children under 10 and adults under 40 years, yet it is one of the most underfunded and under-researched cancers of all time.