This is our story

There’s no better way to connect with your new country than by surrounding yourself in nature! Every year our country welcomes thousands of refugees who will now call Australia home. And we want to make them feel welcome the best way we know how – by introducing them to our beautiful natural environment. Australia is known for its outdoors and we want to take you on a journey of discovery! Join the First Hike project and enjoy guided overnight hikes and camping experiences in the Australian bush. Discover our forests, mountains, valleys and plains, and enjoy meeting native animals in their natural habitat. There’s no better welcome to a new country than to make new friends and enjoy time exploring nature.

What

First Hike Project is a Not-For-Profit organisation operating out of Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.

First Hike Project takes youth from refugee background on all-expenses-paid and all-equipment-provided overnight hiking and camping experience in the Australian bush. Our goal is to offer safe, no-cost hiking experiences to people new to our country, with the hope they will feel more at home in Australia once they step outside the suburbs and discover nature.

All gear, food, drinks and transport is supplied so there is no cost to the participant whatsoever. All food is culturally sensitive, and time is set aside for cultural and religious practices if need be. Day hikes are also run which can be good for including family members who are not in the youth demographic we normally target.

First Hike Project believes that hiking is a great way to break down imaginary barriers between groups of people and allow greater connections between participants, volunteers and this country. This experience allows participants to strengthen their connection to Australia and ultimately to feel more at home in their new country.

Why

Restarting life in a new country is always going to be a daunting experience. Imagine being in an unfamiliar location, in a different culture, with no real connections and no choice but to learn a new language. Now picture having to do this after fleeing your home because of violence or persecution. Sometimes with nothing more than the clothes on your back.

For most of us, this is inconceivable but for 25.4 million refugees worldwide, it is their reality.

In 2015, while hiking in Western Australia, Neil (himself an immigrant from South Africa) proposed a little idea to his mate: “Do you reckon we could take these kids from refugee backgrounds out on a hike with us?” With that simple idea, ‘First Hike Project’ (FHP) was born.

Within months they had hustled up enough volunteers, gear and donations to take 15 kids out to one of their favourite spots along the Bibbulmun Track. Each participant was kitted out with a backpack, tent and food. They hiked for a day, spotting kangaroos and listening to the birds and then experienced their very first overnighter in the Aussie bush.

Today, FHP has expanded to having groups in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. We are able to provide all the gear they need, as well as experienced volunteer hikers who take groups out on their new adventures. All activities are free for participants, as FHP volunteers feel that sharing these spectacular and breathtaking experiences in the Aussie bush is their way of welcoming new arrivals into Australia.

Where

First Hike Project conducts hikes in NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT & WA. The hikes are within national parks and bushland close to the cities (generally within 2hrs drive max) and along marked trails of an easy hiking grade for beginners. We also conduct hikes on private property when suitable or on any marked trail which we are allowed to use for this purpose. Hikes and overnight camps are run during the milder months of the year to avoid the harsh heat or the wet season. We want this introduction to encourage them to repeat the experience so picking the right time of year is crucial.

Who

The First Hike Project is formed of a solid group of committed volunteers in each state (NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT and WA); each organised around three coordinators. Since our beginnings in WA in 2016, our volunteer base has grown to in excess of 400 around the country and growing daily. Our volunteers span every profession and age demographic, but they all share on important thing: a desire to treat these new comers in a welcoming manner and to spend their spare time introducing them to a pastime that they themselves love dearly.

STAFF PROFILES

Aya Pigdon

COORDINATOR QLD

When Aya first heard about First Hike Project, she knew that she had to get involved. With a background in ecotourism and community development, she was keen to to share her skills, experience and passion and create a welcoming experience for people new to Australia. It wasn't long after discovering FHP that Aya was a part of the team that established Brisbane First Hike Project in 2018. One of her favourite things about being a part of FHP is sharing new experiences and witnessing the hikers seeing the Australian bush for the first time. There is so much excitement about seeing a kangaroo for the first time, looking up to watch the noisy cockatoos fly overhead or taking in the magnificence view on top of a mountain after a hard climb up. Aya believes that connecting with nature is an essential part of connection to place and belonging and FHP offers this opportunity for people who have come from all corners of the world

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Joel Palte

COORDINATOR NSW and Deputy Chairperson

Like most Australians, my family are migrants, having moved from South Africa and Zimbabwe just before I was born. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve received in Australia, and want to share them with as many people as possible. So I feel very lucky to be able to be involved with the First Hike Project, which gives me the perfect opportunity to combine two of my passions; supporting a diverse multicultural community in Australia, and hiking and connecting with nature.  Outside of the First Hike Project I work in public policy at the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, having recently completed a Master of Public Policy at the University of Sydney as a Westpac Future Leaders Scholar. I've also been involved in the refugee community through my previous work as a solicitor in migration law, providing advice for the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, and campaigning for the Refugee Council of Australia. When I'm not on trips with First Hike Project you can usually find me  hiking, canyoning or rockclimbing with the Sydney University Bushwalkers.

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Luke Maguire

COORDINATOR NSW

First Hike Project Sydney was the first group Luke became involved in upon arriving in Sydney in January 2019, and it remains his favourite. Luke has a passion for hiking, refugees, and building a connection to country. First Hike Project has offered him all this, but more importantly, he has got to meet and work with some of Sydney’s most beautiful and inspiring people. Outside of First Hike Project, Luke leads a strategy consultancy firm - Weavin – and loves his locals like Yoga at Trunk Studios, coffee at Three Arrows, and catching up with friends and family at the Marrickville breweries. 

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Tim Hoban

COORDINATOR VIC

Tim is an environmental engineer who is passionate about nature and all things sustainability. Growing up in Victoria's golden plains he spent all of his family holidays camping and bushwalking. Tim loves to travel and try new things with a particular passion for snow sports. Tim is overconfident in his sense of direction and takes too much pride in thinking he always knows which way is North.

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Neil McCulloch

COORDINATOR WA and Chairperson

Neil was born in Scotland and immigrated to South Africa as a young boy where growing up under the apartheid regime had a profound effect on his outlook on life. This has fueled an ongoing desire for social justice that has found creative ways of being expressed throughout his life, which includes founding First Hike Project. He has hiked many of the worlds beautiful places from the Morroccan Atlas Mountains and South Africa’s Drakensbergs to the Scottish Highlands with lots of places in between. Being an immigrant most of his life he knows the trials involved in finding ‘home’ in a different country and wants to play his part helping others settle into their wonderful new country. First Hike Project is something of an amalgamation of the core experiences he has had in his life and is all thanks to the love of his wife, Raisera, who not only introduced the reality of those seeking asylum to him but also encouraged him to stay still long enough to build something meaningful.

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Andrew Taylor

Board

When Andrew is asked: what do you do, his response is generally, don’t ask what I do, ask what makes me who I am: • a dad and steward to two teenage girls • a partner to a person who keeps him on course • a proud son of parents in their nineties who continue to inspire him with what is possible • a sibling to 3 brothers and 4 sisters who are more diverse than Australia’s landscape • a lover of Australia’s immensely diverse rugged and captivating culture, bush and sea. These are Andrew’s drivers which inform his profession as a lawyer, the thing Andrew does, and yes, also loves to do. Andrew has practiced lawyering since 2001. Andrew sees lawyering as a profession of service here to assist anyone who asks: how do I navigate the increasing complexity and sometimes uncertainty that is encountered in commercial dealings with each other.

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Catherine Nguyen

Board

Hi, I’m Catherine! I have 15 years’ global experience in driving growth and transformation projects across Digital Media and Telco industries. I specialise in strategic planning, commercial advisory, partnerships development, digital product and marketing. Currently I am a Senior Commercial Manager at News Corp Australia and am responsible for leading digital initiatives and strategic partnerships that develop new revenue streams, sustain long-term profitability, and enhance the consumer product experience. Outside of work I spend my time alternating between toddler wrangling,making music, or chasing the perfect lighting to create photos. If I wasn’t in the corporate world I’d be a nomad - enjoying the great outdoors and diving in summer, and taste testing mulled wines and (attempting to) ski in winter!

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Charlotte Francis

Board

Charlotte is a professional fundraiser and writer who has worked in publishing, marketing and fundraising. With a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Languages from Bristol University. She started her career in London in international publishing, before moving into the not-for-profit sector in the ’90s as fundraiser for the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. In 2004 she migrated to Australia and now has dual UK/Australian citizenship. For the last twelve years she’s worked both as an employee and a consultant, specialising in all aspects of grant-seeking for not-for-profit and for-purpose organisations, large and small, across health, aged care, the environment, the arts, disability, social welfare, homelessness and animal welfare. Now running her own freelance practice, she delivers tailor-made grant solutions and services to clients across capacity building, mentoring, writing, reviewing and training. She’s passionate about enabling grant-funded community projects that change lives for the better and create a brighter, kinder and more equitable future for people and our planet. She’s very much a people person, and well known for bringing her sense of humour, warmth and empathy to meet challenges and situations as they arise. Never bored, she enjoys home-making, gardening, storytelling and travel, and gets her best ideas walking her dog on the beach. For Charlotte, soul food comes from being in nature or immersed in the arts.

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Kelly Lai

Board

Equal parts strategic and creative, I love to be exploratory and adventurous in my thinking – design and build environments, and ultimately, create lasting value and meaningful impact through action. I have a natural curiosity to ask questions, challenge conventional wisdom, and leverage the analytical and numerical part of my brain to develop deep insights. I believe being an empathetic leader can help organisations build high performing teams and drive desirable results. Working with a diverse range of smart, inquisitive and driven people inspires me to lead courageously and intentionally – prioritizing learning, valuing my team’s unique perspectives and creating a safe space for growth. My expertise is in problem-solving and co-creating innovative and impactful outcomes and cultivating quality relationships with my team and clients. Originally born in Hong Kong, I have had the privilege of moving twice to countries renowned for their great outdoors – once as a child to Canada and recently as an adult to Australia. Reflecting back on my childhood, I truly believe that my connection and love for Canada would’ve come along much sooner if I had had the opportunity to immerse myself in its beautiful natural environment from the get-go. I can’t wait to share with others my love of nature and the joy of discovering the Aussie bush.

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Nadia Wilson-Ali

Board

Nadia has a broad range of experience within the education sector including schools, privately owned services, corporate and not-for-profit services. Currently Director, Education and Quality of an ASX-listed education and care provider, she works with all stakeholders to implement a strategic approach to the development and implementation of educational program and practice, supporting educators to deliver a quality curriculum by focusing on every aspect of a child’s experience. Nadia has experience working in diverse settings and communities and enjoys soaking up the two-way learning which can occur when diversity is welcomed, promoted, and viewed as a strength rather than from a deficit lens. She is a strong advocate for social justice and inclusion and working towards levelling the playing field to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to succeed. Originally born in Ireland, she is now a proud dual citizen of both Ireland and Australia and lives with her husband in Perth. Nadia loves to drag her husband scuba diving and spend time outdoors in nature when possible!

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Tasmyn Matthews

Board

I have worked in fundraising in the not-for-profit sector for over 15 years, helping charities to maximise their net income and secure their long-term sustainability. I love identifying the unique needs of a charity and helping them grow by applying best practice, data-driven fundraising methodologies. I love using storytelling and copy that connects people with the cause. Working for Australia’s leading fundraising agency, I gained much experience assisting charities of all sizes with strategic planning and with implementation of direct marketing campaigns that surpassed their previous best income records. In my current role as Fundraising Manager at GetUp, I’m lucky to apply and grow my fundraising expertise in a fast-paced, innovative environment on campaigns that achieve social change outcomes in human rights, economic fairness and climate justice. Outside of work, I enjoy exploring the wilderness, swimming and reading. I am also regularly found at the end of a rope belaying my 13 year old or opting for the easy route on my mountain bike as he flies over jumps.

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Tamana Mirzada

Board

Tamana Mirzada is an Afghan Australian youth advocate who is passionate about creating spaces that support newly arrived communities in their settlement journey. She arrived in Australia in 2007 from Germany making it her final settlement country. In the past Tamana has worked with the Lebanese Muslim Association, Community Migrant Resource Centre, The Refugee Council of Australia and Shakti NSW Refugee and Migrant Women Support Group on various initiatives including education, employment and health. Tamana is also of part of the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network NSW through her role as a Youth Ambassador she advocates for creating spaces for youth participation across policy development and decision making. In 2019 , she was awarded the Refugee Council of Australia and STARTTS Humanitarian Youth Award for her contribution in the settlement of newly arrived youth through enabling access to capacity building initiatives and training for entering the Australian employment market.

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William Teasdale

Board

I was brought up in Brazil, Peru and France before being sent to England for school and university. After graduating, I worked initially as a coffee trader and then in corporate finance (Mergers & Acquisitions), and for the past six years I have focused on investments and advising start-ups and small private companies. I came to Australia about 20 years ago and have lived mostly in Sydney, with a couple of years in Melbourne also. I have two sons, now in their 20s, one in London and one in Sydney. Other great joys are mountain biking and skiing. The photo shows me walking in Scotland in February (madness!).

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