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24 November, 2020

Community won't let Old-Man quit

At his age, Geoff Guest OAM should be taking life easy but the call for his methods and knowledge rehabilitating troubled youths has never been greater.

By Nicole Gibson

Talking to Geoff ‘Old-Man’ Guest it’s easy to forget he’s just shy of 94. He has all the stamina and get up and go of someone decades younger and he needs it.

 If Cairns based Crime and Justice Action Group (CJAG) is successful, Mr Guest will be guiding the establishment of an education sentencing academy as part of their plan to address youth crime in the region.

 Mr Guest founded the Petford Training Farm, west of Mareeba, in 1978 and helped rehabilitate about 4000 troubled youths over the next two decades.

 He said current punishment style deterrents were not working and programs focused on early intervention were the key to changing outcomes in the future.

 “There’s a whole range of things we can and should be doing,” Mr Guest said. “Punishment doesn’t work and it’s vitally important that we help families before trouble starts.”

 Mr Guest said big picture strategies were needed and if action wasn’t taken to start doing things differently the problem would continue.

 “It might take three generations to fix the problem but we need to start,” he said. “We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past, gotta say what can we do about it.”

 As a child of the stolen generation, Mr Guest was taken from his family at a young age and moved from mission to mission.

 At the age of 10, he escaped into the bush where he hid for more than a year after being tied to a post and whipped so badly he lost the ability to speak.

 While Mr Guest is the first to admit he didn’t always get it right, his own experiences guided much of the work he did on recovery and rehabilitation and continue to drive him to find solutions to this day.                                                                                   

CJAG spokesperson and former Petford Training Farm student, Aaron McLeod said Mr Guest’s methods were appealing to them because he was one of the first people to establish effective programs to help seriously troubled kids.

“You’ve kids that have been impacted by drugs, impacted by alcohol, impacted by displacement and a whole range of social issues that have occurred within our communities,” Mr McLeod said.

“Geoff was able to pioneer the diagnoses of these problems early on and then to provide a treatment effectively in a practical hands-on way.”

CJAG has received overwhelming community support since launching in March this year.

Mr McLeod said he believed this is because they have provided the community with actual solutions based on research into the causes of the problems.

“The research has been done, primary and secondary data has been analysed,” he said.

“What we’ve presented is plan that is focused on people and the important structures, the important boundaries that all of us need growing up, so we can have some certainty in our lives, and we can actually build on that certainty and create a stable world to grow up in so we can then make effective decisions for our future.”

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