The Armidale School has Australia’s oldest cadet unit outside Sydney.

Story Ken Eastwood  Photo Timothy Hughes, TAS

Marcus Braham is in his third year at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Four years ago he was head cadet of The Armidale School’s (TAS) 126-year-old cadet unit, and he reckons it prepared him “exceptionally well” for life in the Army. “There’s a huge crossover between starting off in the Defence Force and my cadet life. It’s very much aligned,” he says. 

Marcus has discovered that defence personnel from cadet units in other schools had a much different focus to the outdoor-activity-centred TAS unit. “A lot of the cadet units have got an emphasis on the barracks life, but the TAS unit has a much bigger emphasis on getting people out in the field. It puts a really strong emphasis on being out in the bush and challenging you that way – being out in an uncomfortable or foreign environment. It’s very, very rewarding and great fun.”

TAS principal Dr Rachel Horton says cadets is compulsory for girls and boys in years 8–10, and then many like Marcus undertake leadership positions in senior years. “It is a really important part of what we do at TAS – it’s not an add-on to the school, it’s an integral part,” she says. “This allows us to really stretch our students – building resilience, self-belief.”

Activities are often centred around multi-day ‘bivouacs’, with canyoning, kayaking and abseiling among the activities.“They all are nervous for at least some part of it,” Rachel says, admitting that she often doesn’t hear about some of the wildest stories until the students are leaving school.

Lily Etheridge was the first female to lead the unit, in 2021, and is now studying Ag Business at UNE, while building up her own Poll Hereford stud. “It provided a good experience of how to lead and make sure these girls that are younger than you are having a good time,” she says.

Current student leader Abbott White comes from a bull stud and sheep property near Guyra and is enjoying the role, particularly when the unit abseils into gorges on the Nymboida River. “It’s a pretty cool opportunity to lead people below your age and your age. You get a lot out of it.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #155

Outback Magazine: June/July 2024