Geoff Guest Petford Camp


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Geoff Guest Petford Camp
PO Box 213 Dimbulah

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 Written 1994 Last Updated April 2014.







·  Aim and objectives

·  Other benefits

·  Living and activity expenses

·  Transport arrangements

·  Horse riding and horse care activity

·  Neuro-feedback therapy


Map of Far North Queensland and location of Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp


Cover picture: 'Geoff Guest' by Remy Johansen




This page provides a brief overview of what Petford was like when it was very active as a Youth Training Camp. Geoff is now his mid eighties and no longer runs residential youth programs. Now Geoff may take on assignments helping communities and families with advice on nutrition and resolution of behaviour disorders. He may be available for consulting work, support for youth attending court, running workshops and as a speaker and workshop leader at conferences. Geoff also has a consulting practice where he sees adult clients in Atherton in the Atherton Tablelands a few days a week. He also may take on Adult clients as short term residents at his Petford Farm. With these other activities, Geoff has ceased having youth for residential stays at his farm.




Geoff Guest OAM established the Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp back in the late 70's. The camp is located in the bush, near the small town of Petford in Far North Queensland.

Geoff and his wife Norma, affectionately known by young people as the 'Old Man' and 'Aunty Norma' are well known around the country and overseas for their outstanding success in working with young people, particularly young Aboriginals.

The Camp developed primarily to help young people, who are suicidal, suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing, aggression or habitual offending. The overall aim of the camp is to confirm and strengthen the young participants' identity and pride in being an Aboriginal, to elevate their confidence, self-esteem and respect for themselves and others.

The primary activity of the Geoff Guest Petford Camp is horse riding and horse care.

Other activities include nutrition, neuro-feedback therapy, leather work, swag making, eucalyptus and tea-tree oil production, tin smelting and pewter ware, and health and illness education.

The Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp operated independent of government funding. Young people attended the camp living with the Old Man and Aunty Norma as members of their family. They were responsible for the cost of their own board and keep.

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Old Man and Aunty Norma



Geoff Guest was born in 1926. His early life as one of the stolen generation is explored in the paper

Old Man - His youth as a Stolen Generation Member .

Geoff spent much of his life in the saddle and has the reputation of being one of Queensland's best horsemen. Geoff was separated from his Aboriginal mother when he was three and fostered by a white family at a time when light-skinned Aboriginal children were taken from their families for "the chance of a better life". Geoff ran away from his foster family when he was nine and went on a lone 7,000 km walkabout with three horses. He started working as a rabbit controller and then as station hand when the owner discovered his skill as a horse breaker. "I had it tough" he said, "but because I was fair-skinned I could always go places".

At 16 Geoff joined the USA army in a small group that took 50 Australia stock horses across India and the Himalayas into China so the Chinese solders could use them to breed mules. The group came under fire from the Japanese army and the Chinese soldiers had Geoff use his surgery skills to treat a wounded mule. On seeing his skills they used Geoff as their surgeon when they were injured.

Over the years, he has taken up a number of occupations, including trochus diver, timber cutter, buffalo and crocodile shooter, tin miner, soldier, mounted police drug enforcement officer in South America, rodeo trick rider and stockman. Overriding all these occupations, Geoff has an extraordinary understanding of, and love for people and has spent his entire life helping others in one form or other.

Back in the early 70s Geoff would draw a crowd of Aboriginal boys to watch him break in horses. Many of them were heavy drinkers and were getting into trouble with the law. He invited them to stay with him on his property while he taught them to ride and to develop the necessary skills to get work on stations. In those days he employed up to 10 staff to care for up to 40 young people living on his property, all paid for by his substantial tin mining operation. In the late 70s he developed a special relationship with a local Aboriginal woman named Norma and they have been living together ever since.

In time, Geoff and Norma's outstanding work with young people caught the attention of the state welfare department, police and magistrates. These people were on the lookout for effective programs and asked Geoff and Norma if they could refer young people to them. Geoff has testimonials of countless numbers of former residents and thousands of national and international supporters, including; past and present State and Federal members of parliament, Judges and Magistrates, psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, police officers, university professors, and the list goes on. They have all publicly confirmed the effectiveness of Geoff's rehabilitation methods.


Old Man, Aunty Norma and a group of young residents



The Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp is guided by the belief that many socially disruptive and self-harming behaviours, such as: suicidal behaviour; drug and alcohol abuse; petrol sniffing; aggression; and habitual offending, are the product of the person and their environment. The camp helps these young people to change their behaviour by providing them with a new, more positive environment supporting their self-help in developing a better life.

Most of us would like to believe that our personal values, belief and feelings are much stronger than our surrounding social forces. Often surrounding social forces are much stronger, with penalties for non-conformity ranging from unpopularity, loss of status, loss of livelihood, exclusion, or in extreme situations, death. The more we deviate from the group-shared attitudes and beliefs, or norms, the greater the pressure the group will tend to exert to bring us into line.

These forces can be seen at work in the stories of many young people. Take for example the following words of a 17 year old Aboriginal boy from Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community:

·         "You can't stop the drinking here, it's too strong. If you want to stop others will force you into it, you can't say no, they will make you. If you don't drink with them they think bad of you. The only way to stop is to get out of this place".

And again, from a 16 year old boy from Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Community trying to explain why he committed a number of offences:

·         "I never thought about it before, all the other years I was just going to school, but then I was hanging around too much with these other boys and started getting into trouble".

In situations where a young person believes that their family or group environment is having a bad effect on them and want to get away for a while, the Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp may be able to provide them with that opportunity.

The Old Man and Aunty Norma have the ability to directly interact with young people and point out their irrational ideas and beliefs and provide them with ways to overcome them. The goal is that eventually the young person will learn new ideas and beliefs that are more effective.

Unlike many therapeutic programs, the Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp is not conducted in a closed artificial environments applied by psychologists or other professionals. In contrast, the Camp is for young people who have chosen to leave their community for a time and live with the Old Man and Aunty Norma who model more effective beliefs and values, in an environment that provides them with new activities and valuable life skills.



The Old Man giving some young people an introduction to horse riding




Aim and Objectives

The aim of the Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp is to help young people live happy, productive, and respected members of their community.

The objectives include:

·         to create a safe, supportive environment for young people to develop and enjoy their lives without doing harm to themselves and others;

·         to provide knowledge and skills relevant to living and working in rural and remote areas;

·         to develop greater confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline, self-reliance, respect for themselves and others and their property.

·         to reduce boredom, anxiety and depression;

·         to improve physical health and fitness;

·         to promote an understanding and respect of the natural environment;

·         to promote a social and political awareness of issues which may affect them as indigenous people. Geoff and Norma do accept non-indigenous youth.

Other benefits

In addition to the objectives, the Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp can provide the following opportunities to young participants.

·         The opportunity for young Aboriginals from different parts of the country to gain a greater understanding of each other, to live and work in cooperation and develop new friendships.

·         The opportunity for young Aboriginals to gain new ideas and learn practical skills that can assist them to establish their own enterprises that may generate a livelihood and help provided autonomy and economic independence.

Living and activity expenses

Young people referred to Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp from outside the area live with the Old Man and Aunty Norma as members of their family in their home on the bank of Emu Creek. The camp is not funded by any government department and Geoff discourages welfare dependence which robs people of their independence and dignity. Young people attending the camp are therefore required to pay for their own living and activity expenses. The various ways they can do is explained at the time of referral.



Young residents saddling up to go riding


Horse riding and horse care activity

Young people who attend Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp are often withdrawn, low in self-esteem, mistrusting of adults and authority figures, or a believe that they have little control over their lives. Geoff knows how horses can be used to help rehabilitate young people and he has been doing so for most of his life.

When young people attend the Geoff Guest Petford Camp they will be given a practical education on riding and caring for horses and the parallels between the behaviour of horses, themselves and others. Through expert riding instruction the young people develop courage, self-confidence and control. They will learn that horses have personalities like people and with proper care and attention you can earn their trust and respect. They will be taught how to take responsibility for the needs of their horse, as well as their own needs.

Horses, according to Geoff, are great levellers; "It does not matter what you look like or whatever your past, it all means very little to a horse, they will take you as you are".

In addition to their therapeutic potential, horses can provide employment and income. Horses are Australia's third biggest industry, when taking into consideration the horse racing industry, national and international breeding sales, rodeo riders, stockmen, show and pleasure riding and working horses. With this in mind, Geoff has developed a horse management course. Topics covered include:

·         Overview of the horse industry

·         Growth and development

·         Reproduction, fertility and lactation

·         Breeds and breeding

·         Horse behaviour

·         Caring for horses with bush medicine

·         Feeding, Nutrition and digestion

·         Care, grooming & identification

·         Pests and diseases

·         Stables and yard construction

·         Halters, bits, saddles and stirrups (including making and repair)

·         Beginning, intermediate and advanced riding skills

Neuro-feedback therapy

Geoff is always willing to try out new ideas in order to help young people improve the quality of their lives. For the past 4 years, Geoff and others have been pioneering the use of neuro-feedback therapy to help young Aboriginals over-come a number of disorders including ADHD and Tourettes type behaviours.

All human behaviour originates in the nervous system, of which the brain is the most important part. The nervous system is made up of thousands upon thousands of individual nerve cells called neurons. Neurons communicate to each other by using electrical impulses and chemical secretions. Neuro-feedback therapy involves placing small sensors against certain areas of the skull, which are able to detect some of the small electrical impulses taking place within the brain. These impulses are then relayed to a computer, which is programmed to display these electrical impulses in a visual form on the computer screen. In this way the participants are able to view their own brainwave activity on a moment by moment basis.

This visual neuro-activity feedback can then be used as a form of neurological skill training whereby participants can learn to self-regulate and influence their brainwave patterns to achieve a more balanced mental state.

Neuro-feedback therapy is being used by a number professionals around the world for the treatment of drug, alcohol and food dependency and addiction, dangerous offenders, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, certain types of depression and other mood disturbances, and certain closed-head injuries.

Geoff has testimonials from academic and practitioner world leaders in neurotherapy stating that Geoff's work is 'state of the art'.


The Old Man connecting up a young boy to the neuro-feedback computer


Geoff has had significant success in changing long term behavioural issues through changing residents’ food habits Geoff speaks of having clear boundaries.


Here at Petford boys get for perhaps the first time, clear boundaries as to what they can and cannot do. We have no white sugar and no white flour at Petford. These two things messes their brains.


We also have no cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. These also set the boys back; they lose their confidence - I can tell if they have had just one cigarette - it shows in their confidence and ease in working with the horses.


This same point about white sugar and white flour is made by psychiatric anthropologist John Cawte (1974, 2001). Annie Jubb and David Jubb (2003) report the experience of teachers and staff at Central Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin:


Most aberrant behaviour that we see around us in the world, such as crime and violence, can be corrected or greatly affected through proper nutrition. This was dramatically demonstrated when staff and teachers at Central Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, took action against the violence, gun-toting, wisecracking, and truancy that had become regular behaviour among the students. In 1997, they challenged the system and changed the menu at the cafeteria, and removed all of the candy and soda vending machines. The cafeteria switched from offering hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries, cookies, cakes, chips, and soda to offering wholesome fresh fruit and vegetables, hormone-free eggs, cheese, and meat. They cut out all food containing the preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and synthetic colours and flavours. They started preparing meals using old fashioned recipes. Principal LuAnn Coenen now files stunning figures each year with the state of Wisconsin. Since 1997, she has reported a figure of zero dropouts, student expulsion, and for students discovered using drugs, carrying weapons and committing suicide. Zero. These problem behaviours simply disappeared when a wholesome diet was introduced and the worst chemical additives were removed. One student summed it up, ‘Now that I can concentrate, I think it is easier to get along with people.’


Major Project in Central Australia

Seven remote communities in Central Australia have asked Geoff and Aunty Norma along with other skilled people linked to Geoff to come and teach them healing ways so they can support their own youth who are having major problems with petrol sniffing and other addiction. In November 2001 one small community had six boys die from petrol sniffing.

Independent funding is being sought for this project. Please Email us if you can support or know someone who can.



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Map of Far North Queensland and location of Geoff Guest Petford Youth Camp



Cawte, J. (1974). Medicine is the Law - Studies in Psychiatric Anthropology of Australian Tribal Societies. Honolulu, University Press of Hawaii.

Cawte, J. (2001). Healers of Arnhem Land. Marleston, SA, J.B. Books.

Jubb, A. P. & D. Jubb, 2003. LifeFood Recipe Book – Living on Life Force. Berkley, CA : North Atlantic Books.


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