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Tallarook community hike promotes talking to strangers and making new friends

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Mitchell Shire residents will be able to meet and mingle with people from all corners of the community at the inaugural Hike 4 Harmony in Tallarook.

The free event will include participants supplied with water and refreshments by Wallan Fruit and Veg.

Organised by the Mitchell Multicultural Community Association Inc, the 10-kilometre walk along the Great Victorian Rail Trail is open to anyone and aims to bring the community together to support physical and mental health.

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Participants can make new friends or chat to strangers, both of which have mental health benefits according to association chair and youth counsellor Nikki Simos.

“Talking to strangers is a form of great relief in alleviating stress,” she said.

“When you connect with a stranger there is no personal investment other than, I am just offloading and here’s a burning issue, and you may never see that person again … there’s no stigma, no judgement.”

Ms Simos said residents in rural areas could struggle more to meet variety of new people and maintain strong social relationships, and events that threw people together could help address that.

“Because we are in a rural region, even though that’s changing with the growth coming through, there’s still many gaps and unfortunately those gaps can be quite lonely for people and some can feel quite isolated” she said.

“It’s a nice general way into connecting and also having conversations with potentially younger people, because we’ve got young people, seniors and families.”

Supported by Victoria Police, Seymour Rotary Club, Mitchell Suicide Prevention Network and more, organisers have devised conversation cards to help break the ice and encourage participants to think deeply and discuss topics like facing change and personal growth.

“The focus is purely about connecting, having conversations and thinking about things you may think about, but may not talk about,” Ms Simos said.

She said conversation cards would be colour-coded to group people at random and force them to interact, unlike a typical community social event where people often stuck to who they knew.

“It’s not scripted, there’s no notation being taken down, it really is just a matter of community connection, expanding your own social networks, and who knows, I might meet someone on that day and never see them until a month later and say ‘hey you were that person on that walk’,” she said.

Ms Simos said support from the region’s businesses and organisations had been a wonderful display of community partnership, and thanked all sponsors for their interest.

The event is wheelchair accessible, LGBTIQ+ friendly, and pet owners are encouraged to bring their dogs.

The hike, starting at the rail meeting point, is five kilometres out and five kilometres back, but there is no obligation to walk the full 10kms.

*Due to Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdown, this event has been postponed. We will post an update when a new date has been confirmed.

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