Leader of the pack

It was another fun day out. Akela was taking her pack of cubs down to Melbourne for the annual Gang Show put on by the Venturers, Rovers, Guides and Leaders of the Scouting movement. 

The grounds around the Palais Theatre were swarming with little cubs but Akela could recognise her own pack, because of the colour of the scarves unique to their pack. 

Mindful of the scouting motto, “Be Prepared” she had her eyes out for her little charges. 

Suddenly Akela saw one of her cubs running towards the busy road. Quick as a flash she rushed down the hill, snatched up the child and saved him from the onslaught of traffic. 

She was feeling quite pleased with herself when she was confronted by his indignant parents who had been waiting for him at the bottom of the grassy slope. Wrong cub. 

Akela or Beth McKerlie has been running the cub pack at the First Bendigo Scout Group in Vine Street for 38 years and rescuing the wrong cub has been part of the fun and games in a life time of service. 

Such is her impressive record that she was awarded the Scout’s Medal of Merit in 1990 and in 2008 an OAM. 

Mrs McKerlie was 16 when she became a Queens Guide and responded to a request to help out with the cubs – the eight to 11-year-olds. She went on to become a leader and has never looked back.

And while there have been many sessions over the years tying knots and sending signals, one of the more memorable occasions for Mrs McKerlie was the World Jamboree in Sydney in the 1980s. 

“We took three bus loads of cubs, slept in scout halls along the way and had a terrific time,” Mrs McKerlie says. 

Some people may think sleeping in a scout hall with 60 little boys is something to be avoided, but Mrs McKerlie says she always derived huge satisfaction from leading her cubs.

She cites as another example the time she and her cubs were talking on the radio wireless network to someone in Canada as part of their annual Jamboree of the Air . 

“As he was talking to the boys he said that a moose had just stuck his head through his window, the boys loved it.”

Mrs McKerlie says that the scouting movement is still popular with boys and girls. 

“Initially they may think it isn’t cool but once they come along to a class and get involved with the activities they quickly get caught up in the fun.

Her cubs are taught a range of skills from knots, crafts, cooking, map reading, science, community and different cultures. 

They are also taught bush craft and how to care for the environment. 

Importantly, Mrs McKerlie says that they learn to be happy and have a sense of discipline.

“We do a lot of team work in the cubs and boys automatically start to pass on skills to each other as they acquire them, and they can’t participate in the process if they’re being silly,” she said.

“It’s the sort of discipline that comes out of watching others and wanting to join in.”

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