Now in its third year, Walking Off the War Within returned to Ballarat as part of a major expansion across the state, aiming to begin conversations about mental illness.
About 1000 people, from firefighters and police officers to families and groups of friends, walked the St Patrick's College course, some aiming to complete the full 20 kilometres with 20 kilograms on their backs.
The event is in memory of former soldier, Ballarat firefighter and father Nathan Shanahan, who walked from Mildura to Adelaide in full kit to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress injuries and depression.
While he lost his battle in 2016, his father John said it was "unbelievable" to see so many people turning out on Saturday morning in his honour.
"Nath would be just chuffed to see this many people supporting his cause," he said.
While there were tears at the beginning, the mood for the day was celebratory, especially as the sun emerged.
That was always the focus, John added, to create a family day out and get people to openly talk about their mental health, and reach out for help.
"We talk about cancer and other diseases, but for some reason there's been a terrible stigma against mental illness," he said.
"We've got to ask ourselves, as a society, what are we doing wrong?"
Emergency services, like the CFA, are talking a leading role to change the culture.
Chief Fire Officer Steve Warrington was on hand to present commendations to firefighters Josh Martin, from Ballarat City, and Adam Young, from Mildura, as well as their operations officers, for getting the event off the ground.
He said post-traumatic stress injuries remained a cause for concern for all emergency services, but the organisation was moving in the right direction.
"We've just employed two full-time psychiatrists, one in the west of the state and one in the east, and we've got a full welfare team that two years ago we never had at all," he said.
This was echoed by Nathan's former fire chief at Ballarat City, Anthony Pearce.
"It's been a profound change in the psyche in the firefighters and officers that I work with since Nathan's passing," he said.
"I look at the guys and girls working at the fire station and I can see there's genuine regard and care for each other at a much greater level than I've ever seen in my 25 years as a firefighter."
This year, the event is expanding to Mildura and Warrnambool, as well as in Kalgoorlie and in the Northern Territory, with interest shown in Sydney as well.
It also raises thousands of dollars for front-line charities, such as Lifeline and Soldier On, but event coordinator Carlee Grant said it was also about the connections forged.
"One of the young guys who registered last night, he could barely raise his eyes, he was nervous and anxious, he has post-traumatic stress himself," she said.
"He kept saying thank you so much for having this event, it's so important, he said I'll walk on my own but I know there's people around me."
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