Introducing Abe Bland, Founder of Tribes Adventure Group and Beyond Service Awards 'Community Impact Award' Finalist
Abe Bland was born with a fighting spirit.
The 41-year-old weighed less than a kilo when he and his identical twin came into the world prematurely.
“I was born blue, and we were about 800g,” Abe said.
“So, we were pretty much behind the eight ball as twins.”
Evidently, Abe was determined to thrive, and he did just that as baby, as a soldier and as an entrepreneur.
The Gold Coast local is the founder and director of Tribes Adventure Group, a company built around supporting youth and people with disabilities and mental health issues through adventure.
The business began back in 2010 with just Abe and today he employs about 12 people fulltime and 75 casually, running it under a set of core values - harmony, opportunity, wonder, integrity and challenge.
Tribes came about when Abe decided to mix his day job with the skills and experience gained from serving in the Australian Army Reserve.
Abe followed his brother into the Army, something Abe believes was influenced by their lack of strong male role model growing up.
“My parents were married in a lion's cage in a circus and my middle name is Merlin, like the magician, and my twin brother’s is Conan, like the barbarian,” he said.
“We had a really interesting upbringing with different views on tribes and cultural activities.
“We had to read the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and Biblical stuff, and have broad, esoteric, philosophical kind of conversations.
“But at the same time, dad was severely mentally ill and very, very violent.”
Abe’s brother joined the Army when they were still teenagers.
“I noticed that he became more mature, more confident and he had a lot more resilience,” Abe said.
“I thought, well, the only difference is that he's in the Army and I'm not.
“So, I joined when I was 21.”
Abe was an infantry soldier at the 41st Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, in Tweed Heads, completing about 100 days a year of service for a decade.
“I deployed to Solomon Islands in 2008 as a private and then again in 2012 as a lance corporal,” he said.
“I spent the last four or five years of my career as a full track (corporal), so as a patrol commander, running activities, doing recruiting, teaching weapon systems and training people, which is what I enjoyed.”
While undertaking part-time military service, Abe also worked in community services.
He was working in a young carer program when he got the idea for Tribes.
“I started running all these adventure activities and incorporating some of my army skills,” he said.
“I felt a lot of positive energy out of doing that. I felt like I was in my flow.
“But it kind of frustrated me because as a department, we didn't have youth workers or disability workers, so I had to outsource them from the community, and I didn't like the quality that was being offered.
“I thought, I could do better than this.”
So, he did.
Abe founded Tribes Adventure Group and began working with people with disabilities and mental health challenges.
“I would do what I call eco therapy, which was taking them out bush and doing hiking, kayaking, snorkelling,” he said.
“A lot of the activities that we did were things at the time that society thought were probably too risky for people with disabilities, but it all went really well.
“There were some really positive outcomes, in terms of improving their resilience, improving behaviour.”
Tribes quickly grew.
“I was trying to organise camps, pay people and do recruiting and it basically just doubled year-on-year for about 10 years in a row,” Abe said.
Initially, he turned to fellow Army Reservists to fill roles, finding their skills transferred well into the field.
He continues to employ veterans to this day.
“There's an unflappable component to a lot of military people,” he said.
“When you're working with someone with a disability, a lot of mainstream people can have a fear of the unknown.
“Where military people go, okay, I can deal with this, I've got a background in being able to adapt to any situation and to cater for the worst scenario.”
Abe said after more than a decade in business, his greatest success remained the outcomes Tribes Adventure Group had achieved for the people they worked with.
“That's probably number one,” he said.
“But I think number two would be just the quality of the team.
“I'm lucky to be in the position I'm in, to have these wonderful people working for me.
“I'm tremendously grateful for that and as time goes on, I become more and more grateful.”
And up there on the achievement list is being a finalist in the Community Impact Award of the 2023 Prince’s Trust Australia Beyond Service Awards.
“I’m super happy,” he said.
“It’s good to have the recognition.
“I do get that imposter syndrome feeling. Sometimes I think, how did this happen?
“Because if you're constantly thinking forward, thinking about five years, 10 years, six months down the track, you find it really hard to turn around and look back on what you've achieved.”
This story was written by Courtney Snowden, freelance copywriter and current serving ADF spouse, based in Queensland.
An initiative of the Prince’s Trust Australia Enterprise programme, the Beyond Service Awards are designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial achievements of Australia’s veteran and family business community.
The 2023 Beyond Service Awards are proudly sponsored by Gold Sponsor Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Silver Sponsor Saab Australia.
For further information, contact Prince’s Trust Australia via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abe is the Founder of Tribes Adventure Group, an outdoor adventure company specializing in mentoring, day activities, and adventure camps for at-risk young people and people with disabilities.
Established in 2011, Abe’s programs are underpinned by the principles of ecotherapy and offer a suite of sensory-appropriate activities to meet the needs of his diverse client base.
His staff have backgrounds in youth work, psychology, fitness, and the military. He is committed to supporting his employees, including through well-being activities and a profit-share arrangement.
Abe has been awarded a Mentoring for Growth Grand and a Boosting the Local Care Workforce Grant as recognition for his innovative support services within the community.
Abe served 13 years with the Australian Army Reserves, including two overseas operations. Abe lives on the Gold Coast, in Queensland.