Cheers filled the air in a small Riverina town last weekend, when a weary figure decked head to toe in camouflage appeared on the horizon.
As Brenton Byrne completed the final stretch of his incredible 224-kilometre pack march across the region, five days of pain suddenly washed away.
But instead of marching on and revelling in his achievement, Bombardier Byrne instead turned left, as there was one final stop he had to make before completing his journey from Kapooka to his hometown of Goolgowi.
"Instead of going directly to the pub and seeing everyone I went down to the cemetery and paid my father a visit," Bdr Byrne said.
"He was the reason I did this and it was only then that I went and saw everybody. I'm not going to lie, I had to pull my sunglasses over my eyes when I saw everybody there cheering me on."
Driven by his father's death to suicide in 2009 and the recent devastation mental illness has caused in Goolgowi, Bdr Byrne came up with the idea to complete the charity walk earlier this year.
He set a target of raising $10,000 from the fundraiser with all the proceeds going to mental health charity The Black Dog Institute - a goal he'd already nearly completed before taking one step on the walk.
One week on from the completion of his march, the fundraiser is sitting at about $50,000 raised and is expected to break $60,000 when the final few donations are added in the coming days.
"We were already doing really well on the fundraising front before I'd set off but when I started marching it just became sort of exponential and it just blew up," Bdr Byrne said.
"The amount that it raised is honestly just crazy and I can't believe it. I cannot thank everybody enough for all of the support they have shown."
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Setting off as the sun rose on Tuesday morning, Bdr Byrne trekked north across the Riverina as donations flew in.
He only had five days to complete his ambitious journey, meaning he'd have to travel a distance greater than a marathon each day, all while carrying an 18-kilogram pack.
"The first day actually went pretty well because I was fresh and feeling good, so I covered about 55 kilometres on that first day alone," Bdr Byrne said.
"There were people pulling over and saying they'd just heard me on the radio or seen me on the tele. A lot of people also slowed right down to have a look at me and took off, before coming back with drinks or food for me and asking how they can donate."
The positive mood held strong as he trekked through Narrandera and then Leeton, but as he passed through Griffith and began making his way to Tharbogang the magnitude of the challenge came to the fore.
"Day four was painful that was for sure," he said. "I definitely hadn't been eating enough and I started to get cramps but still having to just keep walking for the mission."
"I hit a wall and when I was taking my boots off that night, everything was hurting and a bit of doubt started to creep in. But thankfully the boys were there and they screwed my head back on and I was able to get a bit of sleep that night."
The final day was all that stood between Bdr Byrne and his final destination, and as he finally arrived at the Royal Mail Hotel in Goolgowi at 4pm he was treated to a hero's welcome.
More than 100 Goolgowi residents braved the chilly weather and cheered as Bdr Byrne completed his final steps, bringing his incredible cross-Riverina journey to an end.
"It was a pretty emotional experience and there were plenty of hugs and high fives going around," he said. "When I went through the door there were five schooners laid out for me."
The achievement was a sense of pride for the Goolgowi community and a chance to reunite after an incredibly difficult period.
The town was left devastated last year when 21-year-old Billy Hale and his mother Donna Hale both took their own lives just four months apart.
Billy's father and Donna's husband Geoff Hale was one of the residents cheering on as Bdr Byrne arrived in the town.
"It was just a great thing for Brenton to do and an incredible achievement - we were all in awe of it," Mr Hale said.
"He lost his dad 12 years ago and the last year has been quite harrowing for myself but also the whole community out here."
Mr Hale said the mood on Saturday was high-spirited as residents waited eagerly in anticipation of Bdr Byrne's arrival.
"The day was gloomy and the weather meant there were delays in harvest but everyone was still just really positive and keen for a chance to gather and support Brenton," he said.
Robert Moore, the owner of the Royal Mail Hotel, described the day as a step in the right direction for the town.
"It was a pretty touching and moving event," Mr Moore said. "It was a great tribute to Brenton's father and a big effort. He was definitely pretty sore."
The fundraising continued into the night and Mr Moore said an auction at the pub helped to raise $24,000 towards Bdr Byrne's campaign.
"It was just a great night from beginning to end to be honest," the soldier said.
"Seeing all of my father's mates and all of my mates getting around it and being present was really special. They have shown a great deal of support both financially with the donations and also just being there to have a chat at the end of it."
Phoebe Collins, the community fundraising manager at The Black Dog Institute, said Bdr Byrne's achievement was "incredible" and would help future regional Australians receive vital mental health support.
As well as being grateful for the donation, Miss Collins was also full of praise for Bdr Byrne and his commitment to driving discussion around mental health in regional areas.
"I spoke to Brenton and he said he had some amazing and emotional conversations along his walk and really encouraged people who might be struggling to go and seek help," she said.
"The $60,000 will help to educate over 150 health professionals on the latest mental health research and clinical evidence."
"But at the end of the day the ultimate goal is a more mentally-healthy world and Brenton being out there in regional and remote communities, having a physical presence and driving discussion is just incredible.
For mental health support, contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, Murrumbidgee Access Line on 1800 800 944 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
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