Lending a hand in the bush
Denise Williams recounts her rewarding experience as a volunteer with Frontier Services - Outback Links.
I was sitting on the steel tray of the ute with my friend Michelle as it clattered over ‘Manly’, a remote property located in the heart of Outback Queensland. We came to a sudden stop and the driver yelled to hang on. So we did. He had just spotted a family of wild pigs and went hell for leather after them. We held on tight, almost falling off as the dogs leapt from the ute to catch the pigs.
Pretty soon, a dead pig joined us on back of the ute. Before we got back to the homestead, two freshly hunted kangaroos were also riding back. When it was over, I thought, ‘Well, we’re still here’. It was pretty gory, but what an experience!
Michelle and I stayed at Manly, 30 minutes out of Augathella, for three and a half weeks as volunteers with the Frontier Services program, Outback Links. The program places volunteers with families living in the Outback who need some assistance for a short period of time.
At times, these families face added pressures, such as an illness, financial strain, the stress of seasonal workloads or drought and flooding. Having an extra set of hands around helps them to get through.
I had not travelled through Outback Queensland and wanted to visit this remote area, but I needed a reason to go.
Before we retired on the Sunshine Coast, my husband and I had combined travel around Australia with some volunteering in Arnhem Land, which I think adds more purpose to travelling around.
You experience something you miss when you are travelling as a tourist. I’d heard about Outback Links and applied to volunteer. Michelle and I, and Polly, my cocker spaniel who comes with me everywhere, travelled to Manly in my Ford Transit Van. It’s a two-seater with a cosy double bed, kitchen and wardrobe in the back and a shower outside.
We were there to help caretakers Danielle and Reece with odd jobs around the house so that they could get on with work out on the property. Danielle had contacted Outback Links because she was recovering from a shoulder injury and found it hard to reach up and to carry weights. She needed some help getting the house in order while her shoulder got better.
Danielle is a dog breeder of Bull Arabs, which are trained to hunt wild pigs. About 30 dogs were kept in the paddocks around the house, in cages and tied under trees. Reese is a professional roo shooter. The couple also had some horses and cattle and the children had guinea pigs.
Eager to get to work, we asked Danielle to write down a list of the jobs she wanted us to do. The first chore was to tidy the kitchen, then the storeroom, the laundry and the outdoor area.
We cleaned systematically, taking everything off shelves, dusting them and putting them back. There was red dust everywhere. After we ticked off all the jobs on the list, we went on to paint the verandah steps and to dig the vegetable garden.
We worked for about six or seven hours each day and in between we played Scrabble and cards. We shared meals with the family and occasionally cooked for them.
Staying on the property, we realised just how isolated the family was. One boundary of the farm runs along the famous 5614km Wild Dog Barrier Fence that runs through most of Queensland to the Great Australian Bight and was built to keep dingoes out of the farms.
I enjoyed spending time with Danielle’s two young children, who are schooled at home through distance education. The teachers work from a room in the Charleville headquarters and at assigned times each week, the children sit in front of the computer and talk to their teachers and classmates via a camera.
They even have show and tell. One day, the daughter held up her new puppy to the camera for everyone to see but she showed them a guinea pig instead. It was a joke.
The kids were very good at playing with each other and were eager to show us the towns they had made in the dust and dirt and their cubby houses made out of trees and grass. They rode around the property on a quad bike and let us have a go. Now, that was fun!
When our time was up, we were sad to leave. The family gave us some small gifts and wrote us a lovely letter. Danielle was very grateful for the work we did and, at times, we sat and chatted to her and learnt a lot about their lives. The family was very appreciative and I think they enjoyed our company.
In the Frontier Services program you go bush to help, but at the same time you receive so much. I got to experience living on a farm.
My next stop is Western Australia. In July I intend to head for Broome via Darwin and return east on the Nullarbor Plain.
As part of my trip, I hope to lend a hand again as a volunteer with Outback Links. I think meeting people and seeing how they live adds and enriches your own life.
Outback Links needs volunteers who can provide families living in isolated locations across Outback Australia with a helping hand. Participants come with all kinds of skills and have backgrounds such as tradespeople, nurses and teachers. Retired people, backpackers and other travellers are welcome. Many Outback Links volunteers combine their travel in Outback Australia with a short volunteer placement. The program is run by Frontier Services, the major provider of aged care, health and community services, and pastoral support to people in Outback and Remote Australia. To register your interest or to find out more go to http://www.frontierservices.org or phone 1300 731 349.
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