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A community’s heartache and joy

A community’s heartache and joy

A community’s heartache and joy

This story is every parent’s worst nightmare. Little Cleo Smith’s disappearance sent shockwaves around Australia and the world. As a mother, I was personally feeling the anguish of not knowing where poor Cleo was.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was returned to her family but the 18 long days she was missing were excruciating, especially for Cleo’s tiny and tightknit community. Our Bush Chaplain John Tomkins was at the frontline in Carnarvon WA, providing support as people struggled with their sadness and shock.

Speaking with John about his role, his matter-of-fact words are humbling. He remembers the morning of October 16, 2021 as “just another Saturday morning in Carnarvon”. Then he overheard people at a local growers’ market talking about a missing child.

The child was four-year-old Cleo who, unbelievably, was snatched from her parents’ tent in the middle of the night at a campsite outside Carnarvon. John’s first instinct was to spring into action. He knew he needed to help the community come to terms with the distress that had quickly started to spread.

John, who is also the Police Chaplain for Carnarvon, says, “At the local officer-in-charge’s request, I went up straight to the camping ground. I made myself available at the local Blowholes from where Cleo had gone missing. I also briefly met her parents.”

“Everyone was in shock. It’s a small town and we all know each other. Those who are close to the family were really emotional. In the crisis we all just needed to pitch in and help. The presence of a Bush Chaplain can be very reassuring to people that are looking for a chat or simply some help to deal with their emotions.”

Over the next few weeks, John extended significant crisis support to all those on the ground looking for Cleo. There were countless members of the public, the police, members of the State Emergency Service (SES) and ambulance staff at the scene.

“The incredible wave of relief when little Cleo was found not only alive but well was something the whole town celebrated,” John adds. “We could feel in Carnarvon how much the country rejoiced in that moment. It was only then I let myself feel the exhaustion.”

This was one of those times where it’s easy to see the necessity of having Bush Chaplains in remote communities. They are so critical to the health and wellbeing of those around them.

John, who has spent many years in Carnarvon, tells me that feelings of isolation go hand-in-hand with living in remote corners of the country. He explains, “It is very important that we are available to those who seek our help, and to build connections with the community.”

“People regard Bush Chaplains as someone they can trust when tragedies and hardships inevitably arise. Sometimes people are forced to think the worst under trying circumstances but hope is never lost.”

To keep just one Bush Chaplain on the road for 12 months, we need to raise an average of $130,000 per year. This provides them with a safe vehicle, fuel, rent and a basic salary. A gift from you today will support our Bush Chaplains as they continue to provide practical, pastoral and spiritual care to people in the most remote parts of Australia.

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