This National Volunteer Week, 14-20 May, Frontier Services celebrates the work of its Outback Links volunteers who provide hands-on support to hundreds of families in rural and remote Australia every year. This is a story about the experience of one family in WA.
During the summer of 2011-12, while much of eastern and northwest Australia battled cyclones, torrential rain and devastating flooding, much of the Gascoyne region of Western Australia burned.
Guy and Susie Morrison are young wool growers in the Gascoyne region and by the time the last flame was extinguished, 60 per cent of their 85,000 hectares lay scorched; a blackened landscape relieved only by grey streaks of ash.
Fortunately, the Merinos that are their livelihood were all out on the other end of the station but they lost part or all of a substantial amount of fencing. Working as they generally do, on their own, the task ahead for Guy and Susie seemed insurmountable.
In the course of fighting the fires and the subsequent weeks of clean up, they ignored assorted other everyday jobs. Looking for help, Guy registered with Outback Links, a program Susie had heard about through the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA). It was the arrival of Laurie Uren, a volunteer with Outback Links, that really made the difference to their outlook.
A retired tradesman and trade teacher, Laurie Hales from Busselton in the Margaret River area of WA heard about Outback Links on ABC Radio late last year and felt the spark of connectivity that underpins the success of this Frontier Services program.
Guy says: “It’s amazing the difference another pair of hands makes. After the fires, we were emotionally and physically exhausted. Laurie turned up and right away everything changed. For starters, he’s great company and we’ve all become firm friends. But Laurie’s taken on some of the jobs I was doing which has freed me up to undertake other work. Apart from the fencing we’ve done, Laurie’s been doing water runs, cleaning troughs and checking sheep. He’s repaired the shearing shed roof and built us the vegie garden we always planned but never got around to. He’s been wonderful.”
Laurie’s admiration for Guy and Susie is mutual. “When I came up here, I was surprised at the devastation the fires caused. Guy and Susie had such a lot of work ahead of them and it has given me great satisfaction to be able to lighten their load a bit. I always wanted to know what life was like on a station. Sometimes it’s really hard and these young people have to deal with some really tough stuff. I like to think my being here has made that a little bit easier for them.”
Having spent three weeks with the Morrisons, Laurie went home for a few weeks and then went back for another month.
“It’s that connectivity that is such an important part of Outback Links,” says Davida Melksham, Co-ordinator of the program. “That’s what we do; connect people who need help with volunteers who have the appropriate skills. Often, it’s not just the work they do that counts; it’s the company they bring.”
Guy Morrison agrees. “Laurie has made the world of difference to how we’ve handled this catastrophe.” Reflecting back, he adds, “Outback Links is extraordinary because they not only connected us with Laurie but they’ve also provided excellent support and follow up to Laurie and to us while he’s been here.”