We spoke to a group of Bush Chaplains recently, and they all told stories that had one thing in common:
Farmers and families in the outback are feeling abandoned.
They feel their country has forgotten them.
Pastor Joe Eka, our Bush Chaplain in Kennedy in Far North Queensland, told me about a community who feel that even God has left them.
The banks have left, the big local employer has left. And now, after the tragic loss of so many young people, they feel God had forsaken them, too.
Our Bush Chaplain in Western Australia, Rev David Jackson, told me about war veteran Robert*, who was hit by Cyclone Seroja in 2021.
“Robert, a hero of the Vietnam War, has chronic health issues and was uninsured when the cyclone hit. His property was right in the epicentre; the winds literally blew his roof off.
“It’s been two years, yet he’s still living under tarpaulins. Every time it rains, Robert has to run around with buckets to catch the water. And now he’s facing cold winter nights and storms with no protection.
“He is strong, but he’s wearing out after two years of this. His mental health must be under immense pressure.”
Robert needs a new roof, certainly, but he also desperately needs to know that he is not alone in this, that people care.
We are grateful to our community of supporters, our Outback Links volunteers, and our Bush Chaplains who can be there to listen with an open heart, to bring compassion, calm, competency and connection, and show people they are not alone.
We’re working with Bush Chaplain David to send volunteers to Robert to help fix his roof. In the meantime, David is going to visit him as often as he possibly can as he travels across his vast region.
Many people in the bush are reluctant to ask for help themselves.
They are proud and resilient and don’t like to ‘cause a fuss’. Our Bush Chaplains are often the first to see their distress and say,
‘It’s OK, we’ve got you. You deserve a helping hand, and we’re here for you.’
Families all across Western Australia – and indeed all across Australia – are still recovering from devastating disasters.
Another Bush Chaplain in Western Australia, Rev Erica (Ric) Payne, is also a Disaster Recovery Bush Chaplain like David.
Rev Ric’s immediate family lived right in the path of Cyclone Seroja. She told me,
“As a Chaplain, I respond to needs, and the need is simple: people need others to stand with them as they move to recovery. My ministry is as a listener, someone who cares and takes the time to be with another in their pain, trauma, suffering, or in their joy and celebration.
“I can help them manage whatever they are confronting or refer them to professional services. I meet folk as I move through the community and enjoy many cuppas with these incredibly beautiful people.“
Cyclone Seroja was just one of multiple natural disasters to hit rural Australia in the last few years. Since then, others have experienced devastating flooding, severe storms, and failed crops. Earlier this year Cyclone Ilsa hit the Pilbara in Western Australia, starting another cycle of destruction and the need for recovery.
In fact, all across our country, Australians are stumbling under the ongoing weight of floods, severe storms, the bushfires, and the drought, which went on for years. In between, they faced down mice plagues and a global pandemic.
And in the meantime, there are all the ups and downs and hardships of life: the death of loved ones, personal tragedies, mental health challenges, and sometimes, family violence.
Rev Dona Spencer talks of the same isolation and sense of abandonment in her communities in rural Queensland.
“People here are proud and they are used to coping without help. But now they have less help than ever.
“I often visit a community here in regional Queensland, and just 10 years ago they had their own doctor. Now, there’s no dentist, no doctor, no bank. Nothing.”
The disasters might vary, but the experience is very much the same; people desperately need to feel heard, upheld, and to know they are not alone.
As another of our Bush Chaplain, Rev Lindsay Ginn, says:
“There are many folk out here on the land that feel forgotten and abandoned. A visit from a Bush Chaplain can make a huge difference to ease their loneliness.
Please show people in the outback that they are not alone.
Through your generosity, you make it possible for people in the bush to access this vital practical, pastoral, and spiritual support. You bring hope. You bring compassion. You bring strength.