Outback volunteers, richer than kings

07 August 2013


P1020552Mother of three and mature-aged nursing student from QUT in Brisbane, Sue Swindon, says she was drawn to volunteering in the outback. In early January, with her car packed with supplies and Google map directions, Sue set off from her home in Indooroopilly, Queensland, for her solo volunteering adventure to the community of Eidsvold - a small rural town in the North Burnett region of Queensland, 400km north of Brisbane.

"Driving up the gravel road, 22 km outside of Eidsvold, towards the family’s home, I was filled with a wonderful mix of anxiety and anticipation. When leaving on that same gravel road, when my placement had finished, I was filled with both sadness and satisfaction. The experience went far beyond my hopes and expectations," she recalls.


Sue was a volunteer with the Frontier Services program Outback Links which matches up volunteers with families across remote Australia to provide practical hands-on assistance when and where it is most needed.

The family Sue was matched with needed an extra pair of hands. The mother had a broken leg and was trying to care for a six-month-old baby. Sue helped out in lots of ways around the property, assisting the mother wherever she could. Her favourite activities included
taking longs walks on the property with the baby in the pram and hurrying to the mail box on delivery days.

Outback Links volunteers not only get the opportunity to lend a helping hand to someone who is in need, they also get the unique and eye-opening experience of living in the Australian outback.

"The spectacular views, the quiet open spaces, observing the tasks, routines and challenges of cattle grazing, understanding a different way of life, many miles from the resources we take for granted and learning how families adapt and appreciate the simple things. Those were some of the things that I took away from this trip," said Sue.

The community spirit in the outback astounded Sue. People made her feel welcome immediately.

Sue travelled with the family to a neighbouring district overnight for the funeral of a young man who had died in a road accident. Sue said that the sense of community support invoked by this tragedy was just amazing to witness. It was a real community, one that supported each other, an experience that she will never forget.

"I was privileged to attend a community meeting in the local town hall in response to the threatened closure of the local 10-bed hospital. The small community rallied with passion and power to save their hospital and advocate for their own unique health care needs. When I signed the petition, I made a personal commitment to never forget what I had learnt during my time in that community."

While sitting at the family table, talking late into the evening, an extended family member asked Sue if she had always volunteered. After chatting about Sue’s other volunteer experiences abroad, he said, "Sue, you know you will never be the richest person in the world if you keep doing this."

Sue continued to reflect on these words after arriving home, and found herself disagreeing.

"Meeting new people, connecting and lending a hand when people really need it, that’s when you do become rich."

"You volunteer because you have some skills and you have the time. You think you are giving yourself away but you come back having received, being inspired and feeling connected to something much bigger. You come back with relationships that will last a life time."

Sue and the family she was placed with have continued to be in touch regularly by phone and email. Soon after returning home, Sue was diagnosed with a medical condition that required major surgery.

"What a surprise and joy when the 1300Flower delivery man presented me with a huge bunch of beautiful flowers from my Outback Links family."

Listen to Sue Swindon being interviewed on ABC Brisbane Weekends with Warren Boland

Find out more about Outback Links