Return to the Ridge
Driving nine-and-a-half hours to fix a tractor in forty degree heat is what most of us would call a hard day's work. But for a group of Sydney mechanics it's a job they're happy to do, no questions asked, to help a group of struggling farmers in north-west New South Wales.
Volunteer patrol mechanics from the NRMA first travelled to the drought-stricken Lightning Ridge/Goodooga region last November, as part of Buy a Bale's Farm Rescue initiative, coordinated in partnership with Frontier Services' Outback Links. They spent their time repairing tractors, trucks and other machinery, doing maintenance work, and making connections with farmers and their families. The trip was such a success that just two months later, as part of Frontier Services' Outback Links program, three volunteers made the long journey from Sydney to Lightning Ridge again, to follow up with farmers most in need of their assistance.
Marianne Spooner and her partner Kevin Parkins run a cattle and wheat farm in the Lightning Ridge region. Marianne said the extreme conditions have been wreaking havoc on local property owners and their ability to make a living.
"Three years of drought is hard to visualise. The last big fall of rain we had was in 2012. Now there's no rain, no runoff, nothing out here except for dust. We've had no water in our dams for two-and-a-half years. We feel very isolated and alone. There are constant pressures of making payments, interest on loans, equipment finance, insurance, feeding livestock, and a large majority of the farmers out here have children to educate, uni and school fees to pay.
"The NRMA volunteers showed genuine interest and concern for our plight. Their energy, enthusiasm, generosity and skill level made for a few very enjoyable days on a drought-stricken property," she said.
The January trip saw the mechanics drive their fully equipped patrol vehicles all the way from Sydney. They were able to use specialist tools they had brought to tackle all different kinds of mechanical issues – from servicing farm vehicles and four wheel drives, to bigger tasks like getting a tractor which had broken down 20 kilometres away back to the farm and ready for use when the rains come. They also lent a hand with odd jobs like feeding cattle and even cooking gourmet meals.
David Scott is an NRMA Patrol Team Leader and was part of the January mission. "I've spent a lot of time in the country, but going to Lightning Ridge was like the real outback," he said. "I found the people have very few resources at their disposal. They can't just get mechanics to come out and repair their tractors and bulldozers. It makes you realise how lucky you are in the city," he said.
The understanding and spirit of giving shown by the volunteers has led to lasting friendships being made.
"I've been invited back just to come and visit, not to work," David said. "A lot of the people I met just wanted companionship, someone to sit down and talk to. You feel so humble just being there and being able to help them."
The volunteers are planning to make the drive out again soon, much to the delight of Marianne Spooner and her family. "One of the mechanics is coming out again, and bringing his wife this time too," she said. "It's more than just getting help to fix things, it's about community and the sharing of lifestyles. We're all looking forward to seeing everyone again soon. They're just really nice people."