Sandy and Des McDonald go outback to lend a hand

14 October 2011

Canowindra grandparents Sandy and Des McDonald have discovered a way to combine their love for travel in the outback with offering a helping hand to strangers in need.

They are volunteers with the Frontier Services program Outback Links which supports families living in remote locations that need assistance for a short period of time.

In June this year, the McDonalds packed up their four-wheel-drive with their caravan in tow and headed 1000km north to outback Queensland.

“When we go away, a shot of red dirt is always welcome,” said Mrs McDonald.

The couple was linked with a young family running a cattle station near Augathella, north of Charleville. It was their second volunteer placement with Outback Links.

Mr McDonald, an all-round handyman with experience in farming, completed repair jobs around the home and provided an extra set of hands in the cattle yards.

“Doing the cattle work was a real eye-opener to how they do things up there. Rounding up the cattle was actually a lot quieter than what I thought it would be,” said Mr McDonald.

“They had 800 head of cattle on 10,000 acres, a small property by their standards, but it would be absolutely huge down here.”

Mrs McDonald, a former nurse and dragon boat crew member, helped out with the children, aged five, three and five months old. Each day, she was there to mind the younger children while the mother completed the school run – 47km into town. She helped out with many loads of laundry and also worked in the garden.

“I was able to help out with all the sorts of things a young mum needs help with,” said Mrs McDonald. “I also mulched a big mound of hay bales - by the end I had hay seeds coming out my ears.”

The experience gave the McDonalds an insight into life in the bush.

“We tend to think we’re busy here,” said Mrs McDonald. “Then we see what they’re doing out there and the amount of things they fit into 24 hours.”

“Each day we were back at our caravan by 7.30pm. By that time, they were well and truly yawning but so were we.”

Mrs McDonald said living in a remote location also made it harder for the family to access health services, schooling and even to pick up groceries.

“We just do not have any idea of the difficulties they face, but they find a way to cope with everything.”

The McDonalds have continued to stay in touch with the family.

“It is very satisfying. You get to live these people’s lives. You’re not doing much, but you know what you do is a help. They’re just so appreciative,” said Mrs McDonald.

“Instead of just going past the road leading into the distance, you actually go on it. That’s what I like about it,” said Mr McDonald. “And we have made new friends.”

Outback Links volunteers come with all kinds of skills. All that is needed is a willingness to pitch in wherever needed. Go to the Outback Links website to find out more or phone 1300 731 349.