Ever since he was a child, farmer Jack Loats has been fascinated with the outback, reading stories like “We of the Never Never” and the diaries of outback explorers.
Now retired, the Stawell grandfather and his wife Dulcie have experienced the joys and challenges of life in remote Australia for themselves by lending a hand to outback families.
The Loats are volunteers with the Frontier Services Outback Links program which matches volunteers with families in remote locations who could use some extra help for a short time.
“The experience has been very rewarding for us,” said Mrs Loats. “We really got to know people in a different way – quite unlike the normal tourist way of meeting people.”
This year, Mr and Mrs Loats travelled to the Northern Territory to help out on a station near the Gulf of Carpentaria. Borroloola, the nearest town, was 160km away.
Because they were there, the mother and her daughters had the opportunity to travel to a camp for children living in isolated areas, some 500km away. The father was away building roads for a mining company to supplement the income of their irrigation business.
As well as being caretakers, the Loats did whatever they could to help around the home and property, cooking and mending, repairing and building, taking phone messages, clearing growth around the bores and homestead, creating a cover for the vegetable garden and feeding animals.
Mrs Loats, a former teacher at Donald High School, was able to provide valuable advice and encouragement to the mother in her role as home tutor.
This trip was the couple’s second experience with Outback Links after they volunteered on a sheep station in the Flinders Ranges last year.
Mr Loats said volunteering in remote Australia had given them a much better understanding of the challenges that people faced.
“We saw first-hand the impact of the sudden political decision to stop exporting live cattle. There were all sorts of effects for people.”
Mrs Loats added: “The women amaze me. When one of the girls became sick, it was just lucky the doctor happened to be in town. This meant the mother only had to drive 160km each way, not 500km. We take it for granted that we can get help straight away.”
Mr and Mrs Loats, who spent four years as lay pastors for Kaniva Uniting Church, have continued to stay in touch with the families.
“We have seen some beautiful places and made good new friends,” Mrs Loats said.
Outback Links volunteers come with all kinds of skills. The only requirement is a willingness to pitch in wherever needed.
Go to the Outback Links website to find out more or phone 1300 731 349.