Earlier this year I met Rhonda Whitney, an inspiring woman whose sense of humour and incredible story made me both laugh and cry. She told me how the ongoing drought has placed tremendous pressure on her family. And she revealed how our Bush Chaplain, Rev Phill Matthews helped to lift her spirits during some very difficult times.
With Christmas fast approaching, I reflect on the vital role our wonderful Bush Chaplains play. They show up at the gate, lend a sympathetic ear and give a helping hand. During the holidays, they are the ones reminding people living in remote Australia that they’re not alone.
That’s why I need your help today. You can ensure that practical, pastoral and spiritual care is available to people in isolation when they need it most. Your gift this Christmas will show them that there are people who care.
“Out here, when you’re around dust and dying stock all the time, depression can hit you hard.”
As I spoke with Rhonda, I could feel the emotional toll the drought had taken on her. It had been more than two years since they received reasonable rain. More than two years since they sold healthy stock. And things were looking pretty grim.
They are running out of water.
They are running out of feed.
They are running out of money…
At one point, Rhonda and her husband Paul had only one day’s feed left for their cattle and no means to pay for more. I can only imagine how desperate they must have felt, knowing their already-starving animals would soon have nothing to eat.
At the eleventh hour, they found Rev Phill Matthews. He changed their lives. Phill helped by sourcing some feed and connecting the Whitneys with some volunteers. Now, they felt like someone cared.
“Things weren’t going very well,” Rhonda said. “My husband has really bad depression and I was struggling to cope.”
“That’s when a friend referred us to the Frontier Services Bush Chaplain.”
And Phill’s visit was just what they needed.
“He popped in, started talking and he was just wonderful,” said Rhonda. “He’s the most amazing chaplain I’d ever met. You can sit down over a cuppa or a beer, sharing in each other’s stories, and he just uplifts you.”
“Out here, when you’re around dust and dying stock all the time, depression can hit you hard. Knowing that someone cares makes such a difference.”
Bush Chaplains like Phill provide vital support. Time and again, we hear their stories of hope; how a simple conversation can brighten someone’s day and even save a life.
If you can help with a gift of $30 or $50 this Christmas, it will mean our wonderful Bush Chaplains can visit more people in isolation over the holidays. It will show people that they’re not alone; that there are people who care.
“There’s a lot of things I cannot do… because I’m blind.”
Day after day, Rhonda and Paul go out to hand-feed their cattle. They don’t know how much longer they can keep going as the price of feed goes up and money runs out. But their struggles don’t stop there. You see, Rhonda is also blind.
She relies on colour to guide her way. She wants to help around the farm. But there are things she simply cannot do.
“I can walk around and help put out feed, but I can’t drive any of the vehicles,” she said. “There’s a lot of things I cannot do, like all the fencing. It’s so frustrating.”
Rhonda’s struggle with drought isn’t unique. But imagine how much harder it must be when it’s just you and your husband on the farm, and you’re living with a severe visual impairment. I don’t know how Rhonda does it.
Understanding what the couple was going through, Rev Phill referred them to our Outback Links volunteering team who were able to organise some helping hands. Rhonda was excited about visitors; Paul had some reservations.
“When Frontier Services first approached us I said, ‘I’d love for some people to come and help’,” Rhonda recalled. “But Paul wasn’t sure he wanted people here. He felt ashamed of anyone seeing the farm and our cattle in the state they were in.”
Their nerves were soon put to rest when our group of incredible volunteers arrived. They made short work of the old fencing – taking it down, winding up the wire and collecting the old steal pegs.
In less than a day, Rhonda and Paul gained more use of their paddocks. They were amazed by the work that was done and valued the new friendships forged.
“I’m so thankful for the volunteers,” Rhonda said. “With the old fencing down, it’s now safer for our cattle to roam around.”
“I couldn’t believe where people had travelled from to help us. As we got to know each other, things really started to feel better. I’m sure we’ve made lifelong friends.”
A gift of $30, $50 or a generous $100 will mean people like Rhonda and Paul will never be far from practical and pastoral care when they need it most.
The rains will come
“Rain is going to be the only thing that will get us back on our feet,” Rhonda told me. “But some people are just lonely. We need someone to come and talk and be with us.”
Bush Chaplains like Rev Phill Matthews make a tremendous difference to the lives of people like Rhonda and Paul.
They help to overcome the feeling of loneliness and isolation among those in remote Australia, particularly during the holidays. They combat depression by giving people a safe space to air their grief. And they lift people’s spirits by sharing stories.
I truly believe the rains will come. Until then, I need your help to keep people’s spirits high.
Your generous gift of $30, $50 or $100 this Christmas will bring practical, pastoral and spiritual care to people in remote Australia when they need it most. It will give them hope.
Jannine Jackson, National Director