I was recently inspired by Merv’s story, that of a kind hearted and brave 76 year old farmer, Merv, living alone on a 600, 000 hectare station near Cue, 700km from Perth in Western Australia, that I want to share with you.
For many of us, COVID-19 has been our first experience of the social isolation that has been an ongoing reality for people like Merv in the bush. Research by the Australian Government shows that prolonged isolation can be harmful to mental and physical health as well as add financial strain and other pressures.
We are hopeful that many of us will soon be able to emerge from the isolation caused by COVID-19. As we do so it is critical to remember that this isolation remains a part of everyday life for people in the bush. In Outback Australia it can be days or even weeks before our farmers have contact with another person to provide support, companionship and a friendly face in times of need.
That’s why when times get tough in the bush the effects of isolation can be devastating. I can’t even begin to imagine what this year has been like for many of our farmers. They have endured more than a decade of crippling droughts, the worst bushfires and dust storms on record, flood and then COVID-19 cam in to shut down any hope brought by the rain. Like you, my heart sinks.
Merv’s story shows us that he has truly experienced it all. Almost 20 years of drought and natural disasters. Deteriorating hearing and eyesight, and the recent death of his wife. And now the unthinkable, Merv was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to go through these tragedies on your own. He is still on the station dealing with a very different life.
Merv is grateful that the brain surgery saved his life. But imagine how hard every day is when you are physically unable to do simple tasks. Merv is struggling on his own to keep his property going.
I am so grateful for people like you and our amazing Outback Links volunteers. We are able to help Merv in a meaningful way. Out Bush Chaplain Mitch Fialkowski has provided essential companionship, support and the courage to keep going. Sadly we have many people like Merv who need us now. Your support can make the difference during these tough times.
For many farmers, we are only beginning to see the impact that COVID-19 will have on their lives over the coming years.
Our farmers tell us that the one thing that has helped them get through these tough times is the support of Bush Chaplains and Outback Links volunteers who continue to show up and lend a helping hand in times of need. Even during a pandemic. Now more than ever we need yourhelp to ensure we can continue to offer this critical support.
Our incredible Bush Chaplains and Outback Links volunteers bring more than just a helping hand to isolated farmers in need. They bring much needed friendship, respite and hope to people in the bush. And that’s why I’m writing this now. We need your help during these unprecedented times to raise $200, 000 to continue our Bush Chaplaincy and volunteering program for another year through this pandemic. Your gift today will give struggling farmers the strength to keep going.
We recently spoke to Merv who told us just how hard isolation has been during his life on the station: “I’ve had the property for almost 40 years. We used to run 20, 000 sheep and some cattle but when times went bad we had to get rid of most of them. We never really came back. We had about 19 years of poor seasons and drought here, so it really just knocked the stuffing clean out of us”.
“I also had my wife and 2 kids growing up with me on the station for 25 years but then my kids moved away and my wife died so I have just been alone since the operation and unable to get about.”
“It was really scary. I used to love flying aeroplanes around the station but since the surgery I haven’t been able to do a single day of hard physical work.”
Our Rev. Mitch has been based in Meekatharra, Western Australia for close to a decade. He regularly makes the 5 hours drive to Merv’s station to check in on him and let us know what more we can do to help.
Mitch told us that he regularly pops out to see Merv, have morning tea and keep him company. Importantly he is able to check-in on his health and find out where Frontier Services volunteers are needed on his station.
“The volunteers we recently sent like Laurie and Rob have really lifted Merv’s spirits both in the house and on the property and given him the courage to keep going”, Mitch told us recently.
I was delighted when Merv himself told us he felt so lucky to have the volunteers and Rev. Mitch come help with all of the jobs and keep him company. He explained, “I’ve made lifelong friends with all of them because I am all on my own up here. We really do have a wonderful world.”
One of the many selfless volunteers that have stayed with Merv on the station to provide support and lift the isolation is a born and bred Western Australian named Laurie.
Laurie first heard about Frontier Services on a local ABC radio station. After retiring as a manual arts teacher he decided to volunteer to feel a sense of achievement doing something to help others and make new friends along the way.
Laurie lives 250km south of Perth and spends 2.5 days on the road driving out to Merv’s station to keep him company and volunteers through our Outback Links program.
“I’ve done all sorts of things for Merv, climbed 60 metres in the air to repair windmills, fixed generators and vehicles, repaired the roof of a shearing shed and even once drive Merv 1000km around the station in a single day”, Laurie explained. “Merv also has a beautiful house but you couldn’t see out the windows because the cobwebs were so think so I spent a lot of time cleaning that up too.”
“But the most important thing of all was that every day we sat and had a few cups of tea in the morning and some good chats together. I could tell it meant so much to him and also meant a lot to me.”
“We talked about his family life, the station and spiritual matters. It really lifted his spirits to keep him going in a dark time which gave me such a sense of achievement”, said Laurie.
I am so thankful for supporters like yourself, our volunteers and Bush Chaplains, who give isolated farmers like Merv hope.
People in the bush need to know they are not alone. We are in this together. You can help farmers like Merv get through these tough times.
A gift of $20 or $25 will make a real difference to the lives of farmers like Merv and people in the bush. It will show them that helping hands are never too far away. And that there are people who care, even during times as difficult as a pandemic.
Laurie’s family have lived in Western Australian for several generations but told us that right now farmers are doing it really hard all over the country.
“Unfortunately the majority of the community don’t understand how important our farmers are, because if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t have so many of the things we take for granted every day of our lives. There’s a saying, ‘don’t criticise a farmer with a mouth full’ and it’s as simple as that. We need to do everything we can to help.”
You can bring practical care to farmers like Merv. A gift of $100 or $120 or a generous $150 will ensure our Outback Links volunteers like Laurie are resources and ready to bring helping hands to isolated people in remote Australia when they’re needed most.
“I’ve made lifelong friends from volunteering with Frontier Services and it’s so encouraging to feel I’ve made a difference in someone’s life simply by showing up to keep them company and help them. I am so thankful that we have Frontier Services and their Outback Links program to do so”, said Laurie.
My heart warmed when I heard the optimism and resilience in Merv’s voice when he told me that,
“Even with everything happening in the world, you’ve got to remember it’s still a wonderful place.”
When times get tough in the bush people can feel extremely lonely, isolated and without hope. But when they realise there are poeple who care and are willing to give them a hand up, they can find the strength to keep going, just like Merv’s story showed us.
We need to raise $200, 000 to continue our Bush Chaplains and Outback Links volunteering program for another year and get our farmers through the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you help with a gift of $100, $120, or a generous $150?
Thank you so much for your support. Your gift brings much needed hope to people like Merv and inspiration to volunteers like Laurie. As Merv said, it shows them we have a wonderful world because people like you care.