Muriel and Alan Hunt’s farm on the Eyre Peninsula has been hit hard by drought. Simply keeping their 400 sheep alive is a daily challenge. But an extraordinary visit from a Sydney family brought some unexpected joy and welcome relief.
The Smiths typically volunteer as a whole family, closing down their audio-visual business for two weeks over the Christmas break. This time around, Sarah and her husband Matthew were joined by sons Bradden and Jolyon, their daughter Juliet and her partner Enoch, and family friend Ian.
With such a large group, Sarah told us about an old 1956 bus they rebuilt and fitted out for the journey. Juliet and Enoch followed by car.
Lending a hand with tasks on the ‘waiting list’
Our incredible group of volunteers completed a range of jobs that had built up over time and desperately needed doing on the farm. This included repairing the tractor and welding a piece of machinery to help with feeding.
They also cleared out the shearing shed, ensured the safety of the flooring and fixed the gates so they were functional. They even helped with mustering the sheep in time for shearing on New Year’s Day! Plenty of fun times and laughter were shared, reflected Sarah and Muriel.
“The sheep dog wasn’t very good at being a sheep dog,” said Sarah, laughing. “We have actual footage of one of the lambs rounding him up!”
“Yes, Dusty our sheep dog thinks he’s a sheep and Wozza the sheep thinks he’s a dog!” added Muriel. She later mentioned Wozza was a ram but is now a wether.
While the rest of the family were on the farm, daughter Juliet accompanied Enoch at the town medical centre, where he worked as the locum doctor. One the first day alone, they saw 23 patients! This was a boon for the locals. Many would not have been able to access a doctor for a month or more had he not been in Cowell.
A welcome friendship
Muriel’s one small worry for the family was the extreme weather in the region, including massive temperatures in the high 40s and huge, strong winds. As it turned out, her fears were not unfounded.
On day two, the Smiths’ tent was torn apart by strong winds. Thankfully, they were able to bunk in a couple of spare bedrooms at Muriel and Alan’s homestead for the rest of their visit.
Muriel told us how much she valued the company of their guests, saying even though they were close to town, being in their 70s makes the trip quite an effort after a long day looking after the sheep. Joining in board games, singing together and playing a neighbour’s borrowed guitar made for some very entertaining times and brought them a lot of joy.
“The best thing about Outback Links is that it’s not just talking, but talking and action,” says Muriel. “You’re getting physical and mental health benefits without even realising it.”
Muriel even encouraged her neighbour to avail himself of our volunteers, with the Smiths repairing a shade cloth structure then building a second one, welding the front-end loader of his tractor and replacing the posts and beams for the carport.
“It’s a really uplifting experience, Muriel said. “You look around at all the jobs that’ve been piling up that you haven’ been able to do for a while, then realise they’re all done.”
A rewarding experience
Muriel told us how she sees Outback Links as a mutually rewarding experience for farmers and volunteers alike.
“It gives them a whole new perspective on what it’s like living in the bush,” she said. “You don’t know until you come and experience it first hand, and this is the perfect opportunity.”
“One of the best things that’s happened has been meeting new people. Everyone was so wonderful. They all bring different skills.”
Looking back on their experience, Sarah told us their biggest challenge was the dust and the blazing heat. It made the family appreciate what they have a whole lot more.
“I don’t know how they do it,” she said. “Out here, people need to be very resourceful as they might not have all the materials nor the money to pay for things on the farm.”
“For those thinking about volunteering yes there are some challenges, but you won’t regret it. The joy and love you bring to these people far outweighs any hurdles you come across. You experience the country and community in ways you’d never dream of.”
If you or someone you know would like to have the experience of a lifetime while lending a hand to people out bush, please complete our Expression of Interest form.
This article is adapted from the February 2020 edition of Frontier News.