Of all the things he has encountered in the past five years travelling back and forth across the outback of southwest Queensland, and there have been quite a lot, Rev Dennis Cousens says the thing that stands out most is the optimism and the faith of the people.
Dennis finishes up as the Cunnamulla Patrol Minister for Frontier Services this week. He was formally farewelled at the Cunnamulla Uniting Church on Sunday.
Many people attended from the Cunnamulla community and the surrounding area to pay tribute to someone who has stood by them through thick and thin.
In his role as Patrol Minister, Dennis has provided both practical and emotional support to people across the Patrol, covering an area that is two and a half times the size of Tasmania, his home state.
Dennis has become a part of people’s lives, visiting people on remote properties and in the townships across his patch – Cunnamulla, Eulo, Thargomindah, Wyandra, Yowah, Hungerford and Noccundra, a small town which is home to just a handful of people.
He has been a police chaplain, a regular visitor at aged care services, conducted scores of weddings, funerals and baptisms in all kinds of locations across the bush and provided a listening ear for people when they needed it.
“People out here have experienced nine to 10 years of drought. We had a couple of buoyant seasons and now we are really back in to drought. And most people are worse off this time as they are over stocked and there is no value in the stock. But despite this, there is always this incredible optimism that people have,” says Dennis.
“I learnt very early why people love living here. Every day is new, even when it is stinking hot for three months in a row. The emus come in to town for a feed, or there is a big red roo standing out in the middle of the road. People really do survive and they rely on the changes, a dry sense of humour and the willingness of people to have a go.”
“I once said to someone, you must be resilient to live here and they replied that it is all about faith. If you didn’t have faith, you wouldn’t live here.”
“There is also the pace. I turned up for a funeral service on Friday at 10am and the first people turned up at quarter passed. The last people arrived at half past and they all brought more food than is needed for an army. There were 50 people packed into the church, even though the man hadn’t lived in Cunnamulla for 30 years. We had a great service and great fellowship over a cuppa afterwards. It’s just that collegiality of friends and family.”
For Dennis, it’s the friendships and the appreciation from people that have made his ministry so rewarding.
“People really appreciate that you come all that way just to be with them. I am constantly told ‘thank you for coming all this way’.”
For Dennis, this really highlights the gift of a Patrol Minister to be there for all people, irrespective of their religious background or denomination, and especially as more services leave these small communities.
“It is all about relationships, not your banner. It is just being alongside people.”
Dennis and his wife Sally are taking a holiday before moving back to Tasmania where Dennis will become the Midlands Patrol Minister with Frontier Services in August.