Twenty two patrol ministers who provide practical and spiritual support in remote locations across Australia are meeting in Alice Springs this week.
The Frontier Services Patrol Ministers Conference, which begins Thursday, September 29, will be an important opportunity for the ministers to come together in one place.
They will travel from all corners of the country including the west coast of Tasmania, Cape York in the far north east, Hughenden in north Queensland, Broken Hill in NSW, the Pilbara and Kimberley in the West and the Snowy River region in Victoria.
It will also include four patrol ministers from the Northern Territory who are based out of Jabiru, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs.
The meeting will provide an opportunity for the ministers to share and reflect on their work in remote Australia and participate in ongoing training.
Every year, the Frontier Services patrol ministers cover more than a million kilometres by road and plane visiting people who live in isolated locations.
“Much of their time is taken up simply listening to people who face the daily challenges of isolation,” said Frontier Services Associate National Director David Buxton.
The biannual conference will include mental health training conducted by educator and mental health clinician Dr John Ashfield.
Patrol Ministers are trained to identify mental health issues and assist people to receive appropriate support.
“Mental health is an important issue, particularly for people in remote areas who have very limited access to services,” said Mr Buxton.
“Our patrol ministers travel long distances to visit remote families, simply to check in and see how they are doing. They are often the first person to call on for spiritual or emotional support.”
Patrol Ministers also play a role in supporting communities.
“The patrol ministers are naturally very active in their communities. Some are volunteers with local emergency services, others are active in community health, the Isolated Children’s Parents Association or they are chaplains for small outback schools. Basically, they are advocates for remote communities,” Mr Buxton said.
Colin Gordon is the Centralian Patrol Minister based out of Alice Springs. His patrol covers more than 500,000sq km across half of the Northern Territory, more than double the size of Victoria.
The patrol ministry dates back to the origins of Frontier Services when Rev John Flynn established the first ‘padre patrol’ as part of the Australian Inland Mission formed in 1912. Flynn’s mandate was to be a friend, counselor and advocate to the people of the outback.
“His mandate is still a mandate to be held,” said Mr Gordon. “We are there to be a friend.”