It was a family holiday that Matt and Sarah Smith will not forget.
The couple and their four children drove 1000km to an isolated cattle station to lend a hand to a stranger in flood-affected Queensland over their summer break.
The Quakers Hill Uniting Church family are volunteers with the Frontier Services program Outback Links that supports families living in remote Australia.
“Some people thought we were mad. Why would anyone think that taking their four children away to the middle of nowhere to help a total stranger for three weeks was a good idea?” said Sarah.
“Not everyone would call it a holiday, but for us it was. We had such a wonderful time. None of us wanted to go home.”
Flat out running their own business, the Smiths wanted some quality family time over Christmas.
“We actually love exploring Australia as a family and we wanted the kids to experience life on an Outback station, so they could truly relate to how other Australians live. Plus it was a great chance to serve others together,” Sarah said.
Despite the floods causing last minute changes to their plans, the Smiths safely arrived at Bindebango, a cattle station more than 600km inland from Brisbane. The nearest town 40km down a dirt road was Bollon. It had one pub, a petrol station and a green grocer.
The family were there to lend a hand around the property which still needed repairs from flooding a year ago.
During their three week stay, Matt, a self-taught welder, constructed steel gates, cattle feeders and other equipment for the property which could be used to separate cattle. Meanwhile, Sarah concentrated on the house, scrubbing a red film of dust from the walls, floors and windows in the house.
The children, aged between seven and 12, also pitched in feeding the animals and taking great care of five small puppies. They learnt how to ride a horse and crack a whip.
“Everyday brought new surprises, such as where the frogs will appear next, like on your pillow at bedtime,” Sarah said.
“One night we just sat on the verandah, doused in mozzie repellent, eating chocolate with a lightening show, almost 360 degrees around us. Memories are made in moments like these.”
Over Christmas, the family’s presence meant the property owner could visit his wife and two sons who lived 400km away on another property where the boys attend high school.
Meanwhile, the Smith family cooked the turkey and enjoyed the quiet together, watching frogs and geckos appear as they sat around the sparsely furnished house in their picnic chairs.
Sarah said the experience gave them an insight into the challenges faced by Australians who live in remote areas.
The enormous workload, weather extremes, isolation from friends and family and not being able to pop down the road for milk were some of the things that hit home. The floods meant that even basic supplies were hard to come by.
“These are the things we take for granted,” she said. “They just do not see each other that much; they’re all so busy on their own farms.
“I see my friends when I drop the kids at school or at church every week. For them to go to church, they have to travel to St George over 100km away. That’s a big commitment to get to church on time.”
They loved their experience in the Outback – spectacular sunsets, electrical storms, amazing wildlife and the quiet.
“There is something spiritual about (the Outback), you feel close to God.”
Since returning home, the Smiths have stayed in touch with their Outback family and are eager to go back when they have the chance to offer more help.
“It’s a two way street – you’re helping someone but at the same time they’re also helping you in your growth and understanding of life,” Sarah said.