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Reflecting on a decade of volunteering in the Outback

Reflecting on a decade of volunteering in the Outback

Reflecting on a decade of volunteering in the Outback

Howard and Mary are two of our longest-serving Outback Links volunteers, bringing much-needed practical care to, and forging friendships with, our Aussie farmers. And they’ve been doing it for over 10 years! It’s had a tremendous impact on people’s lives in remote Australia, and the stories they bring back encourage many to consider volunteering too.

There is no better time to recognise their efforts than during National Volunteer Week 2020. We recently caught up with them and in this article we share with you highlights from our conversation. We hope this glimpse into their journey encourages you to consider volunteering, too.

Thank you, Howard and Mary, on behalf of all of us at Frontier Services and the people in our Outback communities. You truly have HUGE hearts!

Howard and Mary, great to chat with you again. You’ve been volunteering with us for ten years, take us through the reasons why you decided to join and what kept you committed to remote Australia over the years?

Firstly, we wanted to learn and appreciate why people love living in the Outback. Secondly, we love helping people and felt that volunteering with Outback Links would allow us to use our skills to assist farmers in need.

What kind of jobs have you done during your many volunteering placements and what sort of learning or fulfilment did you get from them?

Howard: Mending, making boxes and shelves, painting, mowing, washing outside walls, replacing tap washers, replacing an old toilet cistern, pruning, helping with mustering, feeding sheep with cotton seed and molasses to cattle, driving children to school, helping with fencing and assisting with packing when a house was being moved.

Mary: Lots of cooking, mending work clothes, making new clothes, assisting children with School of the Air lessons, minding children, cleaning out pantries and cupboards, gardening, hand feeding lambs, helping with fencing and lots of listening. That time was our first for fencing and making things out of old pallets.

In all that we did, we learnt to be flexible doing things the way the farmer wanted it done and not necessarily the way we thought it should be done.

Is there any particular moment or story from a placement that you will never forget?

This is a very difficult question to answer as there are so many highlights:

  • After sorting out a linen press and several cupboards, the owner said that she felt a heavy load had been lifted off her shoulders (Mary);
  • Making and painting a shelf red as that is the owner’s favourite colour (Howard);
  • A particular placement where we waited a couple of days to arrive, in order to give the owner time cope with their personal struggle to accept help, and then witnessing them ‘turn-around’ as they experienced their stress levels reduce with each job with helped with;
  • Cleaning out a store room that hadn’t been used since 1985! The golden syrup tin had rusted and stuck to the shelf and the pig wouldn’t eat the plum pudding we found in a tin; and
  • Watching houses being moved on low-loaders – an amazing experience.

Do you keep in touch with the people you met through Outback Links? What do you know about their current status? Are they in a better place or do they still in need of practical care?

We regularly keep in touch with six families. Some are still coping with drought, others are having a better season this year, three have since died, and two families have sold their properties and retired. We believe they all benefited from our assistance, and in turn, we were enriched by those experiences and have made wonderful friendships.

This year’s theme of National Volunteer Week is ‘Changing Communities, Changing Lives’. How would you describe what that means to you?

Volunteering boosts the morale of the recipient and the volunteer feels valued in the community.

Lastly, do you have a message you would like to share with our donors and our current/future volunteer communities?

Volunteering in retirement has been a truly rewarding experience and we feel our lives have been enriched. We feel we have gained more than we have given.

~ Love, Mary and Howard