Standing with (older) people in the bush
Today is International Day of Older Persons. The work that we do here at Frontier Services has a significant impact on the lives of older people living in rural and remote Australia. We have huge numbers of Outback Links volunteers who are “grey nomads”, travelling the country and lending a hand where they are needed most. Over 15% of the farmers that we provide assistance to through Outback Links are over the age of 70%.
We recently spoke to one of our Outback links volunteers, Ros about her experience of the difference that we make for older people across the country. Ros and her husband David have been volunteering for Frontier Services for the last couple of years, completing placements across a number of different states.
Ros told us about the importance of volunteers turning up and providing companionship to older people in rural Australia.
“Lots of the time they’re just grateful to have somebody to talk to,” she told us, “the men do like to have a chat and they don’t always get that opportunity – the women too.”
It’s a challenge that we encounter all too often at Frontier Services. As our farmers get older, it can become more difficult for them to get away for a little while to have a break. And for those living in remote areas or the outback, that can be a lonely experience.
Merv, one of our farmers living in remote Western Australia has first-hand knowledge of the challenges that come with getting older while living in the bush. At 76 years old, Merv lives alone on a 600,000 hectare station. After facing 20 years of drought and natural disasters, and grieving the recent death of his wife – Merv has now been diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. For Merv, attending medical appointments presents another challenge unique to older people living in remote Australia.
Ros explained, “Medical appointments can be several hours away from the property and when it becomes known that you’re leaving, lots of people just want a presence on the farm to keep an eye on things.” It’s the kind of job that Outback Links volunteers like Ros and David are occasionally called on to do.
But it’s certainly not the only kind of assistance that our volunteers provide. Ros and David both come from farming backgrounds so when they head out to volunteer they often help out on sheep and cattle properties. From farming assistance and mechanical jobs to cooking and cleaning – they do it all. Ros tells us about one placement they did last year; “The family had three children and I had to drive them 40km to the school bus stop and then pick them up again in the afternoon.”
“It’s the kind of distance and vastness that city people just wouldn’t be able to comprehend,” she tells us.
It’s why the impact that Frontier Services has for older people living in rural and remote Australia is so overwhelmingly positive. Ros tells us, “It gives them a boost – and not just for older people. Even farmers who are in their 40s and 50s tell us it’s just lifted their morale and helped them to continue on.”
Merv agrees. Speaking about the impact of Frontier Services volunteers, he told us: “I’ve made lifelong friends with all of them because I am all on my own up here.”
Ros’ experience has also proven that one of the best things about ageing is the opportunity to help others. “David and I have the freedom to do what we want and we get the chance to help others at the same time,” she tells us. While they’re on their travels, Ros explains that people often ask them where they’re from. “We always answer the question by explaining that we’re volunteering with Frontier Services.” She tells us that when people hear about Frontier Services they always want to know more.
“My hope is that more people continue to volunteer for Frontier Services and reach out to those living in rural and remote Australia,” she tells us. And for older farmers across Australia; “I hope they get some rain, and some good years.”