During National Volunteer Week from 13-19 May, Frontier Services is celebrating the enormous contribution made by our Outback Links volunteers to support the people of rural and remote Australia. Each year, our volunteers assist more than 500 outback families, providing a much needed helping hand when it is needed most.
This week, we’ll bring you stories from our volunteers in the field. Today, read about Gwen and Ron Hellyar who are in Queensland lending a hand on a property in the thick of drought, while a few weeks before they were helping a station owner whose property was swamped by flooding waters earlier in the year. The contrast highlights the vast challenges for families in the bush and the invaluable gift of having someone come and help.
Here is their story:
Nothing quite prepares you for how dry it can get in the heart of Australia until you’ve experienced it yourself, say Gwen and Ron Hellyar, from the Northern Rivers in NSW.
The Outback Links volunteers are lending a hand on a sheep and cattle station in south west Queensland which has not seen rain for two and a half years.
Like many parts of Australia faced with worsening drought, an exceptionally dry summer has left the station parched with no grass left to feed stock. The property owner has moved his cattle off property on agistment and is bulldozing scrub to feed his sheep. The outlook is increasingly desperate.
Only a few weeks before, Gwen and Ron were helping on another property, little more than a day’s drive away, which was swept by flooding waters earlier in the year. The contrast is stark.
“Everything was so lush and green as we drove through the valleys that had flooding. All the cattle were in peak condition and there was grass everywhere. Just a day’s drive in Australia can be such a contrast. You look out the window here and all you can see is brown,” says Gwen.
Gwen and Ron have made a big difference at both places. At their current placement, Ron, a former dairy farmer, is working alongside the owner on the property. Meanwhile, Gwen has taken over the running of the home, greatly assisting his wife who spends each week in town with her children so they can attend the local school.
“It was during the last drought that I first started thinking about how I’d like to help people working on the land – give them a break. I finally got around to it when it started raining again,” says Ron.
Since they signed up in 2010, Gwen and Ron have done 11 volunteer placements.
“Without a doubt, this is the driest property we’ve been to. They badly need rain and there’s not a lot of prospect that it will come. You cannot imagine what it is like to be in that position if you haven’t been through it. This is life and death stuff.”
They say the families they visit appreciate both the help they give and their companionship.
“We enjoy it very much. It’s better than sitting in a caravan park. You get to know more about an area and what the people are like,” says Gwen. “Everybody is so grateful for the few weeks you can give.”