“You’ll never know what you can do till you try”, is a saying that Frank and I have come to understand since we have been doing ‘outside’ volunteering, with Outback Links, Blaze Aid and joining a work party to Tonga.
It all started in 2005 when we were touring in South Australia. We heard on the radio about a volunteer group needing helpers to rebuild fences, plant trees and clean up after a bushfire on the Ayre Peninsular. This was four years before Blaze Aid was set up. We spent 3-4 busy and fun days with the group. We both enjoyed the experience, and since then have had many more worthwhile experiences.
Outback Link is a part of Frontier Services and each month we get a list of farmers who need help in lots of different ways. We decide where and when we will be traveling, then contact Outback Links, who put us in touch with a farmer in that area. Our friends, Lorraine and Bruce Gangell come with us so we make a good team.
It can be quite daunting to front up to a property not knowing what to expect, but it also works the other way from the farmer’s point of view. A couple of the wives have said that their husbands are not too keen having strange folk on their property. However, each time we have all become good friends and learned about the trials of farming.
We stay for a week to 10 days in our caravan, usually close to the main house, though occasionally we are offered a room in the house or shearer’s accommodation. Occasionally we are invited to eat with the family, but that depends on what is happening at the time.
The farms we have been to are located in south-central Queensland, near Winton, Charleville and St. George and most recently near Moree in northern NSW.
The types of work we do is varied. We do a lot of painting, handyman jobs and gardening round the house, then outside, lots of clearing and cleaning up such as dismantling old sheds. We make many visits to the farm tip. One farmer called his tip Mitre 11 because he said you could find almost anything you wanted down there, in the way of bits and pieces. We re-located a fowl house one day which upset the poor fowls because they couldn’t find their way home, as they had been out ‘free ranging’. We spent a busy morning cleaning out and refilling about 15 water troughs, all over one farm. The cattle stood round watching us and as we left, came straight to the fresh water to drink. The fun thing about that job was that the old ute were drove had no brakes and the driver’s door wouldn’t shut.
On one property our job was to plant a large field with melons and pumpkins, but before that could be done, we had to pull up a watering system, get the tractor going then slash and plough the field. We then had to re-lay the watering system, find the holes where the water came out to make sure the seeds we planted were beside the water outlets. The melons and pumpkins were to be sold by the side of the road and at the town caravan park. The money raised would be put in a fund to send the children to boarding school eventually. At the time a schoolroom was being built onto the house. Down the paddock a bit there was an old cottage which we worked on to make it suitable for a teacher to live in. On that farm we stayed at the shearer’s quarters. There were two German back packers and a builder also staying in the Quarters. The girl was helping look after the 3 children and the boy was out on the property all day with the boss.
Our latest visit was to a drought-stricken farm 50 km east of Moree. Here our main job was to help with the feeding of 13 poddy-calves. We made up 39 litres of milk twice a day and took it on the back of a quad cycle to the yard where we fed the calves. They were fed in pairs, so we would get 2 started then get the next 2 ready and so on. There were gates to be shut and opened between us and the calves, and on one occasion we didn’t get that right, so we had calves everywhere – some overfed and others not at all.
We’ve been surprised by frogs under toilet seats, learnt how to deal with cane toads, actually sheared a sheep, fallen in love with some cute poddy lambs, learnt how charcoal is made, and had lots most interesting experiences. In the evenings, over a drink or a meal we would enjoy talking with and listening to our hosts. We’d go to bed tired, but happy and wake-up refreshed ready for another day.
Working with Blaze Aid is an amazing experience. The organization of the whole operation is extremely well done – all tools are provided, along with safety gear, AND 3 meals a day. There is all kinds of work to do, not only mending or erecting fences. You meet some very interesting people – both the volunteers from all over the world and the farmers themselves.
We find doing this kind of volunteering very rewarding, and we leave our new friends knowing that we have been useful to them. They are so appreciative of our help. Wendy