Outback Volunteering

I’ve recently returned from an outback adventure of a different kind. One I’d like to share and encourage others to try.

12 months ago my husband and I travelled to outback Queensland for a holiday. Visiting Charleville along the way, we visited the School of Distance Education (School of the Air) and were blown away by how much it had advanced since we last visited back in the 70s. Long gone are the 2 way radios, its now internet, tablets, computers and smart boards. They are connected! During our visit to the school we found out they were looking for volunteers to spend time on the properties of the students to lend a helping hand with the schoolroom activities. The classrooms generally being a room in the homestead.

In June I applied to volunteer and within no time I was signed up and allocated a family. By early August I packed up my little Mazda 3 and headed to south west Queensland for 6 weeks. After a day and half driving I arrived at the 400,000 acre property near Thargomindah.

School started at 7.30am each weekday morning and finished by 2.30pm. The program is very structured and intense and so a lot to get through. The 24 yr old governess had her work cut out for her with not only the 3 girls working at different grade levels but also visited quite frequently by the 3 yr old preschooler. The children were on line for 1 to 2 hours of the day and the rest of the time it was book work and electronic media. The family, govie and I drove for 400 km to the sports muster – a 2 day sports carnival. That is in itself fascinating as families came from all over to compete but most importantly socialise..

I felt some of the joys and anguish of outback living, like when 3 of the 4 children were flown out by flying doctors after huge metal fencing fell on them – fortunately all ended well.

While in the beginning I kept to schoolroom assistance, within no time I was helping in all aspects of life on the farm. Feeding animals, driving for hours along red dust dirt roads with loads of hay and anything else I could help with.

While I was there to help with the education of the kids, it was I who learnt so much. It is one thing to drive through this┬ácountryside, it’s a very different thing to live it. Lessons in low stress cattle handling, processes of feeding cattle mulga, management of bores and hot artesian water and so much more.

I learnt not only about the farm life but also the social life. I had previously thought it would be quite lonely for the young adults, only to find that every weekend there is a function on somewhere, whether it be a campdraft, polocross, show, rodeo or festival. They drive for hundreds of kms to enjoy the fun and let their hair down. Then at the end of the night out come the swags and sleep under the stars.

The other added bonus was at the end of 6 weeks I had really connected with the family and plan to keep in touch. I was pleased with the good news last week when they let me know they had received 28mm of rain – at least it might settle the dust for a while!!

The people of the outback are looking for as much help as they can get. Drought means difficult times. If you would like to help, apply to organisations such as Drought Angels or VISE( volunteers for Isolated Student Education) You can’t be a princess but you will be rewarded.