REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Volunteers, seriously, how good are they?

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's is written by Queensland Country Life senior journalist Sally Cripps.

Volunteer schoolteachers set North Queenslander Lyn French on a path of volunteering.

Volunteer schoolteachers set North Queenslander Lyn French on a path of volunteering.

Imagine being hardly able to read or write and facing the challenge of having to tutor your own children for at least all their years of primary schooling.

You live hundreds of kilometres from your nearest school and you don't have the spare cash lying around to employ someone to do the job. But, if your children are to receive an education it's up to you, somehow.

Not only was North Queenslander Lyn French determined to overcome that challenge, it set her on a lifetime of volunteering that last year won her the accolade of Queensland's Volunteer of the Year.

Lyn had wonderful assistance from retired teachers who walked through the door to help in her schoolroom, and their example was most likely the main reason she was on stage in 2019 to receive her award.

Volunteering is the lifeblood of rural Queensland, and many other parts I suspect, and was the common denominator for many in the palette that daubed the stories of the year in our sparsely populated areas.

Foremost among them was the small army of mustering helicopter pilots that scrambled urgently across the skies of north west Queensland when the monsoonal deluge finally let up in February.

Cloncurry Mustering Company pilot Dan Gresham flew for 80km across the combined Flinders-Saxby Rivers flood in early February without seeing land.

Cloncurry Mustering Company pilot Dan Gresham flew for 80km across the combined Flinders-Saxby Rivers flood in early February without seeing land.

Working from dawn to dusk, they came face to face with the destruction below them, finding tens of thousands of head of cattle sprawled dead from exposure.

It was a harrowing experience for the chopper pilots, many of them young men, who as well as returning to the dreadful scenes day after day to try and save animals, had to bear the emotional pain and shock of the owners of the dead animals.

Matching their dedication were the truck drivers who have unceasingly supported those deep in the despair of drought through the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners, and in 2019 it was the turn of south west Queensland district of Quilpie to welcome 180 trucks and over 500 volunteers from southern parts of Australia.

Volunteer truck drivers lined up at Quilpie in a show of friendship and solidarity.

Volunteer truck drivers lined up at Quilpie in a show of friendship and solidarity.

In searing heat that was blowing expensive truck tyres, they brought up thousands of bales of hay in an Australia Day gesture that spoke volumes.

As founder Brendan 'Bumpa' Farrell has often described it, the work is as much about giving friendship as it is about providing hay, and it's that spirit of generosity that makes volunteering such an important part of the Australian spirit.

You have to wonder then when the crucial rural charity that coordinates non-emergency flights for people struggling to access specialist medical treatment, Angel Flight, fears it may have to close thanks to bureaucracy gone mad.

Pilots volunteer their aircraft, their time and their fuel to fly people - none of them needing emergency medical care - from remote areas to city check-ups, regular dialysis and so on - and have so far made over 48,000 flights around Australia.

Angel Flight pilots flew in to Birdsville in 2015 to speak at the Angel Flight Outback Trailblazer car rally, which raised money for the organisation.

Angel Flight pilots flew in to Birdsville in 2015 to speak at the Angel Flight Outback Trailblazer car rally, which raised money for the organisation.

However, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has introduced new minimum safety standards that go beyond what is required in general aviation and which could treble costs for the volunteer pilots.

It's a move that Queensland Nationals Senator Susan McDonald, herself familiar with the operation of planes for transport and mustering from her home at Cloncurry in the state's north west, opposes, going as far as voting against her party in the Senate.

Today is not the day to debate the sense or otherwise of payments to volunteers, but let's make sure they are at least rewarded with our ongoing high regard.

Australia would be a poorer place without its volunteers.

Sally Cripps, senior journalist, Queensland Country Life

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