When Elaine and Bill Beggs retired this year, they left behind the comforts of their inner city home and found themselves riding quad bikes in the heart of the outback.
But this was no touring holiday. The Beggs were there as volunteers with the Frontier Services Outback Links program which supports families living in isolated areas.
Swapping their suits and heels for gum boots and jeans, the Sydney couple spent 10 days helping out on an organic beef cattle station in south west Queensland, 40km outside of Surat – a small rural town with a population of less than 500 people.
“It was certainly different to what we’re used to in Chippendale,” said Mrs Beggs, a former assistant director to a charity.
“We had a lovely experience. The family was very welcoming. It was just wonderful.”
Mr Beggs, a retired accountant, said it made them appreciate life on the land, in particular the huge workload and their dependence on weather and the environment.
“It is a very hands-on life. They are always busy,” he said.
Outback Links volunteers are placed with families in remote Australia who need assistance to cope with added pressures, such as an illness, drought, flooding or simply getting through a busy time with no or limited access to any other support.
Mr and Mrs Beggs were there to assist a family with the looming arrival of their third child. The mother needed to travel to the city for the birth, some five hours away. They helped the family prepare the property for the two or three weeks they would be away.
They found themselves doing all sorts of jobs, from domestic chores to gardening, cutting grass on a ride-on mower, fixing a screen door and other repair jobs. They rode the quad bike around the 7000 acre property to check on the water system and spent two days constructing fences.
“I look at a fence in a totally different light now,” said Mrs Beggs.
For the city residents, the benefits of the experience went both ways.
“We really enjoyed it,” said Mr Beggs. “We also felt we had helped the family. They were more confident and relaxed about having to leave the property for the birth of their child.”
Friends and family followed the Beggs’ adventure on Facebook. This included their trip to the Surat Races, a major social event for the small remote community. One particular highlight was the opportunity to ride on “the biggest bulldozer (they) had ever seen”.
Another time, a neighbour invited them to pick oranges on his property. They loaded several boxes leaving one box at the gate of all the surrounding neighbours.
“There is a sense of community in those remote areas. Even though they are spread out, they all know each other. People are very obliging and sharing,” said Mrs Beggs.
The volunteers have stayed in touch with the family. Not long after they departed, they received a phone call with news of the birth.
“After spending 10 days virtually living together, we really go to know each other. We would certainly go back again,” said Mr Beggs.
Outback Links coordinator Davida Melksham said: “In addition to the very practical help given by our volunteers, connecting urban families with rural families in need is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Outback Links program.”
To find out more go to the Outback Links website or phone 1300 731 349.