To have a stranger come to lend a hand means an awful lot when things are stacked against you. That is what makes Geoff Bond so special and so deserving of the title Mid North Coast Volunteer of the Year.
As a volunteer with the Frontier Services program, Outback Links, Geoff travels to remote properties to lend a hand when people need it most. He has volunteered at 17 properties, seven in NSW, the rest further afield.
On Friday 10 October, he was named Senior Volunteer of the Year and overall Volunteer of the Year at a ceremony in Port Macquarie organised by the Centre for Volunteering.
For Geoff, it is a labour of love. Having come from the land, he relishes the wide open spaces of the bush and the opportunity to make a difference.
When Geoff first signed up to Outback Links, he and his wife Roz travelled 1800km to south west Queensland. “We were given a very warm welcome by the young couple running the 140,000 acre property, in drought conditions, on their own,” he recalls. “They opened their home to us, complete strangers, but by the time we left we were firm friends.”
“We were surprised by the variety of tasks which we were both able to perform and to really assist in a meaningful way. This, and the gratitude shown by the owners has kept us involved ever since.”
Geoff has fixed fences, put in gardens, helped with mustering and lent a listening ear to farmers under stress. His uplifting attitude and breadth of life experience has made a lasting impact in many situations. He offers help and friendship where it is needed and accepts people as he finds them.
Geoff can recall assisting a young mother running a sheep and cattle station on her own. “She was struggling to get ready for shearing after floods had destroyed a lot of fencing, while at the same time having to drive her son the 20km to the school bus each morning and evening. Roz did the bus run and kept the meals coming, while the owner and I worked together for most daylight hours and had things ready by the day the shearers arrived.”
Another time Geoff recalls being on hand to drive a man whose broken leg was not healing 250 km each way to the hospital in Broken Hill. “This was after the (Royal Flying Doctor) had said on the phone, “he needs urgent attention!”
Geoff has seen remote people deal with all kinds of issues, from floods, drought and injuries to depression, and just needing someone to talk to.
“We love this vast land of ours and more and more we understand that all too few Australians appreciate the important role that people in the outback play, in circumstances that are so different to those experienced by city-dwellers.”
For Geoff, being a volunteer provides him with the opportunity to put his faith into action.
“While we may not always be able to preach the Gospel, we are living it. Often we are assisting people who have had little or no experience of “the Church” or maybe their experience has been a negative one.”
Geoff is currently volunteering at the Uniting Church on Norfolk Island while Roz, a Uniting Church Minister, is filling in as the temporary Minister. They will spend two months on the Island.
Since they arrived at the end of August they have settled into life there. “We love this beautiful place and its welcoming people,” says Geoff. “Australians, come to Norfolk!”
The downturn in tourism has affected people on the island but Geoff says that visitors are well looked after. “Tourism is the lifeblood of the island. You will be well-catered for and the fishing is the best I have experienced, anywhere!”
To date, Geoff has applied two coats of oil to 150 meters of fencing, done some major pruning in the garden and cleared the way for painting to the outside walls.
Back in Port Macquarie, Sam Pursehouse, another Outback Links volunteer, accepted the award on Geoff’s behalf at the awards ceremony held in Port Macquarie. Geoff now goes onto the NSW State finals in December.