Rev John Dihm finished up as the Parkin Patrol Minister on Sunday leading his final service at the Hawker Uniting Church. As the service drew to a close, John took off his Frontier Services stole, left it on the altar and walked outside the church.
It was a touching finale to John’s nine years in the Patrol, supporting people in remote places across a large part of South Australia. Thankfully, John’s call to serve people in the bush is still burning. In March, he heads west to become the new Pilbara Patrol Minister.
The Parkin Patrol, based in Hawker, extends all the way to the Northern Territory and Queensland borders. It takes in three desert tracks, Oodnadatta, Birdsville and Strzelecki, and the communities of Andamooka, Leigh Creek, Innamincka and Marla. It consists of 75 stations, two Frontier Services health clinics, three hospitals and three schools.
When John first came to the Patrol with his wife Marilyn in 2004, families across the region were battling drought. He has seen the seasons come and go; flooding, plentiful rain and now back to drought again. John has travelled thousands of kilometres covering his patch, listening to people in good times and bad.
“Patrol Ministry is a ministry of friendship,” said John, reflecting on his time in the Patrol. “You’ve got to be with
people, mix with them, work with them and cry with them. You have got to become part of the fabric of the community.”
When families and communities have faced tragedy, John has often been the person sitting with them offering pastoral care. It is this trusted relationship that has given John’s ministry a significant focus on mental health. Recognising the reluctance of people to seek help and the lack of reliable services, John has found ways to provide care and support that are accessible and appropriate to outback people. John was instrumental in starting up a ‘Men’s Breakfast’ in Hawker and Quorn aiming to build connections and friendship for men in the bush. A similar project was begun for women on stations. When needed, he has linked people up with professional support.
Both John and Marilyn have played a big part in the community. John volunteers for the ambulance service in Hawker while Marilyn has played an active role on the Hospital Auxiliary, the Art Exhibition Committee and women’s quilting group. John has conducted countless weddings, funerals and baptisms across the outback. With a generous donation, he started up a scholarship for remote school children.
Cheryl McInnis, from the Hawker Congregation, said John and Marilyn had thrown themselves into the community. “John has given us a lot of his time. He ministers to everybody in the town, all denominations. He’s always available to anybody and he is very caring person,” she said.
Another community member, Marlene McAuley said John had formed connections with people “virtually across the state”.
“He’s a great person, and he’s been a good friend. I wonder what people will do without him. Before he came he didn’t even know where Hawker was and now he’s got to know so many people.”
John said he had made many friends and had many wonderful memories of his time in the Parkin Patrol.
“We give 110 per cent but you get 120 per cent back. I’m just amazed by how many wonderful people are out here in the outback.”
He said he had been humbled by the reaction from the community after attending countless farewell occasions. On Australia Day, the Flinders Ranges Council awarded John and Marilyn with a Certificate of Recognition acknowledging the contribution they have made.
While sad to say goodbye, John looks forward to new adventures in the Pilbara. “We will spend time getting to know people and hopefully we’ll fit into the fabric of the place like we have here.”
As he moves on, John said he was proud to be a part of the work begun by John Flynn 100 years ago. “Last year, celebrating the centenary of the work, I learnt a lot about John Flynn’s life. I got to know the man a lot better and understand his culture, and it has made me very proud to be a part of Frontier Services and that legacy.”
“Wherever you go you are an ambassador for Frontier Services and John Flynn has set a high standard. It is such a privilege to be a Patrol Minister. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.”
And when a new Patrol Minister is appointed to the Parkin Patrol, they will walk inside the church at Hawker, put on the stole and carry on the work which Flynn began.