Outback Links Program: Helping near the border

Outback Links April 2021 project
Outback Links April 2021 project

NRMA crews have returned home from the first Outback Links projects scheduled for 2021 with stories of tragedy, courage and hope

April project

On the morning of April 12, a group of NRMA staff departed Sydney en route to southern New South Wales as part of Frontier Service's volunteer program 'Outback Links' – an initiative that connects volunteers with regional communities in need of a helping hand.

Bombala – a small township about 40km north of the Victorian border – served as home base for the team to service nearby towns for the next five days.

These communities, much like the rest of the Snowy Monaro region they’re situated in, were ravaged by the 2019–2020 summer bushfires, with property, livestock and homes all taken in the disaster.

Outback Links April 2021 project

The NRMA’s crew of 10, comprised of four corporate and six roadside assistance patrol volunteers, split up between farms in the area to undertake both skilled and unskilled work.

Farmer John and his faithful sheepdog Ned lost their Cathcart home, but you wouldn’t know it by meeting them. Welcoming the team each morning with the offer of a cup of tea, John personifies resilience and smiling in the face of hardship.

His inner strength is something to be admired as he turns the loss of his home into an opportunity to create his vision and start afresh. Assisted by the Outback Links team, John began work on his new tiny home project, consisting of a shipping container converted to a living space.

He’s also taken to photography in the wake of the disaster, happily sharing images he took of the destruction with any volunteers interested in seeing.

However, courage doesn’t always sit behind a smiling face. Another small town nearby was hit especially hard in the fires. Due to the area having no mobile phone signal, the Rural Fire Service deemed intervention too unsafe.

Cliff and his family operate a farm in the area and were affected by the catastrophe in a profound way. Cliff, a war veteran who’d completed two tours in Afghanistan, has experienced more than enough trauma for one lifetime.

Losing their home and possessions has been a challenge most of us will never have to work our way back from. Their grief is still a visible presence.

Having lost almost everything but each other, the family now live in a tin shed and two caravans, attempting to rebuild what was lost.

Aided by Outback Links volunteers, progress moved fast. Mechanical work was carried out on the family car, their water pumps and generators serviced, and improvements made to guttering, water tanks and gardens around the property.

At a dinner for families and volunteers held in Bombala on the final night of the program, Cliff pulled one of the NRMA’s team members aside.

“I was sitting down on the lawn mower, looking out at all the work the volunteers had done during the week," Cliff told him.

“It was the most normal I’d felt in a very long time.”

May project

In May, a second squadron of NRMA volunteers descended on Bumbalong, north of Cooma, to lend a hand to the region's struggling farmers. Among the NRMA’s dozen-strong volunteer team were patrols, head office staff, and members of the motoring advice team.

The volunteers operated out of Bredbo, an agricultural village on the Monaro Plains south of Bumbalong. The region is a deserving recipient of the Frontier Services assistance program, having suffered through drought, bushfire and flooding in recent years.

Located midway between Canberra and the Snowy Mountains, the overnight temperatures can be bitterly cold. Most mornings the volunteers found their vehicles coated in ice.

In addition to practical assistance, the Frontier Services volunteers helped lift the morale of property owners by fixing broken-down tractors, tipper trucks and other farm equipment, and erecting kilometres of fencing, installing windows, and even herding sheep.

Additionally, Burson Auto Parts in Five Dock generously provided discounted parts to get the farmers’ vital machinery moving again.

So, where next?

The NRMA will be undertaking its third and fourth Outback Links projects of 2021 in September and October, when a new group of volunteers will head to other regional NSW communities in need.

We would like to thank Frontier Services, all NRMA volunteers and the farmers who inspired our people in ways they could not have anticipated.