Due to route restrictions on road trains which prevent them from going east of the Newell Highway, these vehicles are a rare sight in Dubbo. However, on Friday, May 18, Dubbo Photo News caught up with a very special road train from Charleville, Queensland, and its crew of Aussie Helpers volunteers who were en route to Molong via Yeoval with the sole aim of “helping to fight poverty in the bush”.
Aussie Helpers Ltd is a not-for-profit registered charity that was founded by Brian and Nerida Egan 16 years ago. The charity is operated by volunteers working in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania who freely give their own time and expertise to help Aussie farmers doing it tough.
“It’s a non-stop business this,” Aussie Helpers co-founder Brian Egan told Dubbo Photo News.
“This load is mainly ruminant pellets, dog food and horse food. We also have what we like to call ‘black magic’, which is a by-product of molasses that is very high in protein. It’s a life-saver for cattle,” Brian said.
“Everything on this load has been donated from our base at Charleville in Queensland. We are still in drought up there, but we have mulga there for the cattle,” he added.
Aussie Helpers specify that their visits to farming families are not meant to solve any major problems. However just knowing that someone cares about them and their difficult situation in the bush offers a little hope of better days ahead. Most people that Aussie Helpers deal with would not ask for help or expect it.
Aussie Helpers know that no one wants to admit things are tough, and farmers are some of the proudest people in Australia. But sometimes they need help, especially before it’s too late.
“They welcome us. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and I have never been turned away from anywhere,” Brian told Dubbo Photo News.
“They have to understand the difference between pride and survival. Most of us that do this are from the bush or are ex-farmers, so we appreciate their situation.
“We pick an area out and then stop at every farm and see how we can be of assistance. Our main game is to keep breeding stock alive.
“We have helped over 10,000 farmers so far,” Brian added.
The programs that Aussie Helpers offers include:
Farm Aid: Farm visits, mechanical repairs and the provision of stock feed.
Breakfast in a Bag: Up to a dozen farmers’ wives are spoilt for three hours with free hairdos, a free medical check-up, chef-prepared lunch, and a medical person to speak with anyone needing help with domestic violence or mental health issues.
Volunteers for Isolated Students Education (AHVISE): Outback children all over Australia who attend School Of The Air have access to retired school teachers for a six-week period to help with their education.
Fish4Life: An aquaculture program which is a simple, low-cost method of growing your own vegetables in your backyard without soil, just water.
Virtual Psychologist: Professional counselling provided free of charge. This service aims to prevent marriage break-ups and suicides.
“The psychologists are just brilliant,” Brian said.
“We can take about 30 calls and texts at once. About 60 per cent of people that use the service are males,” Brian added.
This figure, along with the countless testimonials from grateful farmers and their families, is proof that Aussie Helpers are making a major contribution to the wellbeing of Australia’s primary producers.
Mental illness is one of the leading health threats to people in rural and remote areas, so the fact that the team at Aussie Helpers are connecting with so many at-risk people, especially the stigmatised, harder-to-reach male demographic, is fantastic.
The charity has been praised by many notable Australians, including Australian radio broadcaster Alan Jones.
“So many people ‘talk the talk’ in relation to issues facing rural Australians – but Aussie Helpers actually gets things done,” Mr Jones said in his testimonial for the organisation.
“A bag of fresh food, medical check-ups, hair-cuts, someone to talk to – these are things that many Australians take for granted. It is not always so simple in the bush.
“This program will allow many of us to ‘give back’ to those Australians who continue to give so much to us.”
Entrepreneur Dick Smith has also commended Aussie Helpers:
“Supporting local industry and farming provides employment, ensures the profits stay in Australia and helps secure a better future for all Australians. We need to support our farmers by not only buying Australian products but through supporting the hard work of Brian and his team at Aussie Helpers,” Mr Smith said.
Aussie Helpers is strongly supported by local communities, including individuals and businesses. However, after 16 years of life-changing work, the state governments of Victoria and Tasmania and the Federal Government still refuse to help with any funding. All goods that Aussie Helpers distribute are obtained through donations.
Additionally, there was zero mention in the 2018-2019 National Budget for drought preparation or drought management in Australia, even as a repeat of the Millennium drought looms.
It’s a major frustration to many farmers that extravagances such as $75 billion for transport infrastructure are of greater importance than dealing with an immediate drought crisis. These decisions are often made by people whose idea of ‘rural Australia’ is the irrigated botanic garden in a Sydney suburb.
“We won’t give up, we’ll keep on plugging away,” Brian told Dubbo Photo News.
So the message to farmers in Dubbo, surrounds and beyond: Aussie Helpers have your back, or in their own words: “We’re looking after our own backyard.” Because their backyard, our backyard, is the great Outback.
GET MORE INFO
- Aussie Helpers can be contacted on 1300 665 232.
- Their 24/7 virtual psychologist text line is 0488 807 266. Offering a free text counselling service for farming families experiencing depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, failure or domestic violence.
Above: The main programs offered by Aussie Helpers. IMAGE: AUSSIE HELPERS