A well-known Turkish proverb goes something like this:
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”
For well over a century now, Frontier Services Patrol Ministers have been constantly on the move, travelling tens of thousands of kilometres each year, visiting approximately 10,000 families and individuals in the process.
By camel, on horseback, and via vehicle and plane; visiting farmers on remote properties and stations, Aboriginal communities, mine sites, prospectors and road gangs; performing sacramental ministry, referring people on who need volunteer or professional assistance, the Patrol Ministers keep a keen and watchful eye on some of Australia’s most isolated and vulnerable.
So much of their time is and always has been taken up simply listening to people who face the daily challenges of living and working “beyond the black stump”.
Listening to those for whom hardship is often a way of life. Listening with the view to offer some helpful advice, a degree of comfort, a moment of reflection or an offer of further support. Listening, because in an increasingly noisy world, the art of active listening is a precious commodity and not to be taken for granted.
Indeed, often these Uniting Church Patrol Ministers are the only source of spiritual support and confiding trust for isolated families and others who occupy remote parts of Australia. Stress is an ongoing issue for so many people in these frontier areas too, where hardships such as financial strain, social isolation, long hours of labour, long distances to travel and reduced access to social services can lead to enormous stresses and strains, to relationship breakdowns, to fatigue-driven accidents and even to depression-driven suicides.
As Frontier Services moves into a brand new age, its focus will be upon growing far greater support for the absolutely vital function that these Uniting Church “patrol padres” fulfil, ensuring that the Synods and Presbyteries overseeing this national network are better resourced than ever before.
Of course, as Frontier Services moves to re-define its work to better reflect the evolving circumstances and needs around it, there is an equally growing emphasis upon developing its range of volunteer capacities via Outback Links and associated “direct action” community development and assistance programs.
And as we approach UNESCO’s International Youth Day on 12 August, which in 2015 will focus upon “Youth Civic Engagement” as a primary theme, we at Frontier Services will pause to celebrate the recent achievements of our “apprentice tradies” who attended the inaugural Farm Experience mission in north-west NSW, and to remind ourselves of how critical it is to develop tomorrow’s resources in volunteering.
Building upon this success, about which you can read more inside this edition of Frontier News, we are always mindful of the mutually-beneficial “win-win” that engaging our young people in support for remote Australia brings with it.
The benefits to the communities are obvious, rich, and very well-documented.
One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the direct and immediate impact a program like Outback Links has on the community. Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together, especially when that community faces some sort of crisis. Volunteering allows people to connect to a community and simply make it a better place to live and work – more cohesive, more validated, more productive, more cared about, more hopeful.
And for the young people themselves, evidence of the benefits volunteer participation brings with it is equally overwhelming. Countless studies clearly support the evidence that by participating in such community development activities such as those offered under the Outback Links model, young participants can and do increase their self-confidence and self-esteem, develop a range of communication skills and improve their ability to work with other people through their volunteering activities.
Volunteering in this way can act as a catalyst for young people to engage far more effectively with other forms of learning, or in some cases re-engage with formal learning or training, putting them in a superior position where they can develop skills and potentially gain qualifications.
And for Frontier Services, and indeed the wider Uniting Church, it is not simply a matter of meeting today’s demands in remote Australia, but it is importantly also about seeding the ground for the future as well.
For today’s Outback Links youth volunteers will inevitably become tomorrow’s outback ambassadors, advocates, supporters and leaders.
And that is very good news indeed for remote Australia.
Grahame Ryan is the Acting National Director of Frontier Services.