By Andrew Humphries
Summer is the time our bathers come out, our sprinklers come out, the kids’ cricket bats come out and our barbies come out.
And often it’s all in the one day.
This year, as it has for the past 10 years or so, Frontier Services is hoping you will think of our farmers as you and your family and friends gather around the BBQ and consider turning the occasion into a fundraising event.
The Great Outback BBQ is a way of supporting, and giving hope to, our farmers.
As Frontier Services national director Jannine Jackson explains, the Great Outback BBQ was conceived during a time of drought and it brought much-needed assistance and relief to farmers.
“It was set up to raise money for farmers who were struggling financially and emotionally,” Jannine says.
“The concept is around an event that celebrates our Aussie farmers, but also has a component around financially supporting them.
“So essentially, what we are asking people to do, in a safe and socially distanced way, is to get together, buy Aussie produce, share a meal and spare a thought for some of our farmers, who are probably doing it as tough as they ever have.”
This year there are two ways you can help. You can either host your own BBQ or buy a $20 ticket at a Virtual BBQ.
Jannine says the past 18 months have pushed farmers to the limit, as they have dealt with one catastrophe after another.
“We’ve had the worst drought in our recorded history, the most devastating bushfire season on record, grasshopper and mice plagues and, of course, COVID-19,” she says.
“While we think of the pandemic as being a metropolitan problem, what it means for our farmers is they can’t get people out to pick or harvest, they can’t get parts delivered for harvesters and some of our international borders have been closed to their produce.
“So from a financial and emotional perspective, they are probably doing it the toughest they have ever.”
On the frontline in giving much-needed assistance to farmers are our bush chaplains, who are providing a range of services – from pastoral to practical.
“Our bush chaplains are turning up at the farm gate, along with other resources and assistance, and providing that advocacy role to help farmers get what they need,” Jannine says.
“That might be emotional or spiritual support or practical assistance that might involve paying an electricity bill, putting food on the table or engaging with a bank around offering some relief with loan repayments.
“As well as all that, the chaplains will try and hook farmers into any other services that are available.”
Also playing an important part is an army of volunteers, with skills ranging from cooking to handyman work or just the simple but valuable ability to listen to the stories of those on the land.
And, as Jannine explains, some of those stories are heartbreaking.
“We have helped a farmer who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and then her husband left her,” she says. “There was a farmer who lost a leg in a tractor accident, and other farmers who had lost everything in the bushfires. These are stories that make your heart break.”
Marian Bisset is one of Frontier Services’ bush chaplains and her “beat” is Victoria’s High Country, where bushfires in recent years have left an unwelcome mark on farmers, both physically and psychologically.
Marian said when she started in June, Frontier Services said her role was to be be “practical, pastoral and spiritual – in that order”.
“That is certainly my experience so far, and having a presence on the mountain is what is being appreciated by people, perhaps even more so than having a weekly Sunday service.
“People feel that it’s the presence of the bush chaplain that is important, as well as an ability to connect with the community.”
Marian says an art exhibition held in Swifts Creek in July perfectly captured how resilient the High Country community is, but also illustrated what they have endured in recent times.
“This exhibition, called Fire and Rain, centred on people’s reactions to drought and fires, and there was palpable emotion coming out of the artwork,” she says.
“You could almost feel the smoke in the air, you could almost feel the grit, it really was quite powerful.
“In terms of the 2020 bushfires, the pain and trauma is still there and is all very real so being able to have that type of community connection and engagement is amazing and, in my role, there is a sense that you are being invited in to walk with the community.”
When asked what qualities make a good bush chaplain, Marian says “presence, the act of simply being there”.
“It’s an ability to listen and to wander up to someone’s property and say, ‘how’s it going?’.
“And while the spiritual side of it might not be front and centre, that is why I’m there, it’s me carrying the Gospel in a community held together by God.
“It doesn’t mean I want everyone at church on Sunday, that’s not what it’s about and, for some people, it will never be that – but it doesn’t mean I won’t make connections and sit with people and listen to them and cry with their pain or laugh at the funny stories.”
And making that connection with someone is what makes Marian’s job so rewarding.
“It would be one of the most humbling and privileged moments,” she says.
“To walk out knowing that someone has made themselves that vulnerable with you because you carry something that identifies you as an agent of ministry, and the trust they have put in you, can at times be quite overwhelming.
“It’s a sense of ‘wow, we have shared something that is really deep for that person’.
“These communities bring their own resilience forth in order to survive and, as a chaplain, I’m invited in to that and to journey with them.
“There is a deep responsibility involved because you are dealing with people’s lives and stories.”
Other people doing valuable work on the frontline is Frontier Services’ group of volunteers and Jannine says more are always welcome.
In the meantime, you can make a valuable contribution by having, or attending, a Great Outback BBQ.
“We have some beautiful and amazing food in Australia and we should celebrate that fact and celebrate it with people who matter,” Jannine says.
“Coming together and sharing a meal is something that we shouldn’t take for granted, so let’s celebrate good food, good friends, good wine and a good cause.”