“YOU’RE almost family” – the words could not have been sweeter for Brisbane couple John and Sharyn Rogers when they were among a parish crowd in outback Queensland.
Convenor of the St Patrick’s Christmas Fete at Blackall Tony Hauff made the comment as he was thanking John and Sharyn and their small team at the fete late last year.
John and Sharyn and three other couples from the Parish of St Joseph and St Anthony, Bracken Ridge, had driven 1000km from Brisbane to lend a hand at the fete.
Mr and Mrs Rogers, Maurie and Glenda Murdoch, and Sharyn and Greg McLagan have been making the trip annually for four years.
The McLagans were unable to make the latest trip but the group was joined this time by another two couples – Debbie and Michael De Gee, and Mac and Susan Angus-MacInnes.
The group of parishioners heads out to Blackall with boxes and boxes of donated goods, and run a stall and raffles at the fete to support the outback parish where the drought has hit hard.
The visits began when the Blackall/Tambo parish entered into a sister parish arrangement with Bracken Ridge a few years ago.
John and Sharyn, moved by the plight of drought-stricken farmers across Queensland, approached parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan about doing something practical to support an outback community that may be doing it tough.
Rockhampton Bishop Michael McCarthy recommended Blackall/Tambo parish to them, and since then the relationship with Bracken Ridge has gone from strength to strength.
In reporting back at Bracken Ridge Masses after the Blackall visit late last year, Sharyn Rogers told parishioners what the fete convenor said when thanking the community in Blackall.
“He said he felt the Bracken Ridge team was ‘almost family’,” she said.
“Anyone who has had experience with people in country towns knows that one is not considered to be ‘a local’ unless you’ve lived in the town for more than 20 years.”
Like much of outback Queensland, Blackall and Tambo have been hit hard by drought and the communities have suffered and continue to suffer.
The drive out to Blackall left no doubt how dire the situation had become.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen Blackall,” Mrs Rogers said.
“Right from Brisbane all the way out to Blackall it was just so dry – just grey and brown all the way, and dead animals beside the road.
“It’s very depressing.”
Mr Rogers said “a lot of people have destocked a lot or reduced their herd because of the drought”.
They said some people in the community were battling to afford essentials for themselves, and the Bracken Ridge team was trying to help where it could.
They work closely with Blackall/Tambo parishioner Moira Kent and others in the town to decide how best to channel assistance.
“We work with the (supermarkets), we work with the chemist and the community development officer,” Mr Rogers said.
“We get emails in … like (from) the chemist, … We work with the chemist with people who are having trouble paying their medical expenses and medicines and things like that.
“We don’t give money to people (in the town); we give money to the businesses.”
“That way it helps the shop keep going, and it helps the people because someone cares about them and they’re being relieved (of some) debt,” Mrs Rogers said.
The Blackall fete raised more than $14,000 and $3400 of that was the Bracken Ridge contribution.
The Bracken Ridge parish also donates money from a fortnightly bucket collection.
St Joseph’s Parents’ and Friends’ in Bracken Ridge donated $2500 to St Joseph’s, Blackall
“Everybody’s so appreciative (out there),” Mrs Rogers said.
“They don’t ask for anything …
“Just them knowing that people care about them is such a boost.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference announced before Christmas that it was extending its national prayer campaign for those affected by the drought.
The campaign was held in November but the bishops said they were extending it indefinitely, until tdrought conditions eased.
When they launched the campaign in October, they said it was to pray for the gift of rain and to invite people to provide assistance to those most in need.