In November 2014 we saw a call for “Tradesmen” to help farmers dealing with a terrible drought in Queensland and NSW. We phoned and offered the services of SALT. Due to the time of year it was hard to secure volunteer tradies as the lead up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year, particularly in the construction trades. Three SALT tradeswomen were able to go; Fi and Sonia (both painters and decorators) and Fred who is a fitter and machinist.
We got to Lightning Ridge in a crazy week of 47 degree Celsius and above temperatures, which unbeknown to us was extreme even to the Ridge. The task handed to us was to paint the outside of the homestead, the paperwork said “badly peeling but easy job” and gave us two days to complete the task plus fix the tractor and replace sun blinds. One look told us this was not going to happen but we started intent on doing the very best we could in five days.
The farmer, Don who at 83 years old is used to women carrying out more traditional roles and not one to mince his words, did query what he was going to do with “three old boilers” when he heard he had three volunteer tradeswomen.
He didn’t need to worry because we showed him what we could do, even when his temperature gauge hit the 50 degree celsius mark. In five days we managed to prepare and top coat two sides of his house, although we had to follow the shade and this meant completing the west and south sides. The east and north sides were still to be done and as we left we promised to return to help with the worst sides in cooler weather.
We also gained a huge respect and wonderful relationship with Don and farmers like him, who were dealing with a drought, which was costing them their animals and livelihoods. We had been to Lightning Ridge to run a workshop at the school a few months before but life out on the stations is a very different kettle of fish to life in the eccentric town of the Ridge. We knew we needed to return to complete what we had started.
RETURNING TO THE RIDGE
The first trip to help the farmers dealing with drought had been a real eye opener regarding how different life is in town and on the land. We committed to return in the Easter holidays and a chance conversation created a whole new project. SALT partnered with Outback Links, part of Frontier Services, which was set up by Dr Flynn of Flying Doctors fame, to support those living and working in rural Australia. The new project would engage SALT tradies and apprentices in a major youth initiative to engage young people into volunteering. NECA electricians and NRMA motor mechanics also volunteered.
The SALT Team was very diverse with tradeswomen and men, plus male and female apprentices and it was a dream. There was a huge wish list of work from five very deserving stations (including a return to work on Don’s place), all of whom where dealing with one of the worst droughts in living history which was taking its toll on livestock and the wellbeing of the station families.
In the five months that SALT had been away we could see how very much worse things had become for everyone. It is one thing to hear about a drought from the comfort of you armchair and quite another as you watch a farmer struggling with the loss of the livestock they love and care for in front of you. It is not melodramatic to say it was a gut wrenching experience for all of us but we felt that at least we were doing something very tangible to improve things for them by restoring parts of their properties, replacing boards, building benches and mending toilets that hadn’t worked for 20 years. Tradies, apprentices and support volunteers worked like a well-oiled machine, achieving a formidable list of jobs done.
Since this time SALT trade teams have been to the Lightning Ridge area seven times. The teams are normally mixed teams and the gender parity has been a definite bonus and shows SALTs commitment to removing gender from the equation once we have leveled the playing field. We have refined the way we organize the volunteer teams and safety is our prime objective at all times. 100% of our tradespeople on these trips complete Police Checks and Working With Children Checks, 80% of all our tradies have First Aid certificates and all the teams carry first aid kits with them at all times.
If you are interested in becoming a SALT of the Earth volunteer tradie please contact us.