How Angels get their wings
WHEN it comes to ideas for raising dollars for charity, country people have to be inventive.
After all, you can have just so many cake stalls and craft fairs.
So when helping an essential bush service like Angel Flight, whose volunteer pilots fly patients and their carers to get medical help, country people pull out all stops to create money-raising entertainment.
Every 18 months a convoy of Angel Flight Outback Trailblazers track through Queensland's west on a seven-day safari to raise funds to keep this volunteer service flying. This year's '12 River Run' in April in the state's south central west was the third.
Though not a race, about 50 vehicles, mostly 4WDs, made a madcap run from a start under the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine to the finish in St George, more than 1500km away.
The Trailblazers not only raised money for Angel Flight but also helped promote tourism to south central Queensland, and had a week of fun and outback mateship.
They tracked through Blackall, Adavale, Charleville, Quilpie, Toompine, Eulo, Cunnamulla, Noorama, Hebel, Dirranbandi and St George.
Participants camped out and were entertained and fed by the communities the convoy passed through.
And they were treated to some imaginative bush fundraisers.
Noorama, 105km south of Cunnamulla in southern central Queensland, is cropping, sheep and cattle country. No township, just vast properties. Nevertheless, there is a tennis club committee which doubles as the picnic racing club committee.
They claim to have the world's biggest spit roast at the racetrack: it takes 36 sheep at a time. Today, however, they are cooking a more modest bacon-and-eggs breakfast for about 120 hungry Trailblazers who have arrived after an early-morning start in Cunnamulla.
The locals have erected a pen inside which they have placed a dozen numbered car tyres. A few 'well-watered' working dogs are keen to get into the pen to relieve themselves - against a tyre.
We Trailblazers take bets on which tyre will be the first to get a dousing. In just a few minutes a couple of hundred dollars have been added to the kitty which at week's end will tally around $150,000.
In Adavale they have a local take on the sport of cane toad racing … yabbie racing. The principle is the same - the yabbies are grouped inside a circle and make a 'dash' for the outside.
Today's special event is run as a fundraiser for Angel Flight. A healthy wad of dollars from the 'sale' of yabbie entrants.
The Trailblazers will auction, for many a dollar or two, anything from stubby holders to an opal pendant (the latter contributes $800 to the kitty).
One Trailblazer entrant has bought up seven 1989-92 Subaru Brumbies, had them done up and has sold them along the way.
The solid and popular utes will finish their days on country properties. They yield a tidy $25,000.
We have the good fortune to pull into the Toompine pub (the pub without a town), 76km south of Quilpie, just as local truckie Dick Loveday arrives in his triple-trailer road train.
Will he give up his passenger seat to a Trailblazer? Sure will.
Quickly the seat is auctioned off for $300 and one of our lucky Trailblazers gets to ride with Dick into the next town, Eulo, another 120km away.
Quilpie council worker Peter Scott is typical of bush generosity. He rented the council's mini-bus every weekend and, for four months, drove drinkers home from the local club for the price of a gold coin. In the four months, he raised $1000.
A group of young Cunnamulla men ran a motorbike rally around town, raising $9000.
One of our number dresses as a nun and takes confessions at $5 a time.
Co-organisers Lance Smith, formerly a Longreach businessman, and Barcaldine Regional Council Mayor Rob Chandler, called the event a huge success.
Outback communities on the route of the Trailblazers had warmly welcomed the Trailblazers, not only feeding them but providing entertainment.
Angel Flight Ambassador and patron, Australia's darling of country and western song, Tania Kernaghan, was a keen participant along with Tourism Queensland's Best Job In The World winner, Ben Southall.
Angel Flight was founded in 2003 by Brisbane advertising man Bill Bristow to provide non-emergency flights for bush people who are sick and can't afford commercial flights to get medical help.
Patients and carers fly free. The organisation has 2000 volunteer pilots around Australia and a similar number of 'ground' Angels. They fly an average of 10 flights daily.
Stephen White is one of the volunteer pilots.
A town planner and landscape architect with Tract Consultants Pty Ltd, he flies to jobs around Australia but still has time to spend volunteering himself and his Cessna aircraft to Angel Flight.
He is with us on Trailblazers, flying people and equipment along the route.
Above all, the Trailblazers event is a way of showcasing western Queensland.
The next Angel Flight Outback Trailblazer will be held in October, 2013.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Queensland.