Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen
Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen

The Aussie couple giving our farmers hope

ROBIN and David Pullen are no ordinary grey nomads.

For the past two years, these Broken Hill-based Salvation Army chaplains have packed their caravan and hit the road for weeks at a time. Delivering hope, comfort and financial aid to drought-devastated communities, the Pullens drive across a vast territory spanning approximately a third of New South Wales.

"If you went [up] from Bourke, then down to Cobar, then down through Ivanhoe; if you drew a line through that highway and then everything west of that, [that's] our area," said Ms Pullen.

Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen. Picture: Supplied
Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen. Picture: Supplied

As national program coordinator, she oversees a further 10 husband and wife teams across the country, including a 'flying padre' in Queensland who uses a helicopter to reach struggling communities.

"I encourage them to only go away for two weeks and then come back, because it's quite exhausting," she said.

"When you're listening and you're trying to support people who are going through tough times, it does affect [your] own emotional and mental well-being as well."

David Pullen chatting to a local while on the road in New South Wales. Picture: Supplied
David Pullen chatting to a local while on the road in New South Wales. Picture: Supplied

'NO MEANINGFUL INCOME'

While Salvation Army rural chaplains have been operating for years, Ms Pullen says the need has intensified with the drought. Her husband David said some farmers also need practical assistance with maintenance and physical labour, because "they haven't had a meaningful income in three to four years."

Seeing farmers struggling with "the failing of crops, the dying of animals and the harshness of life," he and his wife simply roll up their sleeves as required.

"They're physically tired," Ms Pullen said.

"So they're making errors and hurting [themselves]. They're having accidents that they probably wouldn't have previously, because of the stress and tiredness. They're not sleeping very well because they're worried about what the future is."

Local events offer rural chaplains David and Robin Pullen a chance to hear firsthand accounts of the drought in a shared, informal setting. Picture: Supplied
Local events offer rural chaplains David and Robin Pullen a chance to hear firsthand accounts of the drought in a shared, informal setting. Picture: Supplied

Louth mother of five Amanda McInerney said her partner's work is suffering significantly in the drought.

"My partner is a kangaroo harvester and contract musterer, so the drought has affected us immensely," she said.

"Trying to stay afloat with two [kids] away at school and three children at home with basically no regular income has been very trying."

Ms McInerney said kangaroo numbers have dropped and the animals are starving, meaning quotas for harvesters, like her partner, are hard to meet. Otherwise based 238 kilometres away, the travelling chaplains provide regular care and support as the crisis worsens.

"I have been lucky enough to have Robyn and David in our lives," Ms McInerney said.

"For the past 12 months, they have helped my family emotionally and financially so much through the drought, [with] gift cards and Eftpos cards to help the cost of food and living expenses.

Tibooburra is part of the territory covered by Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen. Picture: Supplied
Tibooburra is part of the territory covered by Salvation Army rural chaplains Robin and David Pullen. Picture: Supplied

"I honestly don't know where we or others would be now without their ongoing commitment to supporting people in the hard times."

With some homesteads 30 km on a rough road from the farm gate, casual door-to-door visits are impossible. The intensely private nature of many drought-affected communities also means the Pullens rely heavily on referrals, word of mouth and community events to make initial contact with those in need of their help.

Ms Pullen said their greatest challenge now is encouraging people not to lose hope.

"Seeing the hardships that people are going through and knowing that you can't change that [is hard]," she added.

"But you can walk with them and show that there are people that care."

Healthy sheep are a welcome sight in the current drought conditions. Picture: Supplied
Healthy sheep are a welcome sight in the current drought conditions. Picture: Supplied

Ms Pullen said ongoing donations, facilitated by drought partner Woolworths, "enable us to continue to do our work, and [provide] our support to people on the farms or in small communities."

With the Pullens relocating to Canberra in December for the national coordination effort, South Australian husband and wife team Denis and Kathleen White have bought the keys to the caravan in Broken Hill.

"They live in Adelaide, but in the last nine years their ministry or their work has been into indigenous lands in the north west of South Australia and the Northern Territory, so they've been doing remote, isolation assistance work into the indigenous communities."

STAND WITH DROUGHT-AFFECTED COMMUNITIES BY DONATING TO THESE CHARITIES AT YOUR LOCAL WOOLWORTHS STORE: THE SALVATION ARMY, RURAL AID, FOODBANK OR LIFELINE.


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