Have you ever saved a mate’s life? How about a stranger’s life? Can going bush really save a life?
How many lives have you saved by going bush? Most of us will go our whole lifetime and the closest we ever get to saving a life is donating blood. But there’s a group of people who do find themselves with the balance of life hanging in their actions and decisions: Our emergency services and military personnel.
Keeping the peace in a foreign land while staying in position under a rock in a tiny hideout, attending a car crash with a family trapped in their car or searching for people in a burning home. Coping with such extreme events can take its emotional toll. In order to help, the ‘Blue Green Crew’ look out for our emergency services and military personnel affected by post-traumatic stress by taking them out bush.
As an Unsealed 4X4 reader you know the sense of relief that comes from a trip into the bush to step back from the pressures of your world. It doesn’t matter how extreme or mundane your day-to-day life is, we all know that feeling of leaving the blacktop, finding a good campsite and allowing the soul time to heal by the campfire light. That same magic of going camping was offered last autumn to those affected by the Melbourne Bourke Street tragedy and other emergency services personnel needing some time out – on a trip called ‘Beyond Bourke Street’.
Offering a seat in your 4X4 and some space in your fridge to a stranger for a weekend may not sound like a life-changing service – but it can be. I have listened to people who have come along as passengers on these trips. They see it as a break from all the traumatic stress in their lives, and it’s humbling to hear that this simple act of taking them bush for a weekend has enabled them to go back and keep performing their extraordinary work.
One story I still remember was an officer that had been at a gun siege and later found out that he had been in the gunman’s rifle sight while the gunman decided his next action. If that wasn’t chilling enough, he prefixed the story by saying that he didn’t want to talk about the really disturbing events in his career for fear of triggering more trauma among other affected personnel who were listening.
‘Beyond Bourke Street’ saw 18 vehicles head into the Victorian High Country. The starting point was at an outer suburban police station (at 6.30am). The tour arrived at the gateway to Mt Sterling in time for morning tea (special thanks to the Mt Sterling café for arranging to have catering available for the entire convoy). Lunch was a short stop at Craig’s Hut followed by some easy river crossings down to King’s Hut for camp. When I say easy crossings, that’s easy for everyone except those driving tradie utes with the towbars left in place… these would cause loud bangs at the bottoms of the formed river fords as the towbars struck the concrete reinforcements on the river banks.
Upon arrival at King’s Hut it was discovered there were a few souls who had never been camping before. Most were excited with the new experience, but one person found the environment far more overwhelming than they imagined. Emotionally unable to stay, their driver agreed to drive that person back to Melbourne. That’s a long four o’clock track in anyone’s books. When you are offering care to someone, there will be times you have to go that extra mile that you never saw coming.
The convoy was reduced to 17 fourbies but there was no reduction in the laughs around the campfire, talking about off-road adventures and the question of the rather small campfire we had this particular night. Still, a typically cold autumn night in the country didn’t dampen the spirits of those at camp as the stars came out and provided that magic High Country night sky view.
To feed our large convoy, a pre-cooked buffet of three meats and one veg was warmed over the campfire; followed by a selection of muffins and cake slices for desert. Good food is part of the healing experience.
In the morning, hot cross buns were toasted for a warming breakfast before the journey back to Melbourne. But that journey couldn’t start until all the tents were packed up. Providing a pop-up tent to a first-time camper may seem harsh to anyone who has struggled to fold one down; but the laughs shared trying to get a pop-up re-packed with no instructions are priceless. And if nothing else, the struggle provides a small opportunity to help out the new campers and remind them that help is available… you just have to keep asking until you find the right person.
Next time you are planning a trip away with a few mates, see if there are a few people around the office that you think could do with a break from the daily grind and offer them a seat in your fourby. If they join you, chances are they will come back a little bit healthier. If they don’t accept the invitation, I bet you have still made their day a little bit brighter just by taking the time to invite them out bush. You may never know if offering that seat in your 4WD has helped them face their internal traumas – but chances are you’ll know you made a positive difference in that person’s life. Hearing the stories of those helped by going bush confirms that giving a lift to a mate and taking them away from the everyday really can save their life.