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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 549

Senator WILLIAMS (6:54 PM) —We hear a lot of bad stories in this place—sad stories or whatever—but I would like to talk about a good story. It is about the Caravan of Hope. You may ask, ‘What is the Caravan of Hope?’ I do not blame you for that, so let me explain. In 2008, Salvation Army Captain Chris Millard, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Inverell, was extremely concerned about the welfare of people living in the rural areas of northern and north-western New South Wales. These people on the land were battling drought and poor commodity prices, and evidence kept surfacing that some families were on the verge of collapse. Some wives were fearful of letting their husbands out of their sight because they were battling depression. Here are some disturbing facts. Suicide Prevention Australia says that six Australians commit suicide every day. That is 2,100 people who take their lives every year. Compare that with the fact that on average there are four road deaths per day in Australia. Statistics show that there are 65,000 suicide attempts in Australia annually.

Captain Chris, as we know him, challenged his local colleagues in the Rotary Club to do something about it. He suggested that the club look at purchasing a caravan that would be a mobile counselling van to be taken out to farms, where Salvation Army representatives would sit down and talk with families. He suggested the name ‘Caravan of Hope’. The Rotary Club of Inverell took up the challenge, with a target of around $90,000, but in the first year the fundraising was very slow. Then club member Col Campbell, who has done a lot for the Inverell community, including years of service to Inverell Sports Council, hand-picked a committee of people to help out with fundraising.

There were many activities arranged, including a book fair, a caravan tag-along tour and a major raffle. Between them, a number of Rotary members donated $30,000. They also had great support from other Rotary clubs and the Inverell business community. In three months, the fundraising committee had raised $80,000, but they kept going because they knew they could never have too much for this worthwhile project. It eventually cost $90,000 to purchase and fit out this caravan, and Col Campbell handed over a further $8,000 to go towards the costs of operating the van. That was almost $100,000 raised, most of it over a few months, which is an outstanding effort.

The Caravan of Hope was handed over to the Salvation Army on Saturday, 18 September, and I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the public ceremony. Rotary district governor Jo Wilkin was amazed that a town of just 12,000 could achieve this project. Captain Chris Millard said the support from Rotary made him feel humbled. He said:

However, being a member of the Inverell Rotary Club makes me realise that Rotary can achieve goals that others wouldn’t attempt.

Rural financial counsellor Kim Deans said:

The emotional strain on farming families takes its toll on family relationships and physical and mental health. The key to reaching them is through support services such as the Caravan of Hope so that they realise they are not alone.

The Caravan of Hope is now on the road in the capable care of Salvation Army Majors Peter and Jean Ridley of Moree. They will be travelling out to farms, sitting down with husbands and wives with a cup of tea and giving them comfort and hope—for without hope people have nothing.

I congratulate the Rotary Club of Inverell for this world-first project. There are many who deserve a pat on the back: Past President Tony Ditchfield, who designed the caravan; Past Presidents Phil Goddard and Barry Young; current President Robin Archer; and Col Campbell and Bede Thomas, who spearheaded the fundraising drive. Bede Thomas is a local identity in Inverell, very much involved in the community and the Inverell Jockey Club. Bede is the sort of person that could sell ice to Eskimos. He is a great raffle ticket seller and a great fundraiser. There is also Bob Neich, who arranged a lot of the publicity for this project. Everyone that has made the Caravan of Hope possible should be very proud of their achievement.

We hear a lot said about mental health and mental illness. I was a sceptic many years ago, thinking, ‘Well, I’ve been through dry gullies—had a 10-year fight with the Commonwealth Bank over a foreign currency loan. I managed to get through it okay—I think; I hope.’ As I said, in some ways I was a bit of a sceptic 10 or 15 years ago about mental health problems until a very good friend of mine came down with a mental health problem virtually overnight. Then I realised that mental health is a serious issue and can strike anyone.

We see the tragedies of suicide and the effect on the families and loved ones who are left behind, and ask the question, ‘Why?’ I think that a service organisation such as Rotary can achieve so much. In my many years of being involved in Apex I saw the achievements of the service clubs: Apex, Lions and Rotary. Many of those organisations work in their local communities doing good for their local communities. When I was in Apex we would go and paint a house for a pensioner. Legacy would provide the paint and we would gladly paint the house for them. That is the self-satisfaction of helping people.

Rotary has probably been the most outstanding service organisation in Australia. Just think: a small town of 12,000 people with a Rotary club of probably 35 or 40 members raised almost $100,000 and donated this magnificent caravan so that this couple, the Ridleys, can go around and talk to people who are in financial trouble; people who are suffering in the drought and the tough times of low commodity prices and who are asking the question, ‘How do we make our next payment to the bank? How do we pay our bills at the end of the month?’ It is about talking and giving comfort and hope to these people. That is what this caravan is about. As they said on the day that the caravan was handed over to the Salvation Army, ‘If this project saves one life then it has been well worth it’.

So I congratulate all those people involved in Rotary, many of whom I have mentioned here. Congratulations go to Captain Chris Millard—I always call him Captain Chris—for the magnificent work he does not only in Rotary but in the Salvation Army in Inverell. I often said to my late father, ‘What do you think of the Salvation Army?’ He had been a rear gunner in a Lancaster during the Second World War, and had nothing but praise for the Salvation Army. So we have got these two organisations—Rotary and the Salvation Army—out there helping those in our community. That is something we can be extremely proud of, and I wish them all the best in their future endeavours to bring comfort to those who are in a spot of bother and doing it tough. No doubt they will achieve an enormous amount through this Caravan of Hope—good luck to all of them. Thank you to all those who worked so hard and thank you to the community of Inverell who came forward with the money, the sponsorship and the donations. I am sure this project will be one of success in the future.