Help outback ministry to fly high
A five-word advertisement on a billboard near the airport at Port Pirie, South Australia, changed Pastor David Shrimpton’s life. It was the late-1990s and David and his wife Jenny had only recently completed their theological training through the Salvation Army in Melbourne.
While driving to the airport one day, he saw a billboard that said: Learn to fly for $2,000. As a kid growing up in Geelong, David had always dreamed of becoming of pilot. So he took the plunge, reasoning that even if it did not work out, he would only be $2,000 worse off.
As it happens, it did work out and he obtained a private pilot’s licence within 12 months. In the 15 years since then, he’s notched up more than 4,500 hours of flying.
After a few years in Port Pirie, David was given a parish at Golden Grove in Adelaide’s north. But 18 months into the job, the Salvation Army asked him if he would take on the role of flying padre in the Northern Territory.
The brief was to carry the Christian message to remote communities and isolated people on stations across the top end of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
David spent 11 years flying across Australia’s far north, covering about 3.25 million square kilometres, from the Queensland border in the east, south to Tennant Creek (NT) and west to Broome (WA). This enormous area — four times the size of NSW — takes in more than 120 remote cattle stations, communities and small towns.
“It’s amazing country… everything is lush and green at the end of the wet season, then you watch it slowly dry back to the red brown country. It never ceases to amaze me how a little bit of moisture gets everything going,” he said.
David tried to visit each station and community two to three times per year. He soon came to admire the incredible resilience and stoic nature of the outback people and communities he served.
“These folk are resilient; it can be tough… they might not have had any proper rain and be running out of water – they face that uncertainty every day and there is no pay packet at the end of the week,” he said. “They have to weather the good times and bad times to survive.”
Flying the skies for UCA
In March last year, David accepted a role as the flying padre with the Uniting Church based in Broken Hill.
People often marvel at the size of the territory he covers – just over half-a-million square kilometres – up to the Queensland border, a large chunk of western NSW, down to Wentworth on the Victorian border and parts of northern South Australia. But it’s one-sixth of the area he covered in the Top End.
David said the thing he enjoyed most about his role was the opportunity to build relationships with outback families and workers. To be able to support and encourage them.
“I love getting to know the folk out on the stations, catching up with them and making connections,” he said. “This role is really about building relationships and being a listening ear. When you arrive at a property it is a different conversation; you are there to see them as people and find out how they are going.
“It is also knowing what support services are out there and getting their permission to involve them when needed; empowering them to help tackle some of the difficult issues they face.”
David said there were some stations where he was only welcome provided he did not “bring the God stuff”.
“On most stations they are happy to talk to you about spiritual matters when they want to, but I do not go out there sprouting the gospel message otherwise the doors will be closed,” he said. “There are some places where you can do this, but often you are just there in a role that is about building relationships so that you can be an ongoing support when and if needed.
“You are aiming in some cases to be someone they can turn to if they need any support or just someone to talk to.”
And this approach has worked well for David over the years. He often takes heart in recalling what one outback station owner once told him: “We never knew when you were going to come out, but when you did, it made a difference.”
Help keep this outback ministry in the air
Earlier this year, the Broken Hill Flying Patrol faced a bleak future and Pastor David Shrimpton was prepared for the worse. Broken Hill media reported the service would be grounded at the end of June. This sparked a backlash from communities in NSW’s far west. Supporters, including Uniting Church members, rallied behind the service.
The result was a reprieve. The Patrol will operate during the 2015/16 financial year thanks to funding commitments made by the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT, the Presbytery of the Macquarie Darling, UnitingCare and the Broken Hill Uniting Church congregation and expressions of support from the Broken Hill community.
We need your help to keep the Broken Hill Flying Patrol in the air.
This year alone it will cost more than $100,000 to keep flying.
- To support this ministry financially, you can make a direct deposit online or in person at any Westpac branch to:
Account Name: Broken Hill UC Ministry
Bank: Uniting Financial Services
Account number: 100017272
(Include the reference ‘BHFP’ and your surname, so your support can be identified)
- Or mail your cheque/money order (made payable to Broken Hill Flying Patrol):
Broken Hill Flying Patrol
PO Box 79, Broken Hill NSW 2880
(Please include your contact details so we can thank you and keep you informed about our ministry)