Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

The trip to Taree

I wasn’t looking forward to this week. Next-door’s house was scheduled for demolition so the two-day trip to Taree for an International Women’s Day speaking engagement barely got a look-in until we set off.

That trip eclipsed everything.


Trish Webber had invited me to speak months ago. Taree is a four-hour drive from Sydney but they were raising money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, so of course I said yes.

Two days after I accepted the invitation I had an email from Trish. She had waved a copy of Love in the Outback at their monthly meeting and announced I would be the speaker at their International Women’s Day dinner. One of the longstanding members of Taree Quota Club raised her hand.

‘May I say something?’

Trish told me later she thought Lilian was about to object.

‘I know something about that story. My husband, Harvey, is the pilot who found Deb’s partner after his accident.’

In 1966 – fifty years ago this year – Clyde was in a helicopter crash. He lay in remote bush land with third degree burns to 60 per cent of his body for 24 hours, while rescuers searched in vain. He wouldn’t be alive today if Harvey Else hadn’t found him.

We stayed with Harvey and his wife Lilian while we were in Taree. I didn’t quite know what to say to Harvey. ‘Thank you,’ didn’t seem enough. It sounded so paltry. I chatted instead to Lilian and admired her talent for art and needlework. I have never seen such exquisitely fine work.


Lilian with the teddy bear she made from mohair and leather

Lilian grew up on a dairy farm. She didn’t get her first pair of shoes until she went to school and no one taught her to sew, she just picked up a needle at the age of 11.


One of the many dolls Lilian has dressed


The roses embroidered on the doll’s underwear are so fine they’re barely visible

‘My great grandmother was a seamstress for Queen Victoria,’ she admitted shyly.


Lilian’s sewing basket is made of silk and embroidered with roses, each one unique

I still hadn’t said much to Harvey. So that night, standing in front of an audience of 100 women and girls – and a handful of men, including Harvey, Clyde and the Federal Member of Parliament, Dr David Gillespie – I publicly acknowledged what Harvey had done. I said thank you.

No one mentioned the long pause and the emotion I couldn’t hide, they just came up after and said it was an inspiring talk.

That night in Taree showed me how powerful two simple words can be.

Image 6

With Clyde and the wonderful Lilian and Harvey

It was a special night in so many ways. I got to meet inspiring women, both young and old, including the girls from Wingham High who all embody the spirit of their school motto ‘I endeavour’. Phelina wants to be a teacher, Caitlyn is thinking of joining the army, Jannah will study sports science and Neisha plans to study civil engineering. Go girls!

Image 2

L to R: Phelina Schuttke, Caitlyn Cameron, Clyde Thomson, Deb Hunt Jannah Gillett and Neisha Lowe

Maddie and Charlotte

With lovely young women Maddie West and Charlotte Lloyd

Image 1

With the inspirational Quota organisers Christine, Trish and Debbie

I’ve talked many times over the past three years, in front of audiences large and small, but none will stay in my mind like that night in Taree.

So thank you to all the organisers – especially Trish and Christine and Debbie – to all the wonderful women and girls who came up afterwards, and of course thank you Lilian and Harvey for your generous hospital.

And thank you, again, Harvey.





8 comments on “The trip to Taree

  1. monsoonwendy
    March 10, 2016

    I am in tears reading this Deb. What a moment. There will be many reading this now thanking Harvey in their hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Kirby
    March 10, 2016

    Hi Deb

    you’ve bloody well ruined my day

    in tears and can’t see the computer screen after reading your latest post


    I loved it skirbs xxoo

    Sue Kirby PhD Senior Research Fellow Centre for Remote Health Research Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health PO Box 457, Broken Hill NSW 2880 Tel +61 8 8080 1287 Fax +61 8 8080 1258 Mobile 0407 450 532 Email or ________________________________


  3. Trish Webber
    March 11, 2016

    Thanks so much from Taree Deb. As I told you, many people at our function said they had never heard such a good speaker!. It is your lovely English accent- so good for story telling! The whole experience was amazing what with the connection with your Clyde and our Harvey! Hope your new book gets finished soon.


  4. Eliza Waters
    March 14, 2016

    An amazing story come full circle – so touching. I bet it was a night to remember!


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I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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