“There’s always someone else who’s doing it tougher than you are,” says Bob Stow. Working as an NRMA roadside mechanic for 30 years, he is passionate about coming to the aid of drivers in difficulty.
“It’s being able to be out there and genuinely help people that are in a situation that they find distressing or inconvenient for themselves,” he says.
But when the NRMA partnered with bush charity Frontier Services to help drought-affected farmers in remote and rural communities, Bob jumped at the chance to volunteer his services. Joining other roadside mechanics, he travelled eight-and-a-half hours from his home in Wilberforce, near Richmond, to provide mechanical support on farms at Lightning Ridge in the remote north-west of NSW.
Repairing and servicing tractors, trucks, water pumps, stock-feed trailers and other farm equipment, Bob and his peers helped farming communities at a critical time. Realising how important this help was, he started going back in his own time, using annual and long service leave to continue lending a hand. He estimates he has spent six months all up helping in his own time.
“I just felt that there were too many unfinished jobs and things that they needed help with,” he says. “It’s enjoyment for myself and I like to be able to pass on how tough the farmers are doing in general to the city folk. A lot of rural areas have been doing it tough for a very long time.”
Many farmers in Lightning Ridge now consider Bob part of the family. Some keep a spare bedroom ready for his next visit and they are always sad to see him go. He is humbled by what he calls the “open arms” of country folk and wants to be able to return the favour.
“A lot of properties, especially if they’re family-owned, if the next generation is not staying on the property, they’re finding it very difficult,” he says. “There’s quite a few properties up in the area where we are working that are very elderly couples staying on the farm and they are really relying on aid, or help in some form, just to keep surviving.”
Despite often being away from his wife, children and grandchildren, Bob says his family understands his passion to help others, whether it’s pitching in on the farm or working as an NRMA roadside mechanic. He wishes people living in cities knew more about the difficulties drought-affected farmers are facing.
“We think, ‘It’s dry here. Oh the front yard’s going brown, I’ve gotta water it every day’. Well, you’ve still got a bit of grass,” he says. “When you’ve got nothing on the ground and you’ve got farmers out there with stock that haven’t seen grass for years, that’s a big difference. Some of the properties now, they’ve been hand-feeding for such a long time.
“So, every other opportunity I get, I go up that way to help them.”