Guyra farmer Tony Looker returned from a nine-day odyssey by four-wheel-drive across outback Australia, with a trophy and tales to tell.
Mr Looker and a Sydney cousin, Johnny Millings, took part in the 2018 Drover’s Run Outback Adventure, a charity fundraiser to raise money for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
“The whole lot of it was great, from start to the finish,” Mr Looker said. “It was exciting to get back, and exciting to go.
“If anyone ever wanted to do on a Drover's Run, they'd meet a lot of friends, and probably friends for life. Just get out and have a good time while you're raising money for the chopper. It's a good cause, and also a good way to meet people and see new places.”
The journey took them 3000 km across northern NSW and Queensland, over red, sun-baked soil under a pitiless blue sky.
The 17 four-wheel-drives set out from Tamworth on Saturday, August 4; headed as far north as Longreach, central west Queensland; and returned to New England on Sunday, August 12.
“I enjoyed driving through the bush country, and looking at all the little places we pulled up,” Mr Looker said.
“We did a lot of back-tracks out in the Never-Never. I can't remember the little towns we went through; just heaps of little pubs in the middle of nowhere - no-one around much.
““All the little towns in the outback, they're rundown; there's been no money there for a good while, they've been in drought for a long time.
“Where we were it was that dry they wouldn't have had rain for three years. Not much stock anywhere. Just dry, dry, dry.
“Just seeing how they've been out there is a bit of an eye-opener, really.
“But everywhere we went, and everything we did, it was all good fun; it was what you made it. We met a lot of nice people.”
The event is one of the rescue chopper’s largest fundraisers, and raised $70,000 – more than the $50,000 expected.
Mr Looker was presented with a trophy for raising the most funds.
He and his wife Lizzie raised $15,000, through sheep sales, wood raffles at the Royal Hotel, and donations from local businesses.
“For the community to get behind me, and help me make that $15,000 was unreal,” Mr Looker said.
This was the fifth time the Drover’s Run has been held. Normally a biennial event lasting a fortnight, this was an additional, shorter run to get new people involved, and give them the experience of the bigger Drover’s Run trips.
"I'd love to do every trip with them,” Mr Looker said, “but it all depends on the dry. Things are tough out there, and the drought's getting closer to home. There may not be any money to do it next year.”