MORE than 80 youngsters from the bush have thrown their Akubras in a very public ring - all in the name of love.
Wallumbilla’s John Maunder, 22, and Clare’s Heidi Hatch, 20, have been named Queensland Country Life’s Bush Bachelor and Bachelorette winners at the Carlton Mid Roma Picnic Races on Saturday.
For months, young Queenslanders egged on their mates, worried mothers entered their children and hopeful singles stepped up for the 2014 competition.
After intense scrutiny from the panel of judges, the entrants were narrowed down to 10 finalists, all who mingled with friends and family in a special Queensland Country Life marquee to celebrate the competition’s finale.
As a Wallumbilla local, John considers Roma’s Bassett Park his regular stomping ground.
Now studying medicine at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, he says it won’t be long before he’s lured back to the bush.
“I grew up here as a kid following dad around on the farm, so I am very strongly influenced by the country,” John says.
“One day I could see myself being back on the land, trying to help the healthcare situation in Queensland and doing what I can for rural areas.”
The 2014 Queensland Country Life Bush Bachelors Competition finalists are Beau Whip, Camby Downs, Kate Rose, Haigslea, Jess Acton, Dingo, Heidi Hatch, Clare (winner), Brooke DeHennin, Blackall, and John Maunder, Wallumbilla (winner). Click on the image to see a gallery of photos from the event.
John says finding quality medical care for severe medical cases is a common battle shared by many rural patients.
“It can be pretty tough for people out in the country who get diagnosed with serious illnesses as there just aren’t many treatment options.
“It’s pretty sad that people who have lived here for 60 or 70 years have to travel away and leave all of their family if they get really sick.”
At a spritely 22 years of age, it may come as a shock that John is no stranger sickness.
“I am in remission now after having Lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer,” he says.
“The nature of my cancer is that it is treatable, but incurable, and likely to progress to a more aggressive sort of cancer.
“I had six months of chemotherapy last year while I was trying to study. It was pretty full on and took a lot of my time.”
However, John is a person whose positive spirit is infectious.
“I’m dealing with it alright,” he says.
“You can’t control these things and you don’t walk around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain. You’ve just got to get on with life as best you can and whatever happens, happens.”
Angus Chandler, Russell Park, Surat, and Brad Cameron, Kilima, Roma. Click on the image to see a gallery from the Roma Black Tie Ball.
Raising over $120,000 dollars for the Leukaemia Foundation while studying and undergoing constant treatment is something John humbly credits to his community.
“There was a big local influence there, and I have to thank my friends and family. One of the things that really got me through and kept me sane was to see how much everyone cared about me,” he says.
“Twenty of my mates all shaved their heads and then the Yuleba Bowls Club had an event that raised something like $20,000.
“Even people who were 80 years old were shaving their heads. The community support was incredible.”
Entering the competition on a whim with a bunch of friends, John reckons the Roma races are a pretty good place to find his perfect girl.
“I’d be looking for a happy-go-lucky sort of person who is easy going, loves the country and is happy in most situations.”
Raised in far north Queensland, Heidi Hatch, Clare, says she’ll take her dream man – but hold the drama.
“I am just looking for someone who is laidback and loves the land,” she says.
Living on a sugar cane farm for the past 16 years, this sweet bush babe says she could never be confined to the city.
“When I was younger my family lived on a cattle property before we moved up to the Burdekin in search of water.
“I love the fresh air and being able to head down to the river with mates and be able to spend time together without being stuck in the bustle of the city.”
Now studying a bachelor of applied science and agribusiness majoring in agronomy at the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus, Heidi hopes to pursue a career in agriculture.
“I am hoping my degree will take me home so I can assist in the sugar industry,” she says.
“I hate being inside and know I definitely don’t want to work in an office.”
Entered into the competition by her mates and her mum, Heidi says she only found out she was in the competition after seeing her name in the paper.
“My immediate thought was ‘what have I got myself into?’
“I am so surprised I am a winner, but really glad I entered – it has been so much fun.”