In one of the most touching gestures experienced in western Queensland for some years, nearly $80,000 has been raised to assist injured helicopter mustering pilot Wal Hazlett and his family.
The lives of the young couple, Wal and Chloe, and their two children changed dramatically on July 27 when Wal’s helicopter went down as he was returning to Isisford after a morning’s mustering in the Blackall district.
Wal was initially left without the use of his limbs but has regained some movement in his arms as his recovery at the PA Hospital spinal unit in Brisbane has progressed.
In the meantime, the community he and Chloe adopted as their hometown two years ago, Isisford, led by Phil and Narelle Dearden and Brad and Sally Edwards, set about organising a night of charity and entertainment to raise money to allow the family to eventually resume life at Mons Station.
It brought an unprecedented response from businesses as far afield as Airlie Beach and the Snowy Mountains, all offering enticing items for a giant auction that took place on October 21.
According to Narelle, the auction itself raised around $60,000 and the whole night has netted in the vicinity of $80,000 to help the family adapt their home and vehicle into a wheelchair-friendly environment.
As well as catering for 230 people on the night, 160 people from Wal’s home town, Cootamundra in New South Wales purchased phantom tickets as their way of supporting their mate.
“The response has been unbelievable,” Phil Dearden said. “This is to show Wal and Chloe that everyone is right behind them, not just now but in the future, to allow them to live their dream of being at Mons and running a business.”
He paid tribute to the courage shown by the pair since the accident three months ago, but Chloe said it was the support and backing they were receiving from friends and family that meant so much to them.
She made special mention of Ergon Energy operators Peter Molle and Aub Carter for the hours of comfort they offered upon discovering the accident, as they waited together for help to arrive.
“Thank you to the Isisford people who lit the airstrip and waited for the RFDS. You were all very professional and helped Wal with his recovery,” she said.
Special guests on the night were Rob and Sarah Cook, who have undergone a very similar journey to the one Wal and Chloe are on, when a routine aerial muster on their remote Northern Territory property went wrong in 2008.
Rob suffered a spinal trauma as a result of a helicopter crash that left him a quadriplegic. He and Sarah have since set up a cattle grazing and butchery business at Bundaberg.
Narelle said it had been good for everyone to hear Rob’s account of his accident and recovery, as a means of understanding what Wal and Chloe were going through.
He told attendees that rehabilitation had been a scary time, when people were talking to him about wheelchairs and things he’d never thought of before.
“My message to Wal is, hang in there, anything is possible,” he said, referring to his ability to draft his own cattle with a joystick.
The Isisford racetrack crowd also received a recorded message from Wal, who said community support had made he and Chloe realise they were OK and able to go on.
“Since the accident I’ve been having therapy every day and am noticing heaps of progress,” he said. “I can’t wait for the day that I can hug my wife and kids again, and lift a beer to my mouth.”