OF all life’s delicious ironies, this is the sweetest of the lot. On the day I’m meant to interview Tom Conley about his involvement in drought relief, it’s raining cats and dogs, our interview postponed while the torrent subsides. But that’s not the only spoonful of sugar in this story. You see Tom is only three years old, and if you love irony, you’ll adore the fact this chubby-cheeked kid not only bakes for drought relief, but was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods. Yes, it’s raining men, and the blokes of the future are soaking great, if Tom is any indication.
Tom was just five weeks old when the big floods hit Brisbane, his mum Sally Gardner watching from the kitchen window as flood waters stopped just short of their next door neighbour’s house in Oxley. But Sally’s partner Brendan’s workplace at Rocklea “went under”, as they say in Brisbane, as did Sally’s books, CDs and photo albums stored there. Add to this Sally not only had a new born baby at home, but also another son, aged 2.5 at the time, and it was a bit of busy time.
“We didn’t have electricity so we couldn’t do the washing and we couldn’t go out, and we had three extra house guests due to the flood,” Sally says. But what Sally did next was remarkable. Rather than feel sorry for herself she decided to volunteer to assist her community, offering childcare, food and any other service her neighbours needed. And to cheer them up, she’d take baby Tom, in a pouch.
“We’d go and door knock and I’d have him in a pouch and people would just want to show me their photos,” Sally says.
“If we’d go into a community centre we’d take at least one of the boys. It was a bit of an ice-breaker.
“I was used to working in an HR roles and fixing a situation.”
And somewhere, amid all the mud and misery, Baked Relief was formed by Sally and her friends.
Fast forward three years and it’s no longer flood victims for whom Sally and her crew bake and distribute fresh goods, but those in drought. And Tom is an integral part of the operation.
“Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl,” Sally says.
“We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”
When I visited Sally and Tom yesterday, he was a typical three-year-old, licking the chocolate off a biscuit. I asked Tom (whose favourite drink is milk) what he thought of the drought, and he had this message for the farmers: “I hope it rains soon.” Sally, whose mother was a GP who gave tetanus injections during the 1974 Brisbane floods, believes charity begins at home. This year Baked Relief has sent 2 tonnes of goods to St George and another tonne to Chinchilla. Sally also believes everyone in the city has a connection either directly or indirectly to the bush, which, despite recent rain, is still doing it tough.
“Everyone eats food. People should have a better connection with their neighbours and be alert to the needs of others and see if they can do one thing to help,” she says.
“Whatever pioneering spirit that got us all here is maybe what gets us through the crappy times. We want the people out in the bush to know they are not alone. Without them we don’t feed our children.”
As for Sally’s next project, her response is as direct as you’ll find from an Aussie woman with a huge heart: “I’ll just wait for the next shit to hit the fan and see what we can do about the situation.”
To find out more about Baked Relief go to their Facebook page or to donate money go to the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network at http://www.qrrrwn.org.au