PUTTING THE REV IN REVELRY
What started as a 4WD adventure holiday has now become an annual pilgrimage in the name of Variety for Frenchs Forest husband and wife team David and Merrilyn Caswell, and friend Deb Dibley from Avalon.
In November 2013, Mr Caswell was flicking through an edition of Open Road when he spotted an advertisement that piqued his interest. It offered 4WD enthusiasts the chance to spend a week driving through remote areas and meeting new people, while fundraising for children's charity Variety.
"I read it and thought this sounds like good fun and it was good timing because we'd just gotten into four-wheel-driving about a year earlier," he tells Peninsula Living.
The only requirement other than owning a registered 4WD and licence is to raise a couple of grand prior to departure.
Mrs Caswell was just as enthused by the idea of seeing the remote outback and they immediately set about meeting the fundraising total. They held dinners and murder mystery parties to make close to $5,000.
They also sold a seat in their 4WD to close friend Deb, who jumped at the opportunity.
"I didn't hesitate - it sounded like great fun, and I'd go to the opening of an envelope," she laughs. When the closing ceremony (a black tie gala) came around and fellow travellers said 'Congratulations, you are no longer virgins', Mr and Mrs Caswell and Ms Dibley were officially hooked.
It was still a holiday but with a much greater purpose.
"Along the way, we went to various schools that Variety donates to," Mr Caswell explains.
Mrs Caswell adds, "One was Hill End and we had a sports day with them and the kids were just fantastic, they were so excited.
"Because there are only six kids there, they don't get much government funding and they don't have a P&C, so Variety stepped in and gave them a veggie patch and shade over the sandpit, and arranged books for them - Variety do that for a lot of schools."
Mr Caswell says being directly involved in that fundraising and seeing the impact it has on the children firsthand is very special, and is looking forward to visiting new schools this year.
"So what Variety do, it's really for either the physical or mental disabilities kids have, that in the main aren't life-threatening but do create some restrictions. And this provides them with equipment so they can do normal things. For example, when we went to this special school at Gunnedah, they just had things you wouldn't even think of like a swing in the playground that can cater for wheelchairs," he explains.
"What got me was all these kids that you come across aren't looking for sympathy, they don't feel sorry for themselves, they're just normal kids needing some assistance or a bit of help."
So from March 8 to 13, the trio will set out from The Lodge in Canberra to take turns steering the 4WD over rough terrain in the high country of Victoria to help Variety provide more assistance.