Montage pix clockwise from top left: A 1936 fund-raising appeal flyer for BUSHkids which turns 80 years old in 2015; BUSHkids founder Sir Leslie Orme Wilson started the Royal Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme in 1935 to help sick bush kids; children pause for a photo at the Sir Leslie Wilson Home in Redcliffe; and regional Queensland children take a break from the BUSHkids' provided health care and school lessons to enjoy the sea at Emu Park. Film strip (from left): Occupational therapist Karlee Wiles started her career with BUSHkids' Emerald office in 1999. She is now the organisation's head OT; BUSHkids health and safety officer Brett Wall has been with the organisation for more than 20 years; BUSHkids general manager Carlton Meyn (left) and Charlie Wilson, the grandson of Sir Leslie; Dr Neil Bartels is the chairman of BUSHkids; and the organisation's treasurer is Allison McLean. Photos: Contributed.
Montage pix clockwise from top left: A 1936 fund-raising appeal flyer for BUSHkids which turns 80 years old in 2015; BUSHkids founder Sir Leslie Orme Wilson started the Royal Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme in 1935 to help sick bush kids; children pause for a photo at the Sir Leslie Wilson Home in Redcliffe; and regional Queensland children take a break from the BUSHkids' provided health care and school lessons to enjoy the sea at Emu Park. Film strip (from left): Occupational therapist Karlee Wiles started her career with BUSHkids' Emerald office in 1999. She is now the organisation's head OT; BUSHkids health and safety officer Brett Wall has been with the organisation for more than 20 years; BUSHkids general manager Carlton Meyn (left) and Charlie Wilson, the grandson of Sir Leslie; Dr Neil Bartels is the chairman of BUSHkids; and the organisation's treasurer is Allison McLean. Photos: Contributed. Various including State Library

Leslie Orme Wilson: The man who helped 45,000 children

WAR hero, politician, governor - Charlie Wilson has many reasons to be proud of his grandfather Sir Leslie Orme Wilson.

Yet, it's a decision Queensland's longest serving governor made in 1935 that really makes Charlie's chest swell with pride.

Sir Leslie started the Royal Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme 80 years ago to help country kids with serious medical needs and/or disabilities get the medical care they urgently needed.

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Since then the organisation, now known as BUSHkids, has helped 45,000 children and their families.

"He was quite a guy really," Charlie says of the grandfather who died when he was barely four years old.

"He was governor of Bombay for a while and while he was there he saw so many poor people in India - that's where he got his humanitarian feeling.

"When he came to Brisbane, he realised there were problems with the health of children in the lower socio-economic families in some areas of the state.

"Which is why he became the driving force behind the bush children's scheme."
 

BUSHkids 1930s. Children prepare to baord the BUSHkids bus. Photo Contributed
BUSHkids 1930s. Children prepare to baord the BUSHkids bus. Photo Contributed Contributed

Charlie, who farms cattle and grows grain and cotton near Rockhampton with his wife Kaye, says he plans to continue Sir Leslie's work.

"BUSHkids was one of his great passions," the 62-year-old grandfather says.

"It's a great organisation that's really changed with the times."

In the early years, children from every corner of Queensland gathered at their nearest train stations, waiting patiently for Red Cross volunteers to take them to beach-side homes in Yeppoon, Maryborough, Redcliffe, Emu Park and Hervey Bay.

Here they received the best health care available and continued their schooling, all at little or no cost to their struggling families.

Most of the youngsters were from disadvantaged backgrounds and for many it was the first time they felt sand between their toes and the ocean on their skin.

When his beloved father Reg died in 1991, Neil Bartels knew without a doubt he would continue his dad's 25-year legacy with BUSHkids.

At the time, the 32-year-old GP was forging ahead with his own medical career in central Queensland and raising a young family with wife Annette.

However, nothing would stop him from turning Reg's passion into a Bartels' family tradition.

"I come from a family of six boys and two girls - it had been his wish that one of us continue with BUSHkids," Dr Bartels recalls.

"I had a medical degree and had worked in the bush (so) I felt it was something I would like to participate in as a means of giving back."

BUSHkids 1930s. Children thank their BUSHkids escort. Phot Contributed
BUSHkids 1930s. Children thank their BUSHkids escort. Phot Contributed Contributed

Mrs Bartels - a teacher - also has the BUSHkids bug. She often uses her skills and talents to run events for the organisation and if a little more support is needed, the couple's five children are more than happy to lend a hand.

Now the chairman of BUSHkids, Dr Bartels has travelled the length and breadth of the state working to raise its profile and keep donations flowing into the not-for-profit.

"(I've enjoyed) seeing its transition from a provincial institutionalised system to an allied health rural-based organisation," he says.

Dr Bartels' passion for helping Queensland's rural and regional children reach their potential is as strong now as it was 24 years ago.

"It is often interesting to see the spectacular cases where there has been massive improvement in some of our children who have grown into adolescence and have had opportunities that they would probably not otherwise have had," Dr Bartels says.

The seaside homes and hospitals have closed as BUSHkids adapts tot he changing needs of our communities.

With offices in Bundaberg, Dalby, Emerald, Inglewood, Mount Isa and Warwick, the health team of psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and family support workers are able to provide outreach services to children with behavioural, emotional, social and/or developmental difficulties and support and development program for their parents.

Occupational therapist Karlee Wiles started her career with BUSHkids' Emerald office in 1999.

Over the years the 39-year-old mother of three boys has worked her way up the ladder and is now the organisation's lead OT.

"I have met and worked with many clients and families and I do have a number of families who stand out for me," she says of her 16 years with BUSHkids.

"There have been a couple of families who have shown great resilience in the face of many challenges - for example, challenging developmental and behavioural issues in the family, debt, domestic violence - who have trusted me with their story, made a strong commitment to have a go at making some changes and provide support to other families going through similar issues."

As well as health professionals, BUSHkids relies on a wide range of administrative and support staff like Chinchilla-born Redcliffe-raised "Jack of all trades" Brett Wall.

Brett overflows with pride when he relives the highlights of his 26-year career with the organisation.

"You just get in and do what needs to be done to make it all work," he says.

"One of the highlights has been meeting many of the kids and their families and hearing their stories.

"Some kids came back year after year, so I've got to know them really well."

Allison McLean has been a BUSHkids volunteer for more than 30 years.

"I suppose because we have been around for 80 years it is to be expected but I am always surprised how many people will tell me that they were once a "bush kid" or their Mum escorted children from the regions to the coast or their relative worked, taught, treated, fund raised or had some association with the organisation," she says.

"I am so proud to be associated with BUSHkids."

The honorary treasurer says she is very excited about the organisation's future.

"My wish is that BUSHkids will keep evolving and adapting to meet the needs of children, families and communities in rural areas," Allison says of the next 80 years.

"The work with the child can influence the family dynamic and that can spread to the wider community.

"It would be wonderful if our services were no longer needed in 80 years but that also may have been a wish of Sir Leslie Orme Wilson in 1935."

A celebration of BUSHkids 80 years of service to the state will be held on November 9 at Parliament House in Brisbane.

 -APN NEWSDESK



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