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If the hat fits, wear it

Bush and city children take part in activities at Camp Cobbold. Photo by Ben Reid

AT Camp Cobbold, people wear different hats.

The city kids wear baseball caps, and the country kids wear big old Akubras.

Some kids have never played cricket, and some have never mustered cattle using a helicopter.

Both groups have travelled a long way to reach this idyllic spot in the Cobbold Gorge, six hours drive from Townsville.

The mothers from remote properties have driven hundreds of kilometres along dusty roads, dealing with burst tyres and pintsized passengers; the city folk have travelled 2000 kilometres in a convoy of cars and trailers.

It's a meeting where the deep divisions between urban and rural Australians are challenged, and, for a week, the seeds of community are sown.

Camp Cobbold is a week long social development program run by Scripture Union Queensland (SU) volunteers and staff, providing families from remote properties in far north Queensland with the opportunity to experience social interaction, receive training, and access mental and allied health services.

For the children, most of whom study by distance education, it's a chance to do things that city kids take for granted, says Simon Gomersall from Toowong Uniting Church, which sent a team of 20 people to Camp Cobbold in October.

Activities as ordinary as team sport, drama, face-painting, art, and learning to swim are all on the camp program.

The program for adults is equally diverse, this year offering practical sessions on topics ranging from internet technology to making a halter, and opportunities to access emotional and spiritual support.

The Gomersall family first attended Camp Cobbold last year, when SU invited Selena Gomersall to provide her services as a psychologist.

They returned with a new understanding of the effects of isolation, natural disasters and ongoing debt, and of the massive social needs of people in the bush.

The Gomersalls shared their story with the Toowong congregation, who responded with enthusiasm and generosity, sending a convoy of vehicles packed with resources to this year's camp.

The Toowong team provided logistical and practical support to the 180 parents (mainly women) and children who attended, helping with the crèche, providing sessions for adolescents, running sports and leading camp sing-alongs.

They even set up a café, complete with home-baking, tablecloths and music.

The contingent included an occupational and a speech therapist, who provided informal assessments and advice to parents, and a professional photographer, who offered a rare opportunity for a family photo.

Along with the camaraderie of travelling and working together, the Toowong team returned with a fresh perspective about life in the bush, and a new understanding of what it might mean to serve others – "with no agenda attached," says Mr Gomersall.

"There were a lot of tears, as we were touched by individual people and their stories," he says.

"I think the team felt we were participating in something larger than just us caring for people, but that God was able to be at work through that … there was a sense of presence, of being the embodiment of God's love in a place."

For SU, the church support helped enrich the camp experience for everyone.

"Scripture Union has always treasured our partnership with the churches to minister to kids and their families," says CEO Peter James.

For more information about Camp Cobbold visit toowongunitingchurch.org.au.

Photo : Bush and city children take part in activities at Camp Cobbold. Photo by Ben Reid