In 1979 – The International Year of the Child – Judy Jack, a 37-year-old mother of four applied to Telethon ‘79 for funding to set up a “Mobile Family Care Unit” which she envisioned would employ a suitably qualified community worker travelling in a campervan visiting families in rural Manawatu. At the time there were no known organizations taking health and social services out to rural families except for the limited visits from the Plunket Nurse and, of course, stock agents and Vets. With many young farming mothers being isolated by distance from their own family support systems, and after some research, Judy believed that some families would benefit from caring support, alongside the care from Plunket and members of the CWI. The application to Telethon ‘79 was unsuccessful, and the following year, as she was expecting their fifth child, the “Mobile Family Care Unit” was put on the back burner.
In 1989 an Australian Sister of St Joseph, Mary Dunn (Sr Mary), was living in Hunterville and teaching at Rangitikei College. Through a mutual friend, Judy (also from Australia) was introduced to Sr Mary and invited her to come for lunch. During their lunchtime conversation, Sr Mary mentioned she would love to work in the rural community … and that’s all that was needed for what was on Judy’s “back burner” to jump to the “front burner”. The vision of a Mobile Family Care Unit was described to Sr Mary and Judy asked her if she would consider taking on the role of rural community worker in a self-contained campervan. Sr Mary was very interested and took the proposal to her Congregation of Sisters, St Joseph’s, Whanganui for consideration.
Sr Mary and Judy had several meetings defining how the Mobile Family Care Unit would operate, keeping to the original 1979 vision. With support of the proposal from the Congregation of Sisters, the vision of a Mobile Family Care Unit became a reality. Sr Mary took the reins and successfully found funding to obtain a campervan and set up the Mobile Family Care Unit … and set off on the road!
The area covered by Sr Mary ran from Cheltenham to Waiouru. She stayed out in her campervan for three weeks visiting families, returned to the Sisters of St Joseph for a week, then out on the road visiting again. She would make a handwritten schedule of the area she would be visiting and leave it with key people so that she could be contacted if necessary. With her cheery campervan presence and knowledge of government resources, she became counsellor, budgeter, spiritual guide and friend to many in isolated rural communities.
Sister Mary, her mode of transport – campervan and bicycle.
Sister Mary’s Schedule.
Sometime during these early days, the name of the service was changed from “Mobile Family Care Unit” to “Rural Community Service”. Sr Mary was well known and well regarded by many people and communities in the regions she visited. She was a most wonderful community worker and loved by everyone.
In late 1993 Sr. Mary decided to return to Australia and as the area she covered was extensive it was decided to divide the service into “Rangitikei” and “Manawatu”. The campervan and other resources were to remain with the Rangitikei Community Service and Judy took up the task of continuing a Manawatu service.
In January 1994, just before returning to Australia, Sr Mary and Judy convened a meeting at the Manawatu District Council with Mayor Caryll Clausen’s support. The purpose of the meeting was to ascertain the need for a rural community service for the Manawatu District. Attendees at the meeting were representatives of various fields associated with farming, rural business, health, social welfare, justice/police and education. Sr Mary described the work she had been doing over the past four years and how it could be continued in the Manawatu District. The decision of the meeting was that a rural community service would be beneficial for rural Manawatu and so a Steering Committee was formed. From this Steering Committee emerged the Manawatu Rural Support Service Committee.