Volunteer’s dedication recognised

RECOGNISED: Mount Gambier resident Ross Parkinson OAM with his collection of medals received over the years for his volunteer service with St John Ambulance.
RECOGNISED: Mount Gambier resident Ross Parkinson OAM with his collection of medals received over the years for his volunteer service with St John Ambulance.

WITH a tear in his eye and a collection of medals proudly by his side, Mount Gambier resident Ross Parkinson OAM reflected on his 42 years of volunteering with the St John Ambulance.

Helping to save lives and witnessing some of the most traumatic accidents in the region, the committed community man was recently recognised for his dedication to the organisation, receiving the 6th Bar (3rd Gilt Bar) to the St John Service medal.

Originally signing up to ensure he had the skills to save his children should an accident occur, Mr Parkinson said he never imagined a simple first aid course could turn into a lifetime of volunteering.

“Years ago when my wife, children and I were living in Bordertown there was a vehicle accident outside our home, a car had hit a pole and four people were injured,” he said.

“I rushed out there and rang the police, ambulance and fire service as any good citizen would do, but obviously they took a few minutes to get there and I was left feeling a bit useless, I did not know how else to approach the situation.

“We have four kids and I thought what if they were in trouble, I would want to help, so I decided to do a first aid course.”

Taking part in what was then a 14-week course for two hours each night, Mr Parkinson quickly realised service with St John Ambulance fitted perfectly with his desire to help others and so in 1975 his volunteering service began.

“What most appealed to me was the humanitarian service and helping someone in their greatest need,” he said.

“St John is a fabulous organisation and the people involved have such camaraderie – I still believe in the principals followed there today.”

Called out to hundreds of car crashes and farming accidents over the years, Mr Parkinson said volunteering made him realise just how fleeting life really is.

“When you’re out on a job you do not have time to think about what has happened, you get in there and do it,” he said.

“But when I would come home late at night I would always go and see the kids and make sure they were tucked in and safe.

“Life can be gone in an instant.”

Although volunteering in a different capacity these days, Mr Parkinson said some of those memories of fatal accidents still remain.

“It was hard because in a small community, you knew the people,” he said.

“One of the really stand-out accidents was when a young five-year-old boy went missing from a station up north.

“An alarm was raised at around 6pm on a Friday night, police went out to the property to investigate, but could not find any evidence of where he had gone.

“They then called out a tracker who searched the station and in the morning he came back and said the boy had not left the property.

“There was a disused pool just metres from the back door that was a source of concern so we got a couple of firetrucks down to pump out the water.

“I’ll never forget the moment, as the water got down, I saw the little yellow shine of the boys rubber boot, he had fallen in.”

Fighting back tears, the committed community man said there have been many rewarding moments during his service as well.

“In 1987 I was admitted to the Order of St John, that was very special,” he said.

“I also held some rank within the organisation and in the early days was the volunteer trainer in Bordertown, Keith and Tintinara.

“That led into a career job as an area training officer, I was the very first of its kind in the organisation and now there are people in the same position all across the state.”

Keeping it in the family, Mr Parkinson encouraged his four children to join the cadets with St John Ambulance when they turned eight, with his wife Sue also choosing to join the team in 1979.

“I made it compulsory for the kids to stay in St John until they finished Year 12,” he said.

“They had some great experiences and were involved in our training exercises as well.”

Toning down his volunteering contributions, Mr Parkinson said he still puts in his hours and will continue to do so while he is fit and healthy.

“I am an efficient volunteer and do field duties such as the Mil Lel Show,” he said.

“I’m of pretty good health and interested in the clinical part of the work, so while I am able to, I will.”