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Gifts from the sky

For years Simon and Natalie Steele lived the “great Australian dream” – a house on the water, barbecues with family and friends and their kids growing up splashing in the surf. Christmas Day always involved a swim – or two, or three! But six years ago, the family’s world changed when they felt a calling to the skies.

Now ministers with The Salvation Army, Lieutenants Simon and Natalie Steele admit they weren’t looking for a lifestyle change, but, as it would turn out, God had other plans. The Salvation Army was looking for new Outback Flying Chaplains, and Simon was a qualified pilot.

“We saw the role as a great opportunity,” says Natalie of the family’s snap decision to move to Mount Isa in outback Queensland. “We came into it with a sense of adventure, knowing it’s a season in our life and that it’s God’s place for us.”

Natalie says it’s been a huge change. The lack of mobile phone coverage, internet and shopping malls in the city of 21,000 people certainly makes for a simpler lifestyle than that experienced by families in larger, urban cities.

No time is this more evident than at Christmas. Instead of a “mad-rush” to get all the shopping and preparations done, the Steeles say that the closer it gets to Christmas in Mount Isa, the quieter the city becomes.

“It’s very much about a time of resting and being together, it’s a winding down time,” Natalie explains.

The Steeles spend much of December in a Robinson 66 Turbine helicopter, delivering presents to disadvantaged children in remote indigenous communities and farmers on isolated properties, and Christmas hampers to schools in isolated communities.

“I always teach the kids about giving and receiving and the joy of that.”

Each child is given a gift (donated through the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal) and after that they are given the opportunity to select a second present – this time one they can give to a friend or family member.

The Christmas visits last all day and are enjoyable for both children and adults. There are games, special food and squeals of excitement as the helicopter arrives and departs.

“The kids are a real delight,” says Natalie. “They love seeing Simon coming in with the chopper and making lots of noise and raising the dust.”

On the flight home, Simon and Natalie watch the colours of the outback change as the sun sinks toward the horizon.

“It’s an absolute harsh beauty,” says Simon.

The Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal has been working together with The Salvation Army for more than 25 years to make Christmas brighter for thousands of families in need. Gifts can be donated at any Kmart store in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Click here to find out more.

The Salvation Army were able to purchase this helicopter through funds donated by Parmalat – the makers of Paul’s Milk.

Story by Lauren Martin

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