A long ride west

Date published

20 Mar 2017

It’s a stark and concerning statistic – 30% of rural and remote graziers are likely to complete suicide compared to their coastal counterparts.

It was hearing this devastating fact that lead Queensland businessman, Les Hancock, on a mission to try and do something to help.

"In 2009 I became aware of the Flying Doctor's primary care role focusing on mental health in the bush and the alarming statistics of male suicides in particular compared to their coastal counterparts," Les said.

"This was around the same time as I was figuring out how to get my fundraising effort going. I wanted to raise some funds but also, and probably more importantly, I wanted to raise awareness of the issue.

Ride West

"I had heard of a guy riding from Melbourne to cairns to raise awareness of the simple idea that if you're a male struggling with mental health, put your hand up and go see someone. This fella had almost lost the battle with depression himself."

An avid cyclist himself with strong business connections with rural Queensland, Les decided to leverage his connections to help him put together a ride of his own.

RideWest, a fundraising ride from Brisbane to Longreach involving 30 cyclists riding together, was born. Since its inception, the fundraising initiative has managed to generate more than $700,000 for the Flying Doctor's mental health primary care programs based out of Longreach.

"We're limited to 30 riders because of the logistics surrounding the 1200km haul over seven days," Les said. "It's remained a little bit boutique I guess, and we only run it every two years to keep it fresh.

“The people who take part in the ride essentially understand the cause. It's not necessarily the physical challenge, although that might be part of it, but their driver is that they get it - they understand what the Flying Doctor is doing in that mental health space.

"Once they get going on the ride and they see the support the community has for the work of the RFDS generally, they really begin to understand. I haven't had anyone who's taken part in the ride who hasn't become a great supporter of the Flying Doctor."

Community support is never far from Les' mind during the RideWest journey. There is a reliance on small outback communities to supply the team with sustenance and "refreshments", as Les refers to them, after a long day riding. And the support is returned by the RideWest crews.

Ride West Longreach

As Les explains: "When we do come into some of these smaller towns we're really well received. We have a school bike program that we run at the same time where we use some of our fundraising to supply new bikes into the schools in places like Mitchell and Augathella. We've been donating a small fleet of bikes which they use in road safety programs.

"The feedback from the community is awesome. We see some tangible results of people really caring about what the RFDS do."

For Les' fundraising efforts and his drive to raise awareness of the issue of rural suicide rates, he was last year awarded with the Brisbane region's RFDS Local Hero award. However he made it abundantly clear that although the idea to set up the RideWest initiative was his, it simply would not function without a truly dedicated team of individuals.

"This really is a team acknowledgement. It's an award I consider belongs to our crew and riders and I simply received it on behalf of all of them."