Courtney's Story

When our Rotarian Geoff Asher stopped for a toilet break in a remote main street in the outback of Queensland, he never envisaged he would change one teenage girl's life forever.

The Rotary Youth Exchange Safari is a great opportunity for visiting exchange students from around the globe to see Australia. The journey covers tens of thousands of kilometres, starting in Victoria, heading up through South Australia into the red centre, then across Queensland to the east coast and back again. The group visits icons such as Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, plus learn about the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air.

In March 2012, following a visit to the School of the Air, where they learnt about a classroom that covers more land than Texas (which shocked the Texan exchange student!), the Safari bus ventured north-east. With the bus driver needing to stop every few hours, they only hope that there is a town or civilisation somewhere along the way. At one such stop in Julia Creek (500km from Charters Towers & 260km from Mt Isa) , Safari leaders/chaperones Rotarians Geoff Asher and Emanuel Tomino stretched their legs looking for the local pitstop. The town has a handful of shops along its main street and very few buildings - at the last census it recorded a population of 368. A girl sitting with her dog on a bench was watching the vehicles come through. This was her entertainment for the weekend. Geoff and Emanuel stopped to talk to Courtney Murtagh and it turned out her school was the School of the Air, the very place the youth exchange students had just been. For a teenager from Julia Creek, to meet 30+ other teenagers from every corner of the globe, this was an unbelievable day. After their 2 minute stop, Courtney waved goodbye to her new friends, scarcely believing what had just happened.

A year later, Geoff & Emmanuel were back on another Youth Exchange Safari and contacted Courtney by Facebook they were coming through again. But Courtney advised they had moved - to Maxwelton, an even more remote town of a toilet, a bus shelter and four houses, 360km east of Mt Isa. They planned to stop there, giving Courtney the specific day and time they would be coming through. At first, the bus missed Maxwelton, and if not for one of the students saying they say a girl waving from the road, they would not have turned around to see her. This time, there was so much joy for Courtney. It was such a highlight in a town where there are only two teenagers including her. This time, they stayed half an hour, every youth exchange student introducing themselves one by one. She was beaming, and the students were so excited to meet her, after hearing all about her story the year before.

For Courtney, her life has changed irreparably. Living with her single father who works in remote mining areas in these remote towns, Emanuel and Geoff told her all about Rotary Youth Exchange but unfortunately because she is in a different  Rotary District, could not select her. Instead, she applied herself, attending interviews in Mt Isa and will be going to Brazil next year as a Rotary Exchange Student! Her sponsor club is the Rotary Club of Townsville and Rotary in both District 9800 and District 9550 have agreed to support her.

Imagine what a life changing experience it will be for Courtney - now aged 15 and in Year 11 at the School of the Air! And for Geoff, it was the most memorable toilet break of his life.

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