Australia’s largest and most successful charity personal watercraft (PWC) hit the coastline of Queensland in late March.
111 ‘Jet Trekkers’ from across Australia had spent the previous 12 months fundraising before making their way up Queensland’s coast. Over six days they not only delivered grants to kids along the way, but also inject much-needed funds into regional communities. Stopping in Airlie Beach, Bowen, Townsville, Cairns, and, finally, Port Douglas, the 250+ crew travelled more than 830km on the water over six days visiting North Queensland communities.
The Yamaha Variety Jet Trek raised $365,000 and, over the 25 years it has been running, it has raised over $2.7 million to give more Aussie kids a fair go.
Jamie and Karen Darlington from Machinery Inspection Services volunteered to be a support boat for the Yamaha Variety Jet Trek.
Jamie is a Queensland CraneSafe assessor and has been for four and a half years. Before this he was a fitter and boiler maker with a crane company, and also worked in the mining sector. Karen has been in the industry for 14 years, first working in a crane hire business in Brisbane. She currently runs the family business and also works for Burpengary Crane Hire a couple of days a week to keep her hand in the crane hire industry.
Karen explains how the couple became involved in the Yamaha Variety Jet Trek.
“We are lucky enough to have our own boat, which is suitable as a rescue vessel, and Craig Marriott, events manager for Variety QLD, asked us to help as we are active boat crew members at Volunteer Marine Rescue, Bribie Island,” she said.
“Craig explained how they needed a qualified boat crew and we jumped at the chance to support such a worthy cause. We were looking after the jet skis and riders while on the trek, towing the skis and applying first aid where required,” she said.
“Last year was our first time as a support boat and we were totally overwhelmed by what we saw along our journey. We met some of the most inspiring and deserving families battling every day to help their children achieve their greatness.
“This year we were more determined than ever to raise as much as we could. We told many of our crane company clients and family and friends what we were doing, and they were so supportive of the charity and the children we are trying to help.
“We managed to raise over $15,000, which blew us away. We were the second highest fundraiser for the trip, and on behalf of all those businesses and individuals, we were humbled to receive an award acknowledging this achievement.”
Jamie and Karen met many inspiring families and individuals on the journey, including basketball player Braydon, who is looking to make the Brisbane Paralympics in 2032. Without events like the Variety Jet Trek raising funds, he would never be able to afford the trips and accommodation to realise his ambitions and goals.
“Before finding basketball, Braydon said he had no purpose in life, so we know that every dollar donated really does make a difference to these children,” said Karen.
Every morning at 7am the Darlingtons would drop their boat into the water ready for the first team. A camera crew was on their boat to watch the first two teams hit the water and shot footage. The Darlington boat would set off behind the third team, which meant they were part way between the groups in case of an medical emergency or a jet ski breakdown. It took up to two hours and detailed planning to put all 111 jet skis in the water.
Depending on the conditions and whether there had been any incidents requiring them to backtrack on the course, they would pull the boat out of the water around 4pm and head to the fuelling station along with the 111 jet skis. Some evenings it would be quite a wait, but this allowed them time to check the safety equipment and systems ready for the next day.
The local towns visited by the trek also benefitted, said Karen.
“Not only do we stay in local accommodation, we buy fuel and supplies and use all the local facilities. We were told this significantly boosts the local economies and we are always welcome back.
“Each night we were lucky enough to meet a family at the well organised dinners, which were catering for up to 350 people. We met the families and children which have benefited from the Variety Jet Trek and this is always an emotional end to the day,” she said.
“You realise more and more why we do this. There was never a dry eye in the house when these amazing children were around us and on stage telling their stories. The trek is gruelling for all involved, with long hard days, but everyone who participates returns year after year because it is all about the children,” she said.
With 111 jet skis, every team has a road crew that may consist of one to four people in a vehicle towing the trailer that meets the jet ski and the rider at the final destination. The jet skis travel approximately 200km a day and the trek would not exist without these support teams. They put the skis in and take them out of the water daily, collect and drop off fuel when needed and are the glue that holds teams together.
Each team consists of roughly 10–12 riders with a lead and a sweep to make sure no one gets left behind. The whole group is there for the same reason, making it one big Variety family where everyone is involved and everyone looks out for each other. A few riders have been participating in the Variety Jet Trek for close to 25 years.
“The first trek started with less than 10 people and you can see how the numbers have grown. For many this was their first trek, but I am sure we will see them next year. We have been officially invited back next year and want to smash this year’s fundraising. We will be going from Batesman Bay to Coffs Harbour, so we have 10 months to raise these much-needed funds,” said Karen.
Karen goes on to thank the generosity of the crane businesses who donated to the Yamaha Variety Jet Trek.
“Jamie and I would like to acknowledge the generosity of the crane industry as a whole. I know there are plenty of crane businesses supporting numerous charities without wanting acknowledgement or fanfare. We would also like to acknowledge the generosity of the following businesses and thank them for their contribution to this years’ trek.
• Burpengary Crane Hire
• Universal Cranes Roma
• Boland Cranes
• Tingalpa Cranes
• Roma Transport & Cranes
• Loughlin Cranes
“We are headed to New South Wales next year, so it would be great to hear from crane businesses interested in getting involved. From our point of view, Jamie and I like to give back as we have been extremely lucky to have lived in this amazing country for 15 years. Australia has been very kind to us and our two amazing children.
“We volunteer a lot of our time to Marine Rescue and, in times of natural disasters, we are volunteer disaster coordinators for the local council. Variety makes a huge difference to so many children so they can be the best they can be. This is something many of us take for granted,” said Karen.