A unique form of animal therapy and reconnection with nature awaits the people the Father Bob Maguire Foundation supports in inner Melbourne.
From later this year they'll be able travel to Mount Lonarch, north of Beaufort, to visit Father Bob's Lourdes Camel Sanctuary and get up close to eight camels and other wildlife.
Locals Sally and Mick Millard have partnered with Fr Bob to create a sanctuary and place of education and nature for the underprivileged.
Camels and charity might not seem like the most logical of partners but Fr Bob is convinced a day trip or break away from the city will do wonders for those struggling with life.
The idea was the brainchild of the Millards, who run Pyrenees Camels. Having seen Fr Bob on television she decided to call him and offer the farm as a sanctuary for those his foundation supports.
He was immediately enamoured by the idea and the 84-year-old made a trip out from his Melbourne base to meet the camels, the Millards and inspect the property.
Plans are in place to build amenities blocks, install a flying fox and playground, cultivate a wildlife area, build a barbecue, kitchen, and eventually down the track there's a dream to erect a series of tiny houses so visitors can stay.
"It's really for people to enjoy, to come and get them out of the streets and break the cycle ... to get them away from those things and provide some different opportunities," Ms Millard said.
Camaraderie is a catch-cry for Fr Bob, so it's only natural his quick wit has played with the words and come up with camel-raderie as a tag for the therapy the camels will provide.
"I was conceived and born in the city so all this is foreign to me," Fr Bob laughed.
And Ms Millard chips in that the sanctuary could help "get them over the humps of life".
"Kids turn to animals, kids in dark places turn to them and tell them their deepest darkest secrets before anyone else," she said.
Fr Bob said visitors would travel up from Melbourne on one of the foundation's buses, initially for day trips.
Ms Millard said it would also give struggling mothers, many of whom have had to deal with domestic violence, the chance for a fun day out with their children.
"A lot of mothers in this situation can't afford to take the kids away or go for a day trip. Coming here the kids can relax, be catered for and have fun ... it's here to be shared."
The name of the sanctuary, Father Bob's Lourdes Camel Sanctuary, pays tribute to his Glaswegian ancestors who used to make the pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, for its healing waters. With Lourdes in the Pyrenees region of France and the camel sanctuary in Victoria's Pyrenees, region, the name stuck.
Father Bob has been looking after the poor, socially disadvantaged and marginalised residents of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda for more than 40 years since moving in to the area as a parish priest in 1973 when the suburbs were housing commission "badlands".
But within the social issues he found a true community and has been supporting them ever since, including launching the Father Bob Maguire Foundation in 2003.
"Our model is about care and connection," he said.
"We leave no one behind."
The foundation provides community meals through its HopeMobiles, a community pantry providing food hampers, accommodation and outreach services.
"You can feed people but at the same time you need to help them become connected. They need to learn to meet people, talk to people ... they don't get enough time to talk about their lives.
"We look after people using the five Cs - care, concern, connection, common sense and compassion. And with the camel sanctuary we will help heal them with TLC and nature."
To help raise money to develop facilities at Mount Lonarch, and the foundation's other programs, a Father Bob Benefit night is being held on Sunday April 28 at the Comic's Lounge in North Melbourne. Australia's A-list of comedians including Dave Hughes, Wil Anderson, Fiona O'Loughlin, Lehmo, Lawrence Mooney, Des Dowling and Ben Lomas have all volunteered to be part of the night, which will be hosted by long-time Fr Bob supporter Marty Fields.
"We just needs some help to bring the plan to reality," Ms Millard said. They are also looking for supporters to get on board with the camel sanctuary through donations and assistance.
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