The Magical Outback!

The Magical Outback!

If you are lucky, once in awhile, a cosmic occurrence confirms that there are greater powers at work beyond your immediate understanding.  The Lewis boys experienced that very thing in White Cliffs, NSW.

The RFDS (Royal Flying Doctors Service) suggested we take the weekend off and head to White Cliffs for the weekend.  They let us borrow the 4X4 and off we went – on a three-hour drive through the outback, in search of adventure and kangaroos.

We pulled into the tiny mining town and found our hotel.  The famous Underground Motel.  Yes, the entire hotel is underground…. way underground.  With just a light shaft to brighten the room in the daytime, these rooms are kept cool by the mere fact that they are so underground.  Being a tad claustrophobic, there was definitely an adjustment period for me… some deep breathing and Jedi Mind tricks.  The kids needed no adjustment period.  They just plain loved it.

We loaded the bags into our room and headed out to explore the downtown area of White Cliffs that consisted of a pub, convenience store, and the opal mine fields.  We had seen a sign for Red Earth Café, and being in dire need of a cappuccino, I dragged the kids in that direction.

When we arrived, a young Liam Neeson look-alike met us at the door.  He acted as if he were expecting us.   “Oh!”, he said, “You’re the guys that are traveling around the world.  We’ve heard about you”.  The boys and I look at each other, a bit full of ourselves, and acknowledged our new found fame.  See, we had just been in the local newspaper, that apparently everyone in town reads and were used to a bit of attention.

Then Liam’s wife arrived… Mother Earth incarnate.  Sacha was a walking Déjà Vu experience.  Having never met her, I instantly felt like I knew her and our conversation flowed as if we were old friends.   Sacha explained that she was expecting us to stop by… which I thought was a bit eerie.  And then she talked about how her husband (his real name, Graeme) was an opal miner and used a divining rod and his intuition, to find his mother lode.  I thought, “These guys are hooked up… big time”.

She then asked us if we would like a tour of their home – one of the largest underground homes in the area.  It was amazing, with tons of bedrooms all under the bedrock of White Cliffs.  They have five kids… three currently away at school.  They are an “Outback Brady Bunch”.  She had two kids from a previous marriage and he had three.  Sacha explained that her daughters were students of “School of The Air” and had watched us on the Internet during the last Friday’s assembly.  We thought that that was pretty cool.

After a tour of their home and a great cappuccino, Graeme offered to take us down into his opal mine.   He instructed us to meet him up in the minefield in a half an hour.  We agreed and headed out.  When we found the place, Graeme arrived in his truck just as a huge cloud appeared overhead, bringing with it, a dust cloud, rain, and lightning.  We postponed the mining for the next day and off Graeme went in his truck.  The boys and I got lost in the minefield in the pelting rain and lightning, sure that we would be struck by the next flash of light.  We managed to find out way back to The Underground hotel, to hold up for the night.  There I discovered a note given to me by Alex at the RFDS.  I opened it up and there was a request from the owners of The Red Earth Café to come visit them, if we happened to pass through town.  How crazy was that.  They had no idea we were headed up that way, but Sacha and Graeme had extended an invitation to us… without even knowing our plans.  And without reading that note, we happened upon their cafe.  Which, of course, explained their welcome when we arrived.  Cool, eh?

The next morning arrived, we had some breakfast and back to Sacha and Graeme’s house.  Their daughters were there this time, having returned from a sleepover the night before.  The kids all hit it off.  We all loaded into the truck and 4×4 and headed out to the minefield, with a generator in tow… all 7 of us.

When we arrived, we were introduced to the oil drum of an elevator that would carry us down to the center of the earth in search of the always elusive opal.  The elevator shaft was just a bit larger than the rusty makeshift lift.  Sacha would go down the hydraulic lift first to make sure the lights were on and that there were no snakes.  Yikes!   Then, Jackson, the warrior descended. Then the two girls went down and then it was my turn.  Buck and I went down together.  With a pounding heart and chanting Jedi mind mantras, we were lowered into the bowels of the earth… and I mean the bowels of the earth.  It must have been 100 feet below the surface when the rusty drum stopped to reveal the inner workings of a real life opal mine.  Wow!  With lights working from the generator above, a magic world we had never experienced before was revealed to us.  A series of tunnels, big enough to stand up in, lay before us.  It was surreal.   Awestruck, the boys and I explored the caverns and Graeme even invited the boys to use a jackhammer and do some drilling of their own.  And yes, they both walked with a piece of opal!

It was an exciting day for the Lewis family.  We then returned across the blistering outback to Broken Hill.  Before we left to return to Sydney, we cooked a BBQ for all the staff at RFDS and then we were honored at a dinner with the local Broken Hill Rotary Club. The following day, Buck and Jackson were invited to attend a day of school with the local kids.  They had a ball.  I boarded a plane with the clinic doctors for Tibooburra, a small town in a remote area of the outback.



I joined the pilot, a doctor, a dentist, a woman health practioneer, and a psychologist for their weekly clinic.  It’s quite inspiring, as this is the only healthcare these people see in their neck of the woods.  I met some interesting characters out there.




I have to include a shout out to Robin Nelson, a wonderfully talented artist that we had the pleasure to meet while in Broken Hill.  She had a exhibition of her work at The Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery.  I am a big fan of her work.   We are the proud owners of a RFDS inspired piece she crafted to honor the RFDS airlifting her daughter to Adelaide.  She also gave each of the boys original artwork and jewelry that she made. Thanks, Robin!   What a pleasure to meet you.

The boys and I flew back to Sydney, where we enjoyed yet another rare treat, hosted by the RFDS.  They arranged for us to fly an actual 747 simulator.  Was incredible.    Even got to fit in a lunch with my dear friend and remarkable cinematographer, Peter James, and long time pal, filmmaker, J.T. O’Neal  who was “down under” promoting his new film, The Soccer Nanny  (Au Pair, Kansas) at the Mardi Gras Film Festival.

As cheap airplane tickets would have it, we were routed through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, were we stayed for two days, checking out the sites… Very cool place. Visited the tallest building in the world.

And have now, after two full days of flying, arrived at our next location.  Ushuaia, Argentina!  We are in the south-most town in all the world… at the south tip of South America.   More to come.


Posted by JD in Australia, 8 comments

Outback Extraordinary!

We come from the Land Down Under.   Where woman glow and men plunder.  Not sure what glow and plunder means, but I haven’t seen any of that.  What we have been seeing is the amazing outback of Australia.  Off the charts, people!

Heading out of Sydney, the boys volunteered as porters at Central Train Station, with all donations going to The Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Then we boarded The Indian–Pacific, as guests of the train company, headed for our next destination, Broken Hill.  We were invited to walk the train, meeting travelers to talk about RFDS and to accept donations on their behalf.  Everyone loves the Royal Flying Doctors here and many have stories of having relied on them in a life or death situation.

The Royal Flying Doctors Service is an awe-inspiring organization that not only does emergency evacuations, but also its largest contribution is actually primary healthcare in the most remote areas of the Outback.  They hold clinics that include general practice, dentistry, dermatology, mental health, women’s services, and more.

The beauty of their work is that the services are free to the recipients.  And though RFDS is partially funded by the Australian government, they rely on private donations for a good part of their budget.

There is not a more worthy cause in Australia.  The company is first class, professional, and they genuinely care for their clients.  It’s really been an honor to be part of the Broken Hill group.  Alex Lean, Robyn Taylor, Reta Elliott, Vanessa Latham, Barbara Ellis, Trish McCarron, Sheree Quinn, Michael Grogan, and the rest have been so incredibly welcoming.

What can I say about Broken Hill?  It’s the gem of The Outback.  A mining town built in the 1800’s with many homes made of corrugated iron, it’s reminiscent of a 1950’s mining town with an incredibly quaint downtown area and a great sense of community.  It hosts the richest silver mines in the world.  And all the miners have such great stories.  The boys and I have fallen in love with this place.

And the people could not be nicer.  We are based here at the South East headquarters of RFDS.  We have been working at the Visitor’s Center, helping clean up the storerooms, and also working in the hangar with the fleet of planes.

We visited the rural campus of The Sydney University hospital where we met with Dr. Malcolm Moore. We were also asked to speak about our trip to 60 students at the local elementary school.  They were a great group.  The Barrier Daily Truth, the local paper, did a story on us this week and also ABC National Public Radio did an interview with us.

Friday we visited the local, “School of The Air” office.  For those of you that don’t know about them, they are an online learning center for students in remote areas of Australia.  The students do their classes over the Internet, with a teacher at the office teaching in front of a camera.   The boys and I joined in at the weekly assembly and I spoke about 12 in 12 in front of a camera going out to over a hundred students all over Australia.  Was a huge highlight for me.

We also visited Maari Ma Health Clinic, an organization that focuses on healthcare for, but not limited to, the indigenous population. It was such an interesting visit to discuss concerns and issues revolving around the aboriginal community.

Jackson, Buck and I got to visit Silverton, the little town were the Mad Max movies were filmed.  We were also honored at a dinner at The Palace Hotel, where “Priscilla, Queen of The Desert” was filmed.  We really enjoyed ourselves, thanks to our hosts, Alex and Peter Lean.  It was also a pleasure to get to meet Clyde Thomason, the executive director of RFDS South East.

But one of the biggest highlights was visiting John and Lynne Gall at their station (or ranch) called Langawirra.  John is on the Board of Directors of RFDS and Lynne is an active member of the Women Auxiliary of RFDS.  What a pleasure to spend some time with them and their son and daughter-in-law, Lachlan and Jo.  They live on a breathtaking property where they raise sheep and cattle.  We were invited to lunch and then watched the sheep get sheared. It is a family business and the entire family work incredibly hard.  It was pretty surreal to be in the middle of the outback watching Australian wool getting sheared off sheep. Cool, eh?

This weekend the boys and I visited the opal-mining town of White Cliffs and got to spend the night in an underground motel.  Was awesome!  But a whole blog will be dedicated to that story, because it was just plain amazing.  So stay tuned….

Posted by JD in Australia, 8 comments

G’Day from The Royal Flying Doctors!!!

We have arrived in Sydney, Australia to an aerial tour of The Sydney Opera House, The Harbour Bridge and the stunning picturesque views of the coast, hosted by The Royal Flying Doctors!

The Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS) is an amazing organization that has been doing great things in Australia since 1928.

Founded by Reverend John Flynn, RFDS is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organizations in the world.   It delivers  24-hour Emergency Services to people in the most remote areas of Australia.  In addition, it supplies primary health care throughout Australia.   With a fleet of 61 aircraft operating from 21 bases across Australia, it provides medical assistance to over 278,000 people a year. Their motto is “No patient is more than two hours away from help!”.  And that is saying alot, considering Australia is so huge and soooo spread out.

We are working for the South Eastern Section of RFDS.  They have welcomed us to their offices here in Sydney, where the boys and I have been volunteering:  folding mailings, assembling model airplanes and setting up fundraising efforts.  We leave shortly for their main base in Broken Hill,  the capital of “The Outback”!  We will take the Indian Pacific over-night train, where we will be volunteering as porters to raise money for RFDS.   Then off to Broken HIll, where it is apparently quite warm and teeming with kangaroos and snakes… and filled with friendly, local Australians.   We will be volunteering in the Visitors Center there and working directly with the doctors, nurses, and emergency staff, documenting their heroic efforts.  We have been invited to fly with them to remote areas, where they continue to administer emergency care and also set up various clinics to serve the outback.

Our itinerary includes:  working with the staff at the main office, visiting the local university, the Maari Ma (an Aboriginal community health organization) and a tour of Broken Hill.  We will visit various remote stations like Langawirra and Tibooburra, and will be introduced to School of The Air.  This school was established in 1956 and now caters predominately to the geographically isolated students within a radius of approximately 300km from Broken Hill.  In addition, we will see the White Cliffs, visit the White Opal Fields and actually stay at an underground motel.

Sydney is stunning.  The kids are feeling at home here, where they speak our language, and the people could not be more friendly. The weather has been mild; a nice break from the heat of Africa.  We are going to take in a bit of the city tomorrow and then head off to the Outback!  Very exciting.

But the highlight other than meeting the great staff at RFDS in Sydney, was our flight around Sydney with our pilot, Ryan, who is an amazing pilot, teacher (he let me fly part of the time), and great tour guide from the air.

In addition, the boys and I each “had a go” at the flight simulator on the ground in the hangar.

Thanks to all the marketing staff at The Royal Flying Doctors including Jane, Michelle, Jonathan, Nick, Nicole, Danielle, Rachel, Sun, Kate, and Todd.  Also Simon, David, and Ryan at Basair Aviation College!

What a great adventure in the Land Down Under.  The Lewis boys are a lucky bunch of blokes.

More to follow…

Posted by JD in Australia, 7 comments

Let’s hear it for Volun-tourism!!!

“Volun-tourism – See The World and Make A Difference!”

I did not coin the phrase, but I like it.  In fact, so much so that my sons and I are living it!

We are traveling the world doing our best to make a difference.  As many of you know, this all began when my eldest son came home from school one day and said, “Dad, we have this cool life, how come we aren’t doing more to make a difference in the world?”

That statement really struck a chord with me, and well, the rest is history.  Twelve In Twelve was born: Traveling to 12 countries in 12 months doing humanitarian work on all 7 continents.

You can do it as well.  And it doesn’t have to be 12 months.  You can do it for a week, two weeks, one month: however long you wish.  And you can travel wherever you like.  Sure, you are thinking, “You can do it.  You have money.  You have a job you can leave behind.”  Here’s the clincher!  I don’t.

But I did have a strong desire to teach my children to make a difference in the world and to educate them to be global citizens. And with a simple plan, some elbow grease, and the help of some great friends and supporters, it happened.  The goal of Twelve In Twelve is to educate and inspire others to do what we are doing.  In addition, we want to be a hub in the states for the twelve organizations we have worked with abroad.

We have all taken the family on vacation, some trips more memorable than others.  Most holidays are only vague memories.  This will be one trip that will have lasting value in our lives.  One that will stay with us forever.

We have been traveling for the last 7 months and it has been an extraordinary adventure.  If we had done this trip as tourist, we would have stayed in hotels, gone to the tourist traps, bought the souvenirs, maybe met a few people in passing, and been able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, too.”

We have been staying in hostels, orphanages, with local families, at boarding schools, with friends of friends, and have lived with the locals.  We have connected with real people, experiencing their histories, their culture, their talents, their dreams and their laughter.  And the work, if you can call it that, is fun!   And being of service and helping others feels great!

Some people will say, “I’m too shy”, or “It would make me uncomfortable”.  There could not be a better way to meet people.  You are there to give the gift of your help and people are open and available to it and appreciate it. A common purpose is always a great way to break the ice.




I can’t begin to tell you how many people we have met on this amazing journey.  In our wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, our own lives have been profoundly changed.

The kids and I are learning the big life lesson, “That it’s in the giving, not the getting”.   In our normal lives, we are so busy collecting things, saving for retirement, waiting for the promotion, and paying the mortgage, that we sometimes forget to live. We forget that we share a planet with so many amazing people.  I’m not saying that monetary success or owning a home aren’t important.  But perhaps more people need to look at living beyond the daily grind:  Experiencing more joy, helping those in need, and feeling that life has deeper purpose beyond collecting more things.

My kids and I have never felt so alive and useful as we have while working with runaway teens in Russia, pushing a swing for a Chinese child with no use of his legs, holding a baby before surgery in Hong Kong, walking rescued elephants in the mountains of Thailand, creating art with orphans of the genocide, teaching English to eager students on Zanzibar, or writing plays with kids in Kenya.

We are a lucky family to be able to do all this.   But it came out of a desire to make a difference.  And when there is a desire to do good, the universe seems to support those kinds of efforts, and great forces come into being.  Once we decided to do our project, it was amazing how our enthusiasm seemed to open doors:  how we were able to gather information, how friends and family came out of the woodwork to help us, and how plans seemed to fall into place.

When the boys and I return, we will be setting up the network, to help others do global relief work, as well.  Our goal is to be a resource to help others organize their trips to make a difference.   Being a support system with suggestions for travel, medical advice, housing options, fund-raising ideas, and identifying worthy projects and organizations worldwide to work with.   We have done the trial run and now want to share the information.



I always tell my acting students, “In a hundred years, we are all going to be dead.  The tragedy is the life not fully lived!”   In this age of technology and internet, the world is getting smaller and smaller.  We have got to get out there, meet our neighbors, and perhaps lend a helping hand.

I know I may sound over-zealous, but having experienced this first-hand, it’s hard not to tell the rest of the world to join in too.  It’s one risk you’ll never regret.


Posted by JD in Australia, 6 comments

The Parade Magazine article is out!!!!

We are in Perth, Australia getting ready to work with The Royal Flying Doctor and will be based in the outback!   Yeehaw.  Very excited.  Check out the article.

Posted by JD in Australia, 13 comments