Staff and volunteers of the Travellers Aid Companion Service

The caring staff and volunteers of the Travellers Aid Companion Service have been helping Victorians with mobility issues for more than 100 years

Shirley Perkins is a frequent rail traveller for all the wrong reasons. For the past year, she’s been travelling to Melbourne almost weekly from her home in Kilmore to attend medical appointments – for Crohn’s disease, kidney problems, and most recently, treatment for a brain tumour. Due to long-term complications from a broken ankle, she’s also forced to walk with a stick or walking frame.

So it’s a source of some surprise to find 69-year old Shirley eagerly looking forward to her next train ride.

‘At the moment I have to take an ambulance to Melbourne for my radiation treatment,” says Shirley. “But I don’t want Kilmore Hospital to keep using the ambulance for me. Besides, I can get around the city very easily with my volunteers.’

Shirley’s volunteers are a dedicated group of 20 community-spirited helpers who run the Travellers Aid Companion Service – a hands-on support service that enables people with mobility issues to travel independently into and around Melbourne.

Since it was launched in 2014, the Companion Service has provided more than 2,500 free journeys – principally for people attending medical appointments, but also for those visiting sports events, family reunions, or other social occasions.

A century of support

The Companion Service has grown out of a rich heritage of volunteer work. Travellers Aid Australia was started by a group of YWCA volunteers during the First World War and has grown into a vibrant support network – providing buggies, mobility equipment and lounges at Southern Cross and Flinders Street railway stations, a regional service at Seymour, and a buggy service during major events at the MCG.

Shirley Perkins has made so many trips with the Companion Service, she now considers herself part of the family.

‘The volunteers are all so lovely and caring,’ she says. ‘If they see my name on the roster, they’ll make a point of putting their name down to come and look after me again.’

Help both ways

As they have done in the past, the volunteers will meet Shirley off her train at Southern Cross, take her to the lounge if she needs to use the toilet, and then accompany her by train or tram to whichever hospital or clinic she has to visit that day. Then they’ll wait for her and take her back to her homebound train.

‘I can’t tell you how fantastic they are,’ Shirley says. ‘If I need to get medication or have another test, they’re always there, never complaining – always so patient and kind.

‘I broke my ankle about a year and a half ago, and I find it very difficult getting on and off trains and trams. Sometimes, when it’s bad, I have to use my walking frame. But they’re always there to help me. I always recommend them to others because they’re such nice people.

‘I was just telling the senior sister at Kilmore Hospital that they also run a service out of Seymour, and will pick you up from your station on that line – which is my line! So I’m looking forward to finishing with the ambulance service shortly, and getting back onto the train as soon as possible.’

Travellers Aid Australia’s Companion Service is available free to anyone from regional Victoria who requires assistance to reach an appointment or event in Melbourne. The service is available from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, and bookings must be received at least three business days in advance.