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Humans of ShelterBox: Gary’s Story

by Eleanor Knight 25th August 2022

‘Humans of ShelterBox’ is a new spotlight series, highlighting some of the incredible Australian individuals who make our disaster relief work possible around the world. 

Today we’re excited to introduce Gary Bidner — a now-retired ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteer and active Rotarian who lives in Brisbane, Queensland.

Earlier this week, ShelterBox Australia Chair, Paul Roger had the pleasure of surprising retired SRT volunteer and Rotarian, Gary Bidner with an Emeritus Ambassador Award.

Gary was one of the first Australians to deploy as an SRT, initially to PNG. He went on to deploy to Haiti, Ethiopia, Indonesia and the Philippines. In between deployments, Gary acted as an Ambassador for ShelterBox in his Rotary District and helped facilitate many training and selection camps near his home in Allawah.

Gary continues to advocate for ShelterBox as a guest speaker, and he and his wife, Nadine remain great supporters of our cause. This is his story, we hope you enjoy…

Photo: Gary Bidner with rescue team and the first delivery of ShelterBoxes into Indonesia


In 2006/07, I was president of the Goodna Rotary Club and was on the organising committee of the District Conference in Ipswich. The District Governor had recently returned from the DG’s conference in Paramatta. During a committee meeting he told us about this little Englishman named Tom Henderson, who was travelling the world speaking to Rotary about setting up fund raising for an organisation called ShelterBox. His aim was to get each District Governor to appoint a District Representative to spread the word among their clubs.  In an attempt to avoid some other onerous District duty, I volunteered our club, then duly appointed my International Director as the new District 9630 ShelterBox Ambassador.

Tom was a Keynote speaker at our Conference that year where we raised over $30,000 for ShelterBox.  I hosted a BBQ after the conference and invited Tom and his wife along, and my journey in ShelterBox started over red wine and a steak.  A few months later, Tom invited me to train as an ShelterBox Response Team member (SRT ) in Cornwall, and suddenly my life changed in so many ways.


I had been in the Air Force for 20 years, lived around Australia, Malaysia, and California, then finally decided to settle the family down in Brisbane.  I started a property maintenance business whilst my wife worked full time and had 2 children in school. How could I fit ShelterBox into an already busy life? 

Tom’s enthusiasm for ShelterBox was infectious and I became very passionate about the cause, but without my wife’s ongoing support it would not have been possible.  Every SRT I spoke to had to have a home team to make their ShelterBox journey possible. 

Weeks away training, 3am phone calls to see if I could be in Jakarta in 3 days’ time, more training, more deployments and then fund-raising commitments when at home meant that ShelterBox became a big part of our lives, and I’ll always be grateful for the sacrifices made on the home front.

Photo: Gary Bidner-Roadtrip to Dolo Addo, Ethiopia

I was a member of the first structured training course for SRTs and what a great range of people with vast experience and life skills they were— ex-military, paramedics, retired business people and the list goes on.

ShelterBox was bringing in decision makers, people who could act, read the situation, work as a team, thousands of miles from support and get the job done. Many of those people stayed on with ShelterBox and deployed to innumerable disasters around the world and made such an amazing difference in so many lives.

Deployments to New Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and the Philippines allowed me to help so many people whose lives had been devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, and famine, and to meet and work with some really wonderful, caring people.   Getting to know the other SRTs and hearing their life stories was an added bonus of the ShelterBox experience.


Another major part of my ShelterBox journey has been my involvement with the Australian selection process.  Luckily, I live next door to a Scout camp which has become the centre for our Australian SRT selection.  Providing logistical support, as we bring in ShelterBox staff from Cornwall, New Zealand and around Australia to select prospective AUS and NZ SRTs, has been a great opportunity to catch up with other SRTs and swap our war stories around the campfire.  It’s also very satisfying to be a part of starting someone else’s ShelterBox journey.  

We’ve also hosted ShelterBox Ambassadors at the camp, hoping to give a bit of an insight to what we do as an SRT, and maybe help them to impart those experiences when giving presentations.  Without these dedicated individuals raising awareness and funds through the Rotary Clubs and community events we couldn’t do what we do. Hats off to you all!   

Having the opportunity to drive from Addis Ababa through the Rift valley to the Somalian border, ride on long boats through canals out to fishing communities on remote Philippine islands, or hike up mountains to jungle villages in Haiti, are experiences that don’t come to the average person. It’s been a privilege to be part of the ShelterBox family and to experience so many once in a lifetime events. 

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Photo: ShelterBox Australia CEO, Mike Greenslade and ShelterBox Australia Chair, Paul Roger surprising Gary Bidner with an Emeritus Ambassador Award.

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Do you volunteer for ShelterBox Australia or are connected to our cause? We would love to feature you in our Humans of ShelterBox series! Click here to complete your story

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