Back Block Bards raises $75,000 for dementia research

Group standing in front of Dementia Australia banner

It’s only been 12 months since a western NSW family set out to raise funds for the Dementia Australia Research Foundation with a series of events including publishing a book of poetry and an art exhibition, but this week they’ve brought their donation total to $75,000.

Members of the Vagg and Parker families from the Hillston/Ivanhoe district produced Back Block Bards, a collection of 58 poems by eight poets, all born and bred in western NSW, with their verse based on their experiences in the area. The illustrations for the book were done by matriarch and well-known artist Joan Vagg, who also has poetry featured.

One of the poets, Graham Vagg of Ivanhoe, said the success of the book had exceeded all expectations, with sales as far away as New Zealand, Canada and the United States and the funds were going to a great cause.

“Dementia is a cruel disease that impacts on so many of us.  The donations made will allow more research into dementia and hopefully one day will lead to a cure.  To everyone who has bought a book or a painting and supported our campaign, thank you,” Mr Vagg said.

The fundraising campaign began with the book’s launch and a successful art exhibition, which raised $27,000 for dementia research. A spokeswoman for the group, Mary Vagg, said the sole purpose of compiling the book was as a fundraiser for the Dementia Australia Research Foundation, as one of the family members, still only in her mid 50’s, has been in full time care in Hillston for four years due to dementia.

Former Western Lands Commissioner Geoff Wise officially launched the book on 13 October 2018. In an inspiring oration, Mr Wise told the crowd that he’d observed what country people achieved by working with the strengths of each individual in the community.

“Despite severe drought throughout the Hillston district, and a town population of only 1,400 people, $27,000 was raised on the night. A huge achievement”, he said.

As well as the book, the launch involved the sale of the majority of 28 artworks by Joan Vagg and a variety of other activities. Local auctioneer, Peter Fisk from Rawlinson and Brown, created huge interest in the “Window to the Outback” quilt created by Joan Vagg. The hammer fell at $3,500. The auction of the first book raised an additional $520.

The poets have been on a “recitals tour” around the region ever since! The tour continues at the Darlington Point Spring Festival on 14 September and the Barellan Good Old Days Festival on 5 and 6 October 2019. Further fund raising activities will continue until April 2020.


The book, Back Block Bards - A Collection of Bush Verse by Bush Bards, is currently available for purchase. Please visit to order your copy today. You can follow the achievements of the Black Blocks Bards team on their website or at

The Back Blocks Bards team also featured on ABC's Back Roads (Series 5, Episode 8), which can be viewed at

Pictured: Back Block Bards Book team - John Vagg (Roto), Allan Vagg (Hillston), Graham Vagg (Ivanhoe), Joan Vagg (Hillston), Heather Frewin (Tooraweenah), Maurice (Moc) Parker (Hungerford), Mary Vagg (Gundaroo).