The kilometers click by on the car’s odometer. After a few hours, you stop checking the odometer and start watching the clock. By Australian standards, the drive from Adelaide to Broken Hill, in New South Wales, is not that long. But it’s long enough that you look for any break in the monotony of the scenery.
A big pile of fluff at the side of the road flashes by and disappears in the rearview mirror. Abandoned feather duster? Dead emu, maybe? Roadkill started to become interesting about 100 kilometers ago.
Once in a while you pass a sign and a dirt road leading over the distant horizon to some station or ranch—places so isolated that the Flying Doctor makes house calls, mail is delivered by plane, and children get their school lessons by radio.
Finally! In the middle of nowhere, there’s Broken Hill, with houses, and real trees, and grass. After that initial feeling of relief, your first thought is, Why did people build this town in the middle of nowhere? The street names give your first clue: Tin Street, Silver Street, Cobalt Street. According to a tourist brochure, Broken Hill is “the site of one of the richest mines the world has ever seen.”
Usually, when gold and silver are discovered, the people who get rich are the ones who get there first and stake their claims. Fourteen-year-old Jared Kowalski came to Broken Hill a hundred years after the first miners, but he still struck it rich.
Before their move to Broken Hill, the Kowalski family lived in Ipswich, Queensland, on Australia’s east coast. It’s a nearly tropical area, green and lush and close to some of the finest beaches in the world.
Then Jared’s dad took a job as a dentist for one of the mining companies, and the Kowalskis moved to Broken Hill. In the middle of nowhere. Or at least on the edge of nowhere. And Jared couldn’t be happier.
To some, the red, sandy soil of the outback may be a poor trade for the golden beaches near Ipswich. But to Jared, the snakes and odd lizards and other creatures of the outback are fascinating. In addition to the dogs and fish and other pets that any family might have, Jared has a small backyard menagerie with a bearded dragon lizard, a shingle-back lizard, turtles, finches, and quails—oh, and his carpet python, Monty.
Jared’s interest in animals goes even further. On some Saturdays, he helps the local veterinarian in his surgery, handing him instruments. “I thought it would be interesting,” he says, “so I asked if I could help.”
And if Jared could travel, where would he go? He doesn’t have to think that one over for long. “The Amazon rain forest,” he says. “There’s all those interesting plants and animals. That’s where I’d like to serve my mission, too. I think the people there would be interesting as well.” As much as Jared likes animals, you find when you talk to him that his greatest appreciation is for people.
A good prospector must look beyond the surface of the rocks to see the treasures they might hide. Jared’s that way with people. When you ask him if he feels isolated here in Broken Hill, he says, “I like it. There are some good members here. The best ones are old. They’ve got a lot to tell you. Most of them are really spiritual.”
The branch in Broken Hill is small, and Jared is the oldest Aaronic Priesthood bearer. He’s conscious of the example he has to set for the younger boys, to show his brothers and the other boys “the right things to do.” And the priesthood itself? “It just feels good. You feel special—a lot more confident when you have to do hard things, like tests at school.”
One of those right things to do is home teaching. “I like to home teach,” Jared says. With his senior companion, Lee Robertson, Jared visits five families, offering the prayer when asked. Jared likes people, and home teaching helps him get to know these families better. (It doesn’t hurt that Brother Robertson is also an outdoorsman. He and Jared sometimes talk about hunting wild pigs in the bush, and Jared is looking forward to getting his own compound bow, maybe doing some hunting himself.)
Jared has struck it rich in Broken Hill, all right, but he would also be the first to admit that he brought his greatest treasure with him. The Kowalski home on Cobalt Street is modest, but it’s filled with family and love. As Jared puts it, “We have heaps of fun. We have family home evening, go to the movies. I go camping with my dad.”
The family also reads the Book of Mormon together. Sometimes it makes Jared feel inspired; sometimes it’s hard to understand. But it does help contribute to his growing testimony. “I’ve already got a big testimony of prayer,” he says.
When Jared’s mission call comes a few years from now, it may not be to the jungles of the Amazon. But you know that wherever he goes, he’s going to be happy and successful.
Some people look at a place and think of it as nowhere. Then a guy like Jared comes along and turns it into his own personal somewhere. Like those first prospectors, Jared has found a vein of treasure. He’s rich in the best possible way.