Cows throng Bondi Beach for Australia rural health cause

Sydney (AFP) - Moos sounded across Sydney's Bondi Beach Saturday as drovers on horseback mustered dozens of cows across its famous soft sands to raise awareness about rural health needs.

The unusual sight of 40 heifers -- who travelled thousands of kilometres (miles) from Australia's remote outback -- and six stockmen and women at one of the world's most iconic beaches attracted hundreds of excited onlookers.

The "Herd of Hope" cattle drive was the brainchild of double transplant recipient Megan McLoughlin, 36, who wanted to raise awareness about organ donation and the need for more support for health services in rural areas.

"I received a double transplant seven years ago and I realised that there's little-to-no services in regional and rural areas for all those affected by organ and tissue donation," McLoughlin, who is also legally blind, told AFP.

The mother-of-two has spoken about how the procedures gave her a second chance at life.

The journey the cattle took illustrates the size of the vast island continent and why people who live in rural and remote areas can struggle to access health services.

The heifers were donated by Ben Hayes, who runs the Undoolya Station just outside Alice Springs in central Australia more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Sydney.

The campaign's volunteers told AFP they had to travel great distances just for regular check-ups after undergoing transplants.

"I had to travel some distance each time I come down to my clinic (for my heart transplant)," said transplant recipient Steve Ernst, who lives in a regional area some five hours by car from Sydney.

"It's not a cure, it's a treatment, so it's ongoing and I'm continually down here and having the medication changed and fine-tuned just to keep me alive."

The Australian Medical Association, the peak body representing doctors, has said that timely access to medical professionals was a "key problem" for rural residents, with a shortage of doctors in more remote areas.

About one-third of Australia's 24-million people live outside the country's major cities, according to the nation's statistics bureau.

Each cow can be sponsored as part of the "Herd of Hope" campaign, with the money raised funding regional and rural therapy services and transplant and family care nurses.