DROUGHT ANGEL FINDS LOVE IN THE OUTBACK
Nicki spreads goodwill and cheer to struggling farmers, but she never expected to land a partner on one of her mercy missions
Love was ththe llastt thithing Ninicki ki Blackwell expected to find in the drought-stricken outback as she delivered Christmas cheer to battling farm families.
But Santa had a big surprise in store for the tomboy charity worker when she broke her dusty 1000km round trip at a welcoming pub in the back blocks of Queensland.
Her surf’n’turf was excellent, but even better was her chat with Paul Neilsen, landlord of Winton’s landmark Tattersalls Hotel. Paul persuaded her to linger in town and have dinner with him the following night.
“It was almostlt llove att fifirstt sight,iht we gott on that well,” says Nicki, 41, co-founder of the Chinchilla-based Drought Angels farm relief charity.
“We just clicked from the moment we met. I don’t know what it was but we talked and talked, and the rest is history.”
To his own astonishment, widower Paul – who lost his wife to cancer three years before he and Nicki crossed paths – felt very much the same. On the spur of the moment, the 64-year-old publican asked Nicki to spend Christmas with him in Brisbane, and she agreed.
“I’d only known this man for eight hours,” laughs the divorced mum of two grown g up children, daughter Kiara, 25, and a 19-year-old Jake. “And then I thought, t ‘What have I got to lose? I’m living l alone with my cat in Chinchilla! I might as well go to Brisbane.’” Returning home from her three-day journey j to Winton, Quilpie and Windorah with an empty truck, Nicki reported that her Christmas farm run – distributing gifts, care packs, fruit and vegies to needy families – had been a big success, and tried to keep her romance on the down-low. But once the new couple’s first Christmas was behind them, they rapidly embarked on a long-distance relationship, seeing each other once a month through early 2017 when Nicki passed through Winton on her regular Drought Angels delivery run.
“The pub kept me pretty busy and Nicki was with Drought Angels, so we just got on with it,” explains father-of-two Paul. “Then I got a phone call from Nicki in June last year, telling me she thought it was time she moved to Winton.
“She was coming to stay here with me or without me, so of course I said yes! Nicki is a beautiful person and I’m a very privileged man to have met her.”
‘What have I got to lose? I’m living alone with my cat!’
Today, they live and work happily together at Tattersalls Hotel, welcoming guests and ensuring it’s the best place to eat in town.
“We enjoy it,” says Nicki, who resigned from the Drought Angels board to follow her heart, but still lends a hand with the charity’s social media accounts.
“Some nights I’m not at the pub and Paul reckons it’s a bit quiet, because I’m pretty out there,” she chuckles. “He’s a funny man with a great sense of humour and a big heart.”
But the changes didn’t end with the couple’s living arrangements – Nicki splashed out on a new wardrobe to become “the dress and high heels queen” of Winton.
“I never used to wear dresses but I do now,” a sheepish Nicki admits, more than a little embarrassed by her own transformation.
Lovebirds Paul and Nicki now work together at Winton’s local pub.
Although she wasn’t looking for love, Nicki fell for Paul’s charming ways.