Rural — 15 May 2014

As the drought stretches on across much of Queensland and New South Wales, volunteers and donations are providing a vital morale boost for farmers struggling with the tough conditions.

BlazeAid, the organisation that helps rebuild farms after bushfires, has now turned its hand to drought assistance.

Barry Thompson is coordinating BlazeAid’s first ever drought camp at Richmond in western Queensland.

He says 20 to 30 volunteers have been going out to properties in the area to help out with a range of work.

“I’ve got them here from Western Australia, I’m from South Australia myself, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland,” he said.

A second camp will open at nearby Julia Creek next week.

The CEO of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Jenny Johnson, says outside help can provide an important morale boost for farmers struggling with the mental health impacts of the drought.

It’s extremely stressful for farmers to be sitting on their properties and to just watch the situation deteriorating day by day,” Ms Johnson said.Drought ground

“This can have a really dramatic effect on both the mental and physical wellbeing of people on the land.”

A study conducted by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention in 2013 found almost 250 farmers in New South Wales and Queensland committed suicide in the decade after 2000, during the millennium drought.

The institute says the farmer suicide rate is generally double that of the general population.

Ms Johnson says things like hay drives and community donations can significantly reduce the feelings of isolation.

“Certainly a load of hay and groceries and other practical help, that’s very much appreciated, but the bottom line is it will stem the tide for a little while, but the reality of the drought is ongoing,” she said.

“So whilst it’s a temporary reprieve, it is only temporary, but that knowledge that people are supporting and are aware of the situation and are willing to help, I think is probably more ongoing.”

Here are some other examples of communities from across Australia helping out during the drought:

Burrumbuttock to Bourke

In February, 18 trucks driven by volunteers left the Riverina region of New South Wales headed north carrying 500 tonnes of donated hay.

The Burrumbuttock to Bourke Hay Drive travelled 800 kilometres to deliver the much needed fodder to farmers struggling with drought in the Bourke, Brewarrina and Wanaaring districts. The trip provided hay bales for nearly 100 people.

The organiser, Brendan Farrell, is a truck driver from Griffith. He says he was inspired to help after hearing reports about the drought on the ABC radio program Country Hour.

“It’s probably paying a bit forward, I suppose, and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve been through droughts down home. We had an eight-year drought,” he said.

“At the end of the day, if we can bring hay up here and make farmers smile, that’s my job done.”

After the initial run, a second Burrumbuttock to Bourke Hay Drive was organised in April to coincide with the Hay from WA run.

Queensland students lend a hand

Students from the Lockyer Valley town of Laidley in south-east Queensland raised $10,000 in 24 hours for drought-affected farmers. The students at St Mary’s Primary School set up the Rural Connect program during their first term.

In April, the first shipment of aid, which included 35 tonnes of feed and farm supplies, was trucked to the South Burnett region, about 250 kilometres away.

Year six student Mia Venema says the students came up with the idea during a social justice class.

“It feels really good that we helped do something and we’re helping people even though we don’t know these people in real life,” she said.

Biscuits for the farmers

About 8,000 Anzac biscuits were baked and packaged up as part of a campaign to help farmers affected by the drought in Queensland. The Baked Relief organisation coordinated people in the south-east to cook biscuits to send to farming families in western Queensland and in the South Burnett.

The Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN) then delivered the biscuits to properties struggling with the drought.

Georgie Somerset from QRRRWN says the biscuits were delivered with a note written by the person who baked them.

“If people can imagine a packing case, there are about 43 of those that will be heading out into farms over the next week or two and arriving in mailboxes, and will still be fresh and beautiful with a cup of tea,” she said.

Hay from WA

The initiative turned into one of the biggest hay drives in Australian history. In April, 52 trucks and 78 trailers rolled into Bourke in western New South Wales, in a convoy that stretched for five kilometres.

The journey began in Esperance in Western Australia when 16 trucks carrying 900 bales of hay headed east to New South Wales.

It was started by local farmer Sam Starcevich.

“It’s just a bit of peace of mind, we’re delivering a bit of feed for them but hopefully it’s just that people are thinking about them, that there are others who’ve experienced it and are there to support them,” she said.

The hay drive met up with the second Burrumbuttock to Bourke run in Cobar and the combined convoy then continued on to Bourke.

Across the ACT border

In May, farmers at Baradine in north-west New South Wales were moved to tears when three trucks from Canberra filled with donated hay arrived in town.

The convoy had around 2,500 hay bales and the group also donated $5,000 to the Baradine community fund.

The hay drive’s coordinator, Barrie Cole, says it was a very emotional experience.

“While the hay’s needed and very much appreciated, they get a really big boost out of the fact that other people care, and that’s what came through strongly,” he said.

This article first apppeared on ‘ABC‘ on 14 May 2014.


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