Drought - what next?

Drought - what next?


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The sun sets on another day without rain. - <i>Picture: Anne Smith.</i>

The sun sets on another day without rain. - Picture: Anne Smith.

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EVEN if it rains inches tomorrow, the effects of the current drought will reverberate through rural Queensland for years.

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EVEN if it rains inches tomorrow, the effects of the current drought will reverberate through rural Queensland for years.

People in their 70s using their retirement nest eggs, cancelling their health insurance and medical appointments, and preparing for years more of frugal living - these are some of its scarifying consequences.

The plight of these people is a message that Centacare, the Catholic support services agency charged with administering federal drought relief funds in central parts of the state, wants people to heed to ensure the fall-out isn't greater than it has to be.

In Longreach last week it opened an exhibition of 19 photographs taken by Anne Smith on local properties earlier this year, that will hang at the town library until the end of January before moving on to art spaces at Emerald and Barcaldine.

Centacare CEO Dr Ricki Jeffrey said the poignant images were a legacy to be used to spread the word of the pain being endured by rural communities.

"We've created a product and made a promise to people that we would share their stories and that they wouldn't be forgotten," she said.

"Three western mayors have led the way in hosting our exhibition - we hope some of their urban counterparts will follow their lead now."

The idea for the Drought - what next? exhibition came when Centacare arrived in the west charged with supporting families via traditional counselling methods, only to be overwhelmingly told that it wasn't what was needed.

"People told us the crisis was so great our service was too late for many," Ms Jeffrey said.

"We asked what they wanted and this is what they said: 'do something to let city people know what we're going through'.

"I think it's been done with dignity - not overstated or understated."

As well as the images and narrative, a calendar has been created to support the exhibition.

It talks of families and communities facing the loss of "lifestyle, livelihood and identity" consumed by the weather and their animals, and "everything else seems to be on hold in the mother of all droughts".

"Sadly, one of the landholders who took us around his property to tell us his story took his life a couple of weeks ago," Ms Jeffrey said.

"This beautiful, humble man could not take any more."

Funds for the Centacare drought relief service are set to dry up in December and Ms Jeffrey said she was involved in conversations about the most effective ways of directing any future assistance that might be made available.

She believes money for a car, a computer and fuel to travel around are what is needed most.

"People aren't going to come to us and say, 'I'm feeling down'.

"The people we are seeing, by and large, are men who aren't leaving their properties.

"If we've got people in cars helping pull sheep out of boggy dams, then we can develop a relationship and get people talking."

Need help?

If you are experiencing difficulties or are worried about someone, contact one of these organisations:

beyondblue: 1300 22 46 36, www.beyondblue.org

The Black Dog Institute: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Lifeline: Ph: 13 11 14 (24 hour counselling service)

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