HE DESCRIBES himself as a man with a mobile phone, but to the drought-stricken farmers of Queensland and north-western NSW, Brendan “Bumpa” Farrell is a drought angel.
The Stanbridge truckie, farmer, husband and father has been hailed a hero for his 10 hay runs for farmers in need and now he’s set himself another mission – another bumper load of hay.
Between 10,000 and 12,000 big square and round bales will be delivered to Central West Queensland farmers at Ilfracombe next month.
By the end of the trip Mr Farrell will have clocked up thousands of kilometres in the name of charity, and more than 30,000 bales of hay will have been donated since the first hay run in February 2014.
He wanted to help after reading about a young family at Bourke struggling through drought.
Organising hay runs is his way of paying the goodwill forward after his family was supported through a tough time a few years ago.
“We were at Sydney for 10 weeks with the birth of our son Sam and there were people in Sydney who helped me, so now we’re paying it forward, just on a massive scale.
“When I went back to the family farm I decided to send a load of hay to a farmer at Bourke and a month later we took 22 trucks in the first Burrumbuttock to Bourke hay run.”
Since then hay has been sent to Bourke, Lightning Ridge, Brewarrina, Weilmoringle, Tilpa, Louth, Cobar, Wanaaring and Ilfracombe.
Generous farmers have donated surplus hay despite a tough season in southern NSW.
“There are farmers there who need hay themselves but they’re still in a better financial state than the guys in Queensland,” Mr Farrell said.
“We’re just lucky that some farmers have sheds full of hay that they can donate and some are willing to donate hay for every run.”
The logistics of a job this big – coordinating more than 200 trucks and thousands of bales – are huge.
Mr Farrell’s phone runs red hot all day every day.
“I speak to a lot of transport operators who have 30 or 40 trucks and they have teams of 10 blokes organising them, but with this it’s just one bloke with a mobile phone,” he said.
It’s a team effort, with his wife Shannon – a policewoman – the backbone of the operation.
“I’m very lucky to have the support of my family and if my wife says there’s no hay run, there’s no hay run,” Mr Farrell said.
“She does a lot of the Facebook updates and administration work with all of the emails we get.”
With three kids under six, a transport company, two family properties and Mrs Farrell working part time as a cop, it’s an incredible family effort.
“With my truck I’ve got a lot of contracts that I have to fill so I’ll turn the phone off for a day to focus on my work then when it’s back on I’ll have hundreds of messages rolling in,” Mr Farrell said.
Some truck drivers have been involved since the first run and very few drop out once they’re on board.
“I call it the pill of giving – once it hits you hard and you start crying in your truck in the middle of nowhere, it gets you hooked.
“A lot of us are just addicted to helping others. It’s the best feeling to know you’re helping someone else.
“There were some days where I thought I was going to fail but when it all comes together and the whole show is running smoothly – farmers have their hay, kids have their hamper packs and they’ve all had a good day out – that’s a bloody good feeling.”
On arrival at Ilfracombe trucks were met with the barest dirt they’d seen, and “not a blade of grass”.
“With the hot days and the strong winds, by the time we get back up there it’ll be even worse.
“We met kids who hadn’t seen rain for four years and some were pointing at windscreen wipers on the trucks and asking what they were for because they haven’t seen rain.”
Mr Farrell said drought had fallen off the radar of governments, despite the generous folk of Australia showing their support.
“You have to keep telling people that the drought hasn’t gone away and our way of doing that is by putting the largest convoy of trucks in the world together.”
The main cost of the drought runs isn’t hay, but fuel for the donated trucks.
The hay runners have set a target of $500,000 for fuel for the next run, but they’re almost $200,000 short.
Social media is the biggest driver of monetary and hay donations through the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners Facebook page, but a large amount of the money has been raised at community events, including trivia nights, golf days, sausage sizzles and school fetes.
“As a country we’re spending all this money overseas but Australians need help here,” Mr Farrell said.
“With this cause, everybody knows where their money goes – into the fuel tank.
“We blew 17 tyres in the last hay run, and those truck drivers forked out $300 a tyre to get themselves home.”
It a huge personal cost for Mr Farrell, who runs a small property and manages his transport business around the hay runs.
“I’ll do a hay run and spend the next three months building up the bank account because the hay run costs me money, but I’d rather know that I’ve helped someone out just because it’s the right thing to do.”
The next hay run leaves Darlington Point on March 31 and will arrive at Ilfracombe on April 1.
More than 80 per cent of Queensland is in drought, with 36 councils being drought declared.
In NSW, the north west and parts of southern and far western NSW are still in severe drought.
The 11th run will cover 1500 kilometres, with 220 trucks and 314 trailers in the convoy.
Truck drivers and farmers from NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and even Tasmania have joined the cause.
To donate, visit the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners Facebook page or direct deposit to:
BSB: 062 438 Account: 10211156 Description: Drought Appeal