A few months ago, out west of Tamworth, I heard Fred’s story. Fred has been a farmer for 50 years. He has magnificent hands, sculptured in a way that only decades of hard labour can.
He dresses as a gentleman but with clothes that have seen better days. You see, he has no income, because of the drought. He has seen drought before; he prepared, but this one has got the better of him.
Shortly after, in the Unincorporated Lands of NSW, I heard Annette’s story. She and her husband have farmed for 40 years. Sheep mainly.
Her family has seen drought before. When prices were still high, they sold their flock and banked the proceeds. They are riding the drought out.
Many who are suffering, like Fred, did prepare. But the extent and length of this drought has meant that some of their decisions didn’t work out.
Others are doing well enough because the decisions they made have worked out.
As I get around our great big country, the communities doing best are those that tap into the IQ of the whole community, encourage their own Freds and Annettes to speak up and learn from their triumphs and tribulations.
They are working through this together. And working together very often comes down to local leadership.
Sometimes it comes from the council as I have seen in Armidale, Warwick and the Upper Hunter. They have appointed a local drought coordinator - a single point of contact for farmers.
Someone who travels down the track to the farm gate and knows the stories. Someone who can connect those in need with those who can help. Such a position can be funded through the Drought Communities Program.
Sometimes the leadership comes from ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things. John in Temora is an inspiration. He has been as low as a farmer can get on the land and survive.
Today, with his scars, his heart-warming empathy and his PhD in common sense, he reaches out to his community to let them know they are not alone.
Cynthia in Warwick is an organiser with an active interest in the wellbeing of her community. She identifies those who need a hand but who don’t like to speak out.
She brings them together at her farm. Listens to their issues. And then, on behalf of her community, approaches those who might be able to help.
John and Cynthia bring people together. As a consequence, their communities are dealing with the drought as well as is possible in the circumstances.
Just over a hundred years ago many of our farmers left their properties for the battlefields of WWI.
It was from them that the Anzac spirit emerged and from where we can draw inspiration. They took the approach that win, or lose, they would fight together.
What I have learnt from community leaders like John and Cynthia is that it is the same back home here in this drought.
To pull through we need to work together – farmers, citizens and community leaders. Getting through this drought is a team sport and we each have a role to play.
What is it that you can do to help your community work through this challenge?
- Coordinator-General for Drought, Major General Stephen Day