It's been a tough call but Burrumbuttock Hay Runners founder Brendan Farrell has decided to postpone the planned Australia Day run to Winton this Australia Day.
In late November he announced that despite the uncertainty surrounding border closures aimed at containing COVID-19, the 1900km run up from southern NSW to drought-stricken producers in the Winton-Corfield-Kynuna-Boulia was on.
However, with three weeks to go and with a growing NSW outbreak seeing eastern states impose stricter border closures, he had to pull the pin.
"I had to," he said from Albury on Monday. "I have a duty of care for the public, I'd be a bloody idiot to put people across the (Queensland) border and spread it."
In addition, many in the drought relief support crew are from Victoria and could face the possibility of quarantining for two weeks, Mr Farrell said.
"That's a big ask," he said.
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The decision was not taken lightly - the trek involving hundreds of prime movers and thousands of bales of hay was 80 per cent planned - and has resulted in a lot of disappointed people, both truck drivers and graziers.
"This is a once-a-year holiday for many drivers," Mr Farrell said. "They understand my position but they feel a bit lost now; they do this with me every year."
And it's their way of building a connection and learning more about the graziers in strife, their practices and how what the Burrumbuttocks call "the pill of giving" helps in reality.
One of those they would have met if the Australia Day hay donation had gone ahead is Corfield grazier Peter Ashman, who has been experiencing drought conditions since 2012.
All 5000 head of the sheep on Escombe, just south of Corfield, have been sold and he is down to a quarter of the 1200-head herd he had eight years ago.
In 2020 he recorded 390mm of rain, which he says is around the average received over the last seven years.
In February 2019 he was on the eastern edge of the devastating monsoon, losing 25 per cent of his remaining breeders, and not getting much grass growth as a result.
"Too much (rain) in one go" is how he described it, saying he feels his country will need at least two or three years of average seasons with a low stocking rate before it recovers from the enormity of the drought it's still experiencing.
He's had to restart supplementary feeding in about October each year and said past loads of hay, donated via the 2016 Ilfracombe and 2017 Muttaburra hay runs, as well as a recent load from Rural Aid, had been extremely beneficial.
"A load of hay costs me $12,000 to $15,000 so it means I can save that and maybe put it towards another load - it goes a long way," he said. "It's disappointing that they can't come but that's how it's happening at the moment."