PRAY­ING FOR RAIN

Des­per­a­tion rises out west as drought takes a firm hold

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - ME­GAN MAS­TERS me­gan.mas­ters@thechron­i­cle.com.au

WHEN you can turn on the tap and wa­ter comes out without fail ev­ery time, it can be pretty easy to for­get that some peo­ple see it as more of a lux­ury than a right.

It sounds like the start of a World Vi­sion ad plead­ing for peo­ple to help starv­ing chil­dren in poor African coun­tries, but sadly, it’s about fam­i­lies liv­ing only a few hours’ drive away.

Things are get­ting so bad out west that Drought An­gels co-founder Tash John­stone had even taken calls from fam­i­lies without enough wa­ter to take a shower.

Bro­ken farm­ers have been re­duced to shoot­ing cat­tle and fam­i­lies were strug­gling to pay the bills and sim­ply sur­vive.

Those that hadn’t yet reached this point were still look­ing down the bar­rel of it, won­der­ing if the weather would break be­fore they did.

But if they were forced to give in and leave the farm, Ms John­stone wanted to know where peo­ple thought their food and clothes would be likely to come from.

The cof­fers were run­ning low for the Chin­chilla-based char­ity as do­na­tions dried up, with many east of the di­vide un­aware of how bad the drought’s grip was on farms fur­ther out.

Hay prices sky­rock­eted at the same time as sup­plies dried up and Mrs John­stone said the or­gan­i­sa­tion cur­rently lacked the re­sources to buy much more.

It was in­stead fo­cussed on the equally im­por­tant task of en­sur­ing fam­i­lies were fed, wa­tered and could pay the phone bill.

She said in­stead of things look­ing up, farm­ers were on the edge, thanks to the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Farm House­hold Al­lowance com­ing to an end.

“I spoke to one lady who was us­ing dish­wash­ing liq­uid to wash her hair be­cause she couldn’t af­ford the few dol­lars it would cost to buy sham­poo and con­di­tioner,” Mrs John­stone said.

“It’s get­ting bad again and the Farm House­hold Al­lowance is com­ing to an end for a lot of fam­i­lies be­cause it only goes for three years.

“I had one woman ring­ing me in tears be­cause that was their gro­cery and bill money.

“Ob­vi­ously ev­ery­body hoped the drought would be over by now.”

She said it was gut wrench­ing to hear sto­ries like this while suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments failed to act and farm­ers were re­duced to ab­so­lute de­spair, un­able to sell their prop­er­ties, even if they could bear the thought of leav­ing the coun­try.

Out on Tri­cia Agar’s Wyan­dra prop­erty, Bar­bara Plains, things were start­ing to look pretty dire.

“Our place, like most oth­ers in south-west Queens­land has been drought de­clared since 2013,” she said.

“The sum­mer rains fell in the first part of 2012 and then haven't re­ally fallen since.

“We had ex­cel­lent win­ter rain in 2016, and the herbages and salines that grew in this time, sus­tained our stock re­ally well up un­til March 2017.

“We don’t have a lot of grass left, and what is left the kan­ga­roos have dev­as­tated as they have been in plague pro­por­tions but are now dy­ing in droves as the ef­fects of drought takes it toll.

“The last grass-grow­ing rain was in 2012, so we are liv­ing on a wing and a prayer right now, pour­ing the lick sup­ple­ments into our live­stock as well has feed­ing co­pi­ous amounts of hay and cot­ton seed.”

She said a visit from the Drought An­gels or Care Outreach meant the world to pro­duc­ers like her fam­ily as they brought a lit­tle love and kind­ness.

She had faith that rains would come in the end, but it didn’t make life much eas­ier in the meantime.

And not only was the gov­ern­ment fail­ing to help, it seemed to be hin­der­ing ef­forts to sur­vive.

“The other is­sue is the State Gov­ern­ment’s Veg­e­ta­tion Man­age­ment Laws – th­ese ruth­less laws su­per­sede the prop­erty own­ers’ rights, es­pe­cially on free­hold land, ty­ing up vast re­serves of mulga, which is a ver­i­ta­ble hay stack, caus­ing peo­ple to have to ei­ther de-stock or buy in fod­der, even when there are mulga trees still stand­ing.

“The State Gov­ern­ment has im­posed th­ese laws in or­der to reg­u­late the very peo­ple that have bought th­ese prop­er­ties via a commercial trans­ac­tion, due to pres­sure from the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and the Ky­oto Cli­mate Change Agree­ment.

“Farm­ers and gra­ziers are pick­ing up the tab for the re­li­gion of “cli­mate change”, against their will and best in­ter­ests. To me that smacks of so­cial­ism.”

Bur­rum­but­tock Hay Run­ners are plan­ning an­other ma­jor do­na­tion of up to 500 semi loads of hay to drought stricken Queens­land farm­ers.

The hay run to south­ern Queens­land will co­in­cide with Aus­tralia Day next year.

The Drought An­gels have been work­ing on a Christ­mas ap­peal and peo­ple can help by drop­ping goods in at the Drought An­gels Char­ity Shop in Chin­chilla or by con­tact­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion on 0409 548 414.

Our place, like most oth­ers in south-west Queens­land has been drought de­clared since 2013. — Tri­cia Agar

PHOTO: TRI­CIA AGAR

TOUGH GO­ING: The sit­u­a­tion is look­ing dire on Tri­cia Agar’s prop­erty in south-west Queens­land after main­tain­ing drought sta­tus since 2013.

PHOTO: TRI­CIA AGAR

TOUGH TIMES: Things aren’t look­ing too good at Tri­cia Agar’s prop­erty in south-west Queens­land.

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