The big dry: Farmers fighting for their future
ONE PHOTOGRAPHER HAS STARTED A DROUGHT AWARENESS CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT RURAL COMMUNITIES.
AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, Edwina Robertson is well versed in the art of capturing rural landscapes and people through her lens. Last year, the intrepid Toowoomba-based 33-yearold embarked on her Wander of the West project around Australia, documenting people in exchange for food and fuel. But in June this year, it was the daily, desolate images posted on Instagram by a friend, feeding hay to sheep on his drought-affected farm, that stopped Edwina in her tracks. “I knew it was dry, but I wasn’t aware of how bad it was in some places,” she recalls. Edwina, who grew up near Glen Innes, NSW, began making phone calls and, within two weeks, she was visiting affected communities to share tales through her awareness campaign One Bucket that supports Drought Angels and Rural Aid. “The media coverage was really general and I wanted to give a face to the drought — to personalise it by taking images of farmers so people can make a connection,” Edwina explains. Since early July, she has documented the impact of the prolonged dry. “People are exhausted and one of the biggest things is acknowledgement — even just having a cuppa with people and listening to their story. At the end of the day, no-one can make it rain, but there needs to be assistance in the meantime, as a lot of people are just making it through.” Edwina visited three generations of the Palmer family — Sue, 71, her daughter, Paula, 45, and 24-year-old granddaughter Courtney — at their sheep and cattle property Wongalea in the Central West of NSW. They lost 600 head of sheep and much of their 647-hectare property last year due to bushfires, and with virtually no rain since, their days are spent feeding hay and cottonseed to 700 merino ewes and 50 head of cattle. “The past 18 months have been hell,” Paula says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s one thing after the other, but you’ve got to deal with it. I thank Edwina for being our voice.” Unable to find agistment for their stock, the family took their cattle on the road for a while and have since sold off lambs. They hope to hold on to their remaining stock, but the cost of feed is rapidly increasing and in short supply. Mandy and Simon Mccutcheon live on a mixed farm at Trangie in western NSW and they will miss another crop this year due to the drought. The family has been feeding 150 head of breeder cattle for the past eight months. “We’re trying desperately to hang on to our breeding stock as they’re so hard to replace — we’re fourth-generation farmers so that is four generations that have gone into them,” Mandy, 40, explains. “We only have 80 days of feed left. We don’t know where the hay is going to come from, as it’s rapidly running out and so expensive.” “It’s a team effort. My husband and I balance each other out — some days I feel strong and he’s not, but we keep going because we love our life and lifestyle. We focus on what needs to be done and take it day by day.” Matthew and Susie Rae live on a broadacre farm near Narromine, south-east of Trangie, in NSW. In 2016, floods devastated their crops, and with two very dry years since then, they now face their third year without an income. “We’re strong, but this has knocked our socks off,” says Susie, 51. The Raes have had to let a long-serving employee go, and they have two properties listed for sale. “It’s also the little towns and shopkeepers and how hard it is for them,” says Susie, who is rallying her community in her own way. “We have a good network of friends and we do a lot of paddock parties, where we take our plough disc on legs to cook sausages and sit around and catch up.” Despite the unrelenting impact, Edwina sees a deeper connection now between the city and the bush due to the drought. “I think a lot of positivity can come out of that and it’s a great time for more education of where our food comes from and what it means to live in the bush,” she says. She encourages people to call or write letters to friends affected by drought to let them know they’re not alone. For more information, visit onebucket.com.au
The entire state of NSW, and more than half of Queensland, is officially in drought, with some areas of the Sunshine State in their sixth year of drought. FACING PAGE Photographer Edwina Robertson, with her dog, Jordie, has been visiting affected areas and sharing stories of the drought through her awareness campaign, One Bucket.