The big dry: Farm­ers fight­ing for their fu­ture



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 oneb­

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.

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