When drought is but one cause in our farmers’ fight for survival

Farming families across the state continue to face the ‘most severe drought conditions in 120 years of records^’ on top of everything else they encounter in the human experience.

As BaptistCare HopeStreet works on the frontlines in our Dubbo and Wagga Wagga communities, we bear witness to the immense strength, resilience and grace of those fighting for survival - none more so than Julie*, who epitomises these values every day.

Mum of three, Julie was already stretched between homeschooling her youngest son, being her husband’s carer, and helping tend their drought-ravaged property in central west New South Wales, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The treatment has been a long process. My little boy didn’t know about the cancer - we didn’t want to scare him. Just this morning he heard someone mention it. He asked, ‘Mum, do you have cancer? That lady on TV had cancer and now she’s gunna die.’
He started to cry saying, ‘I don’t want you to die, Mum,’” said Julie.

"I mustered my strongest voice, ‘Mama’s not going to die’. It’s the broken times that make you stronger. And it’s times like these that wake you up. You realise, yes, life is bad, but there’s other people worse off."

Like so many other people on the land, current conditions make forging a living very difficult for Julie and her husband, Michael, who permanently damaged his leg in a farming accident. They buy livestock and feed them up for resale. “It’s our way to make money, but at the moment you can’t make any money.”

“The drought has hit us pretty bad. The bore is dried up. We cart water in. It’s dust outside the kitchen window. Everything’s gone. It breaks your heart,” said Julie.

“We’re living on carers’ and disability pension, it doesn’t go far. You either pay bills or you put money away for feed. Week to week here, that’s what it’s like.”

Since June last year, BaptistCare HopeStreet has been supporting farming families like Julie’s with food and fuel vouchers for their local stores. Beyond these vouchers, HopeStreet provides food parcels and daily breakfasts, relief through utility payments, rent assistance, no interest loans, counselling and support from our local chaplains.

“BaptistCare HopeStreet has given us food vouchers and access to power and water bill help. It’s a big help financially. They are beautiful to us. They even give us leftover bread for our sheep.”

BaptistCare HopeStreet Manager, Karen Windley, said it’s been a pleasure to support Julie and her family during their tough time.

“Like all our farmers, they show so much gratitude and appreciation for all they have received,” said Karen.

Julie’s insight into the pain caused by the drought is as palpable as the desperate situation on the land. “My husband came home from the yards the other day and said he was glad I didn’t go. There was an elderly couple from out west who brought the last of their cattle in. So undernourished, one of their girls went down in the lot. The husband and wife just sat beside her in the dirt, patting her, crying. They were broken,” said Julie.

“It’s so terrible what’s happening. There are places around here that have just shut up and walked – there’s nothing left. I was talking to another farmer yesterday, who said ‘There’s no rain coming, and I just don’t know how we are all going to cope’.”

The farmer is right - the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts no change in weather conditions, with temperatures set to soar and below average rainfall expected to continue right through Summer.

Karen said that while the whole town is rallying for each other they are also hurting and feeling the desolation of the drought. “The community as a whole is suffering. Here it's the practical support services like HopeStreet that are able to make a big difference everyday and give ongoing hope to those in need.".

And while there’s no end in sight, BaptistCare HopeStreet continues to walk beside our rural communities to give practical support, a listening ear, and hope. You can support our HopeStreet teams by donating today.

^https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-19/most-severe-recorded-drought-across-the-murray-darling/11325216?pfmredir=sm *Names changed. Images for illustration only.