Dubbo is a small city almost 400 kilometres north west of Sydney, in the heart of a state consumed by drought. Drought in Australia is not new. But the intensity of the current drought is. Droughts are complex extreme events, combining a lack of rainfall, often over a longer period, with how that water is used, and the effects of heat, which increases evaporation from soils and plants. Climate change can influence several of these factors, and certainly drives rising temperatures.
“We’re coming up to 18 months without a decent rain.”
His family has been farming at Peak Hill, near Dubbo, for 106 years.
“We run about 3,400 breeding ewes. We do grow crops as well, but last year was a very hard year and our crops didn’t yield very much at all.”
Like so many other farming families, Adam has had to buy feed to keep his animals alive.
“We don’t buy in grain unless it’s an extreme drought. It’s like the Eskimos asking for ice donations. What we’re facing now is something we’ve never faced.”
of NSW experiencing drought
overall winter crop production
months without rain
There’s enough feed to get his animals through to October or November, but without a decent rain “going into next year, we will have nothing on hand to feed if it gets tough again. That’s a real worry. We’ve got some pretty serious decisions to make soon.”
Sue Strahorn has been farming in the same area with her husband Robert for four decades.
“The drought has really been biting here this year. I see Robert coming in, and he’s very quiet, and we’ve got ewes on, the lambing at the moment, so we’re feeding those, and that’s extra mouths to feed.”
Australian Red Cross, together with the Country Women’s Association in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, is helping farmers through cash grants to pay for household essentials, like groceries, petrol, medical bills and school fees.
“The thing that’s worried me most is those that are emotionally unable to handle the pressure, the financial stress that they’re under in having to keep their breeding stock alive, and wondering what their future will be.”
Red Cross organises community events to bring relief and keep community connections strong. The Let’s Talk drought program gives people an outlet to talk and helps meet their physical and mental health and well-being needs.
Sue says volunteers are bringing people together socially.
“To get people talking to one another, so that they realise that they’re not alone, that they do have friends that are in exactly the same position.
Adam agrees the drought is hurting farming communities financially and emotionally.
“Whenever you meet farmers now it’s not so much a handshake, it’s a hug, because everyone is just about on the point of tears some days. I know myself you feel so down because you’re doing your best with your stock to try and feed them and keep them going, but it’s not enough. We just can’t do enough for them.”
Keeping in touch with people helps, Adam says. “My immediate family’s a very big support, without them none of this is possible. We’ve got young farmers in this area too, and we all talk and try and keep each other’s spirits up, tell each other what a good job they’re all doing.”
It will take farming communities a long time to recover from this drought, he says.
This may take quite some time to break. And when it breaks, the financial drought is going to get worse for the next 12 months. This could take five or 10 years for us to recover from.
Words and photos: Australian Red Cross / IFRC