Q&A with a drought-affected Queensland Farmer

Q&A with a drought-affected Queensland Farmer

By dear molly - A Q&A with Astrid

1. Prior to moving to Dirranbandi what were you doing?

Before heading west, I was working in real estate in inner city Brisbane for about ten years. I lived in the fast lane, had a zippy little Mini Cooper S, strutted around in business suits and 4-inch heels, as well as raising my son, and doing all the school activities.

2. Tell us how you came to live at Dirranbandi?

I got very sick of the nightclub scene, and at my age (30), I didn't know where else to go to meet "normal" single men!

I tried internet dating for quite some time and had so many crazy experiences. I could write a book!

He had a profile photo of himself in a wheat crop. I thought 'a farmer, that's different'. He lived at Kenmore in the western suburbs of Brisbane, or so I thought. We met for coffee, and I was instantly hooked on him, a real lightning strike moment! I had to leave to go and pick my son up, and I said 'I better go, I have a long drive (about 30 mins).

He replied 'Yeah, me too…'

Little did I know, this was not the case (we didn't talk about where exactly he lived).

He text me later that evening, saying he was almost home.

I replied "What?? Where do you live?"

He responded " it!"

I did and nearly fell over!

For our second date, the farmer invited me out to the Dirranbandi Show which is like the Ekka, but for about 1000 people! He picked me up from the nearest bus stop, and we still had 3 hours of driving to do! The next day he took me for a quad bike ride around his property "Kenmore". I was so overwhelmed by the size of it, one fence line is 15km, I was stunned by the beauty of it and again instantly hooked on the place!

The relationship continued, and the only option was for me to move if the relationship was to continue. I had a lot of fears, but no doubts about the farmer, so in December 2009 I moved out west!!!

3. How long have you been living there?

9 years

4. As a city girl moving to the country what has been the biggest adjustment for you?

The time away from my son, I sometimes feel like I abandoned him but other times like I have given him the best of both worlds. He lives and goes to school in Brisbane with his dad and step mum. He has holidays out on the farm, and I am usually down in Brisbane at least once a term for a week or two. My son has learnt so many different skills being out here, he has been driving since he was 10, he can drive tractors, motorbikes, use his brain to problem solved, can build a fence, muster and move 1000 sheep to a paddock 10kms away and I believe he has developed a great work ethic.

Most of his peers do a few hours of casual work a week at Maccas, and he will do 14 hours days for the whole holidays, he just gets in and does what needs to be done. I have no regrets about him staying in Brisbane, I have a great relationship with his father and step mum, and his dad is a great man, and that is what he needs, someone to teach him how to be a man and I can't do that, so this helps ease my guilt!!

The huge distances that need to be travelled to do anything are challenging and exhausting. The first time I went grocery shopping, I bought 2 litres of milk, six sausages, a bag of spuds and some salad stuff, it lasted a day! The shops are 130kms away! I now buy about 20 litres of milk, 30kg bags of spuds, and half a cow at a time.

I am now driving to town three times a week for my big girls' Kindy. It's a 120km round trip, and our road is all gravel, so it is very rough. I still have my two-year-old with me when driving, so it is a big day for her too. I am fortunate I have friends I can go a see so that she can have a nap during the day and I can get a coffee.

Next year is Prep. There is a bus, but that is still 40kms one way. We are literally the furthest family from town, life needs to be planned, as to go anywhere, it takes all day, and you never want to run out of things.

I miss my family in Brisbane, my parents are getting older and frail, and not being there all the time gives me the guilts. We are incredibly close, and I find it hard when I can't help them the way I would do if I were still in Brisbane.

I struggle with my job sometimes, my husband is fantastic, but he has clear and somewhat old-fashioned ideas as to what my role is. I am a farmers wife…I wash, cook and clean ALL THE TIME. He likes his meals to be meat and three veg and hates chilli.

As with most stay at home mums, the work is very repetitive and can be extremely dull and thankless. Before the girls were born, I was his number one tractor driver and sheep musterer, his right-hand man (and still had to wash cook and clean haha). As the girls are still so young now, it is near impossible to take them out for a full days work. Most jobs are hot and dirty and with all the machinery, very dangerous. I hope as they get older, the girls will go out with him more, but for now, I have them 24/7. I have had two weekends away by myself in the past five years, and they took weeks of planning and coordinating.

In my former life, I was very independent, looked after myself and did it very well. Having that taken away is really hard, but only some days. I believe I have accepted my role, not settled, but instead, I know how important my job is. Without me, my husband couldn't find his undies, I also know that without me he couldn't keep on going so while he is definitely the boss, we are still a team.

The isolation. It gets incredibly lonely, I have my family and fantastic friends, but I still feel alone.

5. The drought has clearly had an incredible impact upon you and your family? What has been the biggest challenge?

The drought is really just horrible. Today we were expecting some rain, and it hasn't come. I know how much it upsets me and I can see how much it upsets and frustrates the farmer and there isn't anything we can do. What most people can't fathom is the sheer scale of it. We have been in drought for six years and severely impacted for the past two. That means no income. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

The farmer has done an incredible job keeping us afloat for this long he is an excellent farmer, makes good decisions, has had a few gambles that have paid off and some that have not. But no business can sustain zero income for multiple years it is like you going off to work every day, but not getting paid, yet you still have to pay the mortgage, the bills, fuel and food as per usual. It cant be sustained. City people have been making comments like -'Just store more water, sell your animals, sell the farm.' It just doesn't work like that.

We are dryland cropping, which means we rely on rain to water our crops. We have no huge water storages or rivers we can pump water from. We have nine big dams, hundreds of kilometres of pipes and water troughs for the stock as we have a bore tapped into the artesian basin. And no you can't use bore water to water crops. This is law - unlike big gas and coal mines that can use water however they want, but that's a whole other story. 

We did destock from our sheep about two years ago, as we had no grass left to feed them, and we didn't want to be stuck hand feeding, we have discussed selling the farm but what would the farmer do this dirt is his dirt. His home. His land.

I am terrified to think what he would do if he were forced to sell.

The biggest challenge is the emotional toll, today I am angry and upset, as I feel we deserve a break. A good fall of rain, an inch or more (as was forecasted). But we got 6mm. I hear people say "better than nothing" but no…its not. It doesn't do anything as any grass that would start to grow will get burnt off in a week due to the heat. A couple of inches would soak into the ground, and give the pasture a chance to get away.

I see people about 100kms away posting on Facebook about how they got 2 or 3 inches and while part of me is pleased that big rain is getting to someone the better part of me has been crying "what about us? It's not fair". What I have learned, is that in farming there is absolutely nothing we can do about it and no point getting down in the dumps about it.

6. How has it directly affected you?

It is too late for this year's crops so no amount of rain will help us now. We would typically harvest 10,000 acres of grain and yield 3-4000 tonnes, employ up to 20 people but this year (and last) we will be lucky to get 60 tonnes. Hopefully enough for seed for next year.  We will literally be going from plant to plant trying to get as much grain as possible.

Sheep prices are high, so we can't afford to buy back into them yet, not that we would as we have no pasture. We did purchase some steers as we had enough rain to plant one paddock of oats to feed them but wouldn't you know it because of the drought cattle prices have dropped so we will make next to nothing when we do sell them.

We are doing ok, better than a lot of people. The farmer has made some good decisions, so we are not eating cat food just yet but things are really tight, and we don't know what the future holds. Debt levels are scary, and with no way of getting on top of them at the moment, it is very uncertain!

7. As a mother to two small girls and an older son, how do you manage it all?

Very busily!! Farming never stops it is all day every day, seven days a week and nights too. But like other families, you just make it work; there is no other option, kids need to be educated, food needs to be cooked, cattle need to be moved, fences need to be fixed. 

Mentally and emotionally I have found it very tough as there are no breaks, and I also have significant struggles with the Black Dog. At the same time, my kids are awesome, smart, funny, kind and most importantly happy and healthy. I love my husband unconditionally and know he feels the same, so really what more do you need in life? 

We made choices; I made a choice. I chose this life.

It isn't easy, but no harder than anyone else, and also it is a wonderful place to raise children. The freedom and the beauty out here is incredible although being a city girl I'm not a fan of all the freedom. I still need to be on constant snake watch, which is very draining. And the dirt and dust…oh my is enough to break me some days!

But one thing I have learnt about myself is that I am strong...really really strong! I don't feel it some days, but my strength is always there when I need it, physically, mentally and emotionally.

8. How are the girls coping or are they too young to realise what is going on?

They really don't understand yet, but they do look out the car window and say "Geez it's really dry mum wish it would bloody rain!"

9. What is the morale of people like in your town at the moment?

The people out here, the friends I have made are truly the reason I am still here. At times, the farmer has the emotional sensitivity of a house brick (and I am a drama queen!)  To know that everyone is in the same situation, just helps. You can whinge and bitch to them, and they understand, but it also gives you a reality check that I am not the only person in the world going through this crisis, so just breathe.

The town gets together often, and everyone has a great time. Country people love to chat, and I can have a conversation with anyone about anything at these gatherings, it is a great equaliser.

Dirranbandi is such an amazing community; everyone is always going out of their way to make sure that the people around them are ok, that there is enough, and if anyone hears that someone is having a hard time the grapevine gets started, and soon enough the person in need is getting help!

So while I think everyone has their days when they are feeling a bit sorry for themselves, and just want a break and a few inches of the wet stuff, they will always make sure that the person next to them is ok. I have never experienced the sense of community that we have in Dirranbandi!

10. If you could ask for one thing (besides rain) what would it be?

Selfishly a week holiday (by myself) with twice daily massages. Who am I kidding, I would be bored in an hour!

11. What can we as the wider community do to help?

 Get educated. Know that it isn't going to end anytime soon and will probably happen again. Every farmer does their best to try and drought-proof themselves, so uneducated comments and ideas do not help as we have already thought of everything. You can't mess with Mother Nature; she is bigger than all of us!

Buy Australian made EVERYTHING. Check your packets and tins, know where your food and fibres are coming from. More demand means better prices!

12. Where can we go to donate?

Tricky one as there are so many great charities trying to help. The CWA is fantastic, they have branches in every community and know all the people personally, and know who needs what! They are being supported by the Australian Red Cross too.

Also, the DROUGHT ANGELS are just incredible, hands-on and personal, they are doing what needs to be done without all the red tape.

13. Aside from money, what things could we as a community donate or provide which would be of benefit to you and others like you?

I know we have appreciated getting little hampers and gifts, it really does make you feel loved and not alone.

14. Astrid, thanks for your time. If you could leave the dear molly community with one thought what would it be?

Everyone always says "Happy wife, happy life". I disagree, in my house, my motto is "Happy farmer, life is calmer."

Men often don't have outlets like these to vent and receive support, it is up to us to check in with our menfolk, they struggle just like us, and we need to make sure they are ok too.

We can’t make it rain. But we can support our farmers and their families in a time of extreme hardship. If you would like to assist drought-affected farmers you can donate now to the Queensland CWA HERE

Thank you for showing you care and for giving hope.

If you are worried about yourself or someone else and need to talk to someone, the beyondblue Support Service is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1300 22 4636. Webchat and email options are also available via Trained mental health professionals can provide free and confidential short-term counselling and offer referrals to local support services.

Feature image via 

dear molly - A Q&A with Astrid

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