With a naïve, yet eager mystique simmering within the group, and a cheque paired with hundreds of uplifting messages, the loaded minibus pulled out of Sara Carrigan Court. As we progressively tracked further westward, the heavy storms of the coast transitioned to light showers, which then made way for blue skies as we headed over the Great Dividing Range.
Five hours driving, a Maccas run and several card games later, we rolled into the Drought Angels warehouse in Chinchilla. Greeted by an amazing team of women, we briefly observed their charity shop filled with donated sundries, before heading out to Di and Andrew McIntyre’s black-angus cattle farm.
Driving along the gravel road, many of the students’ eyes were drawn open in a perplexed state. Along either side of the road were long ditches filled with murky water, but beyond that (other than the odd puddle) were dry, barren fields. After meeting Di and Andrew, they explained to us that a super cell had stormed through the town four days prior, bringing a vital downpour for most of the farms. However, they went on to say that follow-up rain was needed to actually break the drought and that the incredibly dry nature of the ground meant that a large portion of the water would evaporate before being absorbed by crops.
After some lunch and an interesting demonstration of the branding process, we headed over to a Watermelon farm run by father and son Darrell and Terry O’Leary. They had been thrilled by the forthcoming prospect of rain, but cruelly, they received kiwifruit-sized hail instead. Within half an hour, $600 000 worth of freshly planted watermelon crop (which was not allowed to be insured) had been destroyed. Commonly, people believe that farmers who are struggling with conditions are always just poor planners. However, when looking into the beaten eyes of Darrell O’Leary, whose watermelon crop had been ravaged by hailstorms or drought for four of the past six years, we understood that farmers in these circumstances are often completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Following this visit, we met Hayden, the drover, who had travelled from Bingara (his hometown in Northern NSW) to Chinchilla, in order to shift and feed 800 cattle. What truly astounded the group was the mental toughness Hayden showed to be living away from his wife and children for six months, whilst living out of a tiny horse float. Eventually, we managed to pull ourselves away from the temptation of the affectionate cattle dogs and headed to our accommodation at Columboola Country Homestay. Around the campfire, we were told shocking stories about wild dogs that often tore through farms, killing upwards of 100 sheep in a night, leaving us frightened for the night ahead.
The work of Drought Angels is so important; they provide the much-needed support and voice for rural farmers. Such is the quality of their social work, that we have invited them to the Somerset Entrepreneurship Festival for next year. Overall, this trip was an incredibly eye-opening experience that truly exposed the group to the struggles that farmers experience, and the amazing support that the Drought Angels consistently provide to assist them.
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