In a report presented on 18 July, climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology Dr David Jones said that the current drought conditions are the most severe in 120 years of records: “To ease the conditions, but not even break the drought”, Dr Jones said “we need to get record high rainfall for the next three months — just to provide some measure of relief”. The current outlook is not good — the chance of heavy, widespread, drought-breaking rain in the next three months is slim.
This is not news to the folks living in the rural areas of our Diocese. We have been living with this drought for a very long time now. Obviously, those who live and work on the land were the first to feel the effects, but the hardships have now touched farmer and retailer, grazier and townie alike. A quick stroll through our ‘Co-op’ grocery store in Goondiwindi is a very different shopping experience than it was even a year ago. Half of the shelving has been removed and what remains is not always full.
In the Regional Council Magazine for June, the article ‘Water use in the Goondiwindi Region’ noted that we did not currently have water restrictions despite the fact that our water supply is only guaranteed until June 2020, claiming that “Restrictions are considered a last resort.” Only a month later, water restrictions came into effect (on 15 July).
As our region is drawn into this time of deep drought we are not just talking water, but people’s lives including their livelihoods, wellbeing and sense of hope. This is why we are so grateful for the support from the Archbishop’s Emergency Relief Appeal.
Our Parish has received two grants from this appeal in the last twelve months, but distributing those funds has actually been quite a challenge. There are several reasons for this. Our farmers and graziers are a tough bunch, used to difficult conditions and loathe to take a ‘hand out’. They are also always worrying about their neighbour more than themselves. The response I hear most often is “Yes, things are tough, but others have got it tougher”.
Another issue is that there is no way we can give them enough to actually make a difference. When we do make a cash payment directly to a drought-affected family, it is presented as a token of our care and support. We tell them that we hope our contribution will show that they are not forgotten — that they are remembered by the church and this small gift is just part of our prayers, our presence, our concern.
So we needed to find some ways to assist creatively and one in particular has been extremely effective.
One of our local pharmacies, Lucy Walker Pharmacy Goondiwindi, created a FarmAssist Program personally funded by the owner and the fundraising efforts of her staff — some of who come from farming families themselves. At the launch of the campaign twelve months ago, pharmacy staff commented about the farmers: “If there’s a choice between buying blood pressure medication verse feeding their cattle, they’re going to choose feeding their cattle. We’ve had a few at the moment who have come through and asked us to help them pick which [scripts] are the most essential because they can’t afford to buy all of them.” The pharmacists determine the eligibility and need of a customer, engage them in a conversation about the drought and assess how they are coping. All of the pharmacists have completed mental health first aid training and are on the look-out for indicators of concern during these conversations.
We have directed over 50% of our Appeal funding to this project. One of these contributions was used to provide flu vaccines to keep our farmers and graziers healthy as they spend sun up to sun down, day after day, hand feeding their stock.
A recent letter to the Parish from the pharmacy reads in part “From the bottom of our hearts we would really just like to thank you all for all of your support with our FarmAssist Program! We have had some astonishing success with the program and it would not have been possible if it wasn’t for your generous donations and advocacy.”
Matthew 25:35 reads “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” With your continuing assistance, we might well add “I was sick and you gave me medication, I was in despair and you gave me hope.”
If you are in a position to assist, please support the Archbishop’s Emergency Relief Appeal, so more funds can go to the FarmAssist Program to help keep our farmers healthy.Jump to next article