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Rural Aid drought bales bring hope as farmers in need multiply

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'Buy from the bush' founder Grace Brennan says some rural shop owners have said her social media campaign has helped keep their doors open amid the drought. "I got one message from a lady who said, 'I was about to close my doors, I hadn't wanted to tell my family, your feature has saved me from that fate'," Ms Brennan told Sky News host Paul Murray. One month after it was created, she said the campaign is 'going nuts,' with the Instagram account hitting 100,000 followers. Ms Brennan noted more followers means a 'greater … impact for local business'. A 'sister page, 'Stay in the bush' has sprung up seeking to support people to holiday in rural Australia.

Rural Aid truck contractor and volunteer Michael Hancock says every bale load is at maximum weight, getting as much hay as possible to needy farmers at every drop. Picture: suppliedSource:Supplied

A failed crop was the start of Michael Hancock’s new life distributing hay bale relief in New South Wales and Queensland.

Last November, a frost settled over his property in Lock on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, ruining the crop but changing the course of this farmer-turned-truck driver’s life.

“There were a few farmers that really needed to sell their grain,” Mr Hancock said.

“It’s not a very good thing to spend all that money on crop and then (have it all) die off.”

Mr Hancock pulled a number of farmers together and gathered a bulk quantity of hay. It was sold to Rural Aid and distributed to drought-devastated farmers in NSW and Queensland. Inspired to help, Mr Hancock’s been on the frontline of the charity’s drought effort ever since.

Now, after a year sourcing and distributing bales as a trucking contractor and volunteer, Mr Hancock said the reality remains confronting.

South Australian farmer Michael Hancock uses his own truck to drive and distribute bales across drought-affected states as part of Rural Aid's bale relief effort. Picture: supplied

South Australian farmer Michael Hancock uses his own truck to drive and distribute bales across drought-affected states as part of Rural Aid's bale relief effort. Picture: suppliedSource:Supplied

“Most of the adjectives will be expletives as far as when you look at the place. Because it’s just amazing: the definition of nothing,” he said.

Rural Aid’s latest drop is next Saturday, when a convoy of trucks, including Mr Hancock’s, will arrive in Dubbo and distribute bales to around 30 severely affected farmers. The 30 November delivery, supported by drought partner Woolworths, comes as Rural Aid released figures showing a significant increase in farmers requesting aid.

“Last month, close to 1,000 farmers registered, which is almost double the number from a few months ago. Rural Aid now has over 10,000 farmers registered for assistance,” a Rural Aid spokesperson confirmed.

Hay bales being unloaded from contractor and volunteer Michael Hancock's truck as part of Rural Aid's drought relief operation. Picture: supplied

Hay bales being unloaded from contractor and volunteer Michael Hancock's truck as part of Rural Aid's drought relief operation. Picture: suppliedSource:Supplied

Sourcing hay mainly via word of mouth, Mr Hancock and his drivers have moved around 40,000 tonnes of hay this year, approximately 10,000 tonnes more than last. This commitment to his fellow farmers has driven him into the eye of the big dry.

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“I can’t believe as a farmer myself, not to take away from the drought that we had, because there was a lot of money lost and a lot of farmers affected, but I can’t believe the severity of the drought in New South Wales, Queensland and the South Australian areas,” he said.

“It’s the heartbreak in them, selling off their prized (livestock). To see the pain on their face when they have to get rid of basically their life’s work.”

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South Australian hay sourced by Mr Hancock went into Queensland’s Cloncurry and Winton areas following the floods. In New South Wales, the drivers have delivered extensively into regions including Walgett, Bourke, Narrabri and Tamworth.

“We’re now delivering into the Parkes area, (Yeoval), Narromine, Dubbo … and we’ve also delivered into (the) Coonabarabran, Gilgandra area,” he said.

Three generations of farmers collecting Rural Aid bale relief in Yeoval, NSW. From left, Trevor Tremain, granddaughter Darby Tremain and daughter-in-law Nicole Tremain. Picture: supplied

Three generations of farmers collecting Rural Aid bale relief in Yeoval, NSW. From left, Trevor Tremain, granddaughter Darby Tremain and daughter-in-law Nicole Tremain. Picture: suppliedSource:Supplied

Each time they do a drop, Mr Hancock and the other drivers see farmers in desperate need of food for livestock. He estimated a drought ration for a ewe, for example, is down to a kilo a day, or half their normal feed.

“Their animals are walking on dirt and there’s no feed in the paddock,” he said. “But then you go to Broken Hill and those areas … and you see bushes with drifted sand everywhere. Red sand everywhere.

“It really makes you fairly sick in the stomach to look at it. You do really feel sorry for the people who have to look at it out of their bedroom window every day that they get up.”

Mr Hancock said bale recipients deeply appreciate the hay and the donors.

“I’d like to be able to say ‘Thank you’ to the people in the city for donating, because (farmers) do realise.

Local farming kids play on the bales during this month's Rural Aid drop in Mitchell, QLD. Picture: supplied

Local farming kids play on the bales during this month's Rural Aid drop in Mitchell, QLD. Picture: suppliedSource:Supplied

“The city and the country (have) always been divided to a certain extent (and) this has actually brought (them) together,” Mr Hancock said.

Rural Aid provided over $30 million in assistance last financial year, including over 65,000 hay bales, financial assistance, water, counselling services and volunteers.

STAND WITH DROUGHT AFFECTED COMMUNITIES BY DONATING TO ONE OF THESE CHARITIES AT YOUR LOCAL WOOLWORTHS STORE: THE SALVATION ARMY, RURAL AID, FOODBANK OR LIFELINE.

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