Donna’s family faced three years of drought before rain earlier this year brought temporary relief. But Donna knows that another dry season is inevitable. Frontier Services headed out to her property in far-western NSW earlier this year to find out how she and her family are coping.
We visited Donna (taking all the necessary precautions) in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. She and her husband John live with their two children Phoebe and Thomas on a 23,000 acre property in New South Wales. On such a large property, they are no strangers to isolation. But the pandemic has still left a mark on their lives. “It’s been a very, very worrying time” she told us.
But the pandemic is just the latest in a long list of worries for families like theirs. The family only runs Merino sheep on the station.
“We were getting out sheep numbers up quite high so we had quite a good income,” she told us, “but the drought certainly took care of that.”
The impact of three long years of drought on their livestock has been enormous.
“Probably about 1000 ewes died. We didn’t have lambing for three seasons,” said Donna.
They were forced to buy fodder for the surviving livestock. But the expense of having to buy feed meant that they had to sell off all their cattle in 2019.
“We just couldn’t do it anymore financially,” Donna told us.
The drought put a lot of strain on the family. With one child still away at boarding school Donna and John needed to be able to pay their bills.
Donna explained, “you’ve still got your rates, power bill, phone bill, fuel bills. And when you don’t have income coming in to meet those expenses, it’s very, very stressful.”
The stress took its toll on the kids too.
Donna told us, “they see us going through really hard times and it worries them and as much as you try for it not to interfere with their lives, it does.”
But through it all, Donna recognised the importance of having a supportive network to help get them through.
“We were lucky,” she tells us, “we all sort of stuck together, the four of us. And we had lots of support within the community.”
Added to the increased isolation brought on by the current pandemic, Donna told us that there was brief worry about food supplies. It should have been the last thing the family needed to worry about after the difficulties they’ve faced throughout the drought.
With an impressive attitude of optimism Donna told us, “We had bin shoppers go through our little towns and clean them out. But you make do with what you have.”
But through it all, Frontier Services has provided much needed assistance for Donna and her family. Our Outback Links program helped to link Donna with a volunteer who was able to help with a troublesome repair job. She explained to us that the family had hired a builder to help with some renovations on the house but after receiving their upfront payment, he disappeared.
In good humour, Donna told us that not long after she received a call from a Frontier Services staff member; “He said, ‘Can we get someone out there to help you?’ And I thought, ‘Does this really happen?'”
Frontier Services connected Donna with one of our volunteers who went and stayed with the family for a few weeks while he helped them out with the renovations.
“He was just an amazing man,” Donna gushed, “he was such a lovely man.”
The whole family benefited so much from the first experience that they hosted a second volunteer not long after. Donna told us that the practical assistance offered by our volunteers was second only to the company and friendship they provided.
She told us, “Sitting around at night having a beer and a chat and a laugh, that means a lot.”