What A Drop of Rain Means When You're In Drought
It's easy to forget how desperate we were.
Today I step outside and look toward the sky; grey clouds hang so low I think I could reach up and run my fingers through them.
Heavy rains last night have washed away parts of the dirt track, leaving miniature creek beds in my path. I step around them. Sharp winds gust from the south, cutting through numerous layers of clothes. I pull the hood of my coat over my head and wish I’d worn more.
The clouds open, wind forces drops of rain against my face. It feels like the sting of an icy hand and I consider the simile; how accurate it is that this rain should feel like a slap across the face. I should feel grateful for it; instead, only privileged.
Here in the south-east of South Australia, it has been one of our tougher years. Summer was far too long, the break of the season almost too late; though our paddocks are now tinged green, they are far from plentiful. Regardless of the rain that falls at this time, we will still lack sufficient feed until ground temperatures rise with the coming of Spring. Still, our stock have enough to graze to keep them alive; this cannot be said for most of the country.
Back inside I sit to write this, feeling as though I am not qualified to do so. A tough year does not make a drought. A dry year does not make a drought. Last night we had 26mm of rain; farmers in NSW rejoice over a mere 6mm.
Heartbreakingly many are still forced to sell the last of their stock, even as it rains, knowing it may still be months before adequate feed grows in their paddocks -- that is, if the rain continues. Ignorance echoes out across the country; the drought has broken. Sadly, no, even with follow-up rains the repercussions of drought continue to impact farmers for months, years, after rain has come.
I look out the window, watch as raindrops hit the glass and join together in rivers which grace the ground below; precious water wasted that I cannot capture, that I cannot send to those who need it so much more than we do. How terribly unfair, this law of extremes we hold such little control over. Yet this is the nature of farming. There is no certainty of outcome or income, no predictability of future, no promise that we will reap the endless hours of hard work we have sown, year in and year out.
As the rain falls today with such gracious nonchalance it’s easy to forget how desperate we were, only a matter of months ago, for even the smallest amount. How our rainwater tanks were all-but empty; the water coming through our taps discoloured from water levels being so low. Our weekly shower rations, the clothes we wore inside out, how crazy I would get at the kids for using more than one cup each day when there wasn’t enough water to wash dishes.
It’s easy to forget the despair of looking out at dust-bowl paddocks each day and having to feed stock from a dwindling grain supply, knowing there was no money to buy more feed if rain didn’t come soon. To forget the heaviness as we scanned sheep that should have been pregnant but weren’t, due to lack of feed and poor condition; of having to sell those sheep for less than they were worth as without their lambs for our income the financial burden of keeping them was too high.
It’s easy to forget now, as healthy stock graze green-hued paddocks, how sick our sheep became with Barber’s Pole worm; a fatal parasite unavoidable when stock are forced to graze low to the ground to find pasture. Many we could not save, thankfully the majority we did, though at the cost of thousands of dollars of drench not budgeted for; more money borrowed from the bank to increase a debt I am unsure we will ever be able to repay in this lifetime.
It’s easy to forget now, as crops germinate -- albeit sparsely -- the apprehension as Autumn came and went with no breaking rain; hearts in throat as we seeded crops directly into dry ground, trying to ignore the despair as each day passed without rain, trying not to think about how much it cost to sow the paddock, how much income would be lost if the season did not break. The worry, the sleepless nights, the strain of trying to hold it together and remain positive; the way we would smile at our kids and tell them everything was going to be fine even though we weren’t sure we believed it ourselves.
Not so easy to forget, however, is that nothing about farming is certain.
Rain falls here today, more is forecast. Feed will grow as winter ends and warmer days take its place, but still, if we don’t get follow up Spring rains it will simply die off; there are no guarantees for more rain, for a good year, for us to be able to hold onto the stock we have left come summer.
But though we struggle through the impact of a dry year, we are the lucky ones. It is a tough year, yes, but for us, it is not dire. I listen helplessly to the countless stories of those who suffer through this drought; hands tied to our own debt, our own lack of feed, our own day-to-day trying to make ends meet. It’s difficult to throw lifeboats while you battle to keep your own head above water. It’s even more difficult when you know firsthand the feeling of drowning and how desperately those lifeboats are needed.
I don’t know how tomorrow will look for our farmers when supplies are running low; money for these supplies even lower. When dams are dry and skies still do not break. When decades of labour and love are lost as the last of their stock are loaded onto trucks, even as rain begins to fall. When families can no longer afford basic necessities, when communities are struggling to survive, when farmers are taking out million-dollar life insurance policies to ensure their families will be provided for should this drought continue much longer. When there is simply nothing else left to do.
I don’t know how to accept such heartbreaking resignation.
I only know I understand the ambivalence of despair for today tangled with hope for tomorrow. I understand this is about more than just stubbornness or resilience, but that the very heartbeat that pulses through this land is the same heartbeat that carries through the veins of every farmer in this country. I only know no matter how hard it gets, to walk away from that so deeply ingrained in their blood is not an option for these farmers; though down, they will not be defeated.
Such is the strength of the backbone that holds this country together.
Rain continues to fall outside my window, reminding me the only thing more certain than drought, is that it will end.
Until then, we wait, and hope.
If you want to help Australian farmers in need, you can donate to a registered charity. Donate online to Rural Aid's Buy a Bale, Drought Angels, Aussie Helpers or Lions' Need for Feed. You can also support farmers by buying Australian grown produce at your local supermarket.
For 24/7 crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.
Featured Image: Kelly Warren, Loomberah NSW
Featured Video: William Parker