I am a very lucky man.
I acknowledge that. I live in Australia. I have a wife I adore and who, mystery that it might seem to myself & many, adores me. I have six wonderful children…and the other one. You know who you are.
I have an income.
I have food in the pantry and, if I can get my hands on my wife’s purse while she’s busy chasing kids, coin in my pocket.
I have choices.
I’m also able to receive medical help quickly and in most cases freely when I need it.
I have a good life.
I am a very lucky man, and this was cemented for me this holiday season.
As the calendar flipped from November to December I found myself in a two vehicle ‘convoy’ on a three day mission delivering groceries & a little hope to some drought affected farmers from Biloela to Longreach.
This wasn’t something I’d planned. I was just a tag along. In fact, you might say I’d bought my way in.
A turn in a conversation with Gympie’s local Citizen of the Year (she hates it when I say that so obviously I tacked it onto her name for most of the three days), Marlene Owen, had Tracey and I suddenly & shockingly aware of the plight of our outback farmers living in drought affected areas.
I mean, we knew there were areas drought affected areas. We’d seen the news with convoys of trucks loaded with hay heading out, and we’d heard farmers were begging the government for help which has seemed slow coming & universally acknowledged as being inadequate, but we didn’t know the problem went beyond the life of death of livestock & family properties.
I’d assumed, from the odd local conversation in Gympie, the inclusion of farm machinery as assets when applying for assistance, banks cutting their loses & foreclosing on Mum & Dad farms, and the Chinese then buying up those farms at an assumed fraction of the cost was the big fall out from years of poor rainfall.
“You wouldn’t know how big the problem is on the coast,” a lady in Longreach assured us. “They hide the truth behind terms like ‘single vehicle accident’ and ‘death by misadventure’.”
The drought & subsequent financial woes of our drought affected farmers is literally killing them by pushing the numbers of suicides in the bush to epidemic proportions.
And while a token response from the government is in place, it isn’t working. They can’t expect farmers deep into a cycle of depression to acknowledge they need help and drive in to the townships for a referral and then subsequent weekly appointments. They need the help to go to them. It’s that or the coroner.
And of course it reaches further.
This is an intergenerational problem now, as anyone who has lived with someone suffering deep depression will be able to confirm. More-so because often these kids have little other outside influence or support available.
After Marlene left us, Tracey and I sat on our balcony sipping tea while our kids swam in our pool and a roast cooked itself in the oven.
“I want to do something,” Tracey said. “But what?”
I was silent for a bit. I was having an idea and on a cuppa tea instead of coffee these things take slightly longer.
“What about…,” I started.
This isn’t Tracey’s first rodeo. She took a sip of her tea, set the cup down, snapped at one of the kids to stop dive-bombing off the pool steps, checked her phone for messages and then looked back at me.
“…if I approach Woolworths about doing a video?” I finished.
We nutted it out and I sent off a message to our blog’s agent, David Drinkall. He does the blog stuff I don’t like to do, like chatting with companies about money. I have offered for him to do my taxes as well but I think he thought I was joking.
I suggested since it was the Christmas season it might be really nice of them to let me give some of the families Marlene was visiting on her next run some Christmas hams and a few other things to brighten up the 25th, but also to stock their pantries with some essentials. I would, I said, forego any payment for the video or post to cover most of the cost of this exercise as bringing a spotlight to this issued was something I desperately wanted to do.
Incredibly, David said he’d throw his commission into the mix as well.
Also incredibly, Woolworths said they were in.
I know they cop some flak as a company but I have to say the people I’ve met and worked with in Woolworths over the years, since they have been a long time supporter of our blog, are genuinely beautiful & decent people. They didn’t have to do this. It wasn’t in the draft or plan or even budget for this financial year, but they didn’t hesitate. I think it’s easy to forget these sorts of companies have real people with the same emotional reactions as the rest of us running them.
Probably because we see so many bank executives on the telly 😉
So I joined Marlene and two other ladies, Ruth Tramacchi & Tina Raffin, who drove a second vehicle & trailer alternatively ahead or behind us. The runners who do these trips pay their own way for the privilege of delivering hope: fuel, food and accommodation. And, in my case, beer. They take goods donated by locals which are usually done up into hampers, and also fists full of cash to spend at local bakeries and grocers.
In my case, we arrived at the closest Woolworths store to our final destination, Emerald mid afternoon on the first day. The staff were waiting with preordered hams ready and we spent a good hour loading up trolley after trolley. Staff even helped us move everything to the carpark and load the trailer.
Genuinely, I think we all like to be a part of something meaningful with our own two hands, even if it’s something as simple as loading hams into eskies.
While at Longreach we dropped in the Longreach School of Distance Education for a look around, and discovered their numbers have dropped in recent years to the point they’re picking up nomad families like we were (families taking a year or two to do a Big Lap of Australia, for example) to keep numbers up to a point they don’t have to close shop. Even Longreach’s school has been downgraded because of student numbers dropping.
All this indicates we have a problem. Families are, for one reason or another, leaving the outback. It might not always be drought or depression or suicide related, but they most definitely factor heavily into the equation.
It is worse than I thought. Not least because I didn’t really think about it until it was brought to my attention.
So I’m bringing it to your attention.
If a problem shared is a problem halved I reckon if the whole of Australia gets involved we can easily carry these farmers & their families until they can stand on their own feet again.
After all, we’re a very lucky nation, and doesn’t everyone here deserve food in the pantry, access to free medical care and the opportunity of a good life?
It’s the season of giving so I’ve started a GoFundMe for the next run Marlene & Co are doing before Christmas to the St George region if anyone would like to contribute. Or, if you’d rather, you could send Woolworths gift cards either at your local store of online and send them care of myself at 1 Parsons Rd , Gympie QLD 4570 and I’ll ensure they get to her before she leaves. Again, they’ll shop at locally where they can and at the nearest Woolworths to help these outback areas. Every cent will go where it’s needed. Thank you.
Thank you to Woolworths for this opportunity to turn a spotlight to the declining state of outback mental health
Raising a family on little more than laughs