Story telling from Australia
There was a piece on the 7.30 report last night about a ‘perfect storm’ facing beef producers in Roma. Until yesterday I didn’t know where Roma was, now I’m looking forward to going there. Roma is about four hours inland from Brisbane, an area that had a couple of good years following the worst Australian drought on record, but that rain has since disappeared.
As part of the project I’m working on I just booked a flight to Roma to interview a farming family later this year. I’m also reading Beyond Reasonable Drought, a book of compelling images that show how tough it was for farmers, graziers and pastoralists during that decade long drought.
It wasn’t that they couldn’t take a bath, wash their cars or water their lawns like the rest of us. Farmers lost livestock, crops were ruined and kitchen gardens destroyed. Orchards were bulldozed for lack of water and properties that had been worked for generations were abandoned.
The far-reaching implications of that drought hit me when I heard a story about shoelaces. My neighbour, Gary, used to be in charge of supplies at one of the mines in Broken Hill and he told me the men started complaining about the laces in their boots. ‘They kept snapping,’ said Gary. ‘They thought I was buying cheap imports but those laces were leather, made in Australia. We worked out it was the drought. The cattle didn’t have enough to eat or drink so their hides were weakened. The leather just snapped.’
In some places drought conditions have returned. Producers in Roma face uncertainty over the live export market, a high Aussie dollar and the sudden return of drought. That ‘perfect storm’ has sent cattle prices plummeting as producers sell off stock they can’t feed at knock down prices before hunkering down to get through a winter that promises to be drier than usual.
I’m humbled by the extraordinary conditions Australian farming families have to live through so I can saunter into a supermarket and pick out a joint of meat for dinner.