Story telling from Australia
Drought is back, and with a vengeance. The Australian government has introduced drought relief measures to many inland areas. I heard on the news two days ago that now includes Broken Hill.
From what I hear, this drought’s different. Farmers and graziers normally get some warning, a couple of years of reduced rainfall that prepares them for what lies ahead. This year, it seems, the rain just stopped.
We were in Broken Hill last weekend, on a day when yet again the temperature rose to forty degrees, and there’s evidence of drought wherever you look. Trees that don’t get watered look parched and brittle.
This time last year I used to cycle along Cummins Lane on my way to the pool. I would slow down at the junction with Brazil Street, outside a house near the corner that had a peach tree in the garden. Several branches overhung the fence and I lived in hope that one of the peaches might drop off as I passed. They weren’t huge peaches – clearly the tree survived on rainwater and nothing else – but they were peaches all the same. The tree was covered in them. That tree is dead now.
I’m writing up chapters for the farming families anthology and in my notes there’s the story of a man who had always wanted to be a sheep farmer. He achieved his dream late in life, after a successful career as a stock agent. Drought hit within four years, the cost of feed shot up, interest rates hit 18 per cent and then, in the final deadly blow, sheep prices plummeted. The end came when he realised it would cost more to truck the sheep to market than the sheep would fetch at auction. He was faced with a stark choice; either watch the sheep slowly starve to death or shoot the entire flock. What a terrible choice to have to make.
We recently had a brick path laid at the side of the house here in Sydney. Cutting the bricks created clouds of dust, so whatever plants survived the ill advised drenching in pest oil I gave them, followed by rampant fungal infection, were choked.
But it’s nothing like the choking dust storms that inevitably follow a period of drought. I can turn a tap on and wash that dust away. That’s more than they can do in some parts of Australia right now.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, England is experiencing it’s wettest winter in over one hundred years.
Here’s hoping the situation changes in both countries.