Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Drought is back

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.

15 comments on “Drought is back

  1. hemmingplay
    February 13, 2014

    I’m sorry to hear this, and it must be hard to see the toll it’s taking on your garden. I read the other day that they’re predicting an El Nino in the Pacific, which will have an impact there, I believe, on top of this.

    I have the sneaking suspicion that there will be more stories like this. Then I hear that some genius wants to twiddle with the atmosphere as political pressure builds to “do something”, and that scares me worse.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 13, 2014

      Oh dear, you’re right, El Nino nearly always means a decline in rainfall for Australia.

      Like

      • hemmingplay
        February 13, 2014

        Sorry. I felt like I was piling on, hoping you’d already heard. We’re buried under a foot of snow, but I’ll bet that doesn’t make you feel sorry for us. 🙂

        Like

  2. debhuntinbrokenhill
    February 13, 2014

    Nope, it certainly doesn’t! But the comment about snow did make me feel marginally cooler for a second there. It’s only 8am and already in the mid twenties (which must be about 80 degrees I think?) here in Sydney, with high humidity and (thankfully for us) rain forecast. 🙂

    Like

  3. Mala Burt
    February 13, 2014

    On the east coast of America we seem to be okay, but California is in real trouble. We’ve had a colder than usual winter, however, so I won’t know until March what the damage in the garden is.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 13, 2014

      I’d love to tour America and visit all the places I read about on blogs. Hope your plants survive their long hibernation!

      Like

      • hemmingplay
        February 13, 2014

        Maybe you could come over and rent a place someplace pleasant for a year and wait out the drought. With the internet, you could work from anywhere. I’m in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, and the climate models say we’re going to be warmer and wetter here over the next 40 years. but the gardening is great. 🙂

        Like

  4. debhuntinbrokenhill
    February 13, 2014

    What a lovely idea, now all I need is for the next book to be a best seller and I’m all set!

    Like

  5. nantubre
    February 13, 2014

    Here in Louisiana we have had our 4th cold weather ‘event’ – very rare. Usually, we never see snow. Below freezing isn’t the norm either. I’m ready for spring and summer!

    Like

  6. debhuntinbrokenhill
    February 13, 2014

    I’ve been enjoying your pictures of snow! Hope the cabin fever has passed now 🙂

    Like

  7. The Novice Gardener
    February 13, 2014

    We just had another round of snow. There hasn’t been a day where there isn’t snow on the ground. I’m pretty sure my plants have all gone to mush. The weather is so strange this year, isn’t it? Seems like it’s getting more extreme every year. Hoping we all get some relief.

    Like

  8. Django Zazou
    February 13, 2014

    They’re having awful problems in the south of the UK at the moment, but last month we had huge storms in the North East, and the coast was pounded by enormous waves caused by the storm surge and by abnormally high tides. But being British naturally we ignored all the warnings and went down to the seaside to watch! There were incredible waves crashing onto the promenade at Saltburn and biting huge chunks out of it, sucking the very stones into the sea and slamming into a frenzy beneath the pier, but what was really brilliant was the guy who has the fish and chip shop right on the sea front: he was buggered if he was going to lose an evenings trade so he stopped open the whole time even at the risk of the next wave taking him off to Norway!

    Like

  9. debhuntinbrokenhill
    February 13, 2014

    Django I don’t know why you don’t write a book, I would be the first to rush out and buy a copy. Such evocative writing I felt like I was there with you (rather glad I wasn’t though). Fish and chip night here tonight, we’ll be strolling up to Darling Street with the dog x

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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