Warwick community responds to crisis call from Longreach
THERE'S no grass, people avoid coming into town and the kangaroos are dying - that's how Longreach townsfolk sum up the dry, choking crisis they face.
Photographer Debbie Scott and her park ranger husband Peter have seen first hand just how hard things are.
And the bad times have hit some people more than others, says Mrs Scott.
"We pass them on the Diamantina River Rd. This guy said, 'I've got two weeks left here,' then added: 'I can go to one other area', and he just had electric fences around. I thought he was going to cry," she said,
"It was really heartbreaking because he's one of those people that are out there sleeping where his hands are because they have nothing at home and they have no water."
It's not just the farmers and their stock suffering, the wildlife are doing it incredibly hard - with kangaroos moving into town in droves, desperately seeking out whatever food and water they can.
"The roos are starving. I've thrown starving roos cabbages and they wouldn't even touch them, they wouldn't even get up and look at it. They ate cardboard boxes," Mr Scott said. "At our tip, every single cardboard box and package was eaten by the kangaroos. Then they just lie around and die."
"People are not coming into town for weeks - there are some men that haven't been in town for months," Mr Scott said.
"It's like why come in? - people don't want to have the conversation about other people having rain when they are not.
"I don't think people in the city realise it's hard to live out in the west. There's something about it that's not easy."
Local caterer Sharon Grams said people just didn't understand how bad the situation was in Longreach.
"Everyone thinks the drought has broken but we have had next to no rain," she said.
"Graziers are saying, "Do we ship them or shoot them". What's more humane," Mrs Grams said.
"Families are splitting because dad is staying on the farm and mum is working in town - it's just sad."
Everything is dying
IF NO sufficient rain falls by the end of the month there will be no cattle within 100km of Longreach, according to struggling farmers.
That's one of the many heartbreaking stories to come out of the Warwick Community Disaster Relief Van crew's trip to the struggling central Queensland community.
Board member Amanda Nothdurft said the huge devastation she saw on the trip really drove home the need to get behind the town and its desperate residents.
"I had to recount our trip to the church and I was in tears the whole time," she said.
"It was absolutely horrible seeing people getting so emotional.
"They're losing everything - they feel like they're failures."
Seeing the hardship first-hand has inspired the CDRV team to go even bigger with their Outback Relief Fund
"These guys don't want to feel they're alone anymore," Mrs Nothdurft said.
"They just want a bit of hope - it's comforting for them knowing people in the city are thinking of them."
After stories appeared in the Warwick Daily News and the Rural Weekly, the CDRV volunteers have been flooded with messages of support and donations of goods and services.
Mrs Nothdurft said the reaction from the Rural Weekly had generated thousands of dollars in donations.
"The Rural Weekly really drummed up the support," she said.
"We had a lot of phone calls on the weekend after the article appeared."
The Rural Weekly article has led to Emerald Refrigerated Logistics offering to donate free transport of goods from Brisbane to Longreach, as well as a $500 donation from a lady in Mackay.
Carey Bros will donate 50 to 80 round bales of hay, Fairholme School in Toowoomba have offered to fill a number of cardboard boxes with food and the Principal of St Mary's Primary School in Warwick is getting students on board with boxes of food as well.
"After seeing the article in the Daily News, the principal rang up and took 17 boxes," Mrs Nothdurft said.
"She's putting a box in each classroom for the students to drop food in. It's setting off a trend - a lot of other schools are jumping on board as well."
The wives of some of the farmers in Longreach are hoping that when people donate food, they can donate a few little luxuries.
Mrs Nothdurft said they suggested items such as cordial, fancy tea or coffee and Arnott's family biscuits.
"They're all buying cheap brands because they're doing it so tough," she said.
"If you're making a donation of food, think of nice things you go without when you're living on a budget."
For more information on how you can get involved, phone Amanda on 0431 110 404 or Maritta on 0439 003 924.
How you can help
Make a cash donation directly to Westpac BSB: 034-226 Acc: 26785
Donate Load and Go Post Office Credit Cards
Offer to agist stock - horses and cattle - at low or no cost
See the CDRV team in the Rose City Shoppingworld on March 17 and 18 and volunteer
Take home a cardboard box and fill it with groceries over the next few weeks to give to the CDRV
Make a donation of hay, stockfeed or water
Volunteer your services to help out on a property in Longreach or help out around the town
Doing it tough on 'Rosedale' property
FOR respected Longreach graziers Mark and Desiree Walker, things are getting pretty desperate on their property Rosedale.
The pair hasn't seen things this bad in more than 20 years, as they battle to hold on to their stud cattle to breed from when conditions improve.
When the girls from the Community Disaster Relief Van visited the property, the Walkers had just brought in a very weak and emaciated cow.
"If she sit down she will not have the strength to get up again," Mr Walker said.
Food and water are scarce and costly for the Walkers, with a feed bill of $3000 per week and water being pumped from a dwindling dam 21km from their home.
Mr Walker said he had been buying cottonseed and hay for nine months to feed the stock, going through seven and a half tonnes each week at a cost of $500/tonne.
"The cottonseed is too expensive to renew the order," he said.
"We're feeding two-month old calves for a month or two to get them up to scratch to get them strong enough to cart off to agistment - if we can find agistment."
Water is becoming a huge problem at Rosedale, with five dams already dry, with 30,000 litres of water costing the Walkers $300 and $120/hour for cartage. "We are pumping water from 21km away from the river through four stages - that makes three electricity bills," Mr Walker said.
"We had no water at the house yesterday so have ordered 60,000 litres - we had to top up last week also."
It's not just the lack of rain causing problems, with a locust plague putting even more pressure on what little plant life is left.
"The locusts have been around for about 10 days," Mr Walker said.
"They're decimating any gardens and trees around."
While the Walkers are anticipating rain in the coming months, they're facing the prospect of selling all their stock if the big dry continues beyond the month. "If there's no rain within the month we'll have to sell all we have," Mr Walker said.
"We'll sell all but the 300-400 on agistment - if we can get agistment."
Cost of trucking cattle
50 calves per deck or 20 cows per deck
$1.50 - $1.60 per deck, per km
$4 per head per week for agistment
Lee's prayer of desperation
IT WAS a prayer on a Facebook page for divine intervention to stop the desperation, from Longreach resident Lee Miller, which led to the response from the Community Disaster Relief Van.
In the moving prayer Mrs Miller described the country and her people as "broken".
"Dry spirits, desolate souls, the impact here on everyone is tangible," she wrote.
"There is a permeating spirit of fear, depression and death.
"We've lost our ability as a community to bounce back. The shops are empty and so are the eyes."
Things are desperate, even the rain doesn't seem to help the stock, according to Mrs Miller.
"When we do get rain, the stock are in such poor condition that they can't eat the green grass. And when the green pick comes through it makes them so sick," she said.
"It's that really hard thing they are thinking, should we de-stock? People hold out and hold out. And that rain has never come.
"It's a huge risk to live your life that way. Terrible pressure."
The drought has had a huge impact on the town, with the property market and local businesses suffering.
"People who don't have work and don't own a home have the flexibility to go. For people who own a home or a business you can't get out. You can't sell," Mrs Miller said. "IGA is saying its quiet and it's the busiest shop in town ..."