Before Cathy moved to Braidwood in the southern tablelands of NSW in 2001, the closest she’d come to farming was owning a dog. Today she has a 100-hectare farm with around 50 Poll Herefords for breeding.
When the neck pain she’d suffered for several years turned out to come from a large brain tumour, Cathy was raced to hospital. Surgeons removed the tumour, but complications meant 12 months off work. Then in May this year, a routine checkup revealed a new tumour, smaller and less invasive, but of a different type. It was back to hospital for another operation.
All this time, the drought was taking hold. Organising the farm around her surgery, Cathy sold a lot of cattle and bought a semi-trailer load of hay. Enough for a year, she thought, but it was gone by the end of September.
Things went from bad to worse. The wind blew constantly; when she drew the curtains all she could hear was the topsoil and fertiliser, which was supposed to be nurturing feed for her cattle, hitting the walls of the house. The next crop was literally being blown away on the wind.
My future’s in the hands of God.
The price of hay doubled; the price farmers got for a calf halved. And there was no end in sight. To bring in extra funds, Cathy’s husband Brett worked away as a mechanic during the week, which meant Cathy was home alone.
But they needed the money. Cathy estimated that the drought and her surgeries have cost the couple $150,000. As she says, “It’s a long way to go backwards.”
There was help available, but the paperwork was so lengthy and complex that, even though Cathy filled it out with the help of a financial counsellor, she was still not approved. In desperation, she rang the Sydney show of radio personality Alan Jones.
Andrew Hill, The Salvation Army Community Fundraising Director, heard the broadcast in his car. He pulled over, called the radio station for Cathy’s details, then organised help for her from the Salvos’ disaster team and rural chaplains.
Cathy also arranged for the chaplains to visit several members of her community who were struggling; they distributed emergency aid in the form of EFT grants to help with bills and debit cards so people could buy necessities locally.
“Just being able to talk to the rural chaplains probably helps more than the money—to know that people know you’re doing it hard, that it’s not going to go any further, and they’re not judging you.” Cathy says.
Many farmers are isolated and depressed, and, according to our rural chaplains, the more depressed people get, the less likely they are to reach out for help. Suicide rates are rising and the trauma lives on in their communities. The service our rural chaplains provide is literally keeping people alive.
Despite everything, Cathy still feels as though she’s meant to be on the land. “My future’s in the hands of God, really— for the tumours and the rain. You just try not to let it eat you up.”
If you or someone you know is affected by the drought, go to salvos.org.au/drought or phone (02) 8757 8088 to find out what support is available.
Lifeline Australia 13 11 14; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyondblue 1300 224 636; Suicide Helpline Victoria 1300 651 251; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.