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Drought assistance over the airwaves

Drought assistance over the airwaves

Drought assistance over the airwaves

13 November 2018

Cathy and her husband have a farm near Braidwood in southern NSW.

By Jackie Blackledge and Lauren Martin

Cathy’s story

Before Cathy moved to Braidwood on the southern tablelands of NSW in 2001, the closest she’d come to farming was owning a dog. Then she was given a poddy calf, fell in love with it, and today she has a 100-hectare farm with around 50 Poll Herefords for breeding. She loved life on the farm, although it was still hard, with her husband having to work away from home during the week just to make ends meet.

Two years ago, life got a whole lot harder.

Cathy had suffered neck pain for several years. “I said to the doctor, ‘You’re going to have to give me an MRI, something’s really wrong.’”Then she received a call that no-one wants to get. “I remember the doctor rang and said, ‘Come in instantly,’so I knew things weren’t good.”Her neck pain was a result of a very large brain tumour.

She was raced to hospital where surgeons removed the tumour, but complications meant 12 months off work as she went through the painful and frustrating process of learning to talk again and other routine living skills. Then in May of this year a routine checkup revealed a new tumour, smaller and less invasive, but of a different type so it was back to hospital for another operation.

“It was very scary. Hard for my family to watch [and] very frustrating.”

At the same time, the drought was taking hold. Organising the farm around her surgery, Cathy had sold a lot of cattle and bought a semi-trailer load of hay. Enough, she thought, for a year, but it was gone by the end of September.

The price of hay doubled, the price farmers got for a calf halved.

Cathy estimates that the drought and her surgeries have cost the couple $150,000. She began to dread collecting the mail, with bills coming in that she knew she just couldn’t pay. “All our land rates for the area had come in and I had regos due and electricity came in and it got to the point where my husband would get home on Friday and say, ‘The letterbox is full’, and I’d say, ‘Leave it there, I don’t want to know! We can’t pay it, so I don’t want to know’.”

All the while, she kept on seeing news on the television about what great support farmers were getting from fundraising drives and government assistance. But it seemed that none of it was getting to the little town of Braidwood near Canberra, and its surrounding farmers. “Farmers are very proud, they don’t like to ask for help, they don’t like to tell anybody they’re struggling, but behind closed doors they’re struggling a lot.”

One day she couldn’t take it anymore, and called Sydney talkback radio host, Alan Jones, to let off a bit of steam.

Andrew’s story

Andrew Hill, general manager of The Salvation Army Community Fundraising department, doesn’t believe in coincidences. He’s a Salvation Army soldier at Menai Corps in southern Sydney and says he believes it was God’s plan for him to have left for work that day later than he usually did. It meant that he caught the talkback on Alan Jones’radio show. It meant that he heard Cathy’s desperate call.

“I heard her cry for help and I just knew, I just knew in my heart, that we could help her,”he said. He’d been in the thick of fundraising for The Salvation Army’s drought response for some time and knew what the organisation’s rural chaplains were doing to support farmers like Cathy. “I had this sense that I should pull over and just try and get in touch with the radio station just to see if I could get her details ... something just prompted me to pull over then and there.”

He followed his prompting and, amazingly, got straight through to the executive producer of the Alan Jones program on his first call to the radio station. “Anyone who’s ever rung up talkback radio will know that hardly ever happens!”he said. Securing Cathy’s contact details, he immediately gave her a call. “It all happened so quickly and so smoothly that I just knew it wasn’t a coincidence.”

<bd>Rural chaplains step in<bd>

Within days of their telephone call, two Salvation Army rural chaplains visited Cathy on her farm. Cathy also organised for the chaplains to meet farmers from neighbouring properties who had endured years of drought, poor crops and little to no income. She said that meeting made a huge difference. “It lifted their morale and lifted their spirits and just made them realise that we’re not forgotten here.

“[The farmers around here are] exhausted and stressed and worried and everyone was very depressed. I was worried about a few of the farmers and my friends around here. So just for them to sit and talk was really good. Really good.”

Not only did they provide emotional support, The Salvation Army was able to make a direct deposit payment into their bank accounts to give them some breathing space as they navigated bill payments, finding money to buy feed for cattle and general living expenses. “It helped so much,”Cathy said. “They also brought some goodies with them –food packages and some beanies and scarves that some people in nursing homes had knitted.”

And it wasn’t a one-off visit. The Salvation Army’s rural chaplains have stayed in touch with Cathy and her neighbours, through visits and phone calls.

For Andrew Hill, coming into contact with Cathy was one of those encounters he will never forget. “In my job, I don’t speak to frontline people in need, people that need direct assistance, but they come across my path on rare occasions,”he said. “When they do, I know that’s because God puts them in my direct path, for whatever reason that is.

“I’ve been right in the middle of raising the money [for The Salvation Army’s drought response] and seeing the hugely generous support from the Australian community,”he said. “And then, all of a sudden, I get to see the difference that a donation has made to this family. And how it’s brought them hope and brought them community, it’s brought them respite, it’s brought them a sense of belonging to an Australia that cares about them.”


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