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Cups of tea, conversations and support for farmers

Cups of tea, conversations and support for farmers

Cups of tea, conversations and support for farmers

18 August 2022

Major Rusty Lawson shares a cuppa and chat with Craig Tamswell, a farmer from Goonumbla, NSW.

By Cliff Worthing

“It’s amazing what sitting down with a cup of tea does,” said Major ‘Rusty’ Lawson, Rural Chaplain for the NSW/ACT Division.

Rusty and his wife, Major Dianne Lawson, are two of six Salvo chaplains connecting with farmers and graziers at this year’s AgQuip event in Gunnedah (NSW). AgQuip is the largest agricultural field day in the Southern Hemisphere. This year it runs from 16-18 August after a two-year pause due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Lawsons’ role is to support the members of rural communities, which mainly involves emotional and spiritual conversations. The chaplains have a marquee called ‘The Tent’, which operates as a drop-in centre where people can sit down, have a rest, a cuppa and a chat.

As well as a cup of tea, the chaplains have printed material, such as other Salvo services or referral sources. While some chaplains stay at The Tent, others wander through the crowds to connect and, if needed, invite people back to The Tent. The marquee is set up with a common area and places for discreet conversations.

Most conversations revolve around farming issues, such as the sequence of drought, mice plague, bushfires and the recent floods.

“Our farmers haven’t really had a break for seven to eight years,” Rusty said. “For example, some time ago, after years of no crops, the drought broke, then many farmers had to battle a mice plague that ate their first year’s profits and gnawed on farm equipment, which set off fires, and invaded living spaces.”

This year is particularly wet for many. Cotton crops usually harvested in April are only being harvested now, usually when farmers are planting the next crop. Machines can’t access the land, so some farmers can’t plant their winter crops, so that they will miss another season.

While they celebrate the good times, most support involves listening to stories of survival, battling the elements, financial and psychological stressors, and how to keep going.

Dianne said they catch up with families they know and interact with strangers. She said once they build rapport, they then get into meaningful conversations.

The chaplains offer to pray with families, and most agree. Mainland Christian churches are disappearing from the bush, so many appreciate the contact, encouragement and support.

Dianne and Rusty said they try to follow up after the event, either with home visits, phone calls or catching up for a coffee in their local township. They always try to connect people they meet with their local chaplains, Salvo corps, or service.

“It’s all about connections,” Dianne said. “Phone coverage can be patchy in the bush, and it can be difficult to catch them at home, given the nature of farm work. So, there is a lot of phone tag, but eventually, we catch up.”

Hearing harrowing stories from the farmers struggling to survive can take its toll, but Rusty and Dianne access pastoral supervision and debrief with other rural chaplains and with each other.

“We have a lot of time in a vehicle together, so there’s a lot of time to talk about stuff,” Rusty said. “You can’t get caught up with the busyness, and can’t run on adrenalin all the time, so we take time to reflect and pause, so we can keep going, to help our farming community.”

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