Dirt bikes, hay bales and haircuts – Farm Rescue Day 3

truck

HAY DROP: Farmers descend on the station to collect their allocated seven bales of hay, courtesy of Buy a Bale and thanks to the generous donations of NRMA Members and staff.

I nearly died today. Apparently I’m overreacting, but I’m standing by my claim.

Late this afternoon I headed out to a property called Khyber Downs – one of the farms worst affected by the drought. It was so dry the dirt had turned into grey dust.

patrol-tractorsI’d made the trip out there to try and track down two of our NRMA Patrols, who I’d heard were helping farmer Peter fix tractors, motorbikes, trikes, utes, your name it. I could see their NRMA Patrol van disco-balling in the sun well before I spotted any sign of life.

Within about five minutes of being there, this young kid, probably about 17 years old, came flying in on a dirt bike. Before I knew what was happening, my sun-safe, wide brimmed hat had been ripped off, I was thrown on the back of the bike… and we were off! I’m a self-proclaimed thrill-seeker, but let me tell you – I screamed like a little girl.

We tore through a farm gate at what I’m sure was quite literally a million miles an hour. The kid seemed to get a kick out of hearing me scream blue murder, and decided to speed up every time my squeal reached new heights. I had visions of my feet getting tangled in the back wheel, both of us sliding out of control and farmers discovering our bloody remains many months later. I’m growing rather fond of this place, but it’s still not exactly where I imagined spending my last day on earth.

By the time we got back I almost felt drunk with shock. I’d gone from politely resting my hands on the kid’s shoulders, to clinging to his waist with my face pressed into his back. I at least hope he enjoyed it.

I was harbouring some serious resentment towards him, until I heard his story. Farmer Peter had basically adopted him, put him up and given him some farm work to get him out of home. His parents were constantly ‘blueing’, and it wasn’t the right place for a boy to grow up. Back in Sydney, that’d be a big deal, but around here it’s just want they do, they look out for each other. It’s special – like community spirit is their life-force; the only thing feeding the town in lieu of rain. I’m still working on forgiving the kid… I’m getting there.

hay-carlyEarlier in the day – well before the trauma of my near death experience – a group of us headed out to a big, beautiful property, sitting on about 36,000 acres, for a hay drop. Farmers from all over the area descended on the station to collect their allocated seven bales of hay courtesy of Buy a Bale and thanks to the generous donations of NRMA Members and staff.

After loading up their trucks, we all headed up to the homestead for a cup of tea, a corn beef sandwich, and a haircut. As you do. One of our Member volunteers Richard is a barber, so he was onsite to give everyone who wanted one a trim.

As we were all standing around, chatting and watching the farmers’ transformations, I got to know station owner, farmer Doug. I liked him instantly. He’s a beast of a man – in height, in width and in eyebrows – with the most devious smile. I could tell he had some good stories up his sleeve. We spoke about everything from kids and the weather, to wives and brazilians. It was very funny.

After an hour or two, it was time to head off, so I ducked inside to say goodbye to my new friend. I found him in the study, busy with paperwork. I launched in and gave him a massive hug. He just stood there, with his arms by his side – and not out of manly awkwardness, something else was up. I asked him if he was ok, but you could tell he wasn’t.

A few years back, Doug had a breakdown. The stress of living at the whim of the land had been too much, and he couldn’t cope. He now manages the stress with medication, but I’d caught him at a vulnerable moment. Doug explained that he was just worried. This was the worst, most severe drought on record in about 150 years. Bills to pay, mouths to feed, and no income for three years takes its toll. And most of all, Doug was worried about his stock – whether to keep pumping in money to keep them alive when there’s nothing to eat and no sign that there will be any day soon. It was a dilemma I couldn’t imagine being faced with, and there was nothing I could say.

hay-main

Before I went on this trip, when people would ask me where I was going, I’d generally say something like, ‘to help drought-stricken farmers doing it tough’. But since being here, I’ve realised this isn’t tough, it’s not a game – it’s beyond that. It’s gut-wrenching, it’s hurting this beautiful community, and it’s ripping people apart. Yet they get on with it, they put on a brave face, they welcome you into their homes, and they smile. If you don’t laugh you cry, right?

Could you live on the land? Why do you think people live out in such difficult conditions?

#farmyarmy #farmrescue

Turtles, tradies and rain dancing on Lightning Ridge

COWABUNGA: A turtle enjoys a dip.

PUDDLE-PADDLE: It turns out thunderstorms are quite common here, but the rain only falls in the main township, the highest point, and most of the farmers miss out.

A weird thing happened yesterday afternoon. It rained. And we’re not just talking the anticipated light sprinkling – it was a full blown thunderstorm.

Feeling the sweet relief of rain in the cruel heat was one thing (I may have done a rain dance), but the way this barren place sprang to life at the first drops of water was something else altogether.

workersI was just heading out of town as the rain hit, and found myself staring down a gauntlet of kangaroos, lining the road as far as you could see until they disappeared into a mirage. I passed lizards, a goanna, countless birds, a random goat trotting along the highway, a turtle… a what?! I staged a dramatic u-turn to go back and check it out. It was indeed a turtle. In the middle of the road, in the middle of the bush. This place is nuts.

As I was driving through a maze of puddles, I was feeling rather deceived by all these farmers in ‘drought’. And then I remembered where I was. Lightning RIDGE. Apparently this place was once known by its aboriginal name – Wallangulla, meaning ‘hidden firestick’ – until one rather tragic day in the late 1800s when a shepherd and his entire flock were struck and killed by lightning. Long story short, it turns out thunderstorms are quite common here, but the rain only falls in the main township, the highest point, and most of the farmers miss out.

workerPulling up at our first property early this morning, it was clear they’d barely seen a drop. We were at Mungalby – a farm described to me as ‘just around the corner’. 70km later, we arrived. We were there to team up farmer Grant with volunteer Chris, a plumber by trade but the kind of guy who can throw his hand to just about anything. He was called in to help restump the woolshed. If you’ve never smelt a woolshed, you’re missing out – I’m going with an interesting combination of horse manure and urine.

Grant was recently told it’d cost him an uncomfortable $25,000 to restump the massive corrugated iron structure. For a guy trying to support his wife and three kids after being forced to sell over half his stock earlier this year, that’s a near impossibility. Thankfully, the Farmy Army’s Chris was on hand to help out and knock it over in a day. For free.

last-oneAfter visiting a number of farms today, that seems to be a common thread around here; the drought is crippling, but so is finding the skilled manpower to complete specific jobs without blowing the bank. Many tradies aren’t willing to travel out this far – and if they are, the travel time from Dubbo, or another regional hub, plus labour is cost prohibitive for these guys already doing it tough. It’s a double-edged sword.

Back to the farm and volunteer Chris also discovered that Mungalby’s sewerage system needs replacing. He lives on the northern beaches of Sydney and runs his own business, but promised farmer Grant he’ll come back and replace it in a few months when he has more time. For free.

I experienced a whole gamut of emotion listening to these kinds of stories today; a young couple who have been forced to sell off claims of their land for opal mining, a Mum who spends months on her own while her kids are at Uni and her husband subsidises the farm by working in Sydney. In 24 hours I’ve gone from trying to work out what this place is all about, to wondering – who are these people? The generosity and strength of our volunteers and farmers is overwhelming.

What attributes do you think it takes to live in bush? Could you do it? 

Farm Rescue mission rolls into Lightning Ridge
NRMA Farm Rescue hits the road

#farmyarmy #farmrescue
 

Double the high and still getting off

Untitled-3

Alarming drug driving statistics released last week by the NSW Police highlights the need to crack down hard on people caught driving high.

According to NSW Police, since January 1, random drug-testing operations have seen 29,500 drivers tested and 1,160 return positive results for drugs in their system, compared to 729 drivers out of 34,280 in 2013.

More than one-in-10 (11%) NSW road fatalities involved a motorist or motorcyclist who had illicit drugs in their system. Forty per cent of drug driving offences and fatal crashes involved a driver under the age of 30.

Analysis undertaken by NRMA earlier this year, showed that almost one-in-three drivers (488) convicted of a first offence for drug driving in NSW from 2010 to 2012 walked free after receiving a Section 10, were convicted without penalty, or had no conviction recorded.

NRMA President Kyle Loades said the number of people caught driving with drugs in their system had doubled and it was clear that some drivers were not getting the message that this type of anti-social behaviour was not on.

“The vast majority of drivers appreciate how stupid and dangerous this behaviour is, now magistrates need to do their job and get these offenders off our roads,” Mr Loades said.

“NRMA welcomes the announcement of the package of measures to combat drug driving,” Mr Loades said.

“The party season is just around the corner and it is critical that these measures are implemented as soon as possible.

“NRMA will work with the NSW Government to develop and communicate this important message.”

“NSW Police is doing a great job but it cannot do this alone, all arms of the NSW Government need to work together if we are to tackle this growing threat.”

“No one wants to share the road with a drug driver,” Mr Loades said.

Does drug driving on our roads concern you? How should the police crack down on this behavior?

Farm Rescue mission rolls into Lightning Ridge

ARMY BUS REACHES LIGHTNING RIDGE:   "It’s almost like a bushfire has ripped through the entire area, turning everything grey and leaving nothing but some redish dirt and haggard trees for colour. It looks harsh and it feels harsh."

HOT HOT HEAT: “It’s almost like a bushfire has ripped through the entire area, turning everything grey and leaving nothing but some redish dirt and haggard trees for colour. It looks harsh and it feels harsh.”

You know that feeling you get when you hop into your car on a hot day? Those minutes of momentary panic when you think the air-conditioning isn’t working… Why isn’t it working?… Maybe it’s broken… Is it set to heat??… I can’t turn it up any further… WHY IS IT SO HOT?!

That was the exact feeling I had earlier today when I stepped out of the cool comfort of my dual cab ute and into the oppressive heat of Lightning Ridge. What a shock.

After helping our Farmy Army volunteers board a bus and bidding them farewell in Sydney early Saturday morning, today I took a train, plane and automobile 750km north west to meet the crew on site at farms in the Goodooga and Lightning Ridge regions. Although I’ve just arrived, the team is already into their second day of work as part of our week long Buy a Bale Farm Rescue mission.

The landscape up this way is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s almost like a bushfire has ripped through the entire area, turning everything grey and leaving nothing but some redish dirt and haggard trees for colour. It looks harsh and it feels harsh.

There’s almost no mobile reception on most of the farms, so I’d prearranged to meet the team at Bangate Station, a property around 50km from Lightning Ridge.

I had a number of initial thoughts on arriving at the farm gate:

  1. Who would choose live out here?
  2. How could you live out here?
  3. Why do people live out here?!

I’m not even close to finding answers to those questions as yet, but I’ve decided to make that my mission over the next 5 days.

GHOST TOWN: Bangate Station

GHOST TOWN: Bangate Station

Bangate Station was like a ghost town when I finally found the homestead about 25km from the main road. I cut a few laps in my ute before finally chancing upon a guy tucked under a mammoth tractor who looked like he’d walked straight off the pages of an RM Williams catalogue.

Said guy was farmer Scott – son of Bangate Station owner and heir apparent. The Farmy Army was nowhere to be seen, as they’d just headed off to roll some hay, so I hung around for a wee chat.

I was pleased to get my token blonde moment of the day out of the way when – after exchanging names – I asked, ‘so do you get much rain then?’ He hid a wry smirk but humoured me with an answer. Apparently it’s forecast to rain tomorrow – an exciting prospect, but that usually only means a handful of drops. A few years back, when the forecast was rain you could expect at least several inches.

You don’t have to look far to know the drought is really hurting our farmers up this way. Since February this year, Bangate Station has gone from running 21,000 sheep, to a mere 7,500. They also have a few on ‘holiday’ – well that’s what I’m calling it anyway. I can’t remember the actual terminology, but they basically send some of the flock to farmers with greener pastures until conditions improve. It costs them around 50 cents per sheep per day, which is cheaper than bringing in fodder.

Scott described the current drought as ‘a bit awkward’; quite a humble way to talk about something that’s literally destroying your livelihood, but then I guess that’s the Aussie way. I’ve decided I like the people out here already. It’s going to be a good week.

Stay tuned to the NRMA Facebook page for daily blogs from our Farm Rescue. If you’d like to donate to Buy a Bale and help farmers going it tough, visit www.buyabale.com.au.

What’s the harshest, most remote place you’ve ever been?

NRMA Farm Rescue hits the road

#farmrescue #farmyarmy

$1.28 helps NSW take out petrol State of Origin: NRMA/RACQ

STATE v STATE: The NRMA and RACQ have conducted the state versus state analysis for the first time to highlight the discrepancies in petrol prices across states.

STATE v STATE: The NRMA and RACQ have conducted the state versus state analysis for the first time to highlight the discrepancies in petrol prices across states.

The inaugural state versus state petrol analysis for 2014 conducted by the National Roads & Motorists’ Association and RACQ has revealed that NSW had the cheapest petrol price for the year, with a low of 127.9 cents per litre for regular unleaded fuel recorded in Sydney.

In true State of Origin fashion, the contest was extremely tight, with Queensland’s cheapest price for the year recorded at 128.9 cents per litre in Brisbane.

The average price in NSW for regular unleaded fuel for the period from 1 January 2014 to 16 November 2014 was 147.7 cents per litre. By contrast, QLD’s average was 151.6 cents per litre. Alarmingly, Queensland’s highest average price of 165.5 cents per litre broke the record, exceeding the previous record in 2008.

The NRMA and RACQ have conducted the state versus state analysis for the first time to highlight the discrepancies in petrol prices across states. As families prepare to travel for the summer holidays, it is hoped the data will add insight into petrol price movements and give information to motorists before filling up.

The state versus state analysis found:

  • The cheapest centre in QLD for average prices was the Sunshine Coast 149.3 cents per litre
  • The cheapest centre in NSW was Sydney: 148.1 cents per litre
  • The most expensive centre in QLD was Weipa: 178.8 cents per litre
  • The most expensive in NSW was Tumut:  164.2 cents per litre

NRMA President Kyle Loades said the NRMA/RACQ analysis would hopefully shed some light on petrol prices in the two states.

“This is the first time our two clubs have conducted this sort of research and it is about helping to give our Members in both states more information about their local petrol prices,” Mr Loades said.

“NSW had to wait nine years to reclaim the State of Origin, however with more independents south of the border we are not surprised that NSW petrol prices are slightly lower. Regardless of which state you live in, the presence of independents means more competition and lower prices.”

RACQ spokesperson Renee Smith said fluctuating petrol prices in both states meant it was more important than ever for motorists to shop around.

“Support those service stations keeping their prices down, and if you live in Sydney or Brisbane where what you pay is impacted by the petrol price cycle, purchase at the bottom of the cycle when fuel is cheapest,” Ms Smith said.

“While NSW may’ve taken out the battle at the bowser this year, we hope strong competition in parts of QLD such as the Sunshine Coast gets us over the line in 2015.”