ON THIS JOURNEY TOGETHER: Purple Dove Awareness Group Founder Chris Robins with The Aussie Trekka Founder Brad Costigan and Granite Belt Water Relief Founders Samantha and Russell Wantling with Clancy and Elsie Willett.
ON THIS JOURNEY TOGETHER: Purple Dove Awareness Group Founder Chris Robins with The Aussie Trekka Founder Brad Costigan and Granite Belt Water Relief Founders Samantha and Russell Wantling with Clancy and Elsie Willett.

2019 IN REVIEW: Humanity found in heartbreaking drought

FROM the dry and dusty earth has grown a stronger sense of community on the Southern Downs, where hundreds of residents have stepped up to ensure the survival of both their neighbours and themselves.

The worst drought in 100 years left farmers cash-strapped, destocked and desperate in 2019, but where crops failed, people stepped in.

Longstanding charities, such as the Lions Rotary Club and the Purple Dove, banded together with water relief initiatives, such as Granite Belt Drought Assistance and Granite Belt Water Relief, to ensure no family went without.

It was times like these, said GBWR founder Russell Wantling, that restored a little bit of faith in humanity.

"It has shown that even in such a bad, bad situation there is still a lot of good out there," Mr Wantling said.

"It's brought that community spirit back out again."

The record-breaking dry forced Purple Dove founder Chris Robins to rely far more on the generosity from strangers, as she struggled to supply food to an increasing number of hungry farmers.

 

 

WEEKS REMAIN: The outlook isn’t good for the Southern Downs. PHOTO: Dan Peled
WEEKS REMAIN: The outlook isn’t good for the Southern Downs. PHOTO: Dan Peled

 

"In the 11 years we have lived in Stanthorpe, it is the first we haven't been able to grow fresh fruit and vegetables in our garden," Mrs Robins said.

"We really prided ourselves on being able to provide a nice lettuce or things like that for free out the front of our property, but now we have none of that.

"We've had to resort to non-perishable items because fruit and vegetables are getting very expensive, it's not as healthy for them but it's better than nothing."

The bulk of that food now comes from outside the region after the severity of the Southern Downs drought became a concern in places such as Ipswich and Brisbane.

The second half of the year saw a sharp increase in donations of food, feed and water from across the country, with millions of litres of water donated from large, international corporations as well as small community groups.

GBWR distributes upwards of 170,000L of water each day to drought-affected residents, offering a lifesaving service to those who have reached the end of their rope.

"The need keeps growing, no one thought it would ever get this bad," said Mr Wantling.

"It has affected everyone and discriminated against no one."

Heartbreaking stories of men forced to shoot their starving dogs, and women crying over the generosity of a simple cup of tea, have become increasingly common.

But local charities can only see things becoming worse as the drought stretches into the year 2020.

"I think we'll see big problems in the new year as people who over committed themselves to Christmas presents find themselves in a seriously bad financial situation," Mr Wantling said.

"Then we still have to get through winter: Even if it rains tomorrow we'd still be feeling the effects of drought until next spring because people haven't planted.

"It'll be a hard winter for a lot of people and a lot of businesses."

As the months wear on, their work to put smiles on farmers' faces will become more important than ever, said Mrs Robins.

"It will be dry for some time, but we will work together to survive it, because we have to," she said.

"But it has to rain sooner or later: Every day is a day closer to rain."



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