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Children on drought-ravaged farms get no time for rest or recuperation on their school holidays

Matt Bedford, Friday October 5, 2018 - 08:06 EST
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Wyatt Smith says going to school feels like a holiday after working on his family farm during the school holidays. - ABC

With all of New South Wales in drought and almost one quarter of the state classified as being in "intense drought" there is no rest for the children of farming families as they return home for their school holidays.

The Smith children know this well on their family farm near Wallabadah on the Liverpool Plains in the North West Slopes region of New South Wales.

The farm is on prime agricultural land and the family have worked it for generations.

"It's very tough at the moment and has been for some time," farm owner and mother Helen Smith said.

"Since the start of the year it has become really nasty."

Ms Smith and her husband Simon run the farm together.

The couple has four children and said school holidays were special time for the family.

"Life is good when we've got all four under the roof," Ms Smith said.

But more than that, the couple depend on their children to help around the farm, especially during tough times.

"The boys are crucial. A lot of jobs are held for the holidays or for weekends when we know they're going to be home," Ms Smith said.

Wyatt Smith is 16, the eldest son in the family, and is in Year 10 as a boarder at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in the northern NSW town of Tamworth.

He said he had fond memories of growing up on the farm but times were now tough and the whole family was feeling it.

"It's a real drain — constantly. I'm tired," he said.

"I'm over it. I want the drought to end. Honestly, it's like a holiday going back to school."

With the end of his schooling in sight, Wyatt has been pondering his future and said he was unsure if he would choose a life on the land like his parents did.

"It's great times when your stock are being fed and it's raining — it's nice — there's a lot of freedom there," he said.

"But it's times like this that make you rethink that and look at different paths."

Do farm kids become farmers?

Up on the tablelands, about 100 kilometres to the north-east, Walker Harrison is in a similar position.

He boards with Wyatt at the same high school and he and his twin sister Caitlin have come home for the school holidays to help on the family's mixed-grazing farm.

"We're feeding every second day at the moment. It's repetitive, but you must do it," he said.

"I'm happy to be here doing this, but sometimes you just feel like you could be doing something else with you mates."

For Caitlin, she said being home with her family meant one less thing to worry about as her father was often on her mind when she was away at boarding school.

"It's just dad being alone," she said.

"There's not much help around when we go to school and mum goes to work, so he's just left there alone — something could happen."

The twins' father Richard Harrison said he hoped his children considered careers beyond the farm gate and saw farming as a tough way to make a living.

"I've been pushing them ever since they were born to do something else," Mr Harrison said.

'I wouldn't have it any other way'

Back on the Liverpool Plains, Wyatt and his brothers were digging feed out of a storage pit that their grandfather buried more than two decades earlier.

It was this kind of foresight that has helped the family to survive the drought this far.

"From all the records we have, this is the driest period we've had going back to the 1800s," Ms Smith said.

"It's hard, but I wouldn't have it any other way," Wyatt said.

"It is great being home. We all love it."


© ABC 2018

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