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'It's scary': experiencing the drought crisis from boarding school

By Harriet Tatham, Friday August 10, 2018 - 07:44 EST
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Lara Ciesiolka says being so far from home can be difficult. - ABC

While farmers face what some are calling the worst drought in living memory, many of their children grapple with the dry from boarding schools hundreds of kilometres from their homes.

With 100 per cent of New South Wales in drought and 57 per cent of Queensland, few farming families have escaped the extreme dry.

Despite boarding in Sydney, 15-year-old Lara Ciesiolka still calls Wee Waa home; it's where her family have farmed potatoes, wheat and sorghum since the early 1970s.

Lara says on her last trip home, she was immediately struck with how dry the land had become in just one school term.

"It was really, really dry, and that's so scary to see [because] the last time I went home it wasn't that bad," she said.

"We're still planting our potato crops right now, but this is the first time in forever that we haven't been able to plant a dryland crop."



She said watching her family struggle from afar is a difficult thing to cope with.

"It makes me feel quite upset because I worry about my family and other families' wellbeing during this time of drought.

"My parents are pretty honest, but I think they say it's a lot better than it is because if I think they're worried it will make me more upset."

While the year 10 student said she was surrounded by other girls at Loretto Normanhurst who also grew up on a property and could empathise, she was unsure of what would happen if rain didn't come.

"We won't be able to plant any of the crops, and my family, our financial situation is based strongly on our crop so it's very scary. If there's no rain we won't have an income."

'It's just dirt'



Archie Stacy spends the school term around 500 kilometres away from his family's cattle station in Armidale.

He thinks studying away from home makes the return more confronting.

"I certainly think not being able to go home for a long period of time makes the impact worse," he said.

"The countryside is meant to be a green and luscious place, and right now it's just dirt."

Archie said being distracted by school could be helpful, but he thought his parents used the distance to shield him from the reality.



And while he knows other rural students at The King's School in Parramatta understand what it's like to live through drought, he thinks not everybody understands.

"It's certainly nice to see there's a little bit more coverage on it now, but I don't think they quite understand that it's not just no rain, it's the fact that a lot of families are without an income, are in debt, going through depression, and there's nothing they can do about it, all while trying to support a family.

"I don't think a lot of people understand the significance of it."

'I'm kind of concerned about Dad's mental health'

Far from her hometown of Broken Hill, 26-year-old Esther McKenzie is studying occupational therapy at the University of Newcastle.

In the July holidays Ms McKenzie went home and said the green paddock sheep and cattle property she once knew was almost unrecognisable.



"The dam was down to less than a metre of water, and that dam is probably the size of a football oval," she said.

"There was a whole bunch of emus running around the house trying to find water.

"When the wind comes it picks up the top layer of dust and it always looks a little bit apocalyptic that way."

While she worries about the livestock and native animals, Ms McKenzie said it was her father's mental health that she thought of most.

"I'm kind of concerned about Dad's mental health, and when you go and see the cows getting fed by hand it's kind of reassuring, but when that hay and that feed runs out, you're kind of concerned about what will happen next."

Ms McKenzie, who shares a home with her sister, said they both felt guilty that they were not able to do more.

"We worry that we're not doing enough on our part to help Dad around the farm because we're trying to work on ourselves and access opportunities that we can't necessarily access at home."

'We're still a long way off'



Fergus Friend boards in Parramatta, more than 2,000 kilometres from his North Queensland home.

His parents work on Cannington Station, a 300,000-acre cattle station near Cloncurry.

While his home is above the drought line, his extended family in Walgett are struggling with the drought.

Like the others, Fergus believes talking about the drought can help close the gap between those who grew up in the city and those who grew up on the land.

"We're getting education from these fundraisers and things, so people are learning, but I guess it's hard for some people to understand who haven't actually witnessed it themselves," he said.

"I'd say we're getting there, but we're still a long way off."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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