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Christmas tree farm battles drought to bring festive cheer to families

Baz Ruddick, Tuesday December 3, 2019 - 14:19 EDT
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Bradley Fraser cuts Christmas trees as they are selected by buyers browsing his paddock. - ABC

On a quest to bring the festive season into their living room, Peta Yorke and her family travelled from Brisbane to Stanthorpe in search of a perfectly shaped live Christmas tree.

But once they had arrived, and realising just how much the southern Queensland town was suffering because of drought, they were happy they had made the decision to stay for the weekend.

"We saw the dam where we were staying was completely dry," Ms Yorke said.

"It definitely makes us want to contribute [and] with the markets that were on today, it made us want to stop and have a look and help out."

Challenging year for Christmas cheer

While it is not the typical operation that springs to mind when talking about drought and farming, the Granite Belt Christmas Farm is doing it as tough as the rest.

This year Bradley and Katrina Fraser have produced half the number of trees they had planned and are seeing their seedlings die as quickly as they are planted.

Mr Fraser said the farm was down to bore water and could not keep up with the demand from seedlings growing in sandy conditions.

"We had about 10,000 trees but the drought has taken a lot off me," Mr Fraser said.

"I've just planted 1,800 and I'm losing all of them too."

When growing radiata pine trees, the issue is getting the roots to establish themselves and grow down into the soil.

Mr Fraser said the farm had produced just 900 trees that were ready for sale this Christmas, falling short of the expected 2,500.

"We don't have the growth in them, so a five-foot (1.5m) tree this year should be a seven-foot (2m) tree," Ms Fraser said.

"That's our problem when we don't have the rain — instead of harvesting a tree in two-and-a-half years we are harvesting a tree in four-and-a-half years."

Recovering from bushfires

In early September , destroying five houses and many other structures.

Like many of their neighbours, the Frasers had to evacuate as fires threatened their 4,000-square-metre plantation.

As Mr Fraser stayed behind to fight the fire, which was burning just one kilometre west of the property, the family sat on edge.

"We put our heart and soul into this place and Mother Nature, you have no control over so you have to deal what comes to you," Ms Fraser said.

Her husband said their farm owed its survival to the hard-working fire fighters.

"The wind was 40 kilometres an hour coming this way; there was smoke everywhere and ash and burnt leaves falling," he said.

"They had fires flying over their heads and one bloke said the screen of his helmet was melting.

"That's hot, that's scary; they are just legends."

Region open for business

The Granite Belt Christmas Farm has joined many other local businesses and groups to ensure the message that the region is open for business is heard far and wide.

Each year, on the first weekend of December, the farm opens its gates to celebrate the season with families coming from Brisbane, northern New South Wales, and the wider region.

"Without tourism in our region and without the surrounding towns coming to support us we wouldn't exist," Ms Fraser said.

"It is absolutely essential for Brisbane and the Gold Coast to get behind this rural town that is struggling."

Ms Fraser said this year, more than ever, it was important for people in the region to celebrate the season and take some time out.

"[The season] is absolutely so important to lift spirits," she said.

"When you are going through drought and bushfires you are in survival mode every day so it is lovely to put your worries aside."


© ABC 2019

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