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Drought-stricken WA pastoralists given much needed reprieve with donated hay

By James Liveris, Monday January 27, 2020 - 18:51 EDT
ABC licensed image
After 15 hours and more than 1,200km, the convoy made it to Meekatharra. - ABC licensed

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake may have brought some much needed relief to northern parts of Western Australia, but for pastoralists of the southern rangelands it was barely enough to settle the dust.



The drought is crippling the region and pastoralists are doing anything they can to keep their stock alive.

Meekatharra is known for its sweltering temperatures in January, and with no decent rainfall and freight costs at exorbitant prices, some pastoralists are unsure if they will make it through the summer.

But on January 26, something special happened.

A convoy of 20 trucks, delivered more than 2,000 bales of hay to the town, bringing much needed feed for landowners from Leonora, all the way through to the Gascoyne Junction.

A sign of hope



For pastoralist Greg Watters, owner of Mt Clere Station, which is situated 200km north-west of Meekatharra, the hay has come at a time when hope is wearing thin.

"Thank you," Mr Watters said.

"Thank you is the only word I can use to describe such generosity.

"Some people are saying this hay is not going to help us much at all … but it does help us. It gives us another couple of months of reprieve and the biggest fact is that people are helping us, which really puts us in front."

More than 20 years ago, Mr Watters and his wife moved out to the southern rangelands to run their prosperous cattle station.

However, in the past four years, with little rainfall Mr Watters admits it is starting to look precarious.

"We got 50 millimetres this year so far off the back of the cyclone, that's actually more than we got the whole of last year," Mr Watters said.

"If we get a few more inches of rain, it'll be good … but if we don't, it's going to be worse than ever before."

Helping hand

Over the Australia Day long weekend, not-for-profit group Farmers Across Borders organised a hay run from Esperance to Meekatharra.

It was a 15-hour journey that involved a convoy of more than 60 volunteers and 20 trucks, including 10 double trailers and 10 triple trailers.

The crew parked up at Sherwood station, 5km north of town, and awaiting them was a crowd of 120 pastoralists, family and friends in complete euphoria.



Secretary Inaya Stone said it was tricky to coordinate but completely worth it.

"It all starts with the baling process, receiving donations from local farmers who give us their barley straw out the back of their headers or already-baled hay," Ms Stone said.



"We then sort out the applications from the pastoralists and start delivering to the depots.

"The Esperance growers had a particularly poor season last year and got hit with a lot of frost, and for them to donate what they could is just amazing."

Fifty pastoralists from the region came down to personally thank everyone involved.

Ms Stone said there was no doubt the community needed some relief.

"The people out here have had a bit of rain in the last week, and if you look out to the sides of the roads it has definitely greened up but once you look further in, you can really see how dry it is," Ms Stone said.

"And to see the people lining the roads, cheering and waving as we drove in just shows how thankful these people are."

'Tough times don't last, tough people do'

Zoe Hayes is in her third season as a jillaroo in the Murchison area and has always had a love for the land, but her passion really began when she lost her mother to suicide in 2012.



Zoe is the founder of Dust off Depression, which raised money to help fuel the trucks to get the hay up to Meekatharra.

"When I lost my mother, I was homeless and the agricultural industry put a roof over my head," she said.

"It's hugely overwhelming seeing these pastoralists receive some relief.

"I have to hold back my tears, it's been brutal out here. There has been days out here that are too graphic to explain and even though it's not my cattle, it is still really heartbreaking to see the animals in the state they are due to the lack of rain.

"Farmers have a lot of pride, I don't know one person here that has said, 'Hey, I'm struggling, I need help'.

"The time is now for the whole community to get behind these people.

"As my mum used to say, you have just to keep on keeping on — tough times don't last, tough people do."



'It's something else'

Truck driver Evan Warburton set off from Wandering on Thursday afternoon to be a part of the cause, bringing along two trucks — number 11 and 12 of the convoy.

In his second year helping out, Mr Warburton said he jumped behind the wheel without hesitation.

"Seeing the smiles on the pastoralists' faces is why we do it," Mr Warburton said.

"It's a great cause, the blokes out here are doing it pretty tough.

"If I can say something to everyone that is struggling out here, 'Hang in there, each day it doesn't rain, it's one closer to the day it will'."

Truck drivers are well-acquainted with long hours spent on the open road alone.

However, Mr Warburton said the trip had been incredible driving alongside his mates.

"It is different, I spend a lot of my time on my own but to drive along having a chat, cracking jokes, it's something else," Mr Warburton said.

"I'm a bit worried a fine from the other truckies is coming after getting bogged in Leonora.

"I had to get the shire grader to pull me out before we set off.

"This will certainly not be the last time I'll hear about it."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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