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Flood-affected families 'dragging dead roos and cows' offered support for children as parents struggle

Aneeta Bhole, Friday February 15, 2019 - 16:16 EDT
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Ms Oakhill says she is encouraging her children to be open about how they are feeling. - Audience submitted

Children in western Queensland have often watched as their parents pray for predictions of rain in the hope of relief from the unrelenting drought in the region.

But widespread flooding and heavy rains followed by a cold snap has had producers looking to the skies for sunshine, as .

Tahnee Oakhill lives at Bernfels Station, just 70 kilometres north-west of Winton, and said her kids have been invaluable during the recovery process.

"They helped us drag dead roos and cows out of our machinery shed. They just wanted to do something to help mum and dad feel better," she said.

"At that point we didn't want to say 'no, stay at the house, this is for mum and dad to do'.

"We figured if we can make light of it somehow, even though its crap, hopefully it'll be a bit easier on them."

Bernfels Station has had a 90 per cent loss of cattle after receiving 560 millimetres of rain, and feeding surviving cattle has been difficult through the muddy swamp left behind.

The meaning of rain changed

Mrs Oakhill said she wished she could have , but it has been hard when it is "right there in front of them".

"The kids are something I think about when I'm going to bed at night. In the day we're still trying to process everything," she said.

"Trying to explain hypothermia to them at seven and 10 [years of age] is tricky because it's raining so they think it's the miracle cure — ."

Following the floods, Mrs Oakhill said processing the loss has been difficult and finding other avenues of support for her children has been important.

"Maybe in a weeks' time we'll be able to all sit down and have a chat about what happened, but we'd like to do that with a bit of strength about us and we just don't have it at the minute," she said.

"I had a notification that there would be counselling at the school and I thought 'thank god' because everything feels like it's on us.

" so to have someone there to support us, support them, was a huge relief to me."

Support after the floods

Winton State School principal Carole Hall said some children have been showing signs of anxiety following the weather event.

"When you only have 1,000 people that live in town everybody is affected, and we've had families in the school that have lost everything," she said.

"How do you pick yourself up when you've been dealing with drought so long and keeping the livestock alive and then everything is gone when the rain you prayed for actually arrives?

"The community puts on a brave face and also appears very resilient, but you know that they're hurting."

Ms Hall said a lot of the families are still going through the trauma and are not ready to engage, but said the school has offered services to help support both parents and children.

"It's really important for families after this event. I'm not talking to those families who are terribly affected because they'll need time, sit down and talk through what has happened," she said.

"Kids can ruminate and worry about things. Just because they're young doesn't mean they can't suffer anxiety.

"Resilience isn't built by burying your feelings and appearing strong resilience is built by using your strategies and asking for help."

Being strong is asking for help

Psychologists and councillors have started to visit the region to help residents and speak to school teachers about the best way to support children following the weather event.

Outback Futures chief executive officer Selena Gomersall said people are still in the "safety and stabilisation phase" and it's when the silence starts to hit that mental health services will become important in the community.

"Everybody is in high adrenaline mode — cooking meals, preparing meals, doing food drops, checking in on people and making sure people are okay," she said.

"This is a hard stage, but the really traumatic stuff happens when things begin to slow down.

"This is a time to start challenging the bush stories around what it means to be strong and what it means to ask for help."

Ms Gomersall said keeping an eye out for unusual behaviour or exaggerated behaviour will be a tell-tale sign that someone is not coping.

She said children dealing with their parents' trauma should be a focus in the community.

"Children can appear to be incredibly resilient," she said.

"But there is going to be a spectrum of children dealing with this — from those who witnessed the event first hand to those who have friends who are dealing with the process.

"What we do is talk, what we do is communicate with one another, and we have to be constructive to build that resilience."


© ABC 2019

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