Weather News

Fourth-generation grazier to sell family property as drought reaches unprecedented level

By Declan Gooch and Andrew Schmidt, Monday April 15, 2019 - 16:46 EST
ABC image
Grazier Wes Herring says the drought is worsening and will "drive a lot of people to the brink". - ABC

A fourth-generation grazier, who is selling the family property, says it could take a decade of uncommonly good conditions for pastoralists to recover from the drought in far-west NSW.

Gum Park Station, about 110 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill, has only received 100 millimetres of rain since 2016, and all seven of its dams are empty for the first time in its history.

"I had my grandfather up here at Christmas," Gum Park owner Wes Herring said.

"He's 94, he'd been here all his life, and he never experienced a drought like this one.

"He said to me several times he can't give me advice, because he's never lived the situation that we're in."

Mr Herring and his wife Kate had been destocking the 28,000-hectare property since September 2017 and were preparing to put it on the market.

He had struggled with depression, anxiety and the unending burden of having to source feed for sheep and cattle.

"The last thing you see at night is the red sand, starving stock and a depleted haystack, and it's the first thing you see in the morning," Mr Herring said.

"It's a very poor quality of life at the minute."

Gum Park, which was first farmed by the family in 1915, is a part of Mr Herring's identity that he has come to terms with letting go.

"Someone once said to me, 'To become emotionally attached to a piece of land is quite foolish because it's just a piece of land'," Mr Herring said.

"And it took me a while to process that, but he was spot on.

"It is a big thing to let a century of sweat and blood and tears and everything else go — it might not have been right for [my ancestors], but for our situation it was the right call."

Beginning of 'severe slowdown' across all sectors

Ben Finch, the Broken Hill branch manager of stock and real estate agency Elders, said the broader effects of the drought were beginning to be felt.

"We're seeing a severe slowdown in the agricultural base businesses through towns such as ours, and I think that'll also impact through … general shops and services through the far west as well," he said.

He said while some pastoral families were selling up, many planned sales had already been postponed because of good rains in the district around 2016.

"So we've got, if you like, a little bit of a backlog in sales that didn't happen during that time that are now going to come on board," Mr Finch said.

"We've also got some situational sales where people have decided enough's enough, and perhaps they would prefer to be in a different area.

"[It's a] little bit early to say that's in full swing — it certainly isn't."

Mr Finch said there was still a healthy level of interest in potential investors in the far west and, while the drought had curtailed that slightly, the medium-term outlook was still good.

Mr Herring, who is spending $1,000 per day on feed, said it would take a decade of good conditions to bring his property back to where it was a year ago.

"It will take a big hit, the western division," Mr Herring said.

"You would have to say that there's anywhere from half a million plus sheep missing out of the western division. That's a big thing to try to bring back, either to breed back or buy back and start again.

"It will drive a lot of people to the brink."

Friend and fellow grazier Andrew Wall has invited expressions of interest in his properties Langidoon and Metford near Broken Hill, and said government assistance only went so far.

"You can throw another loan at these young people to put in a shed or to pipe water or something like that, but they don't need another loan, they've got enough debt already," he said.

"They need actual physical things that they can do, as in money for feed, or some of them to cart water, just to keep their stock alive."


© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
National Nine News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Snow, storms and severe fire danger on Thursday

09:46 EDT

Snow will fall in southeastern Australia today while hot and windy weather causes severe fire danger ratings in four states and territories.

China and Africa are building 'great walls' of trees to hold back the desert. But will it work?

09:07 EDT

It borrows its name from the massive stone structure built by the Qin Dynasty.

Working dogs find refuge in the city as drought-affected farmers surrender them

06:25 EDT

As farmers continue to feel the ongoing affects of drought, many are having to give their beloved four-legged mates away but luckily their city neighbours are stepping up to help.