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Rural towns wait anxiously for a boost, as drought's grip on rural economies spreads

By national regional affairs reporter Lucy Barbour, Sunday November 3, 2019 - 05:56 EDT
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Marg Carmody has noticed a drop in spending in Boorowa, in southern New South Wales, due to drought. - ABC

When you drive through parts of southern New South Wales, it looks patchy — some paddocks are bare and depressing, others have a decent bit of 'green pick'.

Locals in the small town of Boorowa, north-west of Canberra, are quick to stress they are not "nearly as bad" as their neighbours in the state's north and west, and they don't want to "whinge" about their lot.

But everyone admits things could become seriously grim without decent rain over the summer.

"It's like we are on a cliff, just looking over the edge," one local confessed.

The proof lies in the financial books of local businesses, which show spending has dropped off in recent months.

Newsagent Marg Carmody said people were reluctant to spend money, fearing what limited incomes they were receiving would dry up.

"If the farmers aren't doing well, then the stock and station agents aren't doing well," she said.

"The shearers aren't getting work and one thing leads to another and we're not getting anything because nobody's got any money to spend."

The economic hurt in drought-affected regions is everywhere, from the farm to the rural supplies store to the fish and chip shop.

"People are struggling," Judy Mitchell said bluntly, over the counter of her corner-store cafe.

When asked how she is coping, Mrs Mitchell replied: "I'm struggling but I'm tough."

Mrs Mitchell has put her cafe on the market, partly due to the drought.

She and her husband own a farm but are finding the balance too much.

"My husband has to manage the farm so that leaves me to manage here, and to do it alone without sharing the workload with someone is just too hard," Mrs Mitchell said.

She is frustrated by the lack of support for businesses like hers during dry times.

"There's no help, there's nothing put out there, nothing made available for us to apply for to help," Mrs Mitchell said.

"I know there's things for the farmers to apply for, even though it's difficult to get."

Farmers are always a focus in drought. They are custodians of land and provide vital, valuable food and produce.

But there is a growing acknowledgement, including within Federal Government ranks, that country-town economies deserve more attention.

"I think always the focus is on, we must make sure we help the farmer," Mrs Carmody said.

"And don't get me wrong — I would hate to be playing the gamble that they play every single year.

"But I think it's a much bigger issue than just the farmer because everybody depends on the income that the farmer produces to create what goes on in a town."

The , and it is likely to focus on stimulating regional communities.

Mrs Carmody is waiting on the detail but hopes the consideration of country communities is genuine.

"When we had the financial crisis we boosted things by boosting some spending," she said.

"That's the type of thing we need, we need some spending so the economy keeps going."


© ABC 2019

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