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The drought is now so severe it is biting in even the greenest corners of the country

By Nadia Daly, Monday September 16, 2019 - 14:44 EST
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A dry river bed on Tony Saul's property - ABC

Farmers along Australia's normally green eastern coast are reeling from the worst drought they have ever seen and face a tough summer if it doesn't rain in the next few months.

The NSW mid-north coast is usually a lush part of the country, with reliable rain and regular flooding.

But the region has been in drought for two years now and farmers say it is starting to bite.

"We normally get 40 inches of rain [a year] and I think we are up to around 8 inches," fourth-generation beef farmer Tony Saul told 7.30.

"And that might be all we're going to get for the year."

He is standing in a dry river bed that stretches for hundreds of metres through his property near Kempsey.

It's usually full of water where his cattle drink.

"This is the longest and the driest it's been since I can remember and I've been here for my whole life," Mr Saul said.

"We've had dry periods — you know, it might be dry for three or four months.

"But it's been dry for 12 months here and the big concern is we've just been through our wet period of the calendar year."

'You start to give up hope'

To help make ends meet, all five members of the Saul family have taken on extra jobs outside the farm.

"We've all still got loans to pay and the bank needs their money," Mr Saul said.

"So, we've got to have an income coming in."

He has been doing extra work driving cattle trucks, but he also has to keep the farm ticking over.

Which makes for long days.

"Usually starting around 6 o'clock (in the morning)," he said.

"I could be not getting home until 1 o'clock in the morning.

"I've done a few nights when I haven't finished till 4 o'clock, just trying to get my jobs done.

"Other people rely on you."

It takes a toll on more than just the family's finances.

"It affects your mental thinking. You start to give up hope," Mr Saul said.

"The long hours of working to bring other income in takes a toll on your family life. You don't seem to get home to see your children."

Mr Saul's son Cameron told 7.30: "There's been times when I've come home and Dad's in tears ... just knowing that he can't do anything about it, just keep battling along."

If it doesn't rain in the next few weeks, Mr Saul faces the prospect of selling some of his cattle.

"You just pray and wish and hopefully it will come," Mr Saul said.

"One day closer, every day."

'It's desperate'

Fifth-generation dairy farmer Donna Clarke and her husband, Peter, are in the same position.

"It's desperate. We've never seen this before," she told 7.30.

For the first time the Clarkes can remember, the creek that runs through their property is bone dry.

Normally the water would be around a metre deep, now the cattle struggle to drink from the last remaining puddle.

"This is their only water source in this paddock. That's all they have got now," Ms Clarke said.

The lack of water has slashed the couple's income.

"There's no profit," Ms Clarke said.

"Whatever is sold goes straight to paying bills."

From previously clearing $13,000 a month, the Clarkes' monthly income from milk is now down to $1,000.

"The Country Energy bill, when it comes, will be about $6,000, and I just don't know how we're going to pay that one," Ms Clarke said.

They have already sold most of their cattle.

Their two sons want to work on the farm but there is no money to pay them, so they have both found work elsewhere.

Their parents hope that will be temporary.

"They keep us going, they keep us sane," Ms Clarke said.

And one day they may take over the farm.

"You try and plug along for a future for them, somehow. Try and hang in for them," Mr Clarke said.


© ABC 2019

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