Weather News

Water drought becomes money drought for many country towns

By the National Regional Reporting Team's Rachel Carbonell, Thursday May 16, 2019 - 08:07 EST
ABC image
Coolah giftshop owner Liz Austin said business dropped by more than 50 per cent after the drought really started to take hold. - ABC

A gift shop is not something you would typically associate with drought hardship.

But Liz Austin's colourful little store in the New South Wales town of Coolah is teetering on the brink.

In the past six months the "money drought", as some are calling it, has started to bite in Coolah — and it is the little luxuries that have been the first to go.

"There's just no money in town, there's no income," she said.

"My business has probably gone down between 50 and 60 per cent on what it normally is."

"To buy a gift is not important," Ms Austin said.

"Having food on your table and your bills paid and your family well is more important."

Before the big dry, Ms Austin had an assistant working two days a week.

"We had to cease that because there was no business coming through the door," she said.

"You may go a week and you might have two people walk in."

Cutting back



Across the road at the hairdresser it is a similar story.

Lea Gibbons said haircuts have become a luxury that many locals cannot afford.



"People just don't have the money to get their hair done," she said.

"They're feeding stock, looking after their own."

Ms Gibbons said people simply cut their own hair at home when they do not have any money.

Despite the business downturn, she laughed when she described the botched jobs that have come through the door lately.

"Yes, there has been a few, a lot of fix-ups unfortunately, but that's okay," she said.



But it is not just the non-essential retailers that are struggling here.

Long-time local butcher Jarrod Bennetts said the drought has also affected his business.

"I think people probably turn more to cheaper things like chicken and pork," he said.

And supply is also a problem.

"It's been hard because good stock are hard to find and I'm trying to get it out of our local Dunedoo stock sale and they've had limited numbers due to the drought."

Keeping the town alive



Local business owners have banded together and formed the town's first chamber of commerce in many years.

President Kathy Rindfleish says it was formed in direct response to the challenges being posed by the drought.

"Our town has been doing it a bit tough and I think people are keen to keep the little town alive throughout the drought," Mrs Rindfleish said.

The community was already recovering from major bushfires in 2017 when the drought really took hold.

Recently the town's only bank closed.

Unintended consequences

But the latest blow to local businesses has come from a well-meaning source: drought donations.

Much of the charity helping to keep farmers afloat has been food hampers or gift cards for businesses that do not operate in Coolah.



Mrs Rindfleish said this means that drought charity money is not being spent in the Coolah community, and has ended up hurting local businesses.

"That generosity has been fantastic and people have been accepting the help because they were in desperate need," she said.

"But it's not helping the town and the small businesses because all that money is going out of town."

Mrs Rindfleish said she had a woman come to her with $2,000 worth of charity donations, none of which could be spent locally.

"They were all gift vouchers for Woolies and Coles and shops that we don't have in town," she said.

Better deal for local business



It has become so much of a problem that the local Lions Club decided to stop that kind of charity relief.

Instead, it has sponsored a local gift card that can only be spent in Coolah.

Coolah Lions Club president Quinton Hutchison said the club is now loading drought charity money onto hundreds of 'Coolah cards'.

"I think we can inject $100,000 into local businesses through that system," he said.

The card will be given anonymously to anyone living or working in the Coolah postcode who is experiencing drought hardship.



They can also be purchased by anyone as a gift card, so when people are using it will not be obvious that it is charity.

"We've tried to keep the privacy thing going," he said.

"People just won't accept charity, they're too proud to accept charity.

"This way, they're getting charity but people don't know about it — and that's important."

There is a green tinge around Coolah at the moment from a little bit of recent rain.

But the drought is far from broken.



The bigger picture

The struggles of the shop owners and the other small businesses in this town aren't unique.

It is a similar story across drought-affected Australia.

As farm incomes have dried up, so too has the money that used to flow through these towns.

The Coolah card is part of the 'Why Leave Town' local gift card initiative, which can be tailored to any area.

Founder of the 'Why Leave Town' card system, Ashley Watt, said a number of other towns are now considering using it for other purposes.



"If you give out one of these local gift cards then it circulates into the local businesses, so there's a multiplier effect," he said.

"So not only are you helping out the struggling people in the community, but also the businesses."

For Liz Austin and other business owners in towns like Coolah, the gift everyone is hoping for is proper rain.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
National Nine News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Satellite images question how private dams filled during Murray-Darling pumping embargo

21:00 EDT

A number of farmers will be investigated after satellite imaging showed their dams, in drought-ravaged parts of New South Wales, were filled during a pumping embargo in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Tropical cyclone names this season

14:18 EDT

Australia's 2019/20 tropical cyclone season officially starts in two weeks.

Galiwin'ku residents allocated housing shelter years after Cyclone Lam's havoc

12:36 EDT

Almost five years after the Arnhem Land community of Galiwin'ku was battered by Cyclone Lam, the NT Government is yet to spend $20.3 million of disaster relief funding for rebuilding housing.