A TAMWORTH idea sparked by the plight of western area farmers has ignited into a huge social support event and the first Drought Buster BBQ designed to give drought-stricken rural residents a mental lift.
The first Drought Buster BBQ will be held at Walgett on April 5 and already has attracted wide support from sponsors, politicians, farm groups and regional residents.
Tamworth men Bill Caley and Neville Evans developed the idea for the social gathering over talk of the desperate situations of families and mates in the Walgett area, one of the worst-hit drought areas in NSW.
The two have brothers who farm in the area and have seen first-hand the despair and desolation that has gripped the district now for nearly two years – and, more poignantly, have also seen the wide-reaching impacts of the drought on businesses and local towns.
Both admit the personal stories they’d heard and heard of were the catalyst for this Tamworth helping hand.
National Party branch executives and farmers Bede Burke and Russell Webb have added political and professional weight to the movement.
The Drought Buster BBQ is designed to give hope and comfort, provide an ear, show empathy and support – and, most of all, put a positive spin on the future.
It will bring together locals and political figures, including mental health experts, social counsellors and landcare leaders.
The first Drought Buster BBQ might also have a flow-on effect – similar events could be repeated across the northern drought zone.
Bill Caley of Moonbi said that up to September last year the Walgett district had only recorded 20mm of rain in 18 months.
Neville Evans’ brother, Mark, had been feeding since November and cut back his stock as well.
Another family friend had had his cattle on the road for nearly 12 months and where he used to grow wheat to feed his cattle, he hadn’t had a crop across two seasons to do it at all.
“It’s the least amount of rainfall I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’ve never seen it so dry in a year. It has happened before this, but just not so widespread,” Neville said, admitting this time around is probably worse than the worst of the 10-year drought from about the time of the millennium.
“We never saw total failure – someone had a crop somewhere – but this is so widespread.”
They remain optimistic about rainfall forecasts but they also reserve their sympathy for those who derive income indirectly from farms.
“It will rain – we just don’t know when – but that country is fertile and if we get good-quality rain we will get a good season,” Mr Evans said.
“The farmers will be there for 10 years, but once businesses go they will not come back. We need those businesses to stay.
“We are hearing talk of between 70 to 100 per cent of loss of income in businesses and the town.”
Bill Caley said some businesses were reporting having zero cash flow.
So the Drought Buster BBQ will also have a focus on businesses doing it as tough or tougher.
Local suppliers and contractors are being used to source the ingredients for the event and are also invited to attend.
The Rotary Club of Tamworth West has backed the idea and a fund has been set up to help. Donations can be made to BSB 032 621, account number 219992 and mark the payee as BBQ.
While social and mental problems have been reported as widespread in rural centres, the Drought Buster BBQ will be more about burying the negativity and promoting positivity and hope.
The event will be held at the Walgett Showground and is expected to attract a couple of hundred people.
“And there won’t be any political speeches – this is the real deal about drought, a genuine attempt to help,” Mr Caley said.
He said it was about getting people together to bring hope and optimism to those who had been suffering in silence for so long.