A conversation with Brian Egan these days is punctuated with many sighs – of frustration, sadness and what could best be described as bewilderment.
The Aussie Helpers founder, who’s spent years crisscrossing the countryside to wherever those Aussies need that help, says the situation across NSW and Victoria is “just tragic”.
In Tamworth on Wednesday to deliver some help to drought-stricken farmers, Mr Egan said he’d been woken by an all-too-common phone call.
“The mental health scene out there is frightening,” he said.
“I started my day off at 5 o’clock this morning answering a suicide call. I was on the phone for two hours … a guy down at Wellington …
“He was just out of his brain because he was so sick and tired of seeing his cows die and him not being able to do anything about it apart from the help we give him.
“It just got futile … That’s happening every week.
“I don’t think anybody understands, and nobody wants to talk about it.”
Mr Egan had spent the previous day in Gunnedah.
He said farmers from the New England North West region down to the south of the state had never had it so bad, and he’d “been in this game a long time”.
“I was a farmer myself before I went broke in drought way back in 1999 and we walked off with nothing, so I know a little bit about it.
“At the moment in NSW, especially in your region right down as far as Goulburn, a lot of farmers are in survival mode now.
“What I see is just tragic.
“Around the Dubbo area, Yeoval, Wellington, Parkes – honestly, there’s more dead stock than live stock.”
He had no doubt where to lay the blame for this.
“This comes as a consequence of the NSW government not giving farmers a fodder freight subsidy,” Mr Egan said.
“If they had’ve done that 12 months ago, a lot of these people would have been able to get stuff in and keep their breeding stock alive at least but, unfortunately, they’re just losing them.”
Now, it was too late.
“It’s so hard to buy hay in NSW and the prices have gone from $100 a tonne to $400 a tonne, which is absolutely ridiculous, and people can’t afford it unless they’re a corporate sort of farmer.”
Aussie Helpers had its own qualified psychologists, he said, who were taking “something like 50 calls a week from farmers [mainly in NSW and Victoria]”.
“That’s how bad it is; that’s how bad the mental illness is … it’s just at a critical stage.”
Mr Egan said Aussie Helpers would just continue to pitch in whenever, however it could – by delivering hay, or offering free psychologists’ help by SMS, or providing food or toiletries, or giving out fuel cards.
“We’ve been working within NSW about the past six months, especially around the Gundy area near Scone, in the Upper Hunter where it’s really, really, really bad.
“We’re all volunteers.
“It’s just a passion to help farmers to survive on the land.”
If you need to talk to someone, Aussie Helpers’ motto is: “Please don’t hold back, you are all very special people.”
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