“I hung on and hung on, and I was getting more sheep die each day.
“And I thought, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to sit back and worry about what other people are going to say, or am I going to get some help?’
“To the people who are sitting back and hoping like I did, waiting for the rain to come … ring up and talk to these people, these wonderful people, and let them help you.”
They are the stirring words of Watsons Creek woman Janette Shipton, who finally made that call and became the region’s first person to receive a merciful Buy A Bale hay delivery during this drought.
Representatives from the Rural Aid charity visited Mrs Shipton’s property on Thursday, with hay to feed her hungry livestock, a woodheater to warm her house and their support to keep her hanging in there.
And for the first time in a long time, she said, she had a good night’s sleep.
Despite battling to keep her livestock and livelihood afloat for months, if not years, Mrs Shipton said: “A lot of Australian people are like this: they don’t want to ask for help – they think there’s someone worse off – but sometimes you’ve got to.”
She said she was lucky to have family either there helping or working off-farm for another income: her three adult sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter also live on the place.
Run of bad times
But already challenged by some permanent disabilities after being seriously injured in an accident 20 years ago, Mrs Shipton said bad luck seemed to multiply sometimes.
“Everything just seems to break down when you don’t need it to: the tractor, the forklift, the bobcat,” she said.
“The fuel stove blew up and we had no heating in the house, no hot water.”
The cost of stock feed had gone “through the roof”, and the household had run out of water altogether.
“We had just enough for drinking, which we bought in bottles, and the people at the Bendemeer Hotel were letting us go in and have a shower and do some of the washing there sometimes … absolutely wonderful, they were.”
Mrs Shipton said it seemed like the place had been in drought on and off ever since she bought it 17 years ago.
“I have felt like walking off here a few times and turning my back on it.
“It would be good to be able to go to sleep at night and not worry about something hungry and dying …
“But it’s our home and, also, I think: what would happen to the animals if I’m not here to look after them?”
Her worries are for her remaining 800-900 mostly merino sheep and 28 mixed-breed cattle.
Those numbers were down by two-thirds on what they were during good seasons, she said, but she’d still lost many animals.
She said “a lot of people don’t understand” that a lack of feed was only one of the killers in drought.
Others were hungry foxes taking newborn lambs or attacking birthing ewes; animals getting stuck in boggy dams; more problems during pregnancy and birth, such as toxaemia and prolapse; and animals simply being too fussy to eat the feed brought to them.
She said she “can’t say what the future holds”.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get the rain we desperately need … it’s just dirt and sheep pebbles everywhere, just dirt and dust.”
‘I’m so thankful’
But thanks to Buy A Bale and Manilla-based group Giving back to a couple of local farmers, Mrs Shipton now has 46 large round hay bales, which she thinks should last “probably six weeks, maybe a little bit longer, if I really ration it”.
She also has a little extra in the cupboards for the family, including the working animals.
“They brought some food out, and some kind people had even thought about the working dogs, and there was lots of packets of biscuits and tinned food for them,” she said.
“I’m so thankful to those people; it’s so kind. I’m still getting over the shock.”
First of many
The New England-North West Buy A Bale campaign, a Rural Aid and Fairfax Media drive, has raised more than $42,000.
Rural Aid co-founder and general manager Tracy Alder said: “It was the first Buy A Bale delivery this time around, but we will be doing more drops in the very near future.”
“The issue is becoming more widespread and every day we’re getting many calls for assistance, all around hay … We’re very much concentrating on that at the moment.
“At the moment we have approximately 5000 bales ready to be delivered, most of it to this region.”
Mrs Alder said the organisation had recently started a mobile counselling service, with qualified people in the Hunter region, south-east Qld and about to start in Dubbo.
“By the end of the year, we hope to have about 10 spread out … the next area to consider will be the New England North West,” she said.
- Donate to Buy A Bale here: buyabale.com.au/newengland-northwest/
- Contact the organisation on 1300 327 624