"It's a struggle a lot of the time but you just make do with what you have got. You can't do anything else." These words are not from the Great Depression, but are Murrurundi resident Clinton Roser's candid reflection about the reality of daily life in the drought-stricken Upper Hunter town.
Standing in the backyard, Ruth Roser points to withered vine in the middle of a patch of dirt that was once the family-of-eight's vegetable garden.
A few metres away a clothesline strains under the weight of a fresh load of washing comprising of school and sports clothes belonging to the couple's children whose ages range from nine to 20.
"You just try and use as little water as you can. Everyone is in the same boat," Clinton Roser says.
"Anyone who has got kids knows there is extra washing, which means extra water. It doesn't matter if it is the kitchen or laundry, you just have to be sensible about how you use it."
Nestled at the foot of the Great Dividing Range, the area's picturesque landscape was the traditional home of the Wonnarua people before the arrival of European settlers in the 1820s.
Numerous droughts have shaped the town's rich social and environmental history, but the current, seemingly endless dry spell has pushed its population of 850 to the brink, both physically and mentally.
"The longer is goes on ... we don't seem to see an end to it, that's the hard thing," Murrurundi resident and Doing It For Our Farmers campaign volunteer Justine Cooper said. "It's been ongoing in some areas now for six years."
As the Lower Hunter population contemplates having restrictions put on its water use for the first time in 25 years, Murrurundi residents have been surviving on Level 6 restrictions since July 2018.
Level 6 water restrictions are the highest level before emergency measures are introduced.
The restrictions include residents limiting their showers to three minutes and combining their washing into two loads a week. Topping up pools and washing outside surfaces and vehicles is prohibited.
But it's the little things, like the ban on watering lawns and gardens, that many struggle with the most.
"There are a lot of keen gardeners in town, it's their hobby but they can't look after them because there's no water," Mel Bergquist, who works at the local supermarket where sales of bottled water have boomed, said.
"Just the basic things you go to the tap for. You ask do I really want to do that? It's completely changed, where you would just turn the tap on, we're not."
Despite the community's best efforts to conserve water, the town's average daily water consumption increased from 188 kilolitres in December 2018 to 250 kilolitres in February.
Juls and Kylie Cross, who have been running the Royal Hotel for the past two-and-a-half years, balance the challenge of conserving water with the commercial reality of operating a busy business.
They are also witness to the human toll of drought on many of their patrons, who call in for a moment of respite.
"Everyone is doing their absolute best. No one is taking the mickey; they have stopped washing their cars and things like that," Mr Cross said.
The hotel's owners, Husky Group, and another company, KBH Haulage, have been trucking water into the town since January.
The Husky Group also came to rescue last summer when it provided water for the town's swimming pool after the council declared the cost of filling it would be prohibitive.
"The council suggested the kids should catch the bus to Scone but that wasn't an option so it was a case of finding a way to fill the pool," Mr Cross said.
Upper Hunter Shire Council paid for an average of 130 kilolitres a day to be trucked into the town last month at a cost of $40,000. The water, combined with another 110 kilolitres a day sourced from a 180-metre deep emergency bore, is what locals without tank water survive on at present.
There's no question they are grateful for the lifeline, but are also wary of the imported clear brew.
It might be passed safe to drink, but there's more than a few people around town with chaffed and cracked skin after extended exposure to the chlorine-laced water.
"There's a lot of calcium and chemicals in it to keep it good enough for us to drink," Mr Cross said.
"I've got pretty tough skin but at the moment I'm getting torn up. There's nothing we can do about it."
The drought that won't end
The big question that keeps drifting back into the town's bar room conversations is how long is this drought going to last?
There's a commonly-held view in the Upper Hunter that the drought will last for at least another 12 months.
The Bureau of Meteorology, which this week declared the drought in the Murray Darling Basin as the worst on record, said it was unable to provide accurate forecasts beyond three months.
"Unfortunately the bureau's current outlook indicates increased odds of drier than average conditions over much of eastern Australia in the coming three months," manager of Climate Services David Jones said.
While the national focus of the drought has been on areas such as the Murray Darling Basin, the bureau's data shows areas such as the Upper Hunter are also in extreme drought.
"There was the good rain over summer in western Queensland, but for many other parts of Australia since the start of 2017 it has been very dry over a run of seasons," Dr Jones said.
It's a scenario that also occupies the mind of sheep and cattle farmer Brian Hunt who lives outside of town at Sandy Creek.
"With the amount of water that's here now, come September-October when there is a bit of heat in the sun, I don't know what to think," Mr Hunt ponders as he stares into a dried-up crater, one of 14 dams on his property, that hasn't been full in four years.
Like many of his neighbours, Mr Hunt, whose family who has farmed in the shire since the 1860s, destocked when the drought began to bite in 2017.
"I would probably have tried to hang onto them, but [selling them] as it turned out it was one of the best decisions we ever made," he said.
The handful of sheep that remain roam around his 2200 acre (890 hectare) property in search of whatever green shoots the parched landscape offers.
Each day the 84-year-old, who has lived on the property with his wife Annette since 1982, meticulously records whatever drizzle falls from the sky on a calendar pinned to the laundry wall.
"My grandfather used to tell me about some of the droughts in 1900, 1890, those times," he said.
"My experience with the droughts, particularly the worst prior to this, was 1965-66 when we had 13 inches (33 centimetres) in 1965.
"In this last year we just finished we had 16 inches (40.6 centimetres).
"But in the '65 drought all our dams on the properties, our two big local dams, Keepit (presently at 1 per cent) and Glenbawn (presently at 50.7 per cent), were chock-a-block because '63 and '64 had been good years.
"That wasn't the case this time.
"This is definitely the worst I have seen it."
Further down Sandy Creek Road, Peter Frith sits in the shade of his back patio and reflects on the uncertainty of not being able to predict when the drought will end.
"There have been other dry spells and they are pretty bad while they are on but they didn't last as long as this one," he said.
"We don't know how long this one is going to continue on.
"The hard part is the unknowing. You can be in another business where you can plan for something you know is going to happen to you but the trouble is on the land you don't know.
"It makes it hard whether you sell your stock or whether you hold them or what you do."
A community's resilience
While the drought's impact is severe, the community-based campaign to support those on the land in the Hunter and beyond is becoming the stuff of legend.
The Doing It For Our Farmers campaign, founded in Tamworth in 2018 by Sue Ellen Wilkin, is one of several programs assisting the region's farmers.
Justine Cooper co-ordinates a group of dedicated volunteers who run a pop-up pantry in Mayne Street, Murrurundi on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The pantry resembles a supermarket with shelves stocked with everyday items for farmers to come and shop, free of charge.
"Talking to our farmers, particularly the ones that are older, they say they have never seen the community spirit like they have seen during this drought." Ms Cooper said.
"Some of our volunteers are farmers' wives who give up their time to come in and work in pop-up pantry. They give up their time and effort because they care about the people in the community."
The community's generosity isn't lost on Peter Frith, who estimates he has enough water to get through to Christmas, said..
"I have been on the land since the early 1960s and there have been a lot of droughts. A lot of people say 'oh it's a dry spell' or something like that. They have all been hard but we have never had this sort of help, it's humbling.
"We have had different people come here and drop hay, then there's been people with vouchers. It really helps."
Upper Hunter Deputy Mayor Maurice Collision said the wider community's support for the farmers had been overwhelming.
"You can't feed cattle without water. I know some farmers are feeding 600 head of cattle. That's got to be draining on the finance side of things as well as on their health and wellbeing," he said.
Help is in the pipeline
The drought's grip may not be about to ease anytime soon, but the glimmer of hope that Murrurundi locals are clinging to is news that work on a $14 million, 40 kilometre water pipeline between Scone and Murrurundi will begin in August.
About $13 million has been provided by the state government with the remainder provided by Upper Hunter Shire Council.
The project, which has been delayed multiple times due to a lack of funding, land acquisition issues and approval processes, is now due for completion by mid 2020.
"We are really keen on getting that water pipeline in but it keeps getting put back," Juls Cross laments.
Upper Hunter MP and former Upper Hunter Shire mayor Michael Johnsen said successive state governments had avoided the project.
"Why wasn't it done earlier? That's a very good question. The council tried to get funding for years," Mr Johnsen said.
The thing which ultimately got it across the line was when we had to cut off the town's water supply because of algae problems. That made world headlines and the government of the day came to the party."
But even when the pipeline is installed shopkeeper Judy Hynes is concerned there will be virtually no water left in Glenbawn Dam because of the inconsistent introduction of water restrictions in the Upper Hunter.
Despite the severe water restrictions that have been placed on Murrurundi residents for a year, Level 1 water restrictions have only been introduced in Scone, Muswellbrook and Singleton in the past month.
"My biggest concern is how is Glenbawn going to go if we don't get any rain. It certainly doesn't look as if the weather patterns are changing at this point in time," she said.
"We get another hot summer and it drops. Will there be enough water in the pipeline for Murrurundi? I believe that goes back to not having water restrictions early enough in the other towns that use Glenbawn."
The great climate debate
Most Upper Hunter residents have their sights squarely focused on getting through one day at a time. But there's still plenty of opinions about whether or not climate change is affecting their lives.
"There is more and more talk about it. I suppose a lot of people don't accept it but there are facts there," Upper Hunter Shire Mayor Maurice Collison said.
"Something has changed and it is changing."
Clinton Roser agrees: "I've been around for a while and I think we are getting about half of the rainfall that we used to get. The trouble is we are not getting regular lots [of rain]," he said.
"You just have to open your eyes to see things are changing."
Brian Hunt, who has seen more bad times come and go than he cares to remember, admits he is still on the fence on climate change.
"We went to a meeting recently. About 50 per cent of those people on the side of climate change and the other 50 per cent were on the opposite side," he said.
"I'll be quite honest with you, I don't know what to think. A lot of parts of eastern Australia have never seen it like it is at the present time. I just don't know."
His neighbour Peter Frith isn't buying it.
"You get your wet years, you get your dry years. I think it's all over-rated; I'll probably get hounded down for saying it," he said.
"Some of the old drovers that I spoke to when I was young said 'this is not hot mate, you should have been here when we were young.'