Doing it tough on the land: supporting our farmers

Farmers in WA are facing desperate drought conditions inland, while those in the north are still recovering from the floods of two years ago.

Inland, WA farmers are battling the impact of the worst drought in living memory. The grass is dead. The ground is barren. Hand feeding stock is relentless, physically demanding and it takes most  of the day and most of the farmer’s energy. Then there is the crippling financial pressure as feed and water prices soar.

Meanwhile, up north in Broome, pearl farmers are still recovering from devastating floods that ripped through the region two years ago. Not only are farmers facing severe financial and physical stress, they are most often doing it alone. Not many understand that farmers on remote properties face weeks and weeks with no physical contact and no one to talk to.

Farmers living in remote Australia are ten times more likely to die by suicide than those in the city.

Frontier Services is a national agency of the Uniting Church in Australia supporting our farmers during widespread hard times. Bush Chaplains provide regular, on-the-ground support and you can help too, by holding fundraising events to raise money or by giving your time and energy to farmers in need in rural Australia.

Lend a helping hand

No specialist skills are required and all placements are unique. Volunteers could be assisting with gardening, painting, feeding animals, fencing, minding children, cooking, sitting with someone who is unwell, or caretaking a property while the owners visit family or attend appointments in the city.

WA retired schoolteacher, Laurie Uren, has been volunteering with Outback Links for the past six years and has completed ten trips. He says he has made lifelong friends with the families and farmers he has met.

“My first assignment was to a sheep station 120kms south of Carnarvon,” he said. “A fire had gone through and burned out many of the fences and the young couple on the property could do with a hand.

“I spent two weeks rebuilding boundary fences so they wouldn’t lose any more sheep. When I returned home, I told my wife that I needed to go back. I returned and put a new roof on the  shearing shed.

“Another family I have been back and helped three times,” he said. “They are a young couple with three kids on an isolated cattle station in the Upper Gascoyne.

“Just getting to them is an adventure, the road is ‘at your own risk’. One time it was impassable, and I was helicoptered in.

“For them, I caretake the property feeding pets and calves and doing the mill run, so they can have a break.”

Laurie says the biggest challenge to volunteering is just leaving behind your current day-to-day life and heading off, but the rewards are priceless.

Volunteers make a true difference

Outback Links volunteers make a huge impact for farmers in Rural Australia.

“The fact that they come and join us… we know someone cares. Because, out here, when you’re surrounded by the dust and dying stock all the time, depression can become a major problem. And friendship is one of the things that really helps.” – Rhonda

“It’s been really difficult with this drought, so having these volunteers really saves us. You can sit down and have a chat over a meal. It gives you a mental break from the stress.” – Greg and Bethany

“The gift you give us of your time and friendship is invaluable. We cannot repay this kind of generosity. Thank you.” – Wendy and Ross

Frontier Services currently have volunteer opportunities in WA.

Cue

This will be a truly remote adventure as you head to an inland cattle station. You would provide a helping hand with farmyard chores and also be welcome company for a mature age farmer who has been struggling with the demands of drought.

Cadoux

Can you provide respite for this gentleman farmer so he can visit his sons in Perth? This is a caretaking role with some general non-specialist chores to keep the homestead ticking over.

Broome

Two years ago, floods ripped through this pearl farm. Combine a visit to beautiful Broome and also deliver a helping hand completing general chores as this farm continues to slowly recover.

Outback Links volunteering projects in other states of Australia are listed on the Frontier Services website here.

To find out more about how you can volunteer with Outback Links, or refer someone who could use a helping hand, contact Frontier Services on 1300 787 247.

Lifting spirits

Bush Chaplains are the friendly knock on the door, the lend of an ear, and the offer of a helping hand. They are often the only support service on the ground with those living in rural and remote WA.

It is so important that contact is made when times are tough, and that is what a Bush Chaplain does. In many remote locations they are the only visitors knocking on the door.

There are currently two Frontier Services bush chaplains in WA. Rev John Dihm is based in Tom Price covering the Pilbara region, and Rev Mitch Fialkowski is based in Meekatharra covering the Murchison.

Spanning the beautiful Pilbara, Rev John Dihm’s ministry is vast and challenging. Known for its First Peoples, ancient landscapes and red earth, the area is vastly rich with mineral deposits, in  particular iron ore. This attracts a large influx of fly-in fly-out miners and workers. These mining communities present a different remote challenge, one where you might have many people around you but are far from family and loved ones for long periods.

This can put a strain on relationships, and trigger feelings of loneliness, guilt and anxiety. Alongside the difficulties of drought, last year’s halt to live cattle exports also threatened the livelihood of  station owners in the region and John provided counselling for those struggling with severe stress. He is also the police chaplain, has been involved in the start up of a men’s shed, and works with Indigenous communities for their Karinjini Experience.

Rev Mitch Fialkowsi is the bush chaplain in the Murchison remote area. He travels long distances across red dirt roads to meet with farmers, graziers and First Peoples. To those in need, he delivers clothing and food parcels, as well as furniture and bedding. Based in the remote town of Meekatharra, Mitch is a driver for St John Ambulance and is also the police chaplain. He is involved in the local soup kitchen and is the voice of the local radio where he tackles difficult topics like domestic violence and suicide, and promotes respectful relationships, management of mental health, and community groups.

The Murchison area has been struggling with prolonged drought, which has brought terrible financial and emotional stress for farming families. The townships are also suffering from population  drift which is placing more pressure on community. Next year, Mitch believes he will be the only support person left going station to station in the region.

“I believe that we will become the only visible church agency. All the other churches are empty, boarded up or vandalised. What’s important is the presence, being here for the community,” he said.

Frontier Services and the Uniting Church WA have identified the Goldfields region as a priority for the next WA Bush Chaplain.

“Frontier Services and the Synod of WA are excited about the possibilities of expanding this ministry. These placements require exceptional talents and we are working together to find someone special for the Goldfields,” said Jannine Jackson, National Director of Frontier Services.

“Every new Bush Chaplain in the field is a cause for celebration.”

Host a Great Outback BBQ

The Great Outback BBQ campaign is run throughout September. It is a great way for those of us in the cities and towns to show we care about rural and remote Australia.

Every dollar you raise helps empower our farmers, delivering hope and helping hands when they need it most. Last year, congregations all over Australia gathered around the barbie during the  month of September in a show of support for our farmers.

In WA, three of the most successful were Busselton, Bunbury St Augustine and Pinjarra Uniting Churches… and they are back on board this year.

Daisy Harries is organising the Great Outback BBQ for Bunbury St Augustine Uniting Church. She said her congregation knows exactly how important Frontier Services is to people in the bush.

“A lot of us come from farms or have a connection to the bush,” she said. “We know what it’s like to try to earn a living from the land. We understand the devastation of drought, fire and flood – we’ve seen it.

“This is such a good cause. People in the outback are having a terrible time. The BBQ is one way that we can help.”

In Pinjarra, the local Uniting Church gather on the property of Ian and Kerrie Birch. Alongside the BBQ there is horse riding and “a bit of whip-cracking.” This year, a highlight will be the guest of honour, Rev John Dihm, Frontier Services Bush Chaplain for the Pilbara region, based out of Tom Price.

“We have known Rev John for a lot of years. He is a great person and he does a really good job looking after the people in the outback and also in the mining camps,” said Ian “He is a dynamo,  has plenty of energy and enthusiasm for the job and we are thrilled to hear what he has to say.”

Busselton Uniting Church were the top fundraisers in WA last year. Organiser, Yvonne Robinson encourages other congregations to get involved.

“It’s a great and worthy cause and it doesn’t have to be difficult,” she said. “We took one of our existing monthly fellowship luncheons and turned it into a Great Outback BBQ. We provide the food and ask everyone to just turn-up and dip into their pockets. People were very generous.

“It’s an easy way to get people involved and help Frontier Services.”

By hosting a Great Outback BBQ in September, every dollar you raise will fund Bush Chaplains and volunteer programs on the ground where farmers need it most.

Register at greatoutbackbbq.com.au or call Frontier Services on 1300 787 247.

Michelle Lewis

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