When mum-of-four Cassandra McLaren decided to launch a Facebook page called One Day Closer To Rain to bring together thousands of struggling farmers, she hoped to help a handful of people.
But since Cassandra, 50, kicked it off in May last year it has exploded, and given birth to a grassroots movement to help farming communities – much to the surprised delight of her kids.
"They think I'm a bit of a dinosaur, so they're very impressed One Day Closer To Rain has now got 41,400 members!" laughs the NSW farmer, who is doing it tough herself on her family's drought-stricken Merriwa farm.
"I knew I had struck a nerve when I got a message from one farmer, 'Cassandra, you have saved my life' – that made it all worth it."
Initially her aim was to create a safe place where struggling farmers could share their experiences with each other, on top of providing support and advice – and most of all, to reduce their sense of isolation.
"They're scattered across the country, but they unite through this network and it's lovely to see so many new friendships formed," she says, smiling.
Cassandra works part-time in primary education, and her husband Peter, 52, has been forced to work away from home on another farm to make ends meet.
Eldest girls Jessica, 25, and Victoria, 22, have moved to WA to work and study, while Patrick, 14, and Emma, nine, remain at home on the farm.
It was Emma's unexpected heartache that inspired her mum to take action. "Kids in the bush are so resilient, or so we thought," says Cassandra.
"It was actually an incident within our own family that prompted me to set up One Day Closer To Rain. Like so many others, we've been forced to sell stock and when the semi (trailer) pulled up in May last year to collect the cattle, our youngest daughter Emma asked, 'What's that doing here?'
"I had to explain we can't afford to feed them any more, and she burst into tears. It broke me to see how despaired she was and I thought, 'Geez, if she's struggling, how many more?'"
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The extraordinary success of her Facebook page inspired Cassandra to take it to the next level, and create the One Day Closer To Rain – Rural Cottage Crafts Facebook page, which helps farmers sell produce and handicrafts.
"It's going gang-busters! Now the kids think their mum really is some sort of social media giant! We have almost 109,000 members with hundreds of creative crafters on offer," she says. "There's handmade jewellery, accessories, unique artwork, jams and preserves – everything you could think of!
"Especially with Christmas around the corner, we urge all Australians to jump onto our Facebook site and shop. You'll be so impressed with what's on offer – and that's not a sales pitch!"
Cassandra, who during the recent bushfires dropped everything to help out on the radios at Fire Control Headquarters, hopes that Australians won't forget them once the Christmas-buying frenzy is over.
"Rural people want to do stuff to help themselves, they don't want a handout. We have made a start, but there's still a lot more that needs to be done," she says.
"Whatever the future, we have each other, and as it happens, we now know we have a nation of very kind Aussies who really do care about us. That means so much."
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