Real Life

Drought in Australia 2018: farmers declare "Our spirit won't be broken"

Resilient men and women share their desperate fight to save their farms and hope to teach the next generation to never ever give up.

It's Sunday lunch at the Tongue family homestead in the northern New South Wales town of Loomberah, and three generations unite for a chance to forget for a bit the daily struggle as they wait for rain.

They've just finished the morning feed, an all-in combined effort, despite diminishing supplies, to ensure every last one of their cattle and sheep live to see another day on Greenwood.

Inside, the fireplaces are burning bright, and the children laughing at their granddad Kevin's corny jokes, while grandma Janelle serves up her famous roast beef. Just one of the 1000s of families gripped by the worst drought in 50 years, they're determined they will not be broken.

"I'm a tough old boot, but this is worse than 1965, far worse." *Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day*
"I'm a tough old boot, but this is worse than 1965, far worse." Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day

"We're a half full sort of a family - we've had to be," Janelle, 65, tells Woman's Day during a visit to the drought-stricken region of Tamworth at the foot of the NSW Northern Tablelands.

Eldest son Paul, 39, wife Karlie, 40, and their children, Blake, 12, Emily, nine, and Ryan, seven, live next door to their grandparents. Youngest son Ben, 34, and wife Rachel, 35 and their four children, Sarah seven, Lara, five, Jake, three, and 12-month-old Riley, are on the other side.

"We're three families, three generations spread across three adjoining properties, a total of 4500 acres (1800 hectares) - close enough for babysitting, far enough away not to meddle!" she says with a smile.

"I make sure I bring them all together around the table so we can talk about everything. There are no secrets and no dark places. Regular communication is pivotal in supporting our family - and our community - through this crippling time.

"We're three families, three generations spread across three adjoining properties, a total of 4500 acres (1800 hectares)" *Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day*
"We're three families, three generations spread across three adjoining properties, a total of 4500 acres (1800 hectares)" Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day

"Last week I watched one of our boys sit in his truck and cry; that breaks a mother's heart, but we're right there on the coalface together, so it does help ease the strain."

Weather-beaten he may be, but granddad Kevin 68, is not about ready to give up the fight.

"My grandfather George Edward Tongue first bought this land back in 1909. We've worked hard over the years, and here we are five generations later surviving - but only just," he says.

"I'm a tough old boot, but this is worse than 1965, far worse."

George says he's pleased the farmers "voices are being heard" after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $190m drought relief package for farmers last week.

"Without politicising, once this is over, they have to stop the band-aids, and start working towards long-term infrastructure including dams and pipelines that pump water into hard hit areas," he says.

Read More: Grant Denyer's pledge to save Aussie farmers

Weather-beaten he may be, but granddad Kevin 68, is not about ready to give up the fight. *Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day*
Weather-beaten he may be, but granddad Kevin 68, is not about ready to give up the fight. Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day

"The $12000 they are proposing will pay for a couple of weeks feed and a few months groceries, which helps but a bigger picture is needed otherwise it won't end well.

"With a drought, it just creeps up on you. We know we're a dry continent, but we have little or no water, and without it, we're pretty well stuffed."

With only 13mm falling last week in the region, the Tongue family are constantly reminded how blessed they are to have the large town of Tamworth just up the road. Janelle believes without their support, they likely would have gone under by now.

The Tongue family are constantly reminded how blessed they are to have the large town of Tamworth just up the road. *Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day*
The Tongue family are constantly reminded how blessed they are to have the large town of Tamworth just up the road. Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day

"One kind friend from our church does our washing once a week, and we bath in same water - cleanest first, the men are generally last, and the grubbiest! That water is then pumped outside to use in the garden - the grandkids know they can't break the rules," she says.

"We can't feed our stocks, because for the first time this year we weren't able to put a crop in. We rely on those cereal crops to sustain our stock. Our boys are so good at managing for drought time, but sadly no harvest, no feed.

"With a total of 700 head of cattle, including calves, 2,500 sheep, and our pig supply of 60-plus sows, it remains dire, even with that small amount of rain last week."

Paying it forward for this remarkably loving family is second nature, so whenever they see others in strife, they're quick to jump to their aid whenever they can.

"We know the drought will eventually break, but our spirit can never be broken." *Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day*
"We know the drought will eventually break, but our spirit can never be broken." Pictures exclusive to Woman's Day

"It's important to remain vigilant in looking out for neighbours, and making sure they are okay. We pop by and do what we can, which is why this amazing local initiative "RUAWAREWECARE" says it all," Janelle says.

"We know the drought will eventually break, but our spirit can never be broken. The next generation will always be reminded of our resilience, and to never, ever give up. They really do breed us tough out here."

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