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Federal government’s $190 million relief package too late for some Catholic farmers

barren land

Dried up: “I’ve seen it really dry, but this is worse still because it’s so widespread.” Photo: Anne Smith.

BLEAK. A single word to describe the black, parched land in western Queensland, where rain hasn’t fallen for six months – longer in many parts – and the stations have sent the last remaining cattle away.

“No, she’s pretty crook. It looks like a big dustbowl,” Ilfracombe parishioner and citizen of the year June Machin said.

Sunday Mass is celebrated in Ilfracombe once a month, and lately, Mrs Machin said sometimes she was the only one who turned up.

The 70-year-old has lived in the town, on the Matilda Way, about 28km east of Longreach, for the past 40 years and has watched the decline of surrounding stations, has watched families leaving to find work or simply staying and “shutting down” as they tried to ride out the worsening drought.

“I’ve seen it really dry, but this is worse still because it’s so widespread,” she said.

“Mostly if they’ve got cattle they have had to get rid of the cattle.

“Some have got a few sheep because they will eat the leaves on the trees.”

Ilfracombe and the Longreach region is in the middle of a 400km-wide swathe of drought land that stretches through western Queensland and into New South Wales.

It’s one of the worst droughts of the past 100 years, prompting the Federal Government to announce a $190 million relief package.

Producers eligible for the Farm Household Allowance will be given additional relief of up to $12,000 for couples and $7200 for singles.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signalled there would be more support to come, with no sign of rain breaking the devastating dry spell.

Even when rain does come, the wide cracks in the western Queensland soil mean a lot of rain is needed to break the drought – probably 10cm, according to Blackall stock agent Jeremy Barron, a parishioner at St Patrick’s Church.

Even then, he said, heavy follow-up rain would be needed to change the farmers’ plight.

This story appears on the front cover of the August 12 edition. To see the full story, purchase a copy of The Catholic Leader at your local parish or subscribe from just $50 a year.

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