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Farmer leans on his Catholic faith as he witnesses the driest conditions in his lifetime

Dry stretch: Lyle Winks is a south-east Queensland farmer who says in all his life, almost 79 years, he’s never seen drier times.

Radio personality Donna Lynch sat down with farmer Lyle Winks to talk about faith, family and hard times in drought-ridden country.

Q: Tell us about your property, what do you do? 

A: Well, we just buy steers from the sale yard, then I grow them out to slaughter condition and weight, and then sell them to the abattoir in Ipswich. We had much more country (before) and we ran about 350 head in those days, but subsequently we’ve sold some of that land and now we run, under normal conditions, about 150 head. But at the present, we’re down to 90-odd. 

Q: Have you always lived in this area, tell us about your background?

A: Well, I was born here, and went to school down here … and once we’d finished our education here we had our secondary education at the Christian Brothers in Ipswich.

Q: What did you want to do when you left school?

A: I wanted to go on the land and, as my brother was a veterinary surgeon, I decided I’d like to study agriculture. So I went to Queensland University and studied agriculture and got a job with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, and I was then employed by them for the next 30 years.

Q: How do you feel people on the land are coping?

A: They’re doing it extremely tough. This year everybody’s doing it tough because of the fact that our rainfall here has been way below average.

Q: Have you seen it this bad before? 

A: I’ve talked to lots of people in recent weeks about this; I don’t think I have seen it as bad as this in my lifetime and most other people that I talk to, they share those sentiments.

Q: What’s a day like for Lyle Winks? 

A: The alarm goes off at five o’clock and we climb out of bed and have breakfast and then I meet my brother up the road at 6.30am and we start feeding cattle and most of the rest of the day is spent either feeding cattle or going and purchasing fodder, which we feed to the cattle. Over recent weeks we’ve been using turnips and carrots from the farms up Kalbar. But the supply of carrots ran out this week.

Q: What happens now? 

A: We now have to start feeding hay or some other sort of feedstuff that we can find somewhere, hopefully.

Q: You really need the help of local people to help with fruit and vegetables to help the cattle, don’t you? 

A: Well, we talk about this quite often that if it weren’t for Moogerah Dam, the agricultural industries in this area would really be on their knees because that’s what most people are keeping their animals going with at the moment.

Q: Speaking of dams, why haven’t the government taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and just got on with it and built some decent dams? 

A: I think that it’s a case of putting their own desires ahead of what’s good for the country. The Wolffdene Dam was being put in place and it would’ve solved a lot of the water problems that South East Queensland’s got, but the Labor Government won re-election by saying they would cancel that dam and they’ve done so. A number of other attempts to build dams have been frustrated by the Greens vote saying that it’s going to harm some animals, and I’m a great believer in the philosophy that you can’t have omelettes without breaking eggs.

Q: Alright, you talked before about the day you get up at 5am and go off, do you get a day off? 

A: There’s no such thing as a day off when you’re on the land. The cattle have to be fed every day. You can’t be like the fellow who goes to work five days a week and then he’s got the weekend to enjoy himself; you still have to do it whether it’s Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, or whatever.

Q: So the cows don’t know it’s Christmas Day?

A: They sure don’t, and they don’t even get any special treats like most of us do on Christmas Day.

Q: You’re a strong member of your local parish, how do you think your local church and parish are coping with all of what’s going on around them?

A: I think most of them are coping fairly well because there’s a great element of support from one group to another.

Q: You’ve got quite a big family – children, grandchildren.

A: Yeah, my sibling group was six, and five of us are still alive; and Les and I have four children and nine grandchildren. And they’re all – thank God – all healthy and enjoying life.

Q: And does the family come to the farm for Christmas?

A: Yes, they’ll be having Christmas, lunch or dinner, whatever you prefer to call it. And we’ll all be here for a wonderful day together and stay over night and, of course, we have an outdoor Mass at Harrisville on Christmas Eve.

Q: Where do you get your strength from, Lyle?

A: I remember travelling with a fellow that I worked with one time and he said to me, “I envy you, Lyle.” I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “You’ve got faith.” He said, “Whenever I run into a difficult situation, I don’t know where to turn, but nothing seems to phase you because you have faith.” That’s the way I think it is; I think the Good Lord will provide if you have faith in Him and He’s done the right thing by me so far in my life.

Q: Did your faith get passed down from your family?

A: Well, Mum was born a Catholic and she brought us up Catholic. Our father came from Anglican stock and, when he married Mum, that was when it was frowned upon for cross-religious (marriages) and so they were married in the cathedral in Brisbane at a side-altar.

Q: Is that right? 

A: Yes, and his own family shunned him.

Q: Really? And did they end up turning around and coming back? 

A: They eventually came back together, yes, that’s right.

Q: Do you think that’s been the success of life as well, that you’ve got such a great lifelong partner, that you know gets you by? 

A: It’s got a heck of a lot to do with it, that’s for sure.

Q: What about the locals in your area that don’t have the faith like you have and so many people on the land are suffering depression? 

A: I think when you see the number of suicides that are occurring in the country, there is obviously a lack of support for people who are suffering from depression and we certainly do need to get that message out that we’re there with a helping hand. I guess one of the things is to be able to recognise the signs that indicate that people are being stretched to the limit.

Q: Is Lyle ever going to retire? I can hear your wife laughing in the background. 

A: Yeah, you raise that really hairy old chestnut there, Donna. I believe that if you still enjoy doing things, and you feel that you’re making a contribution, then you keep going. And the Good Lord gave me talents and I always understood from Scripture that if you were given talents by God, you make use of them. I’m approaching 79. And so while I’ve still got the ability to do things and while I can still swing my leg across a horse, I’ll still keep climbing on and keeping doing the things I enjoy doing. 

Q: You’re great, good on you. Merry Christmas to you and your family. And thank you for having us at your place and here’s hoping we have some rain.

A: Alleluia. 

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