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Mixed blessings for Catholics living on the land, praying for rain

Giving thanks: Grazier Kate McKeering heading out to work with her dogs on her cattle property north-east of Barcaldine. She’s thanking God for the blessing of rain and praying for more as the region struggles through a drought that’s lasted almost a decade.

IT’S been a summer of mixed blessings for many in Queensland’s Central West parishes – for some it’s beautifully wet and for others miserably dry.

Graziers in that region have been battling through drought for almost a decade, one of the worst on record, and parishes have been praying for rain.

Some parishioners have had their prayers answsered while others are still desperately waiting.

That’s been the case in the grazing country around Longreach, Barcaldine, Aramac and Ilfracombe.

Loretta McKeering, pastoral co-ordinator for parishes and communities in that region, knows the story well because she helps her mother Kate, who runs a cattle property north-east of Barcaldine.

Kate McKeering has been in the grazing industry all her life, and this drought is the worst she has seen.

The region has been drought-declared for eight years, and the situation on her property “Stirling” has been “real desperate”.

“I’ve done a lot of (praying for rain) in the last seven years and it hasn’t happened …,” she said.

Her prayers and the prayers of many parishioners were answered at Christmas and in the days that followed.

Kate McKeering said the rain started to fall just before Christmas – “a little shower”.

“We had a few showers … 10mm and 13mm, and then about three days after Christmas we had 51mm in one day and that sort of set the ball rolling,” she said.

“Since before Christmas, around here at the house, we’ve had 152mm and at another place where we’ve got another rain gauge we’ve had nearly 101mm.

“So you’d say over most of the place (19,600ha), there’s been between 101mm and probably, even in places, more than 152mm.”

Since then she and others have been thanking God, and praying harder for the follow-up rain needed to sustain the benefit.

She said she didn’t so much have a celebration when the rain came; “I was just extremely thankful”.

“(This rain) means everything. If it hadn’t rained … I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in the industry.

“Any more dry years with paying feed costs (for stock) like I was and paying agistment and all that, well, it really would’ve been too much.

“I couldn’t have done it again.

“So it means everything to me business-wise and financially. Yes, it means an enormous amount.”

Green shoots: Welcome rainfall since Christmas has turned bone dry grazing country green on Kate McKeering property north-east of Barcaldine.

John Hain is another parishioner in the region who is “going a lot better since we had a bit of rain …” but he’s not one who’s been praying for it.

“No, if I prayed for rain I wouldn’t have any faith left,” he said.

He and his wife Jane have a sheep and cattle property, “Summer Hill”, about halfway between Ilfracombe and Aramac.

Even though the rain was a relief, Mr Hain said the drought had “definitely not” broken.

“It’s like this, being so dry for so long, there’s no grass; all we’ve got is herbage and weeds, and we haven’t got any grass,” he said.

“So it’s going to take probably two to three years before the property grasses up again and it’ll be three or four years before we’re back operating properly.”

Mr Hain said the area had been through eight years of drought and into the ninth year.

“The whole area … all the ground was very bare so we were at the stage where some people had sold all their stock off, some were still feeding but thought, ‘Well, we’re going to have to sell them all shortly …’, because of the lack of rain,” he said.

“We’ve only been about one-third stocked for quite a number of years, and we were thinking that we would have to sell quite a few more in the new year, if it didn’t rain soon.

“We were feeding sheep and cattle.

“We’ve probably got about 3500 sheep and probably about 400 cattle in total (including calves).”

Like Ms McKeering, Mr Hain said the rain had meant “everything”.

“First of all it was a big relief as far as peace of mind went and then it’s going to mean that we’re gradually starting to stop having to feed the stock, and we can look forward to better things,” he said.

“But it’s only a start, and we need a couple of good seasons to get going.

“Our wet season doesn’t really start until February so we’re just hoping that it continues on.

“A lot of other summers we’ve had a bit of rain in the summer and then nothing else – that’s it for six months.

“Our outlook is, short term it’s very good; we’re just waiting to see if we actually do get the wet season.”

Dry: Even though the rain was a relief, Mr Hain said the drought had “definitely not” broken.

Ms McKeering remains hopeful about follow-up rain.

“Well, the signs are good, I guess. I suppose I am optimistic,” she said.

“I have thought a couple of times though in the last couple of years, ‘Oh, it must be going to rain …’

“You know, I thought all the signs were right and everything, and it never happened so I don’t like to get too excited about the prospect of it raining because it’s a shattering disappointment when it doesn’t.

“There’s a lot of signs that are saying that we should get a decent season so I’m quietly optimistic.

“… (But) I’m not getting too carried away about the chances of the follow-up because it is too hard on you mentally … when it doesn’t happen.

“And that’s happened a few times in the last few years.”

Ms McKeering said the rain had given people in her area “a big boost”.

“I think most people are now really optimistic about it raining,” she said.

“They think it’s started at the right time … Well, it would’ve been better if it started a couple of months ago but, just the same … people are feeling pretty good about things right at the moment.

“The cattle prices are good and the sheep prices are good, and the rain on top of it has given everyone a real kick along.”

But some graziers in the region missed out on the rain and are still waiting and praying.

And other parts of Queensland remain dry, with two-thirds of the state still drought-declared.

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