CATHOLICS in outback Queensland are praying for drought-breaking rain, as graziers are forced to sell off their cattle.
“Desperate. Nothing short of desperate,” Blackall stock agent Jeremy Barron said, describing the plight of farming communities that have endured up to six failed “wet” seasons.
“It’s at that stage where no one’s got an answer.
“It’s not only the properties, it’s the businesses in town as well. Families are all suffering.”
Even when rain does fall, it’s rarely enough to penetrate the parched soil.
“Any rain that comes gives a bit of hope,” grazier Tony Hauff said.
“But the storms we’ve been getting – they are not even denting the sides of the problem we’ve got.”
Mr Hauff runs Colart Station – a 30,000ha family-owned property near Blackall, and is a parishioner at the town’s St Patrick’s Church, where the entire Catholic community is eagerly praying for rain.
A prayer in the newsletter that covers the Central West Catholic Cluster of parishes reads: “May God open the heavens and let His mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains.
“We realise what a marvel even the least drop of rain really is. We place our trust in you.
“Look to our dry hills and parched fields, dear God, and bless them with the living blessing of soft rain.”
Mr Barron, who also attends St Patrick’s, said he had been constantly praying for rain and was waiting for an answer.
“I go to Mass every Saturday and I pray for it. I pray for it as I am driving along,” he said.
“I came away from one property the other day and I said to myself, ‘If the good Lord is any sort of a man, he’d let it rain’.
“And I cursed him a bit on the way home. I said, ‘Cattle are dying and people are doing it real tough, and You can’t make it rain a little bit?’”
Mr Hauff said he was forced to make a difficult decision on Australia Day. With no substantial rain this wet season and feed running out, he sold off half his prized herefords.
“We’ve sold 360 head of cattle in the last three weeks and we’ve got another 200 to sell in the next two weeks,” he said.
Added to their battle to save the farm, Mr Hauff and his wife Dianne care for their 20-year-old daughter Taylor, who lives with Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that severely impacts motor skills and speech.
Farm life is Taylor’s greatest joy – feeding livestock and spending time with her pets.
Drought conditions for cattle families further west, on properties around Longreach and Winton, are even worse.
If it doesn’t rain by the end of summer the prediction is that all cattle in the region would have to be moved out and sheep would follow in the winter.
“They’re one or two steps past where we are now. They have virtually no stock left,” Mr Hauff said.
He described the state of his older brother’s property: “They are down to their last 140 cows. Last decent storm he had was January 2014.
“He’s living off the skin of his teeth, virtually,” Mr Hauff said. “People have still got to survive when they’ve got no cattle and still try and live and survive and pay their electricity bills.”
Parish priest Fr Jayanthi Maddala, new to the Central West Catholic Cluster, part of the western deanery within Rockhampton diocese, said it was “terribly hard to see people suffering”.
Mr Hauff said he received a call from Fr Maddala to enquire why he hadn’t attended Mass for three weeks.
“I told him ‘I can’t get to town. I’ve been working nineteen days straight trying to look after my livestock’,” he said.
Each week, Fr Maddala travels hundreds of kilometres to offer a pastoral word to parishioners – from Blackall he drives to Barcaldine, Jericho, Alpha, Tambo, Isisford and Emerald.
“I tell them pray that the rain will come, and life will return to normal,” he said.