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Steady rain lifts spirits but not the Queensland drought

barren land in Aramac

Praying for rain: Barren land on a property about 30 klms south of Aramac shows the dire effects of the drought. Photo: Fr Bill Senn.

WHEN Good Samaritan Sister Carmel Pattinson heard a steady fall of rain on her roof in Richmond last week, she also felt the spirits of the locals “being lifted”.

But intermittent rain over a few days wasn’t enough to end what is now the fifth year of drought in the north Queensland town.

“It has lifted people’s spirits but the worst is not over yet,” Sr Pattinson said.

She echoed the words of Blackall grazier Tony Hauff, who told The Catholic Leader last week that the punctuated storms were “not even denting the sides of the problems we’ve got”.

“The rain hasn’t been sufficient to penetrate the hollows of the earth,” Sr Pattinson said.

She moved to Richmond six years ago after the late Bishop Michael Putney asked her to “revive and resuscitate” Mary MacKillop House of Spirituality, the local place of respite and care.

She has been a listening ear to people who can’t do anything but pray for rain.

In her six years living in Richmond, Sr Pattinson said she had not witnessed even one flood.

“I’m still waiting for the river to flow,” she said.

What she has witnessed is a surprising resilience from the locals.

“There’s a resilience there that is inspirational, I have to say,” Sr Pattinson said.

“What people have put up with over the years with the lack of rain, how they get up and go again, that injects my energy; I might find it hard but these people have done it for a long time.

“It urges me on from time to time.”

Five hours south in the St Brigid’s Parish, Longreach, Fr Bill Senn has also noticed a resilient spirit bubbling among his local community.

“I was in Mitre 10 yesterday buying things for the parish office and the staff were friendly, upbeat,” Fr Senn said.
“There is a resilience and a great sense of hope.

“They’ll say the rains will come.”

And the rains did come on Sunday, February 25, at least for a few hours.

“We had two or three hours of really heavy rain on Sunday afternoon, it was just amazing,” Fr Senn said.

“It cooled everything down to below forty degrees.

“You always hope it will be a month’s worth of rain just to potentially begin to lift the drought.”

A new face in Longreach, Fr Senn began serving the area just two months ago.

Some locals have told him that this was the worst and longest drought they had experienced in living memory.

“In some places they’re going into their seventh year of drought, in other places in their fourth,” Fr Senn said.

“In my conversations with parishioners and people in the community, I’ve asked them, with droughts in the past how long have they lasted?

“Most people seem to say three or four years.

“They haven’t known a drought to go on for, in some places, seven years.”

Some property owners are struggling to pay their electricity bills, others are having to withdraw their children from boarding school “because they can’t continue paying the fees”.

“The ripple effects extend beyond the immediate community,” Fr Senn said.

He said his parish had supported the locals over the years with the St Brigid’s Drought Relief Fund, which supported families with back-to-school costs.

There is also a food kitchen that is open to families who can’t afford groceries.

But above all material help, prayer is always the first port of call.

At every Sunday and weekday Mass, Fr Senn’s parish asks God “for drought-breaking rain”.

“My ministry is being available to a listening ear and supportive presence for people, and people like to know that they’re priest is here for them even if it is so they can have a talk and process what’s happening,” he said.

“People just appreciate that we can be a supportive presence.”

Fr Senn said the local regional council was also speaking with the local churches for a combined prayer event or service in the local parks.

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