Words || McKenna Udhe
It was early when I left for Singleton, just before the sun made its way through my window. It rose as I drove north on the M1. Views of dense woods and vast lakes passed as I sped along the highway, until all of a sudden I was met with an incongruous plain. As I turned off the freeway to travel further west, the bodies of water and stretches of trees turned to dust. A dry breeze engrossed the beige surroundings and I took a breath. Just two hours north of lush and damp Sydney, I never imagined such an opposite place. And despite the unending news coverage, I wished the truth to be a lesser version of what I had heard. It was not. There was indeed a horrific and undeniable drought.
In shock, I drove through the small town, all the way attempting to prepare myself for what I may encounter. Stepping out of the vehicle, a gust of wind picked up the dry earth and sent it spinning around my car and myself. It took a moment for my eyes to open, and when they did, I felt the same shock again. My view was red and brown, and white. There was an overcast sky, but it held no intention of rain. My steps kicked up little Tasmanian Devil tornadoes and coated my boots in a thin layer of dust. The view around me was of desperation, not a soul was about the town. The ones I did see did not speak or wave, did not move. The energy of the place was gone, taken with the wind that hurled through the wide, open plains. They say it’s the worst anyone’s seen in 18 years.
The drought currently occurring, which has recently been declared to be affecting the entirety of New South Wales, has been ongoing for a number of months now. The barren-looking lands are growing to be more and more of a problem, leading the Australian government to declare a need for drought relief policy. There is a great sense of irony in this declaration, though. Climate change policy is falling to the wayside in a parliament that still often entertains discourse that denies climate change. However, an effective climate change policy could address the larger issue and prepare the suffering farmers for instances of drought.
Australian farmers are being undeniably hurt by climate change. Most obviously, they will face declines in their crop production due to changes in average rainfall and average temperature increases. Pasture availability will also be quite affected, leading to declines in livestock productivity. Also, climate change is seeing increased extreme weather patterns: heatwaves, bushfires, and flooding all have a negative effect on the productivity of farming. Greater exposure to heat-related stress and disease will also work to harm both crops and livestock, and these ever-changing and extreme conditions will probably also lead to an increase in the distribution and abundance of some exotic weeds.
With one year of drought taking 5-10 years of recovery, Australian farmers have obviously been thrown into a major crisis that could have been addressed with foresight. Farmers for Climate Action were born out of a group of individual farmers who had raised their concerns about climate change numerous times over the last two decades. In 2015, they collectively came together in the Blue Mountains and decided to form the group. To this day, they are actively ‘advocating for immediate action on climate change at local, state and federal levels and working with our communities to ensure farmers have a strong voice on climate change.’ However, with a new Prime Minister famed for carrying a lump of coal into Parliament and asking why people were so afraid of it, things aren’t looking too positive.
So if our farmers can’t rely on their government to represent their interests by creating an effective climate change policy, where do they turn? This is where the issue of the drought becomes more multi-faceted. In our young history as a nation, we have developed a strong narrative of solidarity created through hardship. This trope has been successfully unpacked in recent years to be something of a fabrication, but the way city folk seem to be rallying around the farmers has proven the mateship fallacy to be somewhat correct. Charity causes have sprung up, encouraging people to ‘buy a bale’ or a ‘parma for a farmer’, with proceeds going to drought relief efforts. The rhyming and alliterative efforts of these campaigns are cute, but their effectiveness is a point of contention. The Millennium Drought, taking place throughout the first decade of the 2000s, brought multiple campaigns encouraging Australians to have shorter showers, never leave their taps running, water their plants at night and take many other preventative actions that would save up water. As far as I can tell, none of this has been at the forefront of the public consciousness. And looking at the gritty, dusty landscape of Singleton, I can’t help but think it’s time to begin implementing these measures once more.
In the face of an unhelpful government, distracted by its own leadership spills and coal-loving members, Australians must re-define this sense of mateship to become something slightly more practical. Sure, buy a parma for a farmer, but also be careful to time your shower, and turn your tap off while you brush your teeth. And if you want to see the effects of the drought firsthand, take the drive to somewhere like Singleton. Our efforts, when banded together, will hopefully – if only slowly – inject some soul back into this barren land.