Imagine living and working in a remote rural community ravaged by four years of drought. Feeling isolated and under constant financial and emotional pressure, it might be easy to give up hope.
However, their steely determination and resilience combined with financial and emotional support from Vinnies, has enabled families to stay on the land they love.
This is the reality in regional NSW. In addition to the effects of natural disasters on livelihoods, communities are also struggling with increases in utility, fuel and household expenses.
Four women living in rural communities shared the stories behind their day-to-day struggles and how Vinnies helped them remain on the land, when times were toughest.
Countless families have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to sell off their livestock in order to survive. Sue and Rick lived on their property for 15 years and have constantly struggled to make ends meet.
“When we sold all our livestock we were still $150,000 in debt from feeding them. Trying to maintain that debt and the property is very difficult,” says Sue.
Living 160km from their closest shopping centre, Sue and her husband have to think very carefully before heading into town to buy necessities because of the high cost of fuel.
Laura and her family are also no strangers to hardship. They live on a beef cattle and cropping farm with their two boys, and the last few years have been tough.
“Since I’ve been here it was straight into drought.
We didn’t have a honeymoon or anything, we came straight home from our wedding and fed cattle the next day,” says Laura.
Without enough money to pay for assistance on the farm, Laura spends five days a week working on the property alongside her husband. The other two days she works as a teacher’s aide at the local school.
In 2007 Alison and Logan sold their business and moved to a property in Western NSW with the dream of providing their two young boys with a better future. But after repeated floods and drought, Logan was forced to take on contract work away from home and would be gone for days.
Similarly, Jenny and her husband, in their sixties, haven’t made a profit from their property in over 12 months.
“We run sheep, in a good time we might have 1,500 meat sheep. But we don’t have any stock at the moment. There’s no feed, so we’ve got no stock,”
“When the drought first starts you’ve got all your stock, so you start selling, selling, selling and the feed gets less and the sheep lose condition, so they aren’t worth much.”
Rising electricity and gas costs over the last decade have become a significant issue for many people, particularly those on low incomes. Across the state, the number of households accruing large debts and experiencing disconnection due to non-payment of energy bills is increasing.
“I try to pay my bills every second month and sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t,” says Sue.
Low-income families and households in regional NSW that are under financial stress are often faced with unsustainable repayment plans and are further disadvantaged by the impact that falling into debt has on their credit rating.
This is where Vinnies can help. The Society provides direct assistance to pay bills for food, water, power and phones, vehicle registration and repairs and medical costs. This support is making a huge difference to the lives of many struggling rural families and is only possible through your generous donations.
Soon after visiting the rural counselling service in her region, Laura received a phone call from a local Vinnies member.
“I remember it vividly; I was on the front veranda when I got the phone call from Vinnies. Having someone to talk to was really lovely and it was like — wow, someone is thinking of us — it was beautiful. We were just blessed,” recalls Laura.
“Unfortunately, where we live we are on rural electricity supply so everything is more expensive,” explains Laura. “Thanks to Vinnies we were able to gain financial assistance with the electricity and phone and that was amazing.”
Alison recalls some of her darkest moments.
“I remember having the power bill arrive -— the gut-wrenching realisation that even though we worked from sun up until sun down, seven days a week, I wasn’t going to have the money to pay for it. I could put food on the table or I could pay the power bill and if I chose food…how was I going to keep it when the fridge no longer had power?”
According to Jenny, there’s a commonly held misconception that she and her family would receive government assistance during these difficult times.
“And sometimes you feel like giving up and then I think, no. I’ve got five daughters, I’ve got 14 grandkids, I’ve got my love alive. You’ve got to stand up and take it, try and do your best,” she says.
On top of the gruelling work and the financial strain is the emotional toll these families suffer due to constant stress and physical isolation. Vinnies understands the value and healing power of empathy, compassion and friendship.
“It is very hard for farmers to ask for help,” explains Sue, “And the way our local Vinnies member goes about it, he doesn’t make out that he’s helping. He makes out that it’s a pleasure for him to do it for us and never makes you feel as though you are a person in need. He always makes you feel that you are on the highest level and he is looking up to you.”
When Alison realised that by receiving help from Vinnies she wouldn’t be depriving anyone else, she was finally able to accept assistance from her local Vinnies member.
“He listened patiently, he understood my need for privacy and never once made me feel unworthy,” she says.
Seeing the pressure on her husband build up
each day due to the relentless dry weather left
Laura feeling overwhelmed.
“Watching my husband was the hardest bit. He was up at dawn and then feeding again at night and it was seven days. Constantly. You can’t go away, even for a day. To see the cattle die and my husband come home so distraught — it was pretty tough,” says Laura.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have the financial assistance and the compassion that Vinnies has offered. It’s nice to think that you aren’t alone at the end of the day. Vinnies is part of the community; it’s like a soft place to fall.”
When asked about the difference in her life since connecting with Vinnies, Sue says “I can’t say enough about Vinnies and how they have helped. They’ve been a lifesaver. If not for Vinnies, where would we be today?”