After years of struggling without adequate rain, a young family in Queensland has made the emotional and difficult decision to walk off the land.
Nic and Carley Walker struggled to keep their cattle and sheep alive after three consecutive so-called wet seasons failed to deliver any decent rain.
Mrs Walker said they had spent a fortune on supplementary feed but the animals’ health began to deteriorate.
“Daily life is a lot of killing and a lot of suffering,” she said.
“You’re driving around twice a day putting things out of their misery and it takes a huge toll.
“You’ve constantly got blood on your shoes and you smell like sheep blood and stinky, rancid mud.
“Everybody gets sick of it. It’s really draining.”
The couple moved to their property south of Longreach from Brisbane eight years ago, to start a business and raise a family together in the bush, but Mr Walker said the dry conditions had been unrelenting.
“Everyone expects to go through drought but this one seems to have been particularly harsh,” he said.
With no moisture in the ground, the grass cover livestock would normally eat has completely dried up.
The pair were gradually destocking in the hope it would rain before they got rid of all their livestock, but the reprieve they were looking for never came.
Mrs Walker said they recently sold the last of their sheep through an online auction.
“We were loathe to sell them but it was a financial decision and a humane decision,” she said.
The Walkers estimated it could be years before they could restock and make a living again, so they decided to put their property on the market.
They said they hoped to maintain a connection to agriculture by using Nic’s background in software development to pursue opportunities in farm management.
“We do want to stay in the industry, just in a different way,” Mrs Walker said.
Widespread selling leaves ‘hardly any stock’ in central west
On his property Glenaris, north of Ilfracombe, George Gowing has had just three inches of rain in the past year.
While there are patches of land that still have enough grass cover to feed some of his sheep, the respected grazier has had to completely destock 30,000 acres.
The animals he could not feed have either been sold or moved to greener pastures on agistment.
Mr Gowing said he did not know a single grazier who had not sold at least some of their livestock.
“By Jove, 100 per cent of people would have cut their numbers back dramatically,” he said.
“Within the next couple of months, there’ll be hardly any stock left in the central west.”
There has been no activity at the Longreach saleyards for almost a year and sales will not resume until conditions improve.
The charity organisation Aussie Helpers has visited the worst affected areas, giving away supplementary feed to help graziers prepare their livestock for sale.
Founder Brian Egan was in Longreach this week, where dozens of desperate locals gathered to collect bales of hay and containers of molasses.
“We just tell them to use this stuff to get your cattle fit enough to put on a truck to get rid of them, because I think the time for hand-feeding is over,” he said.
Struggling businesses fear death of regional towns
As cash-strapped graziers tighten their belts, the main shopping strip on Eagle St in Longreach has struggled to attract patronage.
Accountant Bill Ringrose, who advises many business owners in town and throughout the region, said his clients had reported that turnovers had halved.
“I think we could easily see a huge economic collapse in western Queensland and western New South Wales,” he said.
“When things start spiralling downwards, they can get out of control, little towns will suffer and will probably die.”
More than 40 local government shires across Queensland are in drought.
Ten of those towns marked a grim milestone this Easter: two years since their official drought declaration.
on 21/04/2015 2:34pm
Brave, awesome family! Last August I wanted to walk away too – after 2 horrendous seasons, and having put plenty of animals out of their misery. But here has been NOTHING on your area.
I applaud you for the ability to evolve and leave – AS A TEAM – for your family.
God knows how many have ‘walked away’ in ways that were independant of their family (such as suicide or seperation)
Wishing you every happiness in your beautiful future