By Samantha Panigiris
While Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to numerous drought-stricken areas across regional New South Wales, the generosity and community spirit continues to pour in.
Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Cobar, Coonamble, Tenterfield and a long list of towns in between; communities ravaged by the drought are once again showing the true spirit that Aussie battlers are so well known for.
At the centre of each of these communities is the local pub and whilst the drought is having a significant impact on their businesses, hoteliers continue to dig deep to keep the hopes of the locals, farmers and community groups alive.
Armatree Hotel publican Ash Walker, said that while life is pretty tough during times like these the small town, with its population of 50, is extremely caring and everyone is aware of other people’s needs.
“There is a strong sense of community and people are very open to talking about their struggles and concerns,” Walker told Hotel News.
“As hoteliers, we are the cornerstone of the community and people come here for an outlet to their everyday lives. It’s our job to put a positive message out there.”
Things are looking up in Armatree. There’s been a bit of rainfall in the last two weeks, things are looking greener and there’s more hope for the livestock producers. To the north of the town, however, in areas like Walgett and Coonamble, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and the conditions are far from improving.
A side effect of the drought, which is rarely reported on, is the impact it’s having on men’s health. Depression, the incidents of suicide and broken marriages and relationship issues are becoming more and more prevalent in these towns, where the impacts of the drought can be too much to bear.
“For the last seven years that we’ve been here, we have become big advocates for men’s mental health,” Walker said.
“We work with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in running a series of talks about recognising the early signs of depression and better treatment. People are still talking about the comedy festival we held for this cause which raised $21,000 for Gilgandra Suicide Awareness.”
In Louth, just north west of Cobar, the situation is much the same. With poor water quality and very little rainfall for some time, the drought is taking its toll.
Shindys Inn is a meeting place for a program called Rural Support, which is funded by the DPI and focuses on men’s mental health issues and provides a specialist to talk to the local farmers about the struggles they face day-to-day.
Licensee Catherine Marrett told Hotel News that Shindys takes its role in the community very seriously and works to ensure the local farmers are able to maintain a positive outlook, even during these trying times.
“We have a township of 70 people and they are a very resilient bunch,” she said.
“In conjunction with the DPI, we provide meals and refreshments to the local farmers and we regularly pass on contributions to make life a little less tough for them.
“We recently received a call from a Sydney resident who saw how bad the conditions were on television. He sent us a cheque for $200 to shout the local farmers a drink or two and put on a free barbecue.”
The town of Louth also relies heavily on the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Shindys Inn is one of the authorised call centres.
Wanaaring’s Outback Inn, located about 200kms west of Bourke, is currently experiencing extremely dry conditions. Licensee Narelle Hand told Hotel News that despite the dire conditions including just 27mm of rainfall in the last four months or so, community spirit remains strong.
“We have been through this many times before,” she said.
“This season seems to be one of the worst we’ve had and we have seen practically no water since November last year.”
The farmers who frequent the Outback Inn are finding it particularly tough, selling their cattle at next to nothing just to make ends meet. The hotel’s standing in the local community is now more important than ever, hosting regular community nights and a free BBQ every second Sunday to give the townspeople and farmers a place where they can relax, enjoy a good meal and try to forget about their struggles.
“We also run an ongoing fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctors Service,” Hand said.
“We have an umbrella hanging upside down from the roof in the bar and at the end of the night the locals throw their spare change in. We collect anywhere between $600 and $1,000 each month.”
Similarly in Enngonia at the Oasis Hotel, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is the recipient organisation of all the spare change donated on the bar’s tin roof.
“We have long been a meeting place for the farmers and graziers to get together and talk about their issues and challenges facing their livelihood,” said publican Greg Oates.
“The RFDS provides support to all of our farmers and here at the hotel we see it as a lifeline for the rural community.”
The Government’s $320 million drought-assistance package is welcome news to the farmers and rural communities across New South Wales. However, with an estimated 60 percent of the state affected by drought, the battle is far from over. One thing the locals in these towns can be sure of though, is that their local hotel is doing everything it can to ease the struggle. HN