One exceptional farmer has been counselling his peers for nearly 3 decades.
Story Bruce McMahon Photo David Kelly
Queensland dairy farmer Ross Blanch once wandered his paddocks talking to a herd of cows. Today he’s still out there on the family farm, some 70km by road west of Brisbane, yet more often Ross is on his mobile phone talking to troubled farmers as Lifeline Farmer to Farmer Crisis Support counsellor. It is a unique program, based around listening and backed by personal farming experiences, and Ross’s own highs and lows.
“I was always going to be a farmer; there was nothing else,” he says with a ready smile. “And I like all aspects of farming. I’ve had beef cattle, stud cattle, dairy cattle, crops.”
As a fourth-generation farmer, Ross works alongside brother Steve on a 240ha block their father took up near Rosewood in 1954. The Blanchs lease a further 160ha and run 300 head of Friesians, Brown Swiss, and AIS cattle, 140 of those milkers.
Ross, 66, left school in year 10 to head to the farm, yet sees that it’s his Lifeline education that has proved as valuable. “I went through a tough time in my life 30 years ago and a couple of people supported me through it, and when I came out the other end of it, I thought, ‘Wow’. Without that help I don’t know where I would’ve got to,” he says. So, Ross headed off to Lifeline in nearby Ipswich and 28 years ago began training as a volunteer counsellor to take crisis calls from around south-east Queensland.
“It was pretty challenging because all I’d ever known was talking to cows,” he says. “It was a bit different but the training soon accustomed me to talking on the phone. You become really about 95% listener. And that’s where the key to it is – listening.” He says Lifeline saw his potential, kept training him and he kept on volunteering for shifts, counselling all manner of people with all manner of problems.
Then at the end of a crippling drought in 2019, Ross got talking to another farmer at the local cattle sales. “He told me he was living on baked beans and toast – no cattle left, no money. That’s when I went to my manager and said, ‘I wonder what we can do?’”
That manager Karen Prestidge suggested starting an exclusive call line for Ross and making farm visits where possible. That was the origin of the Lifeline Farmer to Farmer Crisis Support.
This story excerpt is from Issue #150
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2023