How the country is fighting back from the decade-long big dry.

Story By Gretel Sneath

Sheep numbers at Reola Station, 380 kilometres north of Broken Hill, NSW, are higher than ever. “It’s really like they have put in a good effort after the drought – it’s as though the country is feeling better after a big, long spell,” owner Tony Brown says. “And it’s the same with the wildlife; every little bird and snake and lizard and ’roo has bred like mad to its heart’s content the last two or three years. Everything seems to be going again.”
Australia is officially drought-free for the first time in more than a decade. The Federal Government made the call in April, when Exceptional Circumstances (EC) funding ended in the last of the needy towns, Bundarra and Eurobodalla, in eastern New South Wales.
“The extended period of drought, which made things tough for many on the land, is finally over,’’ Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said in a statement. “The improvement in seasonal conditions is very encouraging for farmers and their families, and the outlook for agriculture is favourable.”
Uralla Shire mayor Isabel Strutt saw Bundarra at its worst. She says the fact that the area is now considered out of danger is reassuring, but she remains wary. “There is a sense of relief that it’s over, but always people are worrying about the next one,” Isabel says. “Drought is part of Australian life; you never quite know when it’s going to set in, how long it’s going to last or how severe it’s going to be.”
Farmer Fergus Thomson, the mayor of Eurobodalla Shire, says there has been no dancing in the streets in his patch either; it is more a case of ‘on with the job’. “We’ve had good rainfall and good crops for a while, and have really enjoyed the good seasons that we’ve been able to string together since, but I think that you never recover from drought to an extent – you have to rebuild a herd and run up a lot of expenses surviving it, which puts you behind for many years,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #85

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012