Farming is a hard-bitten game. And someone is always doing it tough, somewhere in Australia. A mate has allowed me to share his story:
“THIS is a story I’ve never told anyone. And if you know me, you’d be gobsmacked. You’d think I’d be the last person to do anything so bloody drastic.
"But I am, for want of a better term, your typical tough as nails, no bullshit farmer I suppose. Anyway, here goes...
“I’m sitting in the shade on an old 44-gallon drum next to a rusty windmill that hasn’t hummed for years. Tired, hungry and exhausted, I struggle to think as I hang up the phone, it was the bore pump bloke, and he’s still three days away from fixing it.
"My mouth and eyes are dry from the stinging hot and dusty air and my ears are loaded with the constant bellowing of thirsty cattle. They just stand there, looking at me, melting away.
"It’s the end of another huge day, and I’ve had enough. The bore was supposed to pumping fresh water a week ago, we’ve hot northerly winds, depleting feed, and the cattle are starting to show it.
"I’ve been slaving through this drought for just over a year and autopilot is failing me. I’m alone, it’s all too hard and it would be so easy to call it quits right now.
"I find myself at my ute where I grab my rifle. Loaded and cocked, I stand there looking at it in my hands, looking turns to staring, and staring turns to gazing.
"I’m bereft, broken. I can’t see. I’m lost.
"All that goes through my mind is, should I shoot the cattle first? I don’t want them to suffer without water when I’m gone. Or bugger it, none of it will matter anyway....
"I feel a tickle on my hand, that demanded I come to. I see Tilly, my Kelpie, licking my hand and wagging her tail, looking up at me with total adoration.
"And that’s what stopped me. Some love from my best little mate.
"I squinted hard, squeezing the tears from my eyes and unloaded my rifle, shaking myself back into some kind of reality. Frightened by how close I came to doing something so drastic. What about the people I’d leave behind? How clouded had I become? I needed clarity as much as I needed the rain.
"I’ve asked Sam to keep this anonymous - I just want everyone to think, and start conversations. Is there someone in your community who works hard, often by themselves, they might keep away from social functions or are out of sorts?
"Well, make a point of seeing them this week, even if it’s just to say g’day and have a yarn.
"Droughts and all the stresses associated with farming are emotionally draining and we need to look out for everyone in our rural communities.”
I was honoured that my mate shared this experience with me, and let me use it for you to read. But know it wasn’t just the drought that he struggled with.
He had just come out of a family feud, with a poor succession plan that saw his family pull each other apart and rip the property from his hands. He was physically and emotionally burnt out. He says he’s blessed to have such an amazing partner, “she’s my saint” he says. I’d also add he’s also rather fortunate to have such a dog too, mind you!
Last Saturday, Sue Neales wrote a fantastic piece in The Australian on the tragic issue of rural suicide, especially in light of the figures from the current Queensland drought.
Sue quoted Derek Tuffield, Director of Queensland Lifeline saying: “"We need to be talking about this; gone are the days when you hush it up, because it is only if people recognise the warning signs, the different behaviours, the withdrawals and ask 'Are you OK?' that we will stop these suicides".
He added that he fears while bush families and communities still attach a stigma to suffering relatives who die by their own hand and impose a "code of silence" on their deaths, "the tragic run of rural suicides will not end".
This hits the nail on the head: talking about it. This archaic business of hushing up things like suicide, depression and other mental health issues is killing us, literally.
One thing to consider, from my mate's story and others I’ve heard of anecdotally: that suicide, the actual act seems to be rather spur of the moment. Not so premeditated, making it more unpredictable. This emphasises how important a culture is that opens up the conversation and nurtures peoples experiences.
Farming's macho culture is slowly softening to the more modern ways, especially when it comes to emotions. The feedback we’ve received from my articles on depression and homosexuality have been exceptionally positive and focused on bringing these into natural conversations.
This is a hot topic, and shouldn’t just be brought up in the tough times, but continually rammed home in the good times.
Let's hope the minds of those so deeply affected are open enough for us to sow a seed of light they may need at the end of that tunnel.
For urgent help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or call 000.