Battling the drought inside

How clouded had I become? I needed clarity as much as I needed the rain

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.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


4/02/2014 6:02:42 AM

Yeah been there done that.
4/02/2014 6:58:08 AM

Add to these sort of stresses suffered when caring for many animals during difficult periods is the guilt of not being able to put decent food on the table and not being able to provide a good education for the kids and you an see why so many farmers take their retirement in this fashion.
4/02/2014 9:51:28 AM

Absolutely fantastic and brave article. Bravo Sam!
4/02/2014 11:20:36 AM

Palpable article. Keep them coming Sam.
4/02/2014 11:21:12 AM

Is this the same Sam that last year told us that if we are crying out for help and support, we are just winging and deserve to go broke? As a farmer who is suffering from depression and is now a year and a half into a monster of a drought, I find this post almost offensive. It doesn't help, and it has made me feel worse. I wish I never read it, it's ruined my day!
4/02/2014 12:15:55 PM

Dear Russ, In some respects I wish I hadn't read it either but lhow about we take a look from another angle. I think that Sam is only trying to let people know how others are suffering & that if we can get past our aussie attitude of trying to show we're tough enough to take it, we'll be better down the track. Each of our circumstances are quite different so there is no magic solution to fit one & all. Lifeline & Rural Counsellors are a help if we can come to recognise we need a helping ear. /2
4/02/2014 12:30:26 PM

In the meantime we can make a start by recognising that as bad as things are, one day, soon we hope, things will change for the better. Droughts won't last forever, although it sometimes seems that way but taking our life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It produces many very significant problems for those who are left behind. In some ways I'm inclined to think it is a bit selfish on my part so I won't do it. I have risen from the depths of depression and enjoy life a little at a time and remind myself that the good times outweigh the bad.
The Jackel
4/02/2014 1:45:07 PM

Good words daw and for some of these back seat drivers if you have not walked the walk have some thought on the talk
4/02/2014 4:59:42 PM

I'll second that daw. Having stepped back for the abyss, mainly because of the people I 'm responsible for. I now look for reasons to be thankful - and when you look there are plenty of them. Even if I had to walk a way from 3 generations of work.
My article
4/02/2014 5:39:18 PM

Russ, I put the words to this article and it was a time I'd rather forget, no doubt you've been through a few of the same time. I'd urge you to go and talk to someone, seek professional help, swall your farmers ego and start the process of kicking the black dog. I've never suffered depression so I don't fully understand it, but I've been as low as you can get staring down the barrel of oblivion. This is the year of the family farm and we don't need to lose any more of us farmers......jump on the blower first thing and talk to someone, anyone...,,,,please
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