• Lara Flanagan

Dry and battle scarred but still very beautiful

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Someone asked me yesterday if I was going to write about the new water restrictions and I quite genuinely asked, ‘what water restrictions?’ For some reason I can’t think about Level 4.7 without thinking about Vegemite’s iSnack 2.0. Whenever someone says level 4.7, I think iSnack 2.0 and I find myself sniggering like a measly minded 12-year-old and I really have nothing to contribute. The other thing I automatically think is what took them so bloody long?

I started questioning our water restrictions when Tenterfield continued to water our gardens. I would ask people about the water restrictions and they would say, “god we can’t go to Level 5, the whole town shuts down then. We have to look after our businesses.’ When I would say well why don’t they change the water restrictions so we can actually look after our primary industry which is agriculture, I would be met with blank looks. For me, water restrictions should be all about conserving what we have got. It should be using every single drop wisely. But here we were watering away without a care in the world while we heard sound bites from the local powers that be about how much they were doing. All the while our agricultural businesses started sounding their own death knells. As those death knells sounded, we continued to water our rose gardens.

I began to think our local council’s hands were tied so I started tracking down higher powers. My first step was David Littleproud – Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Financial Management. If anyone was in control of water, this man would be it. This is his response “The setting and managing of water restrictions are the responsibility of Local Government…… The initiative and judgement to escalate is a matter for councils and the NSW Government.” So, our Minister for Water Resources, Drought yada yada yada had nothing to do with water restrictions. If that man cannot accept that drought begins on a local level, and the only way we are going to become drought resistant is from a nationwide initiative to implement changes locally, then he should not be Minister of his current portfolio. He should be Minister of Men’s lavatory services in Parliament. He would be a lot more helpful there.

Then I went to our State Member Janelle Saffin. Her response was “I know what Level. 4.5 means and I do not like handheld hosing for 30 minutes either, but at this stage I have supported Council’s actions but kept it under review.” No luck there either. Then I went to our Federal Member Barnaby. His initial response was to tell me that he had to check with Shelly Hancock (NSW Minister for Local government) as to what his responsibilities were, then Shelly got back to him on the 18th September to advise him that it is a local government issue. Barnaby was off the hook as well, but it was so super-awesome that he was able to clarify what his responsibilities were because he is really busy trying to make ends meet.

My last-ditch attempt was Tenterfield Shire Council, their response was “The implications to the community of moving into Level 5 water restrictions are significant, both for residential and commercial residents. At Level 5 water restrictions there is no watering permitted, including for nurseries or market gardens, there can be no carting of water, no filling of stock troughs and no preparation of concrete.” I never got a response to my question as to why they couldn’t rewrite water restrictions to eliminate non-essential residential watering so we could look after all our businesses. And why couldn’t they have done this 18 months ago.

Then I started to remember why I liked being a hermit. I sort of gave up, especially after a community meeting where an appointed employee bombastically berated the crowd with facts and figures, effectively bamboozling people without answering any questions. Whereas our elected official enthusiastically thanked everyone for their questions several times, with varying degrees of earnestness and enthusiasm without every answering any questions. Not once was conservation addressed, not once was the fact that we should have introduced water restrictions years ago that effectively looked after our entire Shire acknowledged. Not once was climate change addressed. To be honest, I don’t give a rat’s arse if you believe in climate change or not, but we are now a rural community that is known for drought and fire. We have a dwindling population and if you want to attract the tree-changers be damn sure you have a green, environmentally aware policy ready to reassure people that we are drought resistant and forward thinking. No-one in our council seems to get that. I left the meeting early as I remembered I had something important to do, like shredding my inner thighs with a cheese grater.

Then we had our national TV moment. A popular morning show was filming in Tenterfield last week to encourage people to visit, by showing them the face of the drought. What an incredible opportunity to showcase the people and organisations that make up our community. Instead of choosing to show Australia the very real and wonderful face of the people of our community we instead showed them the Beverly Hillbillies. Jed and Jethro were there in force complete with embroidered shirts and Elly May and Granny were in the background with placards. “There is gold up there in dose hills boys! X Marks the spot, we found gold, liquid gold. We is back in business! Yes we is, we found gold. Water found here.”

As the Clampett’s danced around on National TV it broke my heart. This was not their time. It was our people’s time and I could see our elected and appointed officials effectively shafting any drought tourism that so many of us have fought so long and hard for. We found water folks. Tenterfield is back in business (not that it was ever out of business). End of story. Go visit somewhere else. When I got home that morning, the first message I received was, “Lara, we were going to visit Tenterfield this weekend, but seems you guys are out of the woods, so we will head to Stanthorpe instead as they seem to need the business more.”

We can’t help that we are governed on every level by the Clampetts. I watched Q&A this week with my mate David Littleproud and I realised he doesn’t get it. Despite the eloquent grazier next to him, despite the passionate people in the audience. He didn’t see the faces, he only sees soundbites, policies, reports and drought funding that no-one can access. It works on paper, who gives cares that it doesn’t work in reality. Our country is quite literally dying of thirst and mismanagement and no-one in government seems to give a shit.

The drought is personal. Our government on every level must see the faces. We are so tired, and now more than ever, we need your help. Please don’t forget the human face of the drought.

I ran into a friend today and asked her how she was going. She told me they have nothing left. She said it in such a matter of fact way. She was devoid of emotion. She literally had nothing left. I cried when I got in the car as I had never heard anything so hopeless.

I know someone who volunteers in the region providing water to those who can come and get it. She said that people are slowly coming apart at the seams. She had one woman come for water and when they sensed she was desperate, they assisted her with some basic groceries. This woman cried for 15 minutes because she felt that others needed it more than her.

I know a local business who said they are down 50% on last year. They don’t have any hope for the remainder of the year. Another business told me it was the worst October on record and one accommodation house has no forward bookings for the remainder of the year.

I know of a family who has destocked to keep their breeding stock alive. Because they have had an income from destocking at a fraction of what the stock was worth, they were not eligible for funding. This is despite the fact they now have no income on the horizon.

I ran into another friend who simply said, “I am sorry, we don’t shower much anymore.”

I know of a mother who washes her family’s clothes in the children’s bath water, then uses that water to wash herself.

That is the human face of drought. The most amazing, inspiring resilient human faces of this wide-spread debilitating national emergency that is our drought.

Please ignore our politicians, on every level and don’t ever forget that we need you. Now more than ever, we so desperately need your support. So, buy from the bush, stay in the bush, visit the bush, be a local for a while. Whatever rocks your boat, please visit our beautiful towns. And when dusk comes and the sun is setting into our magnificent skylines, you can remind yourself, that this is Australia and you are helping.

Visiting my town Tenterfield is like stepping into the pages of an Australian fairy-story. Time moves a little slower here. At nights sometimes the sky is such a magnificent carpet of stars that you can literally feel like you are floating in the heavens. When night falls, my main street comes alight with the pinpricks of fairy-lights. Despite the dry, you can find magical country roads that hide beneath canopies that are made of a million shades of green.

It is here that you can feel the heartbeat of our country. Mateship runs deep here, we are kept alive now by Rural Aid, Blaze Aid, The CWA, Lions, Rotary and countless more. Banjo’s words can be felt in the air, the essence of Australia is born on the breeze.

Our drought has a million faces, please never forget it. Please hit the road and come to Tenterfield. Be a local for a while and help us keep fighting. You will receive the warmest welcome in the world and it will make a difference to so many people who are so desperately in need.

#Drought #Tenterfield

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