First person: Tree change teaches a hard lesson in living with drought

I once thought I knew what a drought was.

We lived in Brisbane and our daughter was tiny. I had a timer and a bucket in the shower, no water in the garden and a bad back from bending over the tiny amount of water in the bath for the baby.

Lawns were brown. “Bore water” signs started popping up in gardens so neighbours didn’t report each other for water misuse if their yards were too green.

I knew nothing.

More than 10 years later, I live on a farm in north-west NSW. It’s just a little farm - a hobby farm. We are vastly lucky that this is not our life, our sole source of income, the vehicle that puts food on our table and clothes on our backs.

But we know and love people whose lives ebb and flow with the climate.

And right now, they are high and dry. While we are worried about where it is we are going to find hay when our feed runs out in two weeks, some have already watched their livestock, and their living, die.

Some people have watched their children lending a hand, knowing they might be the last generation who will do so.

Other farmers are looking through saleyard fences, watching the non-profitable auction of cows and calves they did not want to let go.

A colleague reporting on the drought recently held a sick calf in his arms on the way to a story, only to find it dead on his return.

The kangaroos, never the farmers’ friend, are constant roadkill on town roads as they seek anything green. On a recent walk, we found a large roo dead on a suburban street, her joey mowed down nearby as it escaped from the pouch.

The land is dry, dry, dry.

It has been a rapid and brutal drought. No rain of any significance for close to a year.

Paddocks that this time last year were still vital and healthy are now dust, and the bones visible through the live animals at the saleyard are enough to make you cry.

I didn’t know drought, but I do now. Here’s hoping for rain for those over the fence, with all our hearts.

Marie Low is a Fairfax Media journalist.