Regional youth describe the heartbreak of drought

Ashley school girl Rachel Makim.

Ashley school girl Rachel Makim.

The true heartache of drought may soon hit home to politicians due to the sometimes forgotten voices of rural life: teenagers and other young leaders.

UNICEF Australia is hosting the NSW Youth Summit on Living with Drought, from October 9-11, at Lake Macquarie near Newcastle..

A hundred young people, aged 14-24, from across the state will come together to discuss the challenges they face living with drought.

The summit, which aims to "create a support network" of and for young people, will deliver a UNICEF public report to the government..

It will include Elka Jane Devney (Moree), Brennan Cumberland (Ashley), Rachel Makim (Ashley) and Henry Smith (North Star)

Their reasons for applying to attend are inspiring and heart-breaking.

We don't need to comment. Their own words speak volumes about how deeply the drought is hurting them and the communities they live in.

We dare you not to to be moved or proud.

"Fully immersed in the sunlight that danced across the rich colours and beauty of the thriving crops beneath, I would always catch myself staring outside the window of the plane in complete awe," Elka Jane said.

Elka Jane Devney

Elka Jane Devney

"Watching the sunset from above whilst below Moree's cotton season in full swing, is possibly one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. Except now when I fly over town it isn't surrounded by a sea of white, rather I stop myself from looking outside the window because beneath I see the struggle and hopelessness of my community.

"Moree was a thriving town, recognised for its cotton country, black soil plains and known as one of Australia's major agricultural centres...(But) now we are in the middle of the worst drought, a drought so bad it doesn't need to rain, it needs to pour.

Since the beginning of the drought, there has been a decrease in employment opportunities with people not only in the agricultural sector beginning and continuing to lose their jobs.

"As a result of a minimal stream of income for residents, Moree's economy has shifted forcing many family owned businesses to close down.

"On the land, farmers are struggling to feed their frail stock, which sadly has resulted in many properties loosing prime breeding stock that have been in the family for generations.

"As a result of the drought, farms can't afford to hire workers, which detrimentally decreases the number of children attending small outlying schools, as well increases the labour load on farming families. Our community members, mates and friends are struggling to cope with the idea that many will have to sell their generation old farms due to financial impacts.

"This sense of fear of failure has disconnected many families from the social fabric of our community because 'Are you okay?' is a question not often asked...

"My classmates struggle to maintain the balance of school and farm work because family comes before education, but this isn't something they should be facing. Our city counterparts are focused on the HSC and gaining a good ATAR whilst many students at my school share their parents worry about how to keep the stock alive.

Rachel Makim in action on her horse "Magic". Pic courtesy of Rachel Walker.

Rachel Makim in action on her horse "Magic". Pic courtesy of Rachel Walker.

"Two hundred kilometres west of Moree, the township of Walgett has run completely dry of water, relying on bottled water to survive.

"The drought is hitting everyone hard, regardless of whether you live on the land or not. Small towns like Moree have a strong sense of community so if one is suffering we all try to share the heartache but also stand together in support.

"I want to believe in miracles and hope that someday soon I can look outside the window of the plane again and smile at the sea of colour beneath because I hope to God that when it rains, it pours."

"From the farmers to the shop owners and students, within my small agricultural town every man, woman and child is feeling the impact of drought in one way or another... During a time where everyone is facing the same hardships and emotions, I aim to start the conversation that, "It's okay not to be okay"...

Fifteen year-old Henry Smith feeding cattle on "Alma Downs", North Star.

Fifteen year-old Henry Smith feeding cattle on "Alma Downs", North Star.

Henry Smith, 15, a passionate Manly Sea Eagles' fan from North Star says he is struggling to cope while he watches his parents do all they can to survive the drought. He lives in what locals call the "The Golden Triangle" but even it can't escape drought's grip.

It's a heavy burden for everyone.

We managed to catch up with Henry while he was on a quad on the family farm "Alma Downs".

While he goes to school in Inverell he comes home on the weekends to help his father James.

There have been times when he's had to miss school when it's got busy at home.

On this morning, father and son were feeding cattle.

Last week the teenager spoke on the ABC Radio's NSW Country Hour suicide prevention in the bush.

"The drought is hard, the crops are half dead but I see other people's crops out and about and on social media and they are decent, the constant thought of whether or not you will have enough feed for the cattle to last through the winter worries me.

"The drought is extremely tough on my father and mother, seeing my father the way he is makes me worried and anxious and I am constantly worried when this cruel drought will end.

"I would like to attend the summit to chat to people that are in the same shoes as me and I would like some advice.

Rachel Makim, 14, from Ashley, a small village north of Moree, understands that anguish only too well.

We spoke to her via phone just before she jumped on her horse "Magic". She was competing at a week-long horse event in Garah, and yes, it was a "dusty bowl". She was looking forward to her favorite event, showjumping and then heading off to the summit on Tuesday. (We've since heard she had a clear round, well done Rachel!)

"Pretty much all hope was lost as our family has had to give up the lease we had on our once green farm.

"Nowadays, Dad goes in the trucks more than ever, like he used to before we had the farm.

"This leaves us not seeing him as much, as he leaves early and gets home late. We used to have cows on our farm but obviously since it's been sold Dad has had to move them away.

"They are up in Bundaberg now, which is good, because it's green...

"Living in drought is harder than it seems. So much more happens than what gets talked about, or what is put down on paper. When you see people talk about it on the news, some people talk about how some places are in drought, when they look like they have it easy compared to us. You wish they would understand how it is for us...Everyone I know is really busy all the time. There is less time to see those I care about..

"If I could send a personal message to the government about the drought, I'd want to ask them to find a way to make things easier and to understand where the farmers are coming from.

Brennan Cumberland

Brennan Cumberland

Brennan Cumberland is also from Ashley.

"It is difficult watching people struggle with something that they have no control over.

"This extends beyond just a financial struggle, the drought has affected the mental health, relationships, and livelihoods of families throughout Australia.

"Growing up in a rural community, everyone in a way has been affected by the drought. Drought affects more than just farmers.

"Shops and businesses have been losing customers due to the declining population of rural towns and this has caused many places to shut down indefinitely.

"I have watched countless shops close and I have had friends that have had to leave town and start their lives again in completely new places due to the loss of their jobs and homes," he said.

That's drought...

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