Above Members of the Renmark and Mildura Lions Clubs combined to organise a hay drop at Meringur in January 2020.
I joined the Millewa-Carwarp Landcare Group 28 years ago. It’s the oldest Landcare group in the Mallee region and was formed in 1989 after the community recognised the need for all land managers to start working together to manage their limited natural resources rather than doing so in isolation.
I have long believed that Landcare is about more than pest plants and animals and planting trees. To me, Landcare is about maintaining and improving biodiversity in our natural habitat, but also about maintaining and improving our communities on a human level. The healthier people are in a community the more likely they will show interest in improving their natural environment, which in turn positively influences their personal health and wellbeing. It’s all about perspective.
In July 2019 I was fortunate to hear the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes, address a group of farmers about the ongoing drought in East Gippsland. As I sat listening to the description of conditions in East Gippsland I realised how similar they were to my own home in the Millewa, in the far North West of Victoria, and of how I needed to speak with the Minister to inform her of the very dry conditions in my district. I felt uncomfortable speaking on behalf of my community but was determined to do so. Minister Symes was very accommodating and said she would like an opportunity to visit the Millewa at some time.
The next day I arrived home to severely moisture stressed crops. At that time the Millewa area had received about 40 millimetres of rain for the year, compared to our average of approximately 131 millimetres (for the first 28 weeks of the year). I started to graze some of my crops in an attempt to reduce the biomass and hopefully the rate of water consumption. Some neighbours and others in the community did similar, providing feed for livestock, but also hoping to carry the plants through to a major rain event, that we hoped was not too far away.
Unfortunately, the rain didn’t eventuate. Weather conditions were not in our favour. As the President of the Millewa-Carwarp Landcare Group I started a conversation with the group’s Landcare Facilitator and so began the time consuming but beneficial activities to create recognition of our situation so that we could then ask the State and Federal Governments for assistance.
A Millewa-Carwarp Community Group was formed under the auspices of the Landcare group to work together on the drought. The group has met many times, volunteering thousands of hours to meet with politicians, government agencies, local council and other beneficial parties including Lions, Rural Aid and Sunraysia Drought Relief Group. We work from the Landcare Office/Resource Centre, located in the old lawn tennis club rooms at Cullulleraine, kindly provided to us at a nominal fee by Mildura Rural City Council.
The group members are all volunteers and much of our time and work is spent applying for grants, on behalf of individuals in need. We have sourced and been provided with donated hay, which is allocated to the community members registered with us. The hay is essential for maintaining a healthy diet for cattle and sheep that need to be available as breeding stock.
Our Landcare projects continue to run in the background, including the use by members of our five and seven tyne rippers for ripping lines across paddocks. Ripping brings large soil clods to the surface that trap drifting sand and reduce wind speed. We also have two grader boards that will be used extensively this year to drag drifted sand back on to blowouts on the hills and away from fence lines.
The advocacy work continues and has provided significant benefits to community members, including rate relief through the Mildura Rural City Council. We have been very fortunate with our Landcare Facilitator, Annette Lambert, who has provided great service beyond the scope of her employment.
One of the issues that we often consider, and Annette has dealt with directly, is mental health. Having low or no income for several years creates significant challenges and detrimental effects for farm families. Watching a family farm wither and slide into a poor state takes a personal toll. Most farmers have a significant emotional tie to the land. To watch the land that you love suffering is difficult to bear.
The pressure on individuals can be overwhelming. I reflect daily on the adage, ‘don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.’ Most people are supportive of each other, our community and our difficulties, but occasionally a comment on social media or in the local news blaming the situation on farming practices can be taken personally and only adds to the psychological and emotional pressure.
Like every committee, you cannot please everyone all of the time. The Millewa-Carwarp Community Group chose to try to improve our community’s circumstances, rather than hoping someone else would do it for us. Personally, the more that I heard ‘no’, the more I tried to get people to say yes to providing the Millewa-Carwarp community with much needed help, the help that I am very grateful for.
Ian Arney is President of the Millewa-Carwarp Landcare Group.
For more information email email@example.com
Andrew and Megs Kay from Meringur wrote to the local newspaper thanking the Millewa-Carwarp Community Group:
Our family would like to thank Annette Lambert and the other volunteers of the community group for all their hard work helping to support our farming community. The endless hours attending meetings with Government agencies alone to support our community is huge, not to mention the hours sourcing the many truckloads of donated hay to help feed our hungry stock and give our farmers some relief.
The work put into securing funds to pay for fuel for the volunteers who transported the hay, the granting of rate relief and our registration with Rural Aid has been invaluable. The group has also worked to facilitate food hampers, Christmas packages, household funds and grants for maintenance, emergency water and infrastructure.
Your hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed in our household as I’m sure there are plenty of others that feel the same. As a community fighting this drought, we all need to band together and support each other.