What do you do when water runs out?
Hope still springs in Australia’s worst areas of drought
From his riverside farm 45 kilometres south of Narromine in central-west New South Wales, 70-plus farmer Ray Haigh reflects on the intensity of the drought. He can’t remember one as bad; neither can the old bloke he was chatting to in the nearby town of Trangie.
“He said he had seen conditions like this, but not over such a big area and not for as long,” Haigh tells Eternity.
“We’re into our third year now … We had a little bit of rain at the end of March – 40 millilitres on the river. We were able to sow a bit of crop – which nearly died a couple of times because we didn’t have rain – but that was the first time I’d moved our sowing rig in three years … We’re all spending huge amounts on feed [for animals].”
“I was starting to detect a feeling of despair.” – Ray Haigh
Narromine is one of ten towns recently predicted to run out of water in the next six to 12 months.
Despite this, Haigh considers himself lucky. He has some feed for his stock, after unearthing grain that he buried underground many years ago to use in hard times. And on his part of the river, he has access to bore water.
“Go to the other end of the Narromine Shire and they can’t get bore water,” he says.
When Haigh made pastoral visits – along with other members of the church he attends – to people in this area two months ago, they were almost out of water. “I was starting to detect a feeling of despair,” Haigh says about the local community.
Further upstream in the town of Warren, where his daughter lives, not only is there no access to bore water but they are expecting the river to stop flowing by Spring. This means they no longer will be able to pump water out of the river for stock and domestic use.
Haigh points out there are towns even worse off. He notes other “pretty desperate” towns in NSW’s central west where water is being trucked in, such as Condobolin and Coonabarabran. More than 200 kilometres away, Bathurst is facing “extreme” water restrictions.
The Narromine area is currently on level three restrictions, which are still high and likely to tighten. Haigh notes that for those without bore water, there is barely enough water to sustain a small garden.
Yet, with typical country optimism, he highlights some good news: the area of Australia affected by drought is shrinking.
“At one stage you could say from central Queensland right across Australia all the way down was fully covered by drought. But we’re starting to see areas now that are getting good rain – so the southern part of western Australia in their cropping area, south Australia had some good rain, Victoria and up to Griffith. We’re nowhere near out of the woods, but … we’re starting to see some easing in some of the shortages of feed.”
“Rain is the answer to everything and God will provide that when we need it.” – Ray Haigh
The main reason why Haigh is so optimistic is his Christian faith. He has also noticed the difference a belief in God makes on his pastoral visits, as a member of Narromine and Trangie Anglican Church.
“Those who have a good Christian faith know that everything is moving along and the plans are in hand,” he says.
For those who don’t know God, his main concern is the sense of isolation that despair can bring.
“When we go visiting, we rock up and say we’ve got two questions we want to ask you: the first one is ‘Are you OK?’ and then we move on to what they think about Jesus.”
The main questions Haigh and other pastoral carers often face – where is God in all of this and why doesn’t he make it rain – has opened up opportunities for some good conversations. While Haigh readily admits he finds these hard to answer, he is praying people will come to trust in God through this drought. And he’s confident that rain is on its way.
“Rain is the answer to everything and God will provide that when we need it,” he says.
“Hope is such an important thing at a time like this.” – Phil Howes
Minister of Narromine and Trangie Anglican Church Phil Howes is also embracing drought-borne opportunities to support locals who are “doing it tough”. He points out that these include local businesses, not just farmers.
“The long-time farmers are, of course, doing it tough, but so are people who are involved in selling equipment to farmers or people who prepare and process feed, train drivers, shearers, hairdressers. So it’s not just the farmers, it’s more the knock-on effect which is more significant,” says Howes.
In light of this, when providing drought relief to the community, his church has focused on supporting local businesses. With financial support from an Anglican church in Sydney, they were able to give community members gift vouchers for local businesses, such as the hairdresser, pharmacy, and petrol station.
Just like the positivity of his congregation member Haigh, Howes has seen the drought magnify a similar resilience among many others in the local community.
“I’ve never met people who are so hardworking or resilient or make a little go a long way. They are very resourceful, and they show a lot of care and concern for each other,” he says.
According to Howes, the flipside is such self-reliance can make people reluctant to turn to God.
“My hope is that people will understand that we’re not God and no matter how clever and hardworking we are, we still need God … We can’t be independent of God in either rain or salvation. My prayer is that through the drought, people will turn to God and recognise their need for him.”
While Haigh says conditions “are expected to get worse before it gets better”, he is confident that God will come through: “When it does rain … we can all celebrate God’s goodness to us again. Hope is such an important thing at a time like this.”
Phil Howes and Narromine and Trangie Anglican Church are inviting churches in central-west NSW and beyond to take part in a communal prayer session on Monday, September 2. On this day, they are asking for “one church in each city, town and village to pray for God to mercifully end the drought.” For more information, get in touch with Phil at [email protected] or 0411 281 915.