Harrowing story behind photos of starving cattle on drought-stricken land

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Melissa Turner has seen first hand the devastation the ongoing drought has caused to NSW’s farmers.

The Central Coast resident heads a group of volunteers that transports household supplies to those most in need.

She says 12 months of being involved has given her a robustness to handle the distressing scenes associated with the ongoing struggle remote communities face.

“I’ve been going out there for over a year now, so I guess nothing shocks me anymore,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

A cow and its calf heads over to Ms Turner believing she may have food to give. Source: Supplied

But it was during the return trip from a recent visit to Baradine, 180km north of Dubbo, to share supplies with farmers where her rock-hard emotional strength was put to the test.

Pulling over at a farm near Binnaway, she went to take several photos of the barren landscape a herd of cows and calves were struggling to survive on.

But as she approached the fence, her presence offered the cattle a false sense of hope.

“Some of the other cows started to walk over and probably thought I had feed,” she explained.

Ms Turner said the majority of cattle were being hand-fed and any sight of someone approaching could unfortunately mislead them.

Barren land is a common sight across NSW. Source: Supplied

“There’s no more grazing all day like nature intended for them,” she said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the cows and sheep standing on hard dirt instead of soft grass.”

Communities trying to remain positive

She said despite the desperate times in the area, locals were hanging on in there.

With the Warrumbungle Shire Council area left with drastically low levels of water in the Timor Dam as well as its other water supplies, residents are struggling through their strictest ever water restrictions.

“Those that I have met, and got to know, remain positive – I guess they have no choice,” Ms Turner told Yahoo News Australia.

“Some towns have been in drought for years, the farmers have run out of money, water and in some cases hope. I think it’s just a day by day scenario with most.”

According to the Department of Primary Industries, 98.6 per cent of the state is suffering from drought.

A car packed with supplies ready to go inland from the Central Coast. Source: Supplied

Ms Turner says her work with other volunteers is helping alleviate the stresses communities face trying to stay afloat.

“The problem is it’s not just the farmers affected, it’s the people in the towns too. Shops and businesses are closing, and those who worked as farmhands and other jobs have been laid off, so they’re struggling now too,” she said.

With public pantries set up across the area’s communities, the group fills up vans and cars with groceries, bottled water and even cash donations before heading hundreds of kilometres inland every several weeks.

“By helping the farmers with money, water and groceries, it frees up some funds for them to buy more feed if they can get hold of it,” Ms Turner said.

“They’re very appreciative of all we are doing, but are reluctant to accept help often, saying there’s always someone else worse off.”

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