Farmer Ash Whitney stands in the middle of a dried-up dam in a drought-affected paddock on his property west of Gunnedah. “I have been here all my life, and this drought is feeling like it will be around a while,” said Mr Whitney. (Reuters: David Gray)
From ground level, Australia’s drought looks like a featureless, brown dustbowl, but from the air it transforms into an artistry of colour and texture as the land cracks open under a blazing sun.
Circular, dry plough tracks resemble the concentric circles in Aboriginal dot paintings which tell of an ancient mythology, starving cattle queuing for feed look like an abstract painting with their black shadows stretching across the land.
But for Ashley Whitney there is no such beauty, just blood, sweat and tears as he struggles to feed his cattle, cutting the drying branches of Kurrajong trees — a last resort during the worst droughts.
A cow walks away from a water tank in a drought-affected paddock on Tom Wollaston’s property west of Tamworth. “I can’t seem to be able to do anything else apart from just feed, and keep things going, and it [the drought] seems to be one step ahead of me all the time,” said Mr Wollaston. (Reuters: David Gray)
A despairing Mr Whitney said the drought felt like it could be around for a while. His property — near the town of Gunnedah on the usually fertile Liverpool Plains — is now withered, having received the lowest average rainfall in more than 25 years.
Cattle farmers Margo and Tom Wollaston are afraid of what this drought will mean for their children, who aim to take over the running of the 2,300-hectare property when they “hang up their boots”.
A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-affected paddock on Jimmie and May McKeown’s property on the outskirts of Walgett. (Reuters: David Gray)
Margo said droughts had a very negative impact, not only on her family, but the whole farming community around the nearby town of Tamworth in northwest New South Wales.
“I find droughts a little bit like cancer — it sort of eats away at you,” she said.
Mr Whitney stands on the back of his truck as he throws out hay to his cattle. (Reuters: David Gray)
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said parts of Australia experienced the second-warmest summer on record in the past year and had also just been through one of the driest and warmest autumns on record.
Still, for the farmers struggling to water their animals, the dry spell — which has left more than 80 per cent of NSW in drought, according to the Department of Primary Industries — looks to be a prolonged and dusty road.
Patterns can be seen in a drought-affected paddock created by a plough on a property located west of Gunnedah. (Reuters: David Gray)