Tears, Drinking, Coping, Drought

I know this is a hard subject to talk about and understand, never alone live through one. As a city girl growing up I watched the TV showing pictures of drought and gave it a passing glance. I have family that grew up and live on the land in QLD and to hear them talk about drought was only in passing conversation. I never understood it and they never expanded upon their lives living it. It is easy to sympathise and empathise but it’s not easy to grasp.

How many stories do we see that we skim over with the title drought, people who have not seen rain in 5 or 10 years or more, looking to the skies for a better season, waiting for a break to put in seed to grow crop, then it doesn’t rain again, bring back livestock that have been moved off or sold for years, but do we understand it?

I don’t think we do, most TV stories concentrate on the farmer, his livestock, livelihood and lack of opportunity to provide for his family but do we really see the impact of the women who live with these men and drought? The pictures on the TV show dry land, farmer looking to the skies a couple of dead animals or a skull, skeleton of an animal but they never illustrate the real toll drought takes.

When do we know it’s a drought, us women behind the scenes? swearing is not a good barometer as farmers swear a lot, at animals, machinery, weather and things but once the land dries up, the bank account shrinks and animals start gathering at fences when they hear cars, utes, trucks and voices the swearing escalates, paddocks look like sandpits this is drought.

Talking to some of my girlfriends today I asked how one is doing, she grimaced and said “Oh my god the swearing, I’m sick of it already, every time he comes in I try to go out. I have asked to increase my days working to earn more money to help get us through.” She is waiting on her boss to give her an answer it looks like her eldest won’t be going off to boarding school as planned next year unless things turn around quickly. She is one of the lucky ones, she works close to her home, has an income and escapes for 3 days per week.

I say I understand, we are buying in feed, her husband has been buying it in for the last 3 months and it is really expensive so they are now de-stocking. For those that don’t know de-stocking means selling or moving every bit of stock off the property either into the market for money or onto another person’s property for agistment (which is also expensive option). Some keep only a small amount of breeders hoping that when it rains it won’t be so expensive to get a bull or ram to impregnate the stock left. If pregnant then there is a time lapse of up to 18 months before the new born can be sold. Imagine how do you live without an income for 18 months or more?

What happens to women in drought? one of the things they do is try to get work off farm, families still have to eat and food costs money. I know of another of my girlfriends who walked into a shopping centre in a capital city and has sat at a coffee table and cried. She cried as she looked around and knew no one would understand her life in that moment, how her troubles were so much on her and everybody else looked fresh and happy. She noticed people looked away from her.

She felt naked, she knew the pants she had on she had sown up the inner legs for the third time, her knickers had holes in them and her top was dated by 3 years. She tugged at her hair and wondered if she had enough money for a hair cut, a colour was way out of her price range, so the greys will keep coming through unchecked. She couldn’t remember the last time she bought herself clothing of any kind. She stirred her real cup of coffee and at $4.80 a cup she felt she was cheating her family, and knew she wouldn’t buying lunch for herself that day but also that $4.80 could have also bought her much wanted knickers and she asked me “one didn’t go into the shopping centres to walk out with just knickers do they?”

I couldn’t answer her as I was thinking No they don’t in times of drought, the farm comes first, children’s needs second, husbands third and if there was anything left over it was the woman’s turn. Having a cup of coffee is normal and I would have chosen to look normal rather than feel abnormal by buying much needed knickers and walking out.

Women work hard to appear ‘normal’ and keep things ‘normal’ while inside they may be feeling anxious, no one sees them walking the house in the dark – it is not insomnia, it is pure stress. Another girlfriend said she walked so much one night around and around the house cleaning that the dog  who faithfully slept on the couch got up and went outside to get away from her, as she found herself talking to it.

She told me it was the only time she felt less stress, as from daylight when the farmer got up in the morning he was rubbing his head and trying to work out what to do for the day. She went to discuss the finances with him once and he said he wasn’t interested so a fight occurred as she made him listen, she didn’t want him at any stage to turn around and say “I wasn’t aware, I didn’t know or WTF?” as things were going from bad to worse. They came to a resolution, she spoke, he listened and things went back to her feeling the full brunt of the declining back account, no solution to the problem so she went to the local town and started cleaning motel rooms.

Women rally, but they do get to a point where they feel they can’t cope but who do they tell? They won’t tell already stressed husbands, if they mention anything to girlfriends in the city, they look sympathic and move on which is not helpful and after a while most women don’t mention it more than once. One said “it is a problem that never goes away and won’t until it rains, stock comes back and farmers are working. How do my city friends even begin to grasp that?” I have no answers either so I listen.

“For me talking about it I feel disloyal to my husband, the farm, my parents in law and all of those hard working people who stay on farm during droughts” said another girlfriend today “so I say nothing but at night after the kids have gone to bed I drink, he hates it but I need to in order to cope.” “I feel so alone in this I can’t tell anyone” said another (as) ” I know once I start talking about it I won’t stop and it will become too real” I say to her “one day at a time” her response “please don’t be another one of those For sure it will rain, we know it will but when no one can answer that.”

I looked at her and said “the one I dislike “it is what it is, I know it is but it doesn’t help me.” She laughed and as we were standing there looking at each other she thanked me for listening and for understanding as she left I said “it will get better, I have another girlfriend who makes sure when she cries she does it in the shower, puts the radio on so no one can hear her and lets the water wash her face and tears away at the same time, when she stops gets out and puts her make up on and starts her day”. She asked me if she knew this person I said it’s all of us, we cope how we can and no one judges us harder than we do ourselves.”

Next time you see that lady sitting in the shopping centre alone, smile at her, assure her she is ‘normal’. She doesn’t need your sympathy or money to buy knickers, she would love money to buy feed, a bale of hay, seed to prepare for cropping, pellets for chooks all of that is foremost on her mind, but she wouldn’t accept it, she would feel rich sitting in nice company drinking her expensive coffee. She would love you to say hello and move on as if she didn’t have a care in the world, but if it’s me, stop and talk.

If you are reading this and need help call lifeline Australia 13 11 14