AT A roadside rest area by the Mitchell Highway two kilometres from Dubbo on the Narromine side, Craig Porter hitches a trailer to the semi he has just driven from Charleville in Queensland.
The load is mostly intermediate bulk containers filled with the byproduct of ethanol production, manufactured sheep and cattle feed, milk powder for hand raising calves, chicken feed and dog food.
It is donated product aimed at helping farmers who are struggling to keep livestock alive.
“Really it is about protecting herd genetics,” says the man behind Aussie Helpers, Brian Egan, who has managed the logistics of getting the load to Dubbo.
The rationale is a grim one, keep the breeding stock alive so if and when it does rain, cattlemen can start to rebuild.
About 15 minutes’ drive away the Dubbo store cattle sale is winding up, one Meat and Livestock Australia described as a “typical drought yarding with the bulk of the steer and heifer weaners presenting in very plain condition”.
The day before more than 8000 head had passed through the yards, double the number typical for this time of year, and the quality ranged from alive and upright to former show bulls reluctantly sent to slaughter.
Mr Egan will be based out of a motel in Dubbo for the next couple of months as he coordinates the delivery of more truckloads of aid to the NSW Central West.
The driver of the truck, Mr Porter, and Krystal Haycock are volunteers, the same as everyone involved with Aussie Helpers, a charity established 16 years ago and that now boasts assets of about $10 million.
It helps only primary producers, people who solely make a living off the land.
One of the key products Mr Egan is disseminating is known commercially as Suplabase, a byproduct created by Wilmar Sugar when it produces ethanol.
The sugar has been removed to create biofuel.
“It’s as bitter as hell,” says Mr Egan, “but it will get a cow up like nothing else I’ve seen.”
He said Aussie Helpers began using Suplabase seven years ago when helping farmers at Lightning Ridge.
“We know it works, it’s tried and tested,” he said.
Born in Charleville, Mr Egan said he started the charity at a time when he felt like a lost cause, suffering post traumatic stress from military service in the Vietnam War.
A psychologist told him to get involved in something, to find people worse off than him and help them, and he did.
He recalls a day entrepreneur Dick Smith pledged him $1 million.
“Sometimes I’ve got to pinch myself, people’s generosity is overwhelming.”
Mr Egan says every farmer that receives aid from Aussie Helpers has been interviewed and their needs assessed.
“We sit down and have a cup of tea with them, have a bit of a yarn about their personal situation,” said Mr Egan.
“We’re not here to help hobby farmers and you can’t just order stuff from us, there must be a real need.
“Not everyone has a problem.”
There are currently three Aussie Helpers trucks on the road moving aid, one in the Scone area, one in Victoria helping dairy farmers doing it tough and the third pulled into Dubbo on Friday.
Mr Egan said there was no government money involved in his charity, but he was working closely with NSW Primary Industries Department, taking advice about what areas were worst hit.
He said he had set aside about $200,000 to get things moving in the Central West, but far more could be spent depending on need.