Tears flowed from young Ilfracombe local, Annabel Hatch, at the Flyers Ball in Longreach on Saturday night.
Annabel, 19, symbolised the dreams that drought is playing havoc with in a commercial television channel’s feature at the end of August, when the Dresses for Drought pop-up shop visited Longreach.
The initiative is the brainchild of Tashoni Hardy, a Qantas flight attendant, and her sister, Anita Guyett, who grew up with cattle and cane at Mackay.
Saying they are “about providing beautiful dresses for those young Australians in drought affected areas, so that they can feel great on their special day”, they started a Facebook page in early August with the aim of collected 30 or 40 dresses.
By the time they closed off donations, 5000 dresses, 2700 suits and a collection of shoes, clutches and accessories had been donated from all corners of Australia.
As well as visiting Orange, Narromine, Bourke, Roma and the Lockyer Valley with pop-up shops, the movement came to Longreach, where Annabel was among those given the pleasure of choosing a dress for the forthcoming Flyers Ball, a fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Longreach’s Hospital Auxiliary.
By the end of the day, she was one of those who had selected one of the 300 dresses and suits given away, and Troy Cassar-Daly had written a poignant song, Dress for the Longreach Ball.
Featuring Annabel’s circumstances, and those of many young women like her, its haunting lyrics – “Annabel came in work clothes and dusty, got drawn to a dress of the prettiest blue; Tears filled her eyes as she read the note with it, it’s the colour of water, I hope it rains soon” – played out across the 300-strong crowd at Saturday’s ball.
As it started playing at the ball on Saturday night, Annabel couldn’t help it – her emotions bubbled to the surface.
“The song makes me very emotional,” she said.
“I think about all the people affected by drought.
“It shows people in cities how we’re suffering, and that it’s not just my parents’ generation, it’s us too.”
Ironically, Annabel wasn’t wearing the dress she’d chosen from Dresses for Drought to the ball, because she’d lost too much weight helping her father, Paul Hatch, in his contract earthmoving and fencing business.
Originally from a cane farm at Clare in the Burdekin, her grandfather, Ray Taylor, has owned the 30,000 acre Newstead Station at Ilfracombe for the past two-and-a-half years, while her parents own the Wellshot Hotel in town.
It’s been a hard slog for them all, struggling with decisions of whether to destock or pay for feed, and splitting the family up as they seek other forms of employment, but Annabel loves living out west all the same.
“We see our parents suffer from drought, and our hopes and dreams of running a property of our own, but every school holiday I wanted to be here, and I still do.”
Proceeds from Troy’s song, Dress for the Longreach Ball, go towards the QCWA Queensland Drought Appeal.