Croppa Creek quadriplegic farmer Sam Bailey has never let a spinal-cord injury get in his way and with his wife, Jenny, he’s determined to live-out the drought in NSW’s north-west.
That’s despite the fact it’s the worst dry he’s ever seen.
The 51-year-old compares the drought to the state’s 1965 dry. But looking across the dry, dusty landscape he said this one is even worse because it’s more widespread.
His wife agreed. “It’s certainly the worst drought we’ve seen in our memory of living on this farm,” Mrs Bailey said.
They settled on their property “Pine Hills” after marrying in 1999, and run an Angus beef cattle enterprise on the 1250-hectare farm just outside the small railway town of Croppa Creek. Sam grew up on the neighbouring property.
The couple’s farm is situated in a severely drought-stricken area which, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, has received ‘very much below average’ rainfall, making it the eighth-lowest winter rainfall on record for NSW.
Located in the Gwydir Shire, the property has an average rainfall to October of approximately 456mm, although to date, only 335mm has fallen.
The area’s wettest day of the year was February 26 where 42.2mm fell, but decent rain hasn’t been seen in months.
The area is predominantly a dry-land cropping area where farmers grow wheat, barley and chickpeas and turn around to grow a summer crop such as sorghum. Many of the winter crops in the area have failed and with a predicted summer El Niño - which suggests lower rainfall and higher temperatures than normal - morale is low.
The Baileys have been hand-feeding their cattle for several months and feed is becoming harder and more expensive to buy.
“We’ve had to pull a lot of hay from Victoria and Central Queensland but you can’t feed forever because the cost is exorbitant,” Mr Bailey said.
That’s forced them to make some hard decisions. They sold off around 40 steers earlier than normal because their oats did not grow this season and if future rain predictions are correct, they may have to sell off everything that doesn’t have a calf at foot within the next six to 12 months.
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Mr Bailey said in times of drought hard decisions had to be made.
“We’ll draw lines in the sand and if it hasn’t rained by then, we’ve got to make a decision and not hang on until it’s too late,” he said.
The pair remain optimistic but realistic about the toll the dry will have, for a long time to come.
“It just won’t get better overnight it’s going to take years and years for people to get back on their feet,” Mr Bailey said.
But they’re not about to give up and facing challenges is nothing new for Mr Bailey. When he was 19, while jackarooing in the Northern Territory, he was left a C6/C7 quadriplegic after a car accident on the way to the pub with his friends.
As a result he has limited use of his arms and hands and much of his body. He has virtually no use of his left hand, no sensation from the chest down and cannot regulate his body temperature. He has only 45 per cent lung capacity.
These limitations have not stopped Mr Bailey from rebuilding his life to a point where he can do most things he needs to on the farm.
“A lot of machines now are hand controlled and easy to drive so there’s not many things here Jenny and I can’t do, really,” he said.
And they also feel lucky because thanks to their story appearing on ABC TV’s Australian Story and publishing a book, they tour Australia and overseas, speaking at conferences and schools.
It provides them with a second income and a chance to get away from the farm.
“It makes us realise there is always someone worse off and we get an emotional break from the drought,” Mrs Bailey said.
Mr Bailey added, “If I got through a spinal cord injury, I can get through a drought.”