Traprock Orchard employee Phil Davies with Bonnie and orchard owner John Pratt.
Traprock Orchard employee Phil Davies with Bonnie and orchard owner John Pratt.

'It's not drought, it's disaster': Tiny town's bleak outlook

BARELY 30 minutes to the west of Stanthorpe, Pikedale feels a world away.

The stretch of road from town to the once bustling agricultural area is littered with macropod carcasses and a look either way makes for sombre viewing.

Dust and dirt, without a drop of water within eyeshot, overwhelm the landscape.

For the 70 odd families who call the area home, life isn't getting any easier.

"The financial strain is concerning," Inglewood Rd resident Sharon Elliott said. "The physical strain is wearing. The emotional and psychological pressure is very, very concerning.

"People are doing really badly. It is so tough.

"Graziers and farmers are either feeding daily, or selling off their stock, pushing over fruit trees, carting water.

"People are reluctant to socialise or connect. Everyone is turning inward," she said.

That's why members of Pikedale and surrounds have been holding 'community gatherings'.

They try to get together, five to six times a year, to interact and help one another forget the trials each are facing.

"It was because we wanted somewhere to bring all types of residents together on a regular basis.

"Out here, people who work on farm just stay here and do what they need to do, day in and day out.

"It may be a half hour drive to a neighbours' place, so distance is a factor in not seeing others.

The once busy agricultural area of Pikedale is now dust, dirt and run down old station sheds.
The once busy agricultural area of Pikedale is now dust, dirt and run down old station sheds.

"When things aren't going well, it's easier to stay home and not seek out company.

"The mood? Silent resilience. Even though we're not seeing each other very often, there is a deep sense of empathy for each other and an understanding of what we are all going through."

President of the committee, who pulls together meetings and gatherings, is Traprock Orchards' John Pratt.

Mr Pratt has toiled the land in the area for decades. The outlook for the area, and himself personally, has never looked so bleak. That's precisely why he said it was important people socialised, had a beer and barbecue and didn't suffer alone.

"This isn't a drought. It's a disaster," Mr Pratt said.

One issue for the area, is the lack of a meeting place. Pikedale has no hall, with efforts to get one erected ongoing.

"We really need someone to step up and donate a parcel of land."

The gatherings occur at the homes and properties of invested community members.

"We've had over 80 at one and 70 people at others.

Traprock Orchard employee Phil Davies with Bonnie and orchard owner John Pratt. Right now these trees should be getting picked, but there’s nothing to pick.
Traprock Orchard employee Phil Davies with Bonnie and orchard owner John Pratt. Right now these trees should be getting picked, but there’s nothing to pick.

"It's a mental health thing too. I think anyone who hasn't got a few mental issues now, in this situation, you probably have got a problem.

"You might get three hours sleep and wake up and think 'how am I going to feed that mob of sheep? Will I have to sell stock or pull fruit off the trees?

"None of us really know if we're going to be here next year."

Mr Pratt was forced to get rid of cattle to help him through this year's orchard season. Stone fruit trees he'd usually be picking right now, have no fruit to offer.

"This is the fourth year in a row the orchard has been a complete crash."

The business would normally pay out $600,000 a year in wages, this year it'll be down to roughly $75,000.

"So those people aren't spending that money in the area."

He and wife Julie had always wanted to pass the business down to children, Belinda, Rachael and Nigel. Speaking honestly, Mr Pratt doesn't know if there will be anything to pass on come early 2020.

"The meetings are good to bounce ideas off each other. We have a very enthusiastic committee leading it."

Mrs Elliott said the group has lodged an application for incorporation.

"We'll definitely keep meeting - it is so important. I cannot wait for the first gathering after we've had significant rain."