Southern Downs drought response dubbed best in Australia
OTHER parts of Australia struggling in drought should look to the Southern Downs as a model for how to cope, the Prime Minister's specially appointed drought coordinator said, after meeting with local stakeholders on Friday.
Major General Stephen Day has seen the heartbreaking conditions faced by drought-stricken communities throughout Australia and said the level of organisation in the Southern Downs was unprecedented.
He pinpointed the region's success to hard work at a community level and initiatives undertaken by Southern Downs Regional Council.
"Drought is a bastard, in my view there is no other way to describe it,” he said.
"But they were looking it in the eye and dealing with it.”
The major general made a beeline for Warwick after receiving an email from Wingarra beef farmer Cynthia McDonald, outlining drought management efforts being undertaken in the Southern Downs.
"This is one of the most proactive communities I've seen and I think it can be utilised as a model for a community coming together,” Mrs McDonald said.
"I thought if he comes and takes a look at us, he could see how our coordinated approach is really getting somewhere.”
Mrs McDonald became a centrepoint in the local drought response when she and husband Jamie volunteered their property, west of Warwick, as a distribution point for donations of food, water, fodder and other items.
During the past 12 months, their farm has been reduced to one-third of its carrying capacity and 20 of its dams - all but two - have run completely dry.
Mrs McDonald said people on neighbouring farms didn't have enough water to bathe.
Seeing the desperation, she channelled her efforts into contacting charities and, since integrating with the newly-appointed SDRC drought officer, she said the community had been able to achieve comprehensive support.
The turning point was marked by a community meeting at Dalveen on October 3, according to Mrs McDonald.
"The key was getting the information out there and getting regular interaction between all the key players: the council, the drought officer, the charities and the people themselves,” she said.
Along with printed flyers, community halls are playing a pivotal role as place to share information.
"Some don't even have a phone, no internet, no mobile - they are really remote,” Mrs McDonald said.
"The only reliable thing they really have is their mail delivery to get to them, which is a pretty strange fact in the 21st century.”
Mrs McDonald congratulated the council on facilitating meetings and working with communities.
"I would say it is a real testament to Tracy Dobie in that she has put so much focus into drought management.”
For her husband Jamie McDonald, the major general's visit helped renew the impetus after a period of brief rain.
"To have him there meant our farmers and our feedback was only one step removed from the highest politicians,” he said.
Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said the council was proud to receive positive feedback and would continue to work on a Drought Resilience Plan to identify the early signs of drought, the appropriate responses and roles of agencies.
"No other council in Australia has done that,” she said.