There’s a poddy calf lying outside under the air-conditioning unit of Shane and Peta Warner’s homestead in outback Queensland.
The lawn is the only patch of green in the couple’s 330,000 drought-stricken acres at Eulo, 240 kilometres south-west of Quilpie.
“This one in the yard is still a bag of bones and we’ve been feeding him the green grass,” Peta says sadly. “We had two of them but the other one didn’t make it.”
There’s a weary resignation in this woman’s voice as she admits the relentless regime of feeding stock is exhausting.
The professional artist has had to down her paint brush and pencils for now to help her husband of 40 years keep their stock alive.
“I feel sorry for the stock; you go out there and you do your best for them and they are still dying,” Peta says.
The couple rises at 4.30am every day to start the first round of feeding hungry cattle.
They finish by 12pm, have lunch and take a break for a couple of hours to escape the ferocity of the afternoon sun before starting again from 3.30pm ‘til dark.
The affable Shane says “feeding hay is not a hard job but it’s a consistent job”.
Sourcing it is the hard part – last week there was a 3000-kilometre round trip to Colac, Victoria to buy hay to keep animals alive.
The Warners, who previously ran 2500 breeding cows and 10,000 sheep, have about 500 cows, 300 weaners and 50 sheep left on the property.
Shane reveals they’ve been in drought about seven years and this is now officially the worst.
“We had a bad one last decade but there was a break in the middle and we could get agistment,” he says.
“This time everyone is in the same boat.”
On Saturday Jindera’s Jim Parrett was a welcome sight at Merimo Station when he dropped off 34 round bales donated by the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners.
Shane was beaming as Jim drove through his gate and made short work of unloading the fodder that will keep the breeders and weaners going for a week.
“It’s humbling to have somebody go to this effort for us,” he marvelled as Jim unloaded dog food, toys, tennis rackets and men’s and women’s gift bags along with the precious hay.
“This is unbelievable – he’s (Jim) like Santa Claus.
“My dogs won’t know what hit ‘em with canned food,” he added with a chuckle.
“Everything helps – it’s just amazing that people have been so generous with their time, labour and produce.
“This hay, well … to know someone else is looking after you. It’s worth more to your mental stability than anything.”
He admits these days it’s a lot tougher to answer the question of why they keep going.
Things are so bad, youngest son Tim has had to leave the farm to go contract mustering.
“You certainly tighten the belt,” Shane says.
“Once upon a time you could get enough fat on to get by in dry times.
“But government puts its hand in your pocket so often you just can’t get ahead.
“Indirectly there are all these rules and regulations that restrict what you can do and when.
“They take more of your profits and then there’s the time it takes you to do the paperwork…
“I’d prefer to have no subsidies from the government and they just leave us alone.”
I feel sorry for the stock; you go out there and you do your very best for them and they are still dying.Peta Warner
This year’s Australia Day weekend hay run to Quilpie saw 180 trucks, more than 6500 bales of hay and more than 500 volunteers involved in supporting farmers in outback Queensland.
For first-time hay runner Jim, who donated 68 of his own bales to the cause, the experience is one he’ll never forget and plans to repeat next year.
He laughingly compared his 330 acres at Jindera to the 330,000 acres of Merimo Station although Shane was quick to point out it takes 120 acres to run one cow out here.
Their worlds may be far apart but as the two men fell into easy conversation it was clear passion for farming creates a universal language.
Before departing for the long trek home, Jim had one more special delivery to make.
“We have a lovely lady at Gerogery, Margaret Pierce, who will be 80 this year and still works her own farm,” Jim told the Warners.
“She gave me $600 in an envelope to give to the family I dropped hay to.”
Shaking their heads in disbelief and with tears in their eyes, the Warners reluctantly accepted the envelope.
“It is so humbling to think people we have never met could be so generous and go to this much effort – thankyou,” Peta said.
It’s the little things that count
Hay was not the only sustenance of vital importance this hay run.
Bubbly couple Lynn and Calvin, from Emerald in Queensland, spent their Australia Day handing drivers first aid supplies to distribute to farmers during hay deliveries.
These are the little extras, along with toys, toiletries and fresh fruit and vegetables, that can make a big difference to struggling outback families.
“Yes they need the hay,” Lynn says.
“This year we wanted to do something different so after we spoke with Brendan (Farrell) we used money we raised for first aid replenishments and have included paperwork from the Royal Flying Doctor Service to obtain first aid kits.”
For this year’s hay run the staunch BHR supporters travelled all the way from Emerald to Burrumbuttock and then back to Quilpie “to see the whole operation from start to finish”.
As they stood in a shed happily helping in the heat at Quilpie racecourse on Australia Day, the husband and wife team said it wasn’t hard to make a difference.
They say they absolutely believe in what Brendan Farrell is doing.
“Get off your bums and go and help a farmer – it’s as simple as that,” Lynn urged her fellow Aussies.
“All you need to do is go and find one. Every little bit helps. Even now people are walking up and donating here.
“Put money into the Rotary Club of Sydney for Burrumbuttock Hay Runners so we can do this again next year.
“The drought has not gone away.”