Standing together on the land
14 October 2014
“A lot of farmers that you talk to in this area, you can see that they are severely traumatised and depressed through what’s happened … and, tragically, some have even turned to suicide..."
– Captain Mark Bulow, Toowoomba
The ‘inland Tsunami’ that devastated the city of Toowoomba, Queensland, in January made headlines around the world. However it’s the farming communities around the city that are finding it hardest to recover, according to Salvation Army Captain Mark Bulow. Mark says one of the greatest concerns is the fact that the large cotton farming communities in areas such as Millmerran and Cecil Plains (Queensland) had already received advance ‘forward’ payment for crops that were then destroyed by floods.
Many farmers have been overwhelmed: “They’d been very excited – this was going to be a bumper crop. They thought they were going to break out of some of the debt they were in, but it has just put them further into debt,” Mark says.
Mark and a local council representative have visited around 65 families on farms– offering a listening ear and some financial help. They drove 9000 kilometres in the first few days after the flooding, and many thousands following.“There’s a huge need out there,” he says. “There are fences that have been completely washed away and the farmers can’t put stock back on their properties until the fences are fixed up.
As well as giving out the flood appeal grants, Mark has been providing emotional support to shell-shocked landowners. He speaks about one farmer who met them on the road and just broke down and wept: “He just said, ‘Look, I’m doing okay but it’s my wife. My wife isn’t coping at all.’ So we stayed and spoke to him for a bit. … These are hardened farmers. This guy was 55 years old. Strong, calloused hands, worked outside all his life. A real bushy. And he broke down because his wife was struggling.”
Mark was able to offer financial assistance to the family and is also handing out copies of The Salvation Army’s Braver Stronger Wiser DVD – a powerful tool produced to combat depression in rural communities.
In it, four people tell of their personal battle with depression: “They can watch that and they can see that there’s hope,” says Mark. “There’s a way out, and although it’s tough,we can get through it.”