Last week's tour by support agencies that took in all corners of our drought--ravaged shire has been hailed a success by organiser Sandy McNaughton, of the federal government's National Drought and Flood Agency.
Support officers from NSW Department of Primary Industry, NSW Farmers Association, Rural Financial Counselling Service NSW and the Salvation Army were all along on the tour which took in Woodenbong, Urbenville, Liston, Tabulam, Drake, Wallangarra/Jennings, Steinbrook, Stannum and Bolivia over several days before ending with an Our Shout morning tea at Deepwater Hall on Saturday morning.
They spoke with 150 people over the four days, providing around 100 of these with debit cards to provide some financial relief, and referring several dozen to the Salvation Army which continues to supply $3000 cash payments to eligible drought-affected farmers.
The tour included the parts of the shire still drought-declared, to see and hear first-hand the stresses that farmers are facing.
"It's obvious that the impact of the drought is still biting," Ms McNaughton said.
"The bushfires served as something of a distraction but now that the immediacy of that crisis has lessened, attention is now back on the ongoing situation."
She said the federal government is very aware that drought is seriously impacting these communities.
"There just hasn't been the rainfall the rest of the state has experienced. We want people to know they're not forgotten, and make them aware of the drought assistance measures that are available to them."
She said people's circumstances may have changed even in the past few months and that it's important not to self-assess their eligibility.
"People have no income, no cashflow. We can provide assistance to help them through this period."
Ms McNaughton said it was also important to speak with affected farmers to allow her to report back to Canberra on what conditions are like 'on the ground' and the types of issues people are facing.
"It was a great opportunity to have discussions with these communities. I want to assure them that they have a voice, and that their voices matter. We need to inform the federal government what measure are effective, and what people still require."
Reach her at 0408 499 306 or RRONorthNSW@pmc.gov.au.
The tour enabled the crew to reconnect with existing clients and also to reach out to those that hadn't yet been in contact. Acknowledging the reticence of some farmers to accept support, Ms McNaughton feels that some may not have anticipated how long and expensive the road to recovery may be.
Ralph Matthews is offering free service through the Rural Financial Counselling Service. Newly-established in Tenterfield, Mr Matthews can help with identifying options for those facing drought or bushfire recovery or other factors affecting their business or life. He can be contacted on 0437 104 789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those impacted by the bush fires, Helen Cumming of the Salvo's Bushfire Recovery Team was on hand with information on financial assistance options and to help with application processes. She said there is still assistance available for those whose homes were lost or damaged in the bush fires. She can be contacted at 0429 705 179 or Helen.Cumming@salvationarmy.org.au.