‘It’s A National Crisis’: Denyers’ Call To Help ‘Heartbroken’ Farmers

For four years, Grant and his wife Chezzi have lived on the outskirts of Bathurst. Now they're watching a community crumble around them.

Down the road from Grant Denyer and his wife Chezzi’s farm, their neighbour walks up and down with her sheep.

“They’re starving and they’re dying right in front of her,” Grant told ten daily.

“She is heartbroken. She doesn’t know whether to kill them to put them out of their misery or to try and persist with the little feed she has. That is an incredibly tough thing to try and rationalise,” he said.

It's a decision farmers are facing across the country, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland, as a crippling drought takes hold.

Grant and Cheryl Denyer's farm on the outskirts of Bathurst in October 2016. Image: Supplied
The same burnt paddocks in July 2018. Image: Supplied

With many areas suffering some of the driest conditions on record, livestock is being left hungry and emaciated as farmers scrape their pockets to buy feed that is becoming increasingly scarce.

“She can’t sleep at night because of the state her animals are in. It’s heartbreaking,” Chezzi said.

Grant and Chezzi have lived on about 20 acres on the outskirts of Bathurst, in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, for about four years.

They too have had some dry months, but nothing like this.

“Whole paddocks are burnt. Where grass used to be is now just woody weeds and hard dirt. That’s it." 

While the Denyers aren’t relying on their property for income, they have seen neighbours and a community buckle around them.

“They can’t afford to put food on their own table, let alone the tables of every other Australian who depends on them,” Grant said.

“It’s a national crisis, and yet we aren’t responding in that way. No yet.”

As public awareness begins to grow, and institutions start to respond, the Denyers are doing what they can to help. Teaming up with rural charity Rural Aid, they’re passionate about mental health.

“Farmers are very proud, humble people. They’re isolated and aren’t great at putting their hand up when they need help,” Grant said.

“You can be resilient for a while. But I think this drought has dragged on for so long and has been so savage that, after a while, you just can’t hold it in anymore,” Grant said.

Grant and his wife Cheryl with MP Paul Toole at the launch of their Black Tie & Boots fundraising ball this month. Image: Paul Toole MP Facebook

In rural or remote Australia, the rate of suicide  is 66 percent higher than in metropolitan areas.

Farmers are twice as likely to die by suicide than other workers, with country males aged 15 to 29 twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.

And yet rural health services are scarce, with analysis from the National Rural Health Alliance finding just two psychiatrists and 25 psychologists for every 100,000 people in rural or remote Australia.

The statistics are concerning in the Denyers’ region where mental health issues have risen by 70 percent.

“That is the feedback we have had from health professionals in our area. The number of stories of desperation coming through their doors is alarming,” Grant said.

The farming lifestyle is relentless, and many are not seeking help. Image: Emma Brancatisano

The pair is organising a fundraising ball for Rural Aid to fund a rural counsellor on the ground in Bathurst.

“Rural Aid has put a couple of counsellors on the ground in various parts of NSW, with some assistance from the state government. They’ve had phenomenal results,” Chezzi said.

“We want this to be a nationally-run program, but all we can do is start on a local scale.

“We can’t make it rain, but this is something we can do to help,” Grant said.

For information on rural charity Rural Aid, visit the website.  Further details on the Denyers' Black Tie & Boots Ball can be found here