Drought does not attack you like wildfire. Drought does not thunder along a dry riverbed smashing your flood gates into the next State. Drought does not howl at you in the night and rip your roof off whilst screeching like a banshee across your home paddock.
Drought is a shapeshifting python slowly crushing you into oblivion. It creeps onto you and you can be destroyed in a few, silent terrifying months.
And Australia is and has been, for millions of years, a continent bedevilled by drought. This is not some new demon unleashed upon the nation by climate change advocates. Those who make their living on the land in rural communities know that the climate is changing and has been doing so long before European arrivals and settlement.
Aboriginal people lived with drought and made their life work to the rhythms of drought, flood and fire. They heard the subtle language of the bush; watched native life change habits, saw the trees change their foliage and felt the moisture in the air change on the wind. They could read and understand this natural language because their homes were the same homes as the creatures and the trees that were telling them the coming drought story.
Having heard and understood the songs the bush was singing to them – they moved on, they changed their rhythm of movement and hunting; they went to places they knew from their own stories which were safe and would enable them to survive the testing times to come.
Anyone who makes their living from agriculture in this land can hear those songs from the bush – if you listen and recognize the soft voices telling you what will happen – they are there and they speak to you!
Modern farming methods today are superbly efficient. Broadacre farming has reached a point where water is distributed in the “ JIT “ system – “ just in time “ for the crops to benefit, cotton, canola, sorghum and maize are managed in the most moisture efficient manner.
Stock grazing techniques have reached a point of efficiency through well-developed research programmes and pasture management which will ensure, with the intelligent application of these techniques, that stock is distributed across the land evenly, disease is controlled and water points are accessible and maintained.
All of this works when the seasons roll on as they have done for hundreds of years. But when the seasons shift, the air dries up and static makes your wife’s hair stand on end – as well as your own! You look to the horizon which normally delivers your weather and you see nothing but haze you must begin to look carefully around you and listen to the soft voices.
That is about the time that you have the first slight shudder of the ‘ yips ‘, you ask yourself is this the beginning of a period without rain? If so, what do you do?
The weeks roll into months and the sky remains clear, the air is dry and the leaves on eucalypts begin to turn sideways and crackle in the wind, the first sign of water stress. Pastures look tired and brown, some nutrient remains but that will be sucked out by the dry air in a very short time the remaining pasture will be grey. It is time to get the stock off and into the market, regardless of the fact that prices have collapsed because of the numbers of stock on the market. Everyone is getting their stock off and the cold hands of fear grab your spine, cold hands that will not let go!
Your mind turns to survival. You plan for reduced income. You plan for adjusting life in a harsh, unforgiving land that will demand all you have in your soul and more! You become your own enemy – you know generations before you survived this and you will be judged on how you handle this unrelenting pressure to keep your land, survive the drought and return to sensible life.
You move about your land, you see native animals numbers decline. Billabongs have become dry holes, small nocturnal critters disappear and their absence is accompanied by more wild dogs than you have ever seen. Dogs looking to your breeding stock for food. The land becomes barren, dust flies in your face you can taste it in your mouth.
Days come, when getting out of bed to face the dry, heartbreaking scenes that you know are there waiting for you, becomes a hard task. Commonsense tells you that you cannot change this, you just have to tough it out although your eyes keep turning to the weather direction looking for the first signs of the balls of fluffy cumulus which will signal the return of moisture in the air.
Community meetings are held in town; hands are held out and enquiring eyes seek yours; looking for re-assurance, hoping, expecting to see strength and determination looking back. Some eyes will be down and defeated; discreet signals are sent and people move closer to the sad eyes. Quiet words, a hand on a shoulder, an offer to take the children for the weekend to get them off the place and away from the despair.
And despair it is. The python has well and truly taken hold and is slowly squeezing and crushing the life out of you, your family and your life.
You can fight a wildfire. You can sandbag a flood – but you cannot make it rain. You do what you have to do to keep the place alive. Stock is gone, except a few precious breeders which are mercilessly hunted by wild dogs and you gain vicarious pleasure by shooting the bloody things at night – at least it feels like you are doing something!
Government people come with news on the weather – not good! Government people come with offers of money – not good! You don’t want handouts, you just want bloody rain and you can’t have it.
Around you local town businesses begin to close, no trade brings them down. Some banks help, all banks know the effects but some are better than others in knowing when to call you. People begin to drift away from the town – no work, no trade, no income – and you can see the life drain from the places that made you what you are.
You keep talking with the community and they keep talking to each other. Comparisons are made about other drought times, 1937, 1951, 1984 and so it goes…
It is about this time that you stand on your quad bike, taking in the hazy horizon, seeing the brown, dry mess your place become and you shout into the sky, “ You will not beat me, I will see you gone and we shall live again on this land. “ You then head back to the house, hug your wife, get on the radio and invite the district to your place for a bloody drought bloody party! Crack open the last three bottles of red wine, put on a clean shirt and dare the drought python go for it…because you are going to win.
Rain comes, it always does. The land comes back to life and the rattled bones of the drought python are blown away by the wind which brings the rain.
You may ask how Cranky Lizard knows these things?
The answer to that is that experience is obvious.
Enjoy your days and pray for rain because the python has a good hold out West.