Krystal Bullen and Farmy Army volunteer Rosie Bartlett.
WHEN the Farm Rescue team drove away from the Bullen family’s place, they left a few things behind.
The first was a safer and more welcoming house for Gus, Krystal and daughter Kathleen, 15, to come home to after their often harrowing days on their Pilliga farm.
But just as importantly, they left behind new friends – and encouragement.
“I just hope … that they truly understand what they did for us was more than fix our home – they gave us hope,” Mrs Bullen said.
“They showed us that there are still people out there that care what we farmers are going through.
“They took time out of their schedules to come out here and help us, even though they did not know us.
“That is just simply wonderful.”
Quality of life
Farm Rescue founder Charles Alder said the program started in 2015 to help people in rural and remote communities, “just like the reality TV shows that fix up houses”.
“There are a lot of things farmers just put off because they’re doing so much day-to-day just keeping stock alive.
“It has a real effect on their mental health and their happiness …
“It’s just an opportunity for our volunteers to turn that bathroom white again, fix the guttering so water can be captured better, or fix the back deck so someone doesn’t fall through it and break their ankle.
“It’s really a matter of improving their quality of life, not actually improving the viability of their farm.”
In late May, a team of 10 Farm Rescue volunteers spent five days on the place, helping with fencing, roof repairs, painting and general house renovations.
The best-laid plans
Mrs Bullen said the property had been in the family for 111 years, and had been “in drought since 2012, with a bit of a break in 2016”.
“We have 1000 acres of cropping country that we usually grow wheat and/or barley in the good times,” she said.
“We have grown one crop in the last five years.”
The other 3000 acres is grazing country, where the Bullens run 1700 white dorpers, dorpers and Australian whites.
“Our sheep are doing it quite tough and are struggling to hang in there.
“With the condition they are in, they are not worth anything to sell, so we have decided to keep struggling along, hoping that we are one day closer to rain.”
The plan was originally for Mr Bullen, a fencing contractor, to keep working away from home while Mrs Bullen stayed back and kept feeding the sheep.
“With Gus’ income from fencing, we should be able to buy feed and keep some of the bills at bay.
“Unfortunately, like most plans, this one did not go to plan.”
Mr Bullen was diagnosed with bowel cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, surgery and more chemo.
It took him two years to recover.
He started working again, but then had a motorbike accident in January of this year while checking the paddocks and stock, sustaining serious facial injuries.
‘No other choice’
But Mrs Bullen said: “You really don’t know what you can do or how strong you are until you have no other choice.”
“I have had to learn how to pull a bogged sheep out of the dam on my own and to toughen up so I could put a sheep down when they are not able to get up,” she said.
“A drought is hard on every aspect of your life, your finances, relationships with friends and families and your marriage …
“It is hard having to face the same thing, day in and day out.
“Sometimes I found it hard to get out of bed and go down the paddock to feed the stock and see how many died overnight.
“But knowing the livestock relied on me to feed them, that my dogs and horses were also waiting for me, made it a bit easier to get out.
“Whenever the phone rings I dread answering it, knowing most of the time it is someone ringing about an overdue bill that I know we won’t be able to pay on time.”
Mrs Bullen said that, despite the “many tears shed with what we have seen and been through”, they tried to find something positive in every day.
That could mean spending time together watching a DVD, having a game of cards or going for a drive.
“To manage all we have been through, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hoping the drought will break soon,” she said.
“Farm Rescue was such a wonderful thing to have experienced in more ways than one.
“We got some repairs done on our home, and screen doors on the front so we can open the main doors up in the summer time and let the breeze through, as we don’t have air conditioning.
“We got the fly screen on the veranda replaced so now we won’t get snakes finding their way inside anymore.”
There was also painting done, inside and out.
“It is a wonderful sight to come home to after being out in the paddocks all day, feeding stock and doing whatever maintenance you can afford.”
Mrs Bullen said: “Thank you just does not seem enough.”
“Not only did we get a beautiful house, we made many wonderful friends.
“Having all those volunteers here was a wonderful experience; we will treasure these memories for a long time.”