Jack Slack-Smith has lived on Epping his whole life, after taking over from his father, who said he hadn’t seen drought so bad since the ’30s or ’40s.
“It just shows you that somebody cares, and you talk about different things … and forget about your worries for a bit.”
These were the words of another Pilliga farmer after Farm Rescue visited his property, to help with the odd jobs that just don’t get done when you’re battling years and years of drought.
Jack and Jan Slack-Smith hosted the volunteers while they worked on their property and that of their neighbours, late last month.
And while the helpers fixed up some eyesores and some dangers, it was their company the couple appreciated just as much.
“The social side of it was nice – that was a big plus, probably even more so than the work,” Mr Slack-Smith said.
“It was a group of people similar in age to ourselves; we sat around the campfire, told stories and shared our experiences.
“A couple of the chaps had farms themselves, so we shared some knowledge as well.
“Everybody you speak to can teach you something, if you listen.”
‘The tap turned off’
The Slack-Smiths, who were nominated for the Farm Rescue, said they’d been in some “tight spots” before but nothing like this.
“There have been pockets of relief along the way: in 2016 we had four good months from June to September, then the tap turned right off,” Mr Slack-Smith said.
“The time required to feed out, that’s fine; the greatest worry is the financial side of it.
“It looks like we’re going to miss another crop, and that will be the first time in my lifetime that we’ve missed three crops in row … this is uncharted territory for us.”
Since 2013, they’ve sold off almost 90 per cent of their cattle and more than 40 per cent of their sheep.
But feeding the remainder of their livestock – their future livelihood – was “a black hole for money”, costing “quite a few thousands” per week.
So, Mr Slack-Smith said, they were very grateful to welcome the Farm Rescue team’s help.
The volunteers helped to fix a roof and rafters damaged in a windstorm, paint parts of the house, remove an old tank and stand, and do some spring-cleaning.
Mr Slack-Smith said all he hoped for now was some wet stuff.
“Even if we could get small amounts of rain, because we’re on the black soil we’d tend to still get a bit of growth … if we get that with the sheep, they’d be able to survive and go ahead.
“But the next year’s going to be a long haul, no matter what.”