THE A-TEAM: Merbein South resident Ron Collingburn, his wife Judy and their daughter Jan Thomas have formed the Sunraysia Drought Support Group to raise money for the purchase of stock feed, fresh water and food for drought-affected farmers in Pooncarie. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

AS news of the deepening drought crisis gripping many of our nation’s dry-land farmers becomes widely reported, a group of concerned Sunraysia residents has banded together to establish a relief fund to assist affected farmers in Pooncarie.

Merbein South resident Judy Collingburn, her husband Ron, and their daughter Jan Thomas have joined forces with friend Bec Thomas to set up the Sunraysia Drought Support Group (SDSG).

Their aim is to raise money for the purchase of stock feed, fresh water and food for those in desperate need to our north.

“It all started when we were chatting on Facebook and someone said, ‘Is anything being done for local farmers around the Pooncarie area?’ and the answer was no,” Judy said.

“Everyone that’s doing anything locally are donating it to other drought relief organisations, and so the help isn’t getting to places like Pooncarie and Bourke, it’s being concentrated on regions further north.”

Judy said the tipping point for her was when she heard of the plight of one family who live about 20km outside of Pooncarie who are without water.

“I know of one lady – my daughter was talking to her on the phone last week – and she was actually crying because she and her family haven’t even got water to have a shower,” she said.

“I mean that really hit home and brought tears to our eyes, and we thought this was it, and we started the campaign on Facebook.

“We’re out to raise as much as we can to buy hay, food, fresh water, anything we can do to help those poor buggers up there, because they are really suffering and they seem to be forgotten.

“It just seems that there is nothing being done locally for our mates in the bush who are doing it tough in areas around Pooncarie, and while they’re not alone, they are suffering just as much.”

Last weekend Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $190million assistance package to help farming communities fight one of the worst droughts of the past century, while also assisting them with mental health services.

Critics of the assistance payments, which offers a payment of $12,000 to eligible farmers, say it is too little, too late, something which was countered by Mr Turnbull, who said the $12,000 package was a supplement to the Farm Household Allowance – a fortnightly payment totalling about $16,000 a year.

It has also been reported that the government estimates that 19,000 people who could be eligible  for relief assistance are yet to apply for help.

Judy said that Ron has worked on the land with his father on Gunbar Station and other properties in the Booligal region near Hay in NSW, and he has a close empathy with those suffering the effects of this prolonged drought.

“The Gateway Tavern have donated $5000 and we’ve had 100 bales of hay given to us, and we hope to source some more with a $500 donation we received last week, and we’ve also had someone offer to drive a semi-load of feed up to Pooncarie, which will be very helpful,” Judy said.

“We’ve also had food donated, promises of bottled water, and so the more we can get the message out there to make people aware, the better.

“We need to get fresh water to them as well, and we’re speaking to people in Wentworth to see if we can take some water in tankers to them.”

The Mildura Weekly spoke with Member for Murray Austin Evans last week, who commended the efforts of the group and said he had been working with Wentworth Shire Council to ensure anyone in Pooncarie that has a problem in regard to domestic water is assisted.

“One of the difficulties in providing water by tanker is that not everyone who needs water is in a position to store it adequately, so it needs to be in bottles or containers,” he said.

Judy said the group is asking people to dig deep to help our farmers.

“We understand that other farmers are also in drought, but many of them are receiving support from other sources – Pooncarie farmers have nothing,” she said.

The SDSG have set up a Bendigo Bank account (BSB: 633 000. Account number: 106 453 509. Name: Sunraysia Drought Support Group) where people can make cash donations.

Judy said the SDSG also has five drop-off points where donations may be left.

They are: 618 Koorlong Avenue, Irymple, 905 Sturt Highway, Merbein South, Nevaeh Bridge Cafe, Dareton, Ductmakers Sheet Metal, Hynes Court, Mildura, and 6 Emmett Street, Ouyen.

“We aim to make our first delivery on Saturday, August 18, and we’d welcome donations of non-perishable food, toys, toiletries and cash to purchase stock feed,” she said.

“Please Sunraysia, get behind this appeal, because we hope to be able to go beyond Pooncarie to help other farmers – without our farmers we don’t eat.”

More information is available by contacting Judy on 0428 514 286, Ron on 0408 032 799 or Bec on 0437 947 852.