YESTERDAY Upper Hunter farmer Paul Metcalf had nearly lost all hope.
With little feed left on his Gundy property “Belah”, he was loading his last 40 head of cattle to be sent off to sale when he received an unexpected call.
“They were in the yard ready to go,” an emotional Mr Metcalf recalled.
“Then I picked up the phone and they told me there was a man that wanted to give me a semi-trailer load of hay.”
That man was Brian Egan – an “Aussie Hero” who has been fighting for those in rural Australia ever since his own heartbreaking experience of life on the land in Queensland and losing it all.
“I lost my property way back in 1999 and I’ve been helping other farmers ever since,” he said.
Unfortunately it’s an all too familiar situation for Mr Egan who has assisted hundreds of farmers around Australia suffering from hardship through his role as co-founder of charity organisation Aussie Helpers.
He says Gundy is just the first stop of many in the Upper Hunter for the charity.
“This is the first farm in the area we have visited but I have eight of these trucks coming and they will all get half a truck-load each,” Mr Egan said.
“So, that’s sixteen just to start and that’s just one thing we do.
“It’s not just hay – we give away grocery vouchers and we have just done a deal with local stock and station agent Maccallum Inglis to give away $200 vouchers which keeps the money in the town as well.”
While they can’t break the drought, making farmers smile and taking the pressure off someone at breaking point is what motivates the man power behind Aussie Helpers.
“When we come back next week we will be giving out fuel cards, Caltex cards, BP cards and things like that,” Mr Egan said.
“Every farm we go to will get about 12 tonnes of hay and that’s beautiful new barley hay which is the best you can get.”
Aussie Helpers also offer counselling for farmers with a unique texting service – a first of its kind in Australia.
“People can text a number and immediately be put in touch with a team of qualified psychologists who can take around 30 calls at a time,” Mr Egan said.
“We trialled it for around 17 months before we really let it go and received over 1000 hours of text messages.
“We are proud of what they do because they don’t get that much thanks for producing food and we think it’s pretty important to give them a bit of a lift up every now and again.”
Aussie Helpers is run entirely by volunteers and receives no government funding.
“All our money comes from the public, we probably get $2-3 million a year in donations – it’s incredible.”
For Upper Hunter farmers, the help couldn’t have come at a more needed time with talk of the devastating impact of drought in the region making its way to NSW Parliament this week.
Paul Metcalf has run “Belah” since 1994 and says the current situation is the worst he has ever seen – and he’s not alone.
“I’ve never seen the river this sad,” he said.
“There is usually enough surface water but now it’s gone completely. It’s been a tough couple of months, we have had hot, dry winds but we have seen it all before.”
The crippling drought in the Upper Hunter has forced Mr Metcalf to sell off most of his stock.
“You’ve got to make those decisions,” he said.
“Sometimes they’re pretty tough but you’ve got to make them.”
“I’ve been feeding for about six months. April last year this was a picture – the river was healthy and flowing.”
Mr Metcalf says the majority of farmers he knows in the Upper Hunter are in a similar situation and despite recent rainfall the grass isn’t strong enough for the cattle to get a hold of.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But, if you hang in you’ll be ‘right – it’s just a matter of hanging in,” he said.
“And I love this place. You could sell up – but that doesn’t solve the problem. I couldn’t go in town and live in town.”
And I love this place. You could sell up – but that doesn’t solve the problem. I couldn’t go in town and live in town.
And, to the man who is the driving force behind Aussie Helpers, Mr Metcalf says you couldn’t meet a more generous person.
“What a wonderful, generous guy,” he said. “And when you know his circumstances it makes it even more amazing.”
“It was completely out of the blue and an amazing feeling when you know you’re not being had on.
“He is such a genuine guy and he doesn’t expect anything in return.”
Find out more about Aussie Helpers at https://aussiehelpers.org.au/ and if you need help text 0488 807 266 for assistance.