Rural Aid launches on-the-ground rural counsellors program to assist drought-stricken Hunter farmers

SUPPORT: Rural Aid counsellor Louise Gourley, Scone local Deborah Wharton and Rural Aid's Tracy Alder with one of the Rural Aid cars at a property near Scone on Tuesday.
SUPPORT: Rural Aid counsellor Louise Gourley, Scone local Deborah Wharton and Rural Aid's Tracy Alder with one of the Rural Aid cars at a property near Scone on Tuesday.

DROUGHT-stricken farmers and their families in the Hunter region will now be able to access free, on-the-ground support from a group of qualified rural counsellors.

Charity Rural Aid launched the program – the first of its kind in Australia – at a property near Scone on Tuesday.

With four counsellors dedicated to the Hunter – two in the Lower Hunter and two in the Upper Hunter – the aim is for the program to be rolled out across the state and eventually rolled out Australia-wide.

Rural Aid Co-founder Tracy Alder said the counsellors will be on the road in Rural Aid cars visiting different communities and out being seen.

“It will just give farmers an opportunity to know that they’re there and that they’ve got someone to talk to,” she said.

“It’s a brand new program; I don’t believe there’s anything else like it.

“We’ve already launched in Queensland with one counsellor and with the four down here that makes five, with a view for another two or three that will be rolled out in the coming months.”

The program has been made entirely possible through donations from individuals, corporations and the community.

“It’s a vision that we have had for quite some time,” Mrs Alder said.

“As we have been out and about seeing farming families and dropping hay, we have realised that the stress goes far beyond hay.”

Rural Aid also connects farmers and their families with financial counsellors, resilience officers and networks with other organisations in the area to understand who really needs the help.

“I think it will be well received here,” Mrs Alder added.

Louise Gourley, the one female counsellor out of the four assigned to the area, said although there is a lot of over-the-phone assistance out there, it’s face-to-face assistance that is really needed.

“There are lots of telephone numbers you can call, which is great, but the majority of the population don’t,” she said.

“And, if they do, they have a short conversation in a moment of crisis. So it’s a bit of a ‘band aid for a bullet wound’.

“Whereas what we’re doing is going into the homes, with their permission, talking to farmers, farmer’s wives, farmer’s husbands if the wives are the farmers, families or whoever needs to have a conversation.

“It’s not intensive counselling, it’s more of a therapeutic conversation.

“But, it will be two-fold and we will refer farmers to any of the other services at Rural Aid, like Buy A Bale and Farm Aid and all the other programs that we’ve got.”

Ms Gourley said the Hunter region has been carved into four areas with each counsellor assigned to one.

“I live around Lake Macquarie so I’ll be going up through Kurri Kurri, Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone, out to Willow Tree and doing a big circle around from there,” she said.

“I believe it is the first program of its kind in Australia – there are certainly programs targeted towards rural Australians but they’re managed by people in more populated areas.

“I’ve only been in Scone for four hours and there are quite a few clients already.

“So, I feel like we’re going to need a lot more people.”

With the Hunter region one of the worst drought-affected areas in the state, the charity has been working in the area since February, and through their Buy A Bale Hunter campaign have so far delivered 5000 bales of hay.

A  $200,000 donation to the campaign from mining company Glencore in April has now been entirely used on hay drops for the Hunter region.

Farmers can register with Buy A Bale by visiting https://www.buyabale.com.au/ or calling 1300 327 624.

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