Farmer Darren Sage said he had already been “bled dry” by the drought before a bushfire destroyed his home and cattle farm in Bellangry on the NSW Mid North Coast.
While it was a gruelling summer for many impacted by the fires, it came on top of a relentless few years for Darren, his wife Julie, and his fellow farmers.
“The drought just bleeds you of every cent that you’ve got,” Darren said. “You’ve got no other income, no other money to do anything, because the drought just takes everything. You’re just continuously hoping for rain, continuously pouring money back into the farm to try to keep everything alive for when it does rain.”
That long-awaited rain has now come, but it’s not yet enough to heal the land from the worst drought on record in NSW. And Darren fears more hardship is ahead, as the November 2019 bushfire tore through stocks of grain and food. That means prices are likely to go up and keeping his cattle alive might get harder than ever.
“We got wiped out completely, we lost everything,” Darren said. “House: 100 per cent. Sheds: 100 per cent. All our farming things. All our infrastructure, all gone. We basically left with half a suitcase of clothes each, and that was it.”
Darren was clear on one important thing: “I refuse to let it break me. I’m always positive, so the drought or the fire’s not going to take that away from me.”
The couple are living in temporary accommodation provided by their insurer while the debris is cleared, and their home is rebuilt.
They have been buoyed by an emergency cash transfer from Vinnies, along with food and fuel vouchers. Darren said the support they continued to receive from Vinnies’ Client Support Officer, Donna Boyd, was “absolutely amazing”.
“Donna is the only one who has rang and been fair dinkum, if I could say it that way. She’s just been there for us,” he said.
“She’s the only one that’s gone out of her way to make sure that we’re alright, out of a lot of people, and she’s still trying now to help us.
“And where a lot of people, including the government, just leave you to your own devices, so to speak, she’s always been making sure we’re alright.”