In the Wimmera not all of us experienced the kind of drought you might see on 60 minutes, because my kind of drought wasn’t so camera friendly. Mr & Mrs Non Farma may not be able to recognise that the crop that just covers your ankles should be up to your waist when shown on TV! The media liked to portray starving stock and drifting soils on a barren landscape. We don’t run stock and because our farming practises are minimal tillage our soil didn’t drift as much as conventional methods.
I don’t blame the media for missing us out, I applaud the constant reporting they did of the drought and the subsequent recovery period which for many will be as long as the drought itself.Surely it's true, as Vana says, that city folk have to get by on what they can glean from the nightly news. And that may not be the way the farmer herself experiences the drought. The drought brought heartache and pain to many people in rural Australia. For some rural residents, the drought also brought with it a bleak sense of occasion. For me, talking with such people delivered some sort of understanding beyond what the TV supplied.
In December 2007 I went down to Wagga Wagga in order to gather material for a story I planned to write. The story never got written but I spoke with Fay and a friend of hers for an hour or so and had a cup of coffee in the kitchen. I also took photos of the embroidery work they had made and intended to exhibit in Sydney. Ths work was the reason for my interest in the two women. The image below is one of their creations with needle, thread and cloth: a rendering of a news photo. (Click on image to see larger view.)
I say the drought created a sense of occasion because the photo this image is based on was taken by the media during a visit by John Howard, the prime minister, to Charles Sturt University, which has a campus in Wagga Wagga. I think the image embodies a dual threat - both within the lines of the cracked, grey earth as well as in the disembodied figure of the man (the PM) kicking up dust for the cameras and the accompanying media personnel gathered around him. The image says much about the curious relationship between the rural community and the government, which is it seems the only entity large enough to counterbalance the size and sheer overwhelming power of nature itself.
There is something of Vana's dark mood in this image, a brooding power that threatens life and renders up nothing more than a man kicking dirt, as if kicking dirt were enough to keep the farmer in food and petrol, clothing and school fees, insurance levies and mortgage payments and the hundred other things weighing on her mind at all times. The image is an interesting reflection of a dark time. When everything else goes wrong we turn to each other, whether it's a mate down at the pub for a chat on a social night or one of the big boys in Canberra who controls the nation's purse strings. Community has to be enough, sometimes.