“A farm rescue? This has been a life rescue.”
Those were Mark Ranger’s words on what it meant to have a team of volunteers descend on his Daroobalgie property last week as part of Rural Aid’s Forbes Mega Farm Rescue.
It’s been a tough year on the farm, a lonely year. Mark farms with his dad, who is currently away receiving cancer treatment.
As he told his story to a gathering of Farm Rescue volunteers, recipients and supporters at Forbes Showgrounds last Thursday night, he moved them to tears.
With his paddocks dirt and dust, Mark spent three long months on the stock route, then brought his stock home to eat what little there was of the wheat crop.
He hasn’t had a day off since his dad’s diagnosis.
“If you get away with a 12 to 14-hour day, well, that’s not bad,” he said.
“That’s not a complaint,” he added quickly, “that’s just how it is.”
So when an unfamiliar mobile number came up on his phone, Mark wondered, “what’s gone wrong now? What bill can’t I pay?”
“Voices circle like an eagle eyeing its prey,” he described it in his address. “How long can I keep going? What do I have left in the tank?”
But this time it was Forbes business woman Kim Lowe, calling to let him know a team of volunteers was heading his way – what could they do to help?
Mark described her as an angel, as welcome as a fresh breeze bringing rain.
In practical terms, the team poured concrete, shovelled out the shearing shed, organised the tool shed, tiled and installed cupboard doors in his kitchen, took truckloads to the tip.
They brought enthusiasm, energy, a can-do attitude, and friendship.
Mark could hardly put into words what the week had meant.
“It’s beyond measure, beyond words,” he said.
“On behalf of all the farmers who have been inundated with love, generosity, mateship, knowledge and the Aussie spirit I want to say a massive thank you from the bottom of my heart which has been overwhelmed with the organisation and volunteers of Rural Aid.”
Volunteers from as far afield as Ipswich and Warrnambool came to Forbes last week, moved by the plight of drought-stricken farmers they saw in the media.
Builders, electricians and plumbers walked away from their businesses, retirees packed up their caravans and headed to the district for a week’s hard work.
And everyone the Forbes Advocate spoke to said they’d had an incredible time doing it.
Close friendships had been forged as teams of about 10 volunteers pitched in and did whatever was needed on local farms.
Working at the Ranger property, Shirley Sneddon said she and her husband had travelled all the way from Queensland.
“It would break your heart to hear what everybody was going through,” she said.
“We’ve been pretty lucky, we have received a lot,” said Enzo Crino, who came out from Sydney with his wife Susie.
“We wanted to give something back.”
Out at the Kalisch property at Yarragong, it was a similar story. Most of the volunteers had heard about the Rural Aid Farm Rescue on TV.
They’d started the week as strangers from very different walks of life, but by Friday they described the vibe as “one big happy family”.
They’d finished their to-do list which included fencing, guttering and electrical work, and moved across the house and property like a working bee painting window frames, mulching the garden and basically doing any job they could see they could do.
“The farmers are so lovely and so deserving,” they agreed.
“They’re hardworking people – they deserve all this and more.”
Once they had committed to the Rural Aid project, Ron Ridyard and his wife Judy from Caloundra had also stopped to help out at a property at Coonamble that they had heard about.
They left home two weeks early and stopped en route to help feed stock.
They’d absolutely do it again, Ron said.
For Forbes’ Kim Lowe, who raised $140,000 towards the Farm Rescue and brought Forbes to Rural Aid’s attention, it was an incredibly rewarding week.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “We’ve seen lots of farmers with amazing hope, lots of tears.
“The teams are beautiful, the volunteers are just so giving, it’s been amazing working with the crew here – it’s been an amazing thing for Forbes.”
Kim has had the joy of visiting each of the farms before and during the work.
The highlight had been watching people start to relax and smile as some of the pressure on them was lifted, she said.
“Their mental health has changed enormously from when I first met them to the end of the week,” she said.
“I want to keep going,” she added, hoping that support for the farmers who have been part of the project will be ongoing.
On the farms last Friday, volunteers and recipients were making plans to stay in touch.
Email addresses and phone numbers have been exchanged, and promises to visit have been made.
The project also put Forbes in the broader media spotlight. Sunrise filmed volunteers at the Showground on the Monday, and Nova breakfast radio personalities Fitzy and Wippa broadcast from Forbes Showgrounds on Thursday.
During that live broadcast, listeners to the Sydney radio station heard one farmer describe how he worked off-farm, was raising four children and trying to keep up with stock feeding.
They donated $15,000 of the funds that had been raised from listeners and through Bendigo Bank to his family.
Fitzy and Wippa also visited Forbes High School to deliver musical instruments from the Rural Aid Gift of Music program.