Passion and pain on the land
27 February 2015
“Dad had lost a lot of weight and was exhausted. His partner Christine worked away from home, so he was often there on his own. It broke my heart to see my strong and capable father looking so defeated. His cattle were skin and bones, too. All the grass had disappeared, the soil was eroding and the dams had dried up ...” – Robert’s daughter Debbie, quoted in Sunday Magazine in 2009
When service veteran Robert was forced into droving his cattle for almost a year during the severe drought of 2009, it seemed like the darkest time of his life. But it was only the beginning of a series of events that threatened to completely break Robert financially and emotionally.
“All I ever wanted to be was a farmer,” Robert says. “The only time I haven’t been a farmer was when I got called up for national service to serve in Malaya for 18 months.”
Robert and his partner Christine had no idea of what lay ahead when they decided to start a cattle business, renting a property near Manilla, north-west of Tamworth.
“Chris and I just loved it – we built up a herd of a couple of hundred cows over 15 years.
“But in 2008 it (the property) was sold and we had to find somewhere else. We found a property at Inverell but then we hit a drought. We lost a lot of cattle there and I ended up on the road for the first time droving.”
While droving, Robert lost about 70 pregnant cows, which was a loss of around $70,000 in a normal market. He often had to shoot his cows or watch them die in calving.
“You suffer when your animals suffer,” he says. “It was horrendous. Just gut-wrenching stuff.”
Robert thought the worst was behind him as he and Christine started rebuilding their herd, but disaster struck again, when a “perfect storm” of circumstances left the couple financially and emotionally gutted.
Robert and Christine were forced to move off their leased property quickly after a family feud between the owners resulted in the farm being sold. Viable farms to rent were rare and, combined with a sharp drop in cattle prices, Robert was faced with the prospect of droving again. Drought was also upon them again.
“I couldn’t have done it (droving) any more – physically or mentally – it was just too hard. It really just wore me down and I ended up just having to bite the bullet and sell the stock,” he says.
“We sold all our cows – for about a quarter of what we should have got for them. We just weren’t able to recover (financially). Financial counsellors were suggesting I declare bankruptcy.
“I just didn’t know what to do. I was getting really depressed and really in a bad place about all this. Then one day I came across a pamphlet for a Tamworth Salvos Moneycare financial counsellor.
“I went and saw Sandy and she was absolutely fantastic – just amazing.
“She spoke to banks. We had some money from the cows and offered them a settlement on the dollar and they took it! The last one was ANZ and they just wiped the whole lot and when Sandy rang up to tell me, I was flabbergasted! I just don’t know how to express it. What The Salvation Army did for us is absolutely amazing. They got us out of such a hole!
“I can understand why so many farmers are suicidal – I’ve been there. I’ve seriously thought about it and without the Salvos I probably would have! It was that bad.”
To find out more about Moneycare, click here.