/It will drive a lot of people to the brink: Drought tightens grip on far-west NSW

It will drive a lot of people to the brink: Drought tightens grip on far-west NSW

A fourth-generation grazier, who is selling the family property, says it could take a decade of uncommonly good conditions for pastoralists to recover from the drought in far-west NSW.

Key points Gum Park sale

Key points:

  • A fourth-generation grazier says his 94-year-old grandfather had never seen Gum Park Station so dry
  • He says parts of far-west NSW, including his property, had not received decent rain since 2016
  • Despite destocking, he is still spending $1,000 a day on feed

Gum Park Station, about 110 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill, has only received 100 millimetres of rain since 2016, and all seven of its dams are empty for the first time in its history.

“I had my grandfather up here at Christmas,” Gum Park owner Wes Herring said.

“He said to me several times he can’t give me advice, because he’s never lived the situation that we’re in.”

Mr Herring and his wife Kate had been destocking the 28,000-hectare property since September 2017 and were preparing to put it on the market.

He had struggled with depression, anxiety and the unending burden of having to source feed for sheep and cattle.

“It’s a very poor quality of life at the minute.”

Gum Park, which was first farmed by the family in 1915, is a part of Mr Herring’s identity that he has come to terms with letting go.

“Someone once said to me, ‘To become emotionally attached to a piece of land is quite foolish because it’s just a piece of land’,” Mr Herring said.

“And it took me a while to process that, but he was spot on.

Beginning of ‘severe slowdown’ across all sectors

Ben Finch, the Broken Hill branch manager of stock and real estate agency Elders, said the broader effects of the drought were beginning to be felt.

“We’re seeing a severe slowdown in the agricultural base businesses through towns such as ours, and I think that’ll also impact through … general shops and services through the far west as well,” he said.

He said while some pastoral families were selling up, many planned sales had already been postponed because of good rains in the district around 2016.

“So we’ve got, if you like, a little bit of a backlog in sales that didn’t happen during that time that are now going to come on board,” Mr Finch said.

“We’ve also got some situational sales where people have decided enough’s enough, and perhaps they would prefer to be in a different area.

“[It’s a] little bit early to say that’s in full swing — it certainly isn’t.”

Mr Finch said there was still a healthy level of interest in potential investors in the far west and, while the drought had curtailed that slightly, the medium-term outlook was still good.

Mr Herring, who is spending $1,000 per day on feed, said it would take a decade of good conditions to bring his property back to where it was a year ago.

“It will take a big hit, the western division,” Mr Herring said.

“You would have to say that there’s anywhere from half a million plus sheep missing out of the western division. That’s a big thing to try to bring back, either to breed back or buy back and start again.

Friend and fellow grazier Andrew Wall has invited expressions of interest in his properties Langidoon and Metford near Broken Hill, and said government assistance only went so far.

“You can throw another loan at these young people to put in a shed or to pipe water or something like that, but they don’t need another loan, they’ve got enough debt already,” he said.

“They need actual physical things that they can do, as in money for feed, or some of them to cart water, just to keep their stock alive.”