Members of the QCWA state executive gather in Roma for the next leg of a seven-day tour of drought-stricken towns and communities in western Queensland.
Members of the QCWA state executive gather in Roma for the next leg of a seven-day tour of drought-stricken towns and communities in western Queensland. nicky.norman

QCWA takes a drive west to help drought-stricken families

"CLEAR blue skies, I'm afraid," said QCWA chief Robyn McFarlane as she hurried a quick breakfast at Longreach, 1180 km northwest of Brisbane, before boarding the 'drought-aid bus' for the next stopover - Winton, 180 km up the track.

Seniors Newspaper was speaking to Robyn - who "grew up in this wonderful town" - about the QCWA mission to drought-ravaged western Queensland to meet, talk with and comfort communities.

Some of them are battling their worst dry season in decades.

Robyn and 35 members of the QCWA state executive from all parts of the state were on the road and returned from the seven-day tour on July 4 after travelling from Brisbane to Toowoomba, Miles, Roma, Rolleston, Emerald, Alpha, Barcaldine, Ilfracombe, Longreach, Winton, Blackall, Charleville, Mitchell, Morven, Chinchilla and Dalby, with many other stops on the way.

"The country looks shocking, I have to say, particularly in the regions around Ilfracombe and Mitchell. The paddocks are like brown cardboard, and the few cows and sheep, if you can find them, are wandering around searching for pickings," Robyn said.

"Any feed left is eaten off by the kangaroos. And then there's the grasshoppers that are stripping the sorghum." Ilfracombe in the central west is also facing a serious water shortage and may only have months of water supply left.

Robyn said the QCWA was always 'just there' in times of crisis, rallying on the ground and helping out, this time offering financial assistance to support women and their families through the association's public rural crisis fund which has been built from donations and some amazing fund-raising efforts by members.

"The key to the mission is to provide funds, real money - rather than 'just stuff' - which goes to provide store credit and grocery gift vouchers, pays bills like telephones and vehicle registration and, well, puts food on the table."

QCWA in the past 12 months has provided more than $300,000 from the crisis fund, helping western communities and easing the burden. Last year the fund helped 330 families and another 398 families so far this year.

Robyn and her helpers have distributed application forms to allow families to access the rural crisis fund.

"There's no cream taken off the top of this; the money goes directly to those who need it and this is monitored by town councillors who know the people and those that are suffering," Robyn said.

"The QCWA is one of the few charities where 100 percent of monies raised is donated back into regional, rural and remote communities. "The bus tour, fund raising and other activities are all performed by QCWA volunteers."

Robyn said the bus reaffirmed her faith in proud country folk. Wonderful people, beautiful people. And the town councils were champions.

"We hear stories about young people leaving the bush to settle in the cities. But we met many mothers who tell us their sons and daughters want to stay and live on the land. One woman with four wonderful boys was just one example of a family prepared to stay put."

Robyn said the drift from the country to the city had been a part of the 'bush telegraph' ever since Lady Ruth Fairfax founded the QCWA 93 years ago.

"By 1928, Ruth had built 283 QCWA branches with more than 13,000 members." Robyn, who grew up in Longreach where her father worked on the railroad, headed back to her cane farm near Mackay after the bus tour.

"The family moved from Longreach to Mackay when dad was posted there as station manager. I worked at the Commonwealth Bank, met my husband and have lived on the cane farm for 42 years," she said.

"I love the country life. I worked three days in the paddock planting cane before I headed to Brisbane for the start of the bus tour."

Robyn made special mention of Fun Over 50 Travel and Tours which kindly donated a Gold Class coach for the special QCWA tour.

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