Harsh drought tests UC

The prolonged drought presents the Uniting Church with challenges at all levels. While early July brought welcome rains to much of the Presbytery of Canberra Region, Goulburn remains one of the worst-hit areas of the state of New South Wales, 89 percent of which is still in drought.

“While they have a fairly positive outlook, it’s not as positive and hopeful as it would be under normal circumstances,‚” Goulburn minister the Rev. Norm Wakefield said of his congregations. ‚”It (the drought) is just lying in the background all the time.”

In practical terms, the drought has hit the congregations hard economically, hurting their fundraising prospects and financial support from individuals and local businesses. It also affects day-to-day life. Under Goulburn’s stage 5 water restrictions, only 150 litres of water is allowed, per person per day. People are only washing when they have to; they are using smaller towels, not using dishwashers, and collecting water from their showers to keep alive whatever plants they can. Flowers are generally out of the question and the ladies have purchased silk flowers for the church arrangements. The situation is heartbreaking for those dedicated gardeners in the congregations.

“Government agencies are well equipped to assist in the short-term”, says UC member and NSW Farmers Association Goulburn branch secretary Noel Lawton. “A welfare officer follows up families with difficulties, and there are rebates on cartage of fodder and transport of stock to slaughter. The main problem with this drought is it’s been so prolonged. The rain has been very variable ‚- it hasn’t allowed farmers to put aside fodder, and people have had to reduce their (stock) carrying capacity (and hence their earning capacity). In addition, prices for Goulburn’s fine wool have dropped 30 per cent since 2001. Meat prices have risen, however, countering some of the losses from wool.”

Uniting Church rural chaplain Kel Hodge visited Goulburn recently and met with members of the congregations to assess their situation. He said there were many issues facing the wider church as people struggled to come to terms with possible climate change and the long-term impact on people living in remote and rural areas with not enough water available. “It’s not an easy, black-and-white thing and it‚’s something I‚’m struggling with myself,” he said.

The Moderator of the New South Wales Synod, Mr Jim Mein, will launch his 2005-2006 Drought Appeal during the Rural Ministry Conference at Dubbo on 12-14 August. The appeal will help the church provide hope for farming communities in practical ways, including emotional and spiritual support, engagement of more rural chaplains, organising community activities and emergency relief. Appeal information will be contained in a letter to Uniting Church congregations, in the August edition of Insights and at http://nsw.uca.org.au/disaster-response.

Kel Hodge appealed for the wider church to take a compassionate view. This was echoed by Rev. Norm: ‚”It has affected people’s hope in the future,” he said.

Bronwyn Hendy