Outback communities suffer as Queensland drought continues

Outback communities suffer as Queensland drought continues

SBS World News Radio: As Queensland suffers through its fourth year of drought, it's not just the farmers who are suffering.

Traffic is thin on the streets of Longreach, but for former grazier Richard Kinnon the show must go on.

He's bought an old local pub to add to his existing tourism business.

Dressed in a ringmasters outfit, he spruiks for grey nomads to watch an old-time outback circus show.

"We're going to show you three things out the back here you'll see nowhere else on this planet. We'll show you a horse with his tail where the head should be."

From the land into town, Mr Kinnon is confident he can beat the four-year drought with the tourism venture.

"We started by telling the Cobb and Co coach story and how it really opened up this land. We started doing a run on the old mail track and that's become a huge thing now. We do over 20-thousand kilometres a year telling that story in the Cobb and Co coaches, we do the paddle-wheeler out on the waterhole, river. We do that of a night time with a sound and light show, telling outback stories. Our cattle and our sheep are our hobby now, to be honest with you. This here is our cash flow."

But the tourist trade will never replace the livestock industry in outback Queensland.

In Longreach, as in so many other rural centres, the townies are suffering just as much as the farmers, known as the cockies, as the drought hits the main street just as hard as the land.

David Phelps is the chair of the Western Queensland Drought Appeal.

"So this is one of our Western Queensland Drought Relief cash cards, they've got two-hundred-and-fifty dollars on them that we send to farming families to spend locally on essentials like school supplies and fresh fruit and vegetables and it helps a farming family and also helps a business family in town."

Mr Phelps says seven-hundred-thousand dollars in donations are being funnelled into local businesses.

"The drought, essentially our town's cash drought is essentially to the value of $2 million for main street businesses, with the people that have left, with the lack of cash flow that's coming through, about $2m per annum that's not coming into the town, that usually would, and that's leading to roughly 60 per cent downturn in business turnover and 40 per cent lay-off of staff. Which is really substantial in a small town of 4,000 people."

Most businesses in Longreach are small family-run enterprises.

For 45 years, Gaby Janho has cut hair in Longreach.

"This is the worst drought I've seen, unfortunately, but as soon as we get a bit of rain. It's got great impact on the business houses in Longreach because the farmers are struggling. It goes over the board. It affects all of us."

Mr Janho and his clients aren't happy.

"I don't know how to put it. What do you reckon? CLIENT: The government hasn't done anything for small businesses, we're both in small businesses. We haven't seen any direct benefit for us."

The Queensland government has funded one financial advisor to help Longreach businesses - Russel Lowry from the Central Western Queensland Remote Area Planning and Development Board.

"Yes there's a step towards recognising that if small businesses aren't assisted right now, they're going to be more impacted into the future ... There is a need to spread this wider, it's not just this local area that's affected, there's most of inland parts of Queensland that needs the same support."

They are a tough and optimistic lot in Longreach.

Out here they say, "Each day, is a day closer to rain".

Richard Kinnon and his tourism venture are an example of how some are diversifying to survive until that day comes.

"This is leaving me to stay on my land and do what the seasons allow me to do with it. And I've got an industry, or a cash flow business. And I'm telling the story of the people of the land."

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