The first time the young daughter of dairy farmers Barry and Rosey ever saw rain was on a family holiday in northern New South Wales.
They were visiting Barry’s mother in Lismore over the Easter break when, suddenly, the skies opened up. Two-year-old Annabella, who has spent her whole life living on a drought-affected farm in Deniliquin, didn’t know what was happening. “She was so scared,” says Rosey in an interview with SBS Voices. “It really opened my eyes to how little rain we’ve had.”
Annabella’s surprised reaction to the downpour made Barry’s extended family appreciate just how dry conditions were in Deniliquin. “I’ll never forget seeing her face as she watched the rain and realising how tough we are having it down here with the drought,” she reflects.
Barry, Rosey, and their children – Annabella and her six-year-old brother Lincoln – appear on the third season of Struggle Street on SBS.
We see Barry, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and Rosey battle to keep their farm running amid the “perfect storm” of drought, low milk prices and a summer of record-breaking heat. Like many dairy farmers around the country, they seriously consider leaving the farm.
Deregulation of the dairy industry in Australia in the early 2000s and the dollar milk wars fought by the major supermarkets since 2011 have seen the price of milk tumble in the last decade. When we meet Barry and Rosey in the first episode of Struggle Street, the farmgate price of milk is just 40 cents a litre. “Unless something changes, I don’t think there’s a future for dairy here,” observes a disappointed Rosey.
The hardworking couple put in 16-hour days on the farm yet struggle to meet the operational costs of running the dairy. At times, the workload feels overwhelming. “You feel quite broken at times, like you’ve given everything, but it’s not enough – you need to give more,” says Rosey.
During the filming of Struggle Street, the Deniliquin farm had just weeks of water and stockfeed left, forcing Barry and Rosey to sell a truckload of cattle and cut down on milking. In a recent conversation with SBS Voices, Rosey says the farm received average rainfall over winter, but a dry September has meant the green paddocks are quickly turning brown. “It’s drying off fast now because there is no moisture underneath it.” With another zero allocation from the water-starved Murray River, their dairy farm must rely on bore and rainwater for the forthcoming summer.
Amid such tough conditions, the only option is to sell more stock. Two weeks before SBS Voices spoke to Rosey, they sent 43 cows to market and were considering the possibility of selling another lot in the coming weeks.
Support services in the country
More than a two-hour drive from the nearest regional centre, Deniliquin is one of the most isolated towns in the state. It’s so far from health and support services, there is little help available for Deni locals who are struggling with their mental health.
Struggle Street shows Rosey questioning how well Barry is coping with the strain of the ongoing drought. “I try to give him support, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough sometimes,” she says during an early morning milking.
Rosey tells SBS Voices that managing mental health is one of the hardest things about living in the country during drought. In the city, she says, there are many services where people can go to unload their problems while maintaining their anonymity.
In a small town, it can be hard to be honest about how you’re feeling when everyone knows everyone else. You have to be careful what you say, says Rosey. “You don’t want anyone to judge you.” Sometimes, she says, “you need someone to give you a buzz and say, ‘are you ok?’”
Rosey would welcome support in other forms too. “I would love to have somebody come and watch the kids in the morning so they wouldn’t have to be up in the dairy freezing, especially in winter – but that comes at a cost.”
Local charities have extended a helping hand, including Aussie Helpers, which delivered a donated load of hay to the farm, and the Uniting Church in the nearby town of Finley, which gave the family gift vouchers to help lighten the financial load caused by constant drought. “That was terrific,” says Rosey. “Just that little help showed they care.”
Until the drought breaks, Rosey’s strength comes from her children. “You look at their little faces…and they don’t understand what’s going on; they don’t understand how tough it is right now,” she says. “You get up in the morning hoping it will be different. You know it’s a new day.”
You can view Barry and Rosey's GoFundMe page, set up by a family friend, here.
Season 3 of Struggle Street premieres Wednesday 9 October at 8.30pm on SBS. The four-part documentary series continues weekly on Wednesdays. Episodes will stream at SBS On Demand after broadcast.