There are no bare bottoms twerking in exotic locations, nor any celebrities pouting their way through yet another sponsored post, yet there’s a buzz about a particular Instagram account that’s just two weeks old. The account? @Buyfromthebush, an initiative encouraging urban Australians to skip the usual department stores and do some of their Christmas shopping from small rural businesses struggling with severe drought.
What began with a simple #buyfromthebush hashtag posted on October 16 quickly evolved into a steady reel of clever gift items from small bush businesses and fellow Australians answered the call to action in droves. Gaining followers at a dizzying speed – sometimes at more than five thousand new followers a day – the account now sits at over 62,000 followers, and many of them have already begun flexing their credit cards as rural post offices work overtime to send out original artworks, straw bags, handmade dresses and earrings before the Christmas rush. It’s just as well; not only do the suppliers featured on the account rely heavily on drought-stricken and cash-poor communities to keep them afloat, but some of the businesses featured are actually side projects of farmers themselves, looking for new ways to survive.
The initiative is the brainchild of 35-year-old Grace Brennan, a resident of Warren in northwest NSW, who says the ‘lightbulb moment’ occurred after she posted a message about the drought and encouraging friends to shop in small rural towns hit by the dry. “A friend then commented that her family do a themed Kris Kringle every year and that their theme this year was ‘buy from the bush’ and I realised we had to find a way to help people in cities around the country find out about the clever businesses we have in rural areas and the Instagram account was born.”
Brennan understands firsthand what these drought-stricken communities are going through. Although she was born and raised in Sydney, she moved to Warren 10 years ago where she and her husband worked the family farm. “Two successive floods wiped us out,” Brennan explains of the difficult decision they made to eventually walk away from it. “I know that feeling you get from watching everything you’ve worked so hard for disappear and to have this crippling debt hanging over you.”
Today, Brennan sees the same despondent expression in her neighbours as they pass the three-year mark without any decent rain. “In the last 12 months in particular, I’ve noticed a real shift in terms of lack of hope,” she says quietly. “Spirits are lower than they’ve ever been, but I also know those living in cities are keen to help, they just need to be shown how, and of course now we’re seeing that everybody is just taking it on and feeling responsible for sharing the message and it’s such a lovely expression of community.”
The initiative is already going gangbusters. Many of the small boutiques and businesses featured are receiving orders, calls and messages of support from city slickers, some suppliers have sold out of popular items and are working around the clock to keep up with pre-orders and perhaps more importantly, relationships are being formed between urban and country neighbours as the nation tries to get through one of the worst droughts we’ve ever seen. “Oh, the response has been extraordinary! We’ve had photographers drive in from the city offering to shoot free of charge for local businesses and others who tell me they’ve made more in the last week than they did in the last financial year,” says Brennan.
One look at the Gratitude ‘stories’ on the account and those words are hard to dispute. Messages from suppliers happily cheering they ‘had over 30 orders in the last 24 hours!’ and ‘nearly $1,000 spent on our website since your post. I’m so thrilled, I could cry’, are interspersed with equally merry posts from customers declaring their support while gushing about their new purchases.
It has become a community in a very modern way and that’s exactly what Brennan is hoping will stick moving forward. “For so long, locals have said to me, those city dwellers have no idea what kind of conditions we’re living in, but lately the messages I’m starting to hear are ‘Wow, our city friends have got our backs’ and I think there’s enormous capacity for this project beyond our Christmas campaign to change mindsets about what people can access in rural communities,” she says.
“There’s more in this country that unites us than divides us, and this is just a perfect example of who we really are as Australians.”
The four-part documentary series Struggle Street meets people in the Riverina region of NSW facing a range of challenges. Catch up on episodes on SBS On Demand.