Seeing humour in drought, bad hair days in the dry
THINK drought and it's dying stock, dry dams, a barren landscape stretching towards a cloudless sky and, for the women of the west, endless bad hair days.
Blame brackish creek water or failing bores and empty tanks but for Kate Bradshaw and her daughters a "drought hair cut" has become yet another sign of the dry.
The personable young mum from Corfield in Queensland's north-west doesn't want to detract from the critical issues of the parched inland, but she does want to offer a little light-hearted feminine insight into the situation.
It's the reason Kate and her two youngest daughters, Lily, 12, and Ruby, 10, put together Hope and Hair, a YouTube video for an innovative Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women's Network competition.
The competition, Who's Gonna Do It For You? Not Just Wishing and Hoping, encourages outback families to share their stories of drought and the resilience that grows from adversity.
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The Bradshaws' video was one of the finalists in the competition and made the big screen at the QRRRWN annual conference in Biloela this week.
For Kate it's a light moment in a bleak landscape.
Luxuries like time at the hairdresser was one of the first things to go when the drought hit hard on the 18,000ha cattle property, Luckham, she runs with husband Mark. Their property, 80km east of Winton, has been drought declared for the past three years.
"This area normally can expect an average annual rainfall of 20 inches but this year we've had just four inches," Kate said. "We had two-and-a-half inches in January, which was our biggest fall in three years."
The lack of rain has forced them to reduce cattle numbers from 1600 head back to 400, with another 400 head on agistment at Capella in Central Queensland.
When the Rural Weekly spoke with Kate this week, family members were steeling themselves to start feeding stock cottonseed and lick again.
To add to their anxiety, the creek water they rely on for both stock and house water is again critically low.
"If it doesn't rain soon we'll be in dire straits with the water," Kate admitted.
"Last year it got to the point where we were all sharing the same bath water and, when it's coffee coloured to start with, that's hard.
"I'm fortunate my parents have a house in Winton so I take our washing in and do it there when I am in town."
At home a small but drought-tolerant garden watered by their precious grey water has offered them a vital sanctuary.
"It's only a newish garden, so we've done what we could to keep it going. I think if I had to let it go I would find it really hard.
"Mentally I'd be 'devo'. Just having a small area that has some green gives you a whole new appreciation for gardening."
She readily admits enduring years without rain takes its toll.
"We live in a lovely old house with thousands of sets of louvres and I was at the table and a whirlywind blew dust straight through the room and filled up my coffee with grit and I had to ask myself why the hell anyone would live out here."
But she said the answer was about the opportunities rural life created for families.
"Last weekend we were mustering and I turned off the motorbike and I could hear the kids (they have three daughters, Molly, 13, Lily and Ruby) laughing together and I thought this is why we do it.
"What other job lets you work together as a family every day?"
Yet the drought and its impact both financially and emotionally hasn't escaped her daughters.
"Our kids worry about money and they say 'we know you and Dad have secret talks'."
She knows her daughters have also had to call on some youthful resilience to deal with things like selling their poddy calves as the drought persisted.
"If you pull together as a family you get through tough times like these. And I think it's okay for kids to see you have a cry."
She recalls turning up at the mailbox after a day spent working cattle in 45-degree heat to find a care package from Aussie Helpers.
"It was full of moisturisers and bubble bath and it was so lovely to think someone cared enough to send it.
"It brought me undone. The girls kept saying it's so nice they sent something for you Mum because those are the first things you cut out when you're paying to feed cattle and keep a child at boarding school.
"When we tipped the bubble bath into the water that night, the girls kept saying how nice it looked. It still looked like a cup of tea, but it was a very thoughtful gift."
Watch more drought stories here.