- SYDNEY (Reuters) - The rate
of rural suicide in Australia is among the highest in the world as farmers
battle the stress of years of drought, failed crops, mounting debt and
slowly decaying towns.
- "Every day I look outside and I say to myself: 'I
get so sick to death of blue sky'," wrote farmer Mick in a recent
book, "Tough Times," in which 10 country men talk about their
fight with depression and thoughts of suicide.
- "I just want to see some clouds and some rain,"
said Mick, who has lived on a small farm all his life.
- "The strain is just so constant and long and it's
like someone grabbing at me by the throat and slowly choking you a bit
more each day."
- A total of 2,213 Australians committed suicide in 2003,
the latest available statistics. The vast majority were men.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) says Australia has
one of the highest suicide rates in the world, exceeding nations such as
Canada, the United States and Britain.
- While the rate of depression, which leads to suicide,
is equal in urban and rural Australia, the rate of suicide per 100,000
people jumps more than 20 percent in the country.
- In fact the more isolated the farmer the more chance
he will resort to suicide, according to the Ministerial Council for Suicide
- "Rural suicide rates are one of the highest in the
world," said Leonie Young, head of Beyondblue, a mental health group.
Australia's rural suicide rate, 17 per 100,000 people, is above the national
suicide rates of Canada and the United States.
- The Land newspaper recently ran a drought headline --
"The cost: suicide every four days." There are around 1,000 suicides
a year in rural Australia, just under 20 deaths a week.
- NEW WAVE OF DEPRESSION
- After surviving a catastrophic 2002-03 drought -- the
worst in 100 years -- many farmers thought they'd never see such hardships
again. Yet 2005 is shaping up as a return to those horror conditions, with
dams bone-dry and sun-baked farmlands cracking.
- Some farmers have had no income for several years and
many rely on off-farm work to survive. Drought has wiped A$8 billion (US$6
billion) off agricultural production since 2002.
- National farm debt has doubled in five years to A$40.3
billion, as farmers borrow each season to plant crops only to see them
shrivel and die.
- Cattle and sheep farmers have sent valuable livestock
to slaughter because they can no longer afford to buy feed or water. That
leaves them without vital breeding stock to rebuild their farms when the
drought eventually breaks.
- "It's no secret that many people are feeling the
emotional strain of this devastating drought. In the last six weeks there
has been another wave of depression," said Mal Peters, president of
the New South Wales Farmers' Association.
- "We are seeing some farmers commit suicide,"
- STOIC FARMERS
- Coral Russell has fought the despair of watching her
beloved "Gunn Homestead" become a barren landscape. To cheer
herself up recently she found a 1978 photo album which showed a lush, green
landscape, with a bubbling creek running near her farmhouse.
- "There are days when you just despair. This is beautiful
country -- as long as you get the rain," Russell said from her 2,700-hectare
(6,670-acre) wheat and sheep farm near Barellan, 400 km (250 miles) southwest
- But Russell's heart goes out to the men who work the
- "It is devastating for the men because they are
not producing, not feeding their families," said Russell, who has
started to hear stories of suicides on the "bush telegraph."
- "There are farmers who are a worry because they
stay at home, become unsociable and withdraw. They have no respite from
it. It is frightening that it is cutting that deep into the lives of farmers,"
- A new rural study has found that life on the land, once
romanticized by Australia's great writers and poets as the backbone of
the nation, is a virtual health hazard. Bush people are likely to die younger
than city dwellers.
- Some 300,000 rural people suffer from depression each
year but mental health is a taboo subject in the outback and stoical farmers
see stress as a weakness.
- "These are tough rural men. They are resilient.
They fight bushfires, drought, floods and stock losses on a regular basis,"
said Beyondblue's Young. "We need to get the message out, in these
tough times, that depression is an illness."
- Young said that while farmers were reluctant to seek
help to combat mental illness many were simply just too isolated. Living
hundreds of kilometers (miles) from a town, the daily responsibility of
feeding and watering starving livestock meant they could not leave their
- FARMERS DYING BREED
- Drought, coupled with rapid economic and social changes
in rural Australia, has seen the number of farms halved since the 1960s
and those farmers left now feel abandoned, their cultural identity and
national relevance questioned.
- Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, himself a farmer,
warns that more and more farmers are leaving the land.
- "If we're not careful, in 10 or 15 years' time we
will have a serious shortage of farmers," said Anderson. "There's
a limit to how much anyone can be reasonably expected to put up with."
- "There are young farmers everywhere saying, 'I don't
want to give it away, but if there's no future, I'll have to'."
- But as Coral Russell has found it's not that easy to
walk away from a depressing dustbowl farm. "They (farms) are not selling,
so you can't get out." ($1=A$1.32)
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- From Steve Davis
- Dear Jeff,
- Its always so sad to see droughts destroy decades of
hard rural work, and the story from Australia is one of many very sad ones.
- One thing we have learned the hard way in the SW USA
desert is that its not the drought that kills the land its the mismanagement
that kills the land. In fact, what we always assumed, that cattle destroy
the grass, and the drought destroys the grass was totally arse backwards
- Its properly managed cattle and other livestock in harmony
with the land that makes the grass grow, and its the grass that makes the
water and rain !
- Wayne's research has proven the intimate symbiosis of
man-livestock-grass-water that has been missing since ranching began. Man
has almost always herded cattle to maximize profits short run while destroying
the land long run. Droughts come and go and if its managed carefully, it
can be survived successfully.
- Its incredible to see arid wasteland turned so productive
so quickly! Cattle grazing spreadout hay cause just the right trampling
of old growth and weeds while mixing topsoil with mulch, manure, urine
and new good seed to generate lush fast growth the very next rain.
- Other details of mulching with hay include soil organism
protection from UV rays,now proven to be vital, protection from soil erosion,
increases in wildlife, with thier own positive grazing effects and fertilization.
Birds add even more help and the whole system spirals upwards instead of
the same old downward desication and drought. Grass and trees then transpire
moisture properly through life giving systems and make clouds reappear
and condense and conserve more moisture, it adds up fast.
- With billions of square miles turned to desert wastelands,
this technique and others like
- http://www.seedballs.com Clay Balls For Optimum Seed
- http://www.johnnyseeds.com Awesome Free Seed Catalogue
- based on Japanese Fukuoka hay mulching/seedballs
- and local water developments like
- are now so desperately needed to be expanded worldwide.
- We can turnback the deserts, we can restore the wastelands,
and we all can have clean water and organic foods. It also takes changes
in mindset and renewed faith to overcome global drought, depression, disease
and dispair, but new successful techniques can go a long way to reverse
these apocalyptic trends.
- Steve Davis
- Science Researcher