Managing COVID-19 on the farm, Chloe’s story

Chloe Dutschke and her partner Joe recently moved from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia to the Western Riverina in New South Wales. Chloe shared her COVID-19 isolation experience with AustralianFarmers.

In early march my partner Joe and I moved from the Flinders Ranges SA to the Western Riverina NSW. Who knew that only weeks later we would be faced with a growing global pandemic and a list of restrictions limiting us from heading back to SA any time soon. On arrival to the station we hit the ground running, heading straight into mustering for shearing the following week.

Shearing is one of the highlights of working on a Merino property. As farmers we bring the sheep into the shed, and take them away again and I love watching the shearers work and seeing fleeces fly. But this year that novelty was lost.

With the restrictions that industry put on shearing teams, and the restrictions we imposed on station staff for safety, we were unable to mix with the shearing team or even enter the shed to watch our ewes being shorn. It was a sombre reality.

Other than industry restrictions, we felt the same pressures every household has faced with the dreaded toilet paper and essential food war. We worried for weeks where we would source enough toilet paper for an extra 25 shearing staff let alone food for the cook to feed the hungry workers.

Added pressures included the continual fall in the wool market and the constant fear of shearing being cancelled. Although the virus made shearing difficult, it did not make it impossible. We worked within our restrictions to produce 500 bales of wool with no major dramas and we even received a bonus 40mm of rain!

Of the 10 station staff, three of us are new to the Riverina. We don’t know anyone in town and were really looking forward to being a part of a new community. In most country towns the best way to meet people is joining a sporting team or club but the virus has completely cut us off.

Turning lemons into lemonade

Our station staff have come together to make the best of the situation. Like many people we have got the board games and cards out and are hosting games night, and even hosted a pub night where we made schnitzels and chips and pretended, they were just as good as a pub parmy.

The virus and moving to a new state meant that I could not go back to SA for Easter. Usually I would travel to see my family and we would spend Easter Sunday together; instead, this year my family had a zoom hook-up and I spent two hours talking to my family from South Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Victoria. At the station we tried to make Easter Sunday special.

Back to basics

We found a beautiful wooden table saved from the old shearers quarters in a falling down shed and restored it for the occasion, we cooked a roast lunch and played hours of trivia. As the afternoon drew on, 10 of us sat in the sunshine and toasted the end of shearing and to a prosperous year ahead.

Like many station workers, distance from the closest town makes it hard to attend an Anzac Day dawn service and with the restrictions it meant it was impossible anyway. To show our respects we decided to host our own dawn service. We resurrected and painted the old flagpole and made wreaths and poppies to lay at the bottom.

We paid tribute to the people who served from the station in years gone by and we also remembered the family members of station staff by reading their names at the service. We listened to the last post echo through the trees and the birds sing during the minutes silence.

Although the COVID-19 virus has had a profound negative effect for many, I am thankful for the end of a stressful shearing and for the moments I have shared with my new station family over Easter and Anzac Day. COVID19 has given us all a chance to reflect on what matters most.

It’s been a wonderful reminder of the importance of taking care of yourself and those around you – in your community, your family, your workplace. We have found positives in this ever-changing world, and for that I am grateful.


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