As kids all we wanted to was was be an adult, but these Aussie kids living in the midst of drought have had no choice but to show maturity well beyond their years.
Earlier this week UNICEF Australia released a report “In Their Own Words” where children living in drought ravaged parts of Australia described their experiences.
From missing days of school to euthanising extremely sick and distressed farm animals before school, these kids all understood they needed to “step up” to help their parents get the farm through the drought.
“While we have seen devastating flooding in north and north western Queensland, and terrible fires in Tasmania, it is easy to overlook the fact that vast swathes of inland Australia, and the people who live there, are still suffering through devastating prolonged drought,” said UNICEF Australia Senior Policy Advisor, Oliver White.
“And while many initiatives have been implemented over time to assist these communities and the adults who run the farms, little is known about the impacts the drought is having on the children and young people.”
UNICEF visited the NSW towns of Gunnedah, Narrabri, Walgett and Tamworth to conduct consultations with 54 children from rural and farming families.
According to the report, during the consultations, children and young people explained the impacts of prolonged and intense drought upon their parents – the effect it has on their parents’ ability to provide them with the best homelife and education possible, while trying to manage their farms in disastrous conditions.
Here are some of the stories the children told the authors of the report:
“Before the start of this year I’d never shot a lamb in my life, and I’ve done probably about 50 or so this year … I didn’t want to do it. Like, I cried sort of thing. Like, I didn’t want to do it. But now it’s just easy. You just do it.” — boy, year 10.
“Our parents want to give us things, but they just can’t and we just know that and don’t say anything. Because it probably hurts them too.” — girl, year 11.
“You look across a paddock and there’s nothing there. Like, it’s just dirt. And you see like a mirage … Just dead lands everywhere … dead animals.” — boy, year 10.
“Everything’s just brown. There’s no green. Just dust and dirt.” — boy, year 10.
“It’s the most depressing thing. You get off the bus and you’re driving down the driveway and it’s just dust. And you only really notice it when you go to the coast and you drive over the mountains and it’s just green … It’s sad to think that I’m saying, ‘Wow, it’s green!’ if that makes sense?” — girl, year 10.
“I’ve had to probably take 10 or more days off this term alone to help.” — girl, year 9.
“You get home and you bust your arse to feed stock and that, all night until about 10 o’clock at night, and then you’ve got to do homework. And that’s the hardest thing. Like, you’re tired and you’re up till 12 and you’re tired the next day. So it just keeps piling up. It’s like a domino effect and it just gets worse and worse.” — boy, year 10.
“I had to grow up a lot more quicker than my sisters did. And for that, it just sucks.” — boy, year 11.
“When it rains it’s like a present.” — boy, year 6
UNICEF found that while there had been significant media and political attention on drought in Australia, children were often overlooked.
It also found stress and anxiety were likely to compound if something didn’t change.
Subsequently the report made nine recommendations to federal, state and territory governments about strengthening the coping skills and resilience of children and young people, supporting parents and families, and about improving the focus on children and youth in the design and delivery of government drought responses and services.
The children who have their testimonials also urged the politicians to come and walk a mile in their shoes.
“[Politicians] should come down for a week and feel what it’s like,” said a girl in year 10.
“They need to come down … like, as a human, not a politician,” said another girl in year 9.
If you or anyone needs help:
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
QLife on 1800 184 527