Drought effects flow through CQ town's economy
AT SNOW'S Bakery in Alpha, the effect of the drought can be measured by the drop in orders for cakes and sweets.
Chris Tilse, second-generation owner of the bakery after his father, Monte, says the town's economy is starting to dwindle.
"They never go without their bread but they start going without their sweets and cakes,” Mr Tilse said.
Such luxuries are among the first things people cut back on in tough times.
"Things do slow down,” Mr Tilse said.
"It (drought) affects it in the way of small commodities, your bread sales always nearly roughly the same, that is an everyday item.”
Situated 170km west from Emerald on the Capricorn Highway, the rural town of Alpha has a population of 571 people, according to the 2011 census.
Servicing the surrounding region which is predominantly grazing, there are a handful of shops.
The region hasn't seen good rain since the first half of the year.
In the last few months, Mr Tilse, has decreased the amount he bakes each day.
"I keep a pretty careful eye on it all the time to make I don't over-produce,” he said.
"We need wheat, grain is important to us, too,” he said.
Many years ago in drought, Mr Tilse had to get flour from Canada as there was none available in Australia. The Canadian flour is "very soft” and more challenging to work with.
"One thing I don't want is to get imported product,” he said.
Mr Tilse buys his flour from Brisbane and most of the wheat is grown in the Central Highlands or the Darling Downs.
"I try to get Australian product where I can,” he said.
Speaking about the landscape around the region at the moment, Mr Tilse said everywhere you go it is just "dry and barren”.
"There is no sign of any substantial food there at all and if there is any at all,” he said.
"It is so dry, it is hard to explain.
"Doesn't appear to be any strength in the grass.”
"It must be difficult for farmers to maintain their properties, the lack of forage for their cattle.”
But he has faith that farmers, and the town, will find a way to get through.
"Australians will be find a way to be resilient,” he said.
Judy Acutt of Alpha Merchandise said the biggest issue she faces in the drought is getting produce.
Farmers are coming to her produce store all day and week to get supplements for their cattle to replace the lack of grass.
But there is such high demand from across the entire state and New South Wales, the needs for products is massively outweighing the supply available.
"Any supplements at all are hard to get...they are six to eight weeks from order to supply,” she said.
Product demand started to ramp up around five months ago and things were ticking along okay until early August, when it started getting worse and worse.
"To the point it is really hard to say no to clients but we are are having to do it,” Ms Acutt said.
"We don't have the product
"You feel really guilty but there is not a lot we can do about it.
"We are doing the best we can in the circumstances we are operating in.
"It's a circle that goes round and round.”
Most products come from suppliers in Townsville and Brisbane.
In her 23 years of owning the store, Ms Acutt said this was the worst she had ever had in regards to lack of supply of products.
"They service all of Queensland, Northern Territory and into NSW and it is such a large area of the eastern states that are covered in drought,” she said.
"It is happening everywhere, everyone is affected.
"You put your order in you go in line.”
In talking to the constant stream of farmers that come through her door, the drought is just part of their everyday life and is somewhat now the norm for them.
"They're all doing it tough, they don't like to say too much about it,” Ms Acutt said.
"They are a fairly resilient mob, they are just doing what they can do to keep their stock alive.
"You talk to them and say we have had it tough before, we've got there before.”
Ms Acutt believes this is the biggest drought she has seen.
"It has been dry before but not this dry,” she said.
"Usually it's a small area, central and northern Queensland, not New South Wales as well.
"It is the huge area it's now covering.”
And the issue is most farmers are prepared for drought.
For instance, Alpha graziers know it doesn't generally rain much over winter and they prepare for that, but this year, the summer didn't see much rain and this started the dry much earlier.
"They do prepare and a lot of them had supply they could utilise... but it has just been dragging on too long now,” Ms Acutt said.
Mental health is also very important throughout drought times, Ms Acutt said.
"The morale of people is a concern at times. You just work out what you can do to help the town and the surrounds,” she said.
To try to boost the mood in the region, the town is hosting some free events supported by the Barcaldine Regional Council and the Alpha District Tourism and Development Association through Queensland Government Community Drought Support funding.
A free movies night will be held this Saturday at the Alpha Town Hall.
Ms Acutt is also putting together a Golf and Footy Finals night on Sunday night with a free barbecue and golf tee at the Alpha Golf Club.
"To try to get the property owners in town, instead of just thinking of the dry,” she said.
"Things like that, just talk to people and give them a bit of support.”
"I think in a business these days you become a counsellor, just talking to them.”
For businesses, times are hard across the town's economy.
"All of the businesses in town would be suffering from a lack of support, not because they don't want to but they have to look at their dollars,” Ms Acutt said.
Many farmers also don't know what funding is available to them, she said.
QLD DROUGHT APPEAL:
Anyone who would like to donate to the appeal can visit www.qlddrought appeal.com.au or SMS "drought” to 0484200200.
At the shop, Ms Acutt has drought assistance forms for customers to help them know what is out there.
"We're doing all we can to help people,” she said.