No shaving ‘til it’s raining: one farmer’s mission
WHEAT crops on Scott and April Loughnan's family property near Muckadilla are struggling to grow in the dry, but on Scott's face there is a growth of a different kind - all in the name of rural men's mental health.
On August 1, the farmer vowed to stop shaving until Muckadilla received 25mm. For every day his beard has grown, he has donated $1 to Are You Bogged Mate? - the group supporting men's mental health in the bush.
"It started when I got sick and was just over it all, and said 'I'm not shaving until it rains'," Mr Loughnan said.
"Then I thought, I should do something for someone, and I know what Mary (O'Brien) does at Are You Bogged Mate? is a good cause.
"A lot of rural blokes don't want to go and sit down in an office and talk to a psychologist about their feelings, but Mary is a totally different approach; she's like 'come and have a beer and a chat'."
Having cultivated the beard for two-and-a-half months now, Mr Loughnan has raised $79, and expects to donate significantly more.
Ms O'Brien, the Are You Bogged Mate? founder, said she was blown away by Scott's commitment to the cause.
"I'm just stoked that Scott sees the value in the Are You Bogged Mate? program, and it is something he deemed worthy of donating to - it's awesome," she said.
"We really appreciate his support, it is extremely generous.
"(What Scott is doing) is really highlighting the drought, but also the impact it has on the fellas out there too."
Inspired by Scott, other farmers have joined the crusade.
"Since it went on Twitter and Facebook, there are two or three more farmers doing it," Mr Loughnan said.
"One guy on the Western Downs has been growing his hair since February, and he said he'd backdate his donation until then."
To keep up momentum, Scott is actively encouraging fellow locals to grow beards of their own - particularly the local businesses - as a show of support to the region's farmers, and to raise even more for Are You Bogged Mate?
Staying hopeful in the dry
At Scott and April's property, Avenell, in between Hodgson and Muckadilla, it has been more than six months since the last significant shower.
The paddocks are dry, dusty, and devoid of nutritious food for their 270 head of cattle; usually they would be running twice as many.
Despite the drought, the family is still incredibly positive about the situation.
"It's just what it is," Mr Loughnan said.
"Droughts come and go, and floods come and go; so I think you've just got to make sure you're financially stable and not do too many improvements or anything while it's like this.
"You just survive and then when it rains again, go forwards and make sure that in years like this you don't go backwards."
Scott and April consider themselves to be handling things pretty well right now, but know that programs like Are You Bogged Mate can be invaluable to countless others.
"I think that the younger farmers like myself are probably handling the drought fine.
"But it's some of the older guys, who have worked so hard - you get to this point where you're not progressing for a few years and you get fed up."
They stay optimistic, he says, because they know their work is always going to be needed.
"I'm very optimistic about the future of farming, because people have got to eat," Mr Loughnan said.
"You can do without flying across the world in an jet, you can do without a lawyer, and you can do without all kinds of things, but take away food and oxygen, and it is going to be a pretty short period that you'll have to worry about other problems.
"At some stage, and hopefully I see it in my lifetime, people are going to go 'hang on, we really do need agriculture and farming'.
"That's my hope anyway."