"The problem is, 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 'til 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.”
This is how a year 10 boy described his family situation to UNICEF, which spoke to many country kids coping up with one of the worst droughts in 100 years.
The Central West is one of the worst drought-affected regions in the state and many farmers are struggling. They have no option but to buy expensive feed for their stock or reduce their numbers.
UNICEF Australia senior policy adviser Oliver White says many initiatives have been implemented over time to assist farming communities, but little is known about the impact the drought is having on children and young people.
"These young people and children talked about, for example, not only having to cope with euthanising extremely sick and distressed farm animals, but in some cases having to do it before school, then having to come home and bury them afterwards,” Mr White said.
"We found that they have been put in the position of having to make very adult decisions about their lives, their parents’ lives, their family’s farms and businesses."
UNICEF recommended the federal and state governments develop a targeted youth mental health strategy and schools in drought-affected areas provide options for group-based student support to avoid the stigma often associated with one-on-one counselling.
What country kids want from politicians
“They should come down for a week and feel what it’s like." - Year 10 girl.
"They need to come down … like, as a human, not a politician." - Year 9 girl.
The meaning of drought
“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.” - Year 11/12 girl.
The emotional toll of the drought
“It sucks the happiness out of you but then the people bring it back.” - Year 6 girl.
"I don’t think of words, I just see pictures in my head of what the drought is. You know how you look across a paddock and there’s nothing there? Like, it’s just dirt. And you see like a mirage … just dead land everywhere … dead animals.”- Year 10 boy.
I don’t think of words, I just see pictures in my head of what the drought is. You know how you look across a paddock and there’s nothing there? Like, it’s just dirt. And you see like a mirage … Just dead land everywhere … dead animals.Year 10 boy.
“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?” Year 10 girl.
Families experiencing profound stress
"You have to take care of [the animals] more than you take care of yourself or your family …you have to focus on them because they’re part of the income.” - Year 9 boy.
“My father and my grandfather are feeding cattle for about three hours every day, so you don’t get to see them in the morning and they’re always tired and grumpy, so the home environment isn’t the best." - Year 9 girl.
Engaging in dangerous activities
"Climbing up a tree – bloody god knows how high it is – no harness – got yourself a chainsaw – jumping around like a monkey just cutting branches down. It’s not real fun.” - Year 11/12 boy.
The cumulative toll on children
"You start to get into the mindset where all you think about is the money. Every time you see a cow, it’s just, that’s money. It’s no longer a cow, it’s just money. That’s all it is. Seed is money. The farm needs money. That’s the part that stresses you out. It’s your whole outlook on life.” - Year 10 boy.
Growing up quickly
“You’re sort of at the age … like, you’ve got to grow up sooner or later. Might as well just get it over with.” - Year 11/12 boy.
“I think I did grow up faster than my sister did at my age … I had to become more mature quicker because I needed to learn what was actually going on. And, like, my sister didn’t really have to deal with it. Neither did my brother … It’s just what I have to do. I just wish it was green.” - Year 9 girl.