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How Dilly Drought Drive has saved livelihoods – and lives

Sharon Robertson becomes emotional and can’t speak for a few moments after telling me what Dilly Drought Drive’s real achievement was over the past two and a half years. “The wives of farmers say to us: you’ve saved our husbands’ life,’’ says the woman who established the campaign to help local farmers doing it tough when the drought was at its worst.

We are speaking on the phone about the Dilly Drive and how it has been a lifeline for those hit by the lack of rain for years.

“People just don’t realise how tough it was for the farmers,’’ she says.

“Some were on suicide watch,’’ Sharon adds before going silent while she composes herself.

The actual figures are also quite staggering – in two years the Dilly Drought Drive has raised $1 million worth of help for local farmers such as water supplies, hay, food hampers – and even counselling.

And much, much more,

Sharon Robertson, who lives at The Oaks with her husband and two daughters, decided to do something to help local farmers when the drought was at its worst.

“The thing is a lot of people didn’t realise the drought had come as close to the Sydney metropolitan area as it did here in Wollondilly,’’ she says.

“But it was real, and the fruit orchards were the worst hit at first, and the dairy farmers as well.

“You wouldn’t believe how much water milking cows drink every day.’’

This was January 2018 and Sharon Robertson assembled a team that included her friend Tia Veech, of Wilton and Lynette Keneally from Top 40 Orchards at Oakdale.

Seventh generation local farmer Gavin Moore also came on board.

In February, the NSW Governor Margaret Beazley (second from right) dropped in to check out how Wollondilly farmers were faring and met the Dilly Drought Drive team, from left, Lynette Keneally, Tia Veech and Sharon Robertson. Photo by Brian Laul/Good Morning Macarthur.

“At first it was all about water and the drought but eventually we ended up having 25 farms on our books, helping with them with all sorts of things,’’ says Sharon.

“At first I thought the drive would go for three months, but here we are more than two years later.

“A lot of people have been involved and we’re grateful for that but I have to say I could not have done what I did without Tia’s support.’’

Indeed just last week, with 15 farms still on the books, Dilly Drought Drive, which has also been helping anyone in need from the Macarthur region, were still delivering $1,000 food vouchers and $2,000 produce vouchers.

Now that we have had some good rains the team has turned its attention to helping local farms as part of the recovery from the drought, which some experts say could take years.

“This phase includes water delivery and storage solutions to secure future water supply, hay and fodder relief and most importantly food, hampers and gift cards for farmers who have been hurting for so long,’’ says Sharon.

“We want to lend a hand to our farmers on their road to recovery and to future proof their farms and farm businesses.’’

Which means that what started out as a relatively short campaign to help struggling farmers will stretch out to three years.

“We will wait and see until next January,’’ says Sharon.

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