Guyra CWA holds afternoon tea for women's mental health in the drought

FRIENDS: Mary Hollingworth, Marni Turner, Leonie Hawkins, Anne Starr, and Rebecca Smith, from Guyra's CWA. Photo: Nicholas Fuller
FRIENDS: Mary Hollingworth, Marni Turner, Leonie Hawkins, Anne Starr, and Rebecca Smith, from Guyra's CWA. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

A cup of tea and a chat could be vital to getting through the drought, Guyra CWA's Leonie Hawkins believes.

As part of CWA Awareness Week, Leonie organised an afternoon tea on Wednesday at Juneils Cafe, Bradley Street, so local women could talk about how the big dry is affecting them, the problems rural farmers face, and mental health. RAMHP (Rural Adversity Mental Health Program) sponsored the event.

While Wednesday's get-together was a one-off, Leonie encourages local women to come to the CWA, or socialise with their neighbours.

"We're just saying to people: 'Come and have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, and unload on each other.'"

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Many people, Leonie said, are close to despair. "You're looking out the window all the time, and you're not seeing a raincloud; you're not seeing green grass; and you're losing cattle here and there."

For Leonie, the worst thing is not knowing when the drought will end, and not being able to plan ahead. Forget next year; "You can't even plan what you're going to do next week, because you just don't know how bad it's going to get."

On her property at Pinkett, Leonie is using grey water to keep the plants in her garden alive, and minimising water use in the home so her family doesn't run out of household water. The dams are so low they've had to fence them off, so that cattle don't walk in, get bogged, and die. Some of the waters are too foul for the cattle to drink.

"You're feeding every second day, and then you're checking dams, you're checking cattle," Leonie said. "There's no time for anything else; there's no time to sit down and go to town."

Some women are reluctant to leave their husbands alone. One woman at the afternoon tea planned to attend a CWA meeting that night, but told Leonie she needed to go home and be with her husband.

"He needs to talk about his day, and I need to be there to listen to whatever he has to say."

Other wives feel they must go with their husbands when they feed their stock, whether the women have time to or not.

"Otherwise he's out there on his own," the wives told Leonie. "At least if I'm with him, he can talk to me; he can unload."

Windy days, Leonie said, are horrendous; they dry everything out. Then there's Guyra's water crisis.

"Running out of water in a town is just unheard of," Leonie said. "What's that all about? That's just stupid; it shouldn't be happening."

Any woman is welcome to come to the CWA's meetings. The evening branch meets at the GALA Centre, 136 Bradley Street, the first Wednesday of every month at 6pm. Contact Leonie Hawkins on 0408 207 664, or leoniehawkins782@gmail.com.

The Guyra branch meets on the last Friday of every month, 10am at the Uniting Church Hall, Ollera St. Contact Adela Healey on 6779 1546, or dellhealey@gmail.com.

"People are welcome to come," Leonie said. "They don't have to join; they can just come and unload, or just talk and have a cup of coffee and a laugh."

Another thing women can do, she suggested, is getting together with their neighbours. In Pinkett, all the women meet every four to six weeks to talk over a packet of biscuits and an instant cup of tea or coffee.

"It's hugely relieving to sit down and have a talk and a bit of a gossip," Leonie said. "We talk about what's happening on the news, or on The Bachelor. What are the kids doing? Who's had a baby? Who's had a divorce? Who's getting married? It's really very therapeutic."

To help drought affected families, the CWA of NSW also provides up to $3000 to each household through their Drought Aid Funds to help meet household expenses. These can include grocery bills, vehicle maintenance, school, electricity, rate instalments, telephone, dental and medical (gap payments or cost of travel to access treatment) for current expenses, paid and unpaid.

One CWA member suggested that people in towns - particularly one or two-person households - invite a family who live on the land to come to their house for dinner once a week, or to shower and wash their clothes. "When the drought's over, that family to whom you've put your hand out will pay you back tenfold."

"Just be kind to each other," Leonie said. "And just think about people on the land; think about things you can do for them. And buy Australian made, buy Australian grown."

  • Country Women's Association of New South Wales: www.cwaofnsw.org.au
  • Hunter New England Local Health District - Drought Support Program (free mental health and emotional support for farmers, farming families, local businesses, and service providers affected by drought): 0477 322 851, or email HNELHD-DroughtSupport@health.nsw.gov.au
  • Lifeline (24/7 confidential crisis support): 13 11 11 14
  • Beyond Blue (24/7 mental health counselling, support and referral assistance): 1300 224 636
  • Men's Helpline (24/7 information and referral services for men with family and relationship concerns): 1300 789 978 or www.mensline.org.au
  • Kids Helpline (young people 5-25 years old): 1800 55 1800