Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Semi-trailers carrying more hay to struggling bushfire affected farmers around the Inverell LGA will soon see a convoy on the horizon, with the Aussie Hay Runners returning to the area this weekend. 

Peter Sandral from nearby Tingha is the Hay Runners on the ground coordinator for Inverell. He said two runs are planned, and the first convoy of 30 trucks should reach Ashford on February 23, where they will be unloaded the following morning. A second group of 24 trucks will be dispatched to reach Inverell next Friday, and unload on March. 2. Altogether, the 54 trucks will be carrying almost 1,900 large squares of round bale for disaster affected farmers. 

Peter said the donated hay from Victoria was a lifeline for farmers in the region, who have had to deal with dry conditions and bushfires. Ashford especially has been hard hit. 

“They just haven’t had the rain out there, and then they had the fires back in December; it was classified as a disaster area, so the biggest portion of the hay will go out to Ashford,” he said. 

“The trucks will arrive toward the evening, the drivers will stay the night, and then the next morning, they will unload, and the trucks will go on their merry way.” 

Not just a couple of bales

Ashford local and on-the-ground Hay Runners coordinator Susannah Simpson said farmers in the area have been doing it very tough of late, dealing with the aftermath of multiple disasters. First a drought, then bushfires tore through the area, taking out the remaining grass country, leaving little to no feed, just paddocks. 

Without the intervention of the Aussie Hay Runners, Susannah believes many of the farmers would likely have been forced to sell in a very bad cattle market, to the point they would have been near giving them away. 

“People around here have been overwhelmed with the care and support from Aussie Hay Runners,” she said. 

“They have come in not with just a band aid approach, but an absolute strategy of applications and campaign of hay that has really stood all the fire affected landholders right up on their feet.” 

Generosity that reduces some to tears

The Aussie Hay Runners have made several prior trips to the region in the wake of disasters. Linda Widdup, founder of the community-driven group and second-generation farmer herself, said the hay runners would continue to help as long as she had breath in her body.

“These farmers have resilience and strength like you wouldn’t believe; many are struggling though; it’s our aim to help as many as possible, as best we can,” Linda said. 

Many of the farmers are in dire straits when the hay runners reach them. However, Linda said regardless of the tough conditions, the farmers still show a warm generosity that can, and has, reduced the truck drivers delivering the hay to tears.

“A lot of them have nothing, but even in their darkest moments, farmers still show limitless generosity.”

“They don’t know our drivers from a bar of soap but still offer what hospitality they can: tea, coffee, cake; they truly are the salt of the earth,” Linda said. 

“One of our drivers nearly started bawling when he came to the farm, and the farmer’s wife immediately went down to squeeze some eggs out of the hens as a way to thank him for the hay delivery.” 

All powered by donations and volunteers

According to the Aussie Hay Runners Facebook page, they have completed at least 25 runs with 844 trucks travelling over 1.9 million kilometres to deliver 30,399 hay bales. Overall, Aussie Hay Runners estimate 2,659 farmers and counting have received hay during the trips.  

Linda says the Aussie Hay Runners has been built up from a small operation of four trucks and a few utes to over 60 trucks, all thanks to a growing number of volunteers and local community groups giving a helping hand. The NSW Rural Assistance Authority and Lions Clubs across rural Victoria and  NSW are both key support structures for the operation. 

“Our team is made up of everyday people donating time and coming together as a community to help those in need after the effects of natural disasters,” Linda said.

“We take a lot of pride in what we do, and helping our fellow Aussies is what we are all about; 100% of donations that we receive go toward purchasing hay,” she added. 

Anybody else interested in helping, donating, or finding out when the next hay runs are scheduled can check out the “Aussie Hay Runners” Facebook page.

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