Dust storm swallows entire towns

 

A mother who captured incredible footage of a huge shroud of dust hitting her town in rural New South Wales says these "monsters" are the "new norm" for communities like hers.

On Sunday the state's central west was hit by a series of dust storms including Dubbo and Parkes.

Marcia Macmillan, who has lived at Mullengudgery, 27km east of Nyngan, since 2005 says the storms are taking a huge toll on residents.

"These monsters have sadly become our new norm, and they are just as corroding to our emotional and mental wellbeing as they are to the landscape," she told news.com.au "It's enormous. We've had five in the last week and they just keep rolling in.

 

Marcia Macmillan's daughter braves the dust storm.
Marcia Macmillan's daughter braves the dust storm.

 

"The relentless drought continues, and dust storms of this magnitude now wreak havoc and devastation every couple of days. They are so common that people continue going about their daily routine without taking much notice."

Because of the drought, there is no groundcover, so when the wind picks up it takes with it the topsoil, creating these dust storms. This is taking place every couple of days.

"Some of them actually last all day so you're just in it, constantly," she said.

Air quality is poor and respiratory issues are problematic. Those who work outdoors just do their best to cope.

Marcia Macmillan says dust storms hit Mullengudgery every couple of days. Picture: Marcia Macmillan
Marcia Macmillan says dust storms hit Mullengudgery every couple of days. Picture: Marcia Macmillan

Mrs Macmillan's husband manages a merino sheep stud and spends his days working outdoors.

"They go for kilometres. Photos can't even give the scale. While it looks horrific, it doesn't really show the scale what we are living through, sadly."

Mrs Macmillan said she grew up on a farm, but dust storms weren't a regular occurrence when she was a child. During this drought, however, they've become "the norm".

"They're not scary, they're just depressing," she said. "Some days you can't see anything outside and the dirt then sits in the atmosphere for days and settles over everything in the house."

She said photos don’t show the enormity of the storms. Picture: Marcia Macmillan
She said photos don’t show the enormity of the storms. Picture: Marcia Macmillan

"And when we're just looking out to parched country and the house is just brown inside again, well, it does eventually wear you down. Everyone's really trying to keep an optimistic outlook."

She has urged people to purchase products from country firms, from websites such as Buy from the Bush which focuses on businesses in areas facing drought.

Mrs Macmillan said the arid conditions have hurt cropping, forcing farmers to dip into buried fodder in order to sustain their animals.

In preparation for these dry conditions, thousands of bales of hay and tonnes of oats were stored underground. Some of the hay and oats had been buried for up to 30 years.

However, all of these supplies have now been exhausted and the farm has been buying feed since July 2019.

Mrs Macmillan said numbers in the community are fluctuating because families are having to move elsewhere to find work.

"Extra staff are being laid off on farms, forcing families to leave town. This then reduces the number of enrolments at school, that means the school has to transfer teachers, reducing the number of people in the community providing to the local services and so on … so it really does have a ripple effect. It's not just farming families who are being impacted," she said.

Mullengudgery hasn’t seen any significant rainfall recently. Picture: Marcia Macmillan
Mullengudgery hasn’t seen any significant rainfall recently. Picture: Marcia Macmillan

"Stock numbers here have dwindled as well. We're only running about 10 per cent of the cattle numbers we usually run. And I would say we are perhaps holding on to more than many others. Many other places haven't even been able to hold on to breeders, it's incredibly expensive to feed stock right now."

She said the community is not seeing any significant rainfall.

"We usually get 400mm a year, but we've received less than a quarter of that over the last couple of years," she said.

The weather bureau had forecast significant widespread thunderstorms for this area last week, however, they were not as widespread as they thought. Inaccurate forecasting creates a false sense of hope. This is not only disheartening, but also increases stress.

 

Mrs Macmillan said the storms are “depressing”. Picture: Marcia Macmillan
Mrs Macmillan said the storms are “depressing”. Picture: Marcia Macmillan

 

Whilst every shower of rain lifts spirits, it will take consistent falls to have a positive impact. It really will take many years for the country and people's confidence to recover from this drought - it has now been going for too long.

"Conditions in the country are often tough and growing up in the bush, you know that. It's a beautiful place but it's really hard to enjoy the beauty at the moment. Everyone is doing their best to keep a level of optimism and humour, but it just wears you down."

It's important to continue the conversation about our country's drought and those living through it. We don't want to be forgotten.

 

The Buy From The Bush website allows people to buy products directly from communities that are affected by drought.

A dust storm rolls into Canowindra on Sunday. Picture: Jamie Anderson
A dust storm rolls into Canowindra on Sunday. Picture: Jamie Anderson
Social media images show huge dust storm rolling over towards Parkes in NSW. Picture: Instagram
Social media images show huge dust storm rolling over towards Parkes in NSW. Picture: Instagram


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