VOICE FOR FARMERS: Local drought angel awarded in Canberra
Setting out to do everything in her power to stop struggling farmers from taking their lives, Drought Angels founder and director Natasha Johnston said winning Queensland’s Local Hero Award meant their tragedies had not been in vain.
Mrs Johnston won the prestigious award for the invaluable work she does through Drought Angels, an organisation she started in 2014 and has since played a vital role in keeping thousands of farmers on the land, and reducing rates of depression and suicide in country Australia.
“I’ve always said, if I can just save one life, then I’ve set out to do what I wanted,” she said.
Mrs Johnston was honoured at the Australian of the Year Award Ceremony in Canberra on Monday, January 25, where she received the Queensland Local Hero Award for 2021.
Her motivation to tackle drought and farmer mental health was fuelled after she encountered first-hand the devastating impacts drought can have on a family after a farmer in North West Queensland committed suicide.
Since then the grassroots Chinchilla-based organisation has assisted over 7000 farmers across 1166 towns in Australia, through a specialised service which provides a listening ear, financial assistance, and food hampers.
“I hope I can continue to be a voice for farmers, and give a voice to my farmer who took his life eight years ago – it wasn’t in vain, he’s helped save the countless lives of his colleagues,” she said.
“He was so entrenched in the drought and he saw no other way out than to take his own life,
I’m giving him a voice back, and to all our other farmers – please don’t take your own life, there are people who care about you more than you could ever imagine.”
“I love what I do, I love our farmers, and I see the importance in keeping them where they belong and safe, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be recognised for it.”
But with three quarters of Queensland still battling drought conditions, Mrs Johnston said there’s more work to be done.
“We may have had some rainfall, and the grass is green, but the financial and mental impacts of drought last for years – it’s not over,” she said.
The Bureau of Meteorology said Australia has been in the grips of drought for several years, with below average rainfall plaguing farmers since early 2017, warning rainfall deficits may continue “for some time”.
If you’re interested in donating your time, money, or non-perishable food and goods, call 4662 7371, or visit www.droughtangels.org.au for more information.
If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.