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81-year-old farmer Gwen tells tales of heartbreak on the land

: Gwen Rogers is 81 years old and going strong.
: Gwen Rogers is 81 years old and going strong. RACQ

FROM watching her herd of 10,000 drought-stricken sheep slowly diminish, to nursing her husband as he lost his battle to lung cancer, 81-year-old Gwen Rogers has battled through the highs and lows of living on the land.

Left on her own to manage Glenden Station, just outside of Longreach, Gwen is determined to restock her property now the drought has eased and the rain has fallen.

The path to getting her beloved Glenden back on its feet is no small task, but the memories the property holds for Gwen are irreplaceable.

Originally from Alton Downs, Gwen grew up on a farm but instead of "going into a bank job" as her family wanted, she went out west as a governess so she could "stay in the country" and that's how she met her husband.

"We got married and we moved to Glenden in 1958 and we've been here ever since. We were into sheep mainly and Mark (Gwen's husband) used to get good lambing here," Gwen explained.

"But we lost the use of the shearing shed so we moved into cattle. We got an additional area and we put the sheep on the additional area and bred the cattle at Glenden.

"Then Mark got seriously ill. He had a series of bad health from 2006 and the drought was on."

Shortly after Mark fell ill it was forecast the drought was going to be sticking around for a while longer so they decided to sell the cattle. But with the help of one of her son's, Gwen talked her husband into saving a bull, two cows and two calves.

"That's all I've got left now," Gwen said of the cattle.

The drought worsened, along with Mark's condition, and soon the herds of sheep began to suffer as well.

"My husband was too sick to use the chainsaw. He used to saw the branches off the tree and I'd rake them out for the sheep - he wasn't able to do that anymore," Gwen said.

"So we couldn't sell them (the sheep) because they'd got poor.

"They got so poor you couldn't truck them away anyhow, they were too poor to travel.

"Slowly we lost them all. We were given donated hay but it was that big heavy stuff that the cattle used to chew on.

"It wasn't very good for the sheep. They just walked away and laid down and died, the whole lot of them."

Gwen and Mark's beloved sheep had been diminishing over the years and the lambings hadn't been so good, so their stock numbers reduced from 10,000 right down to about three.

Even though the drought has eased, the struggles and hardships that come with it are far from over.

Gwen's next task is to restock the station, which has proved difficult thanks to the dingos that now call Glenden home as well.

"Now, because the dingos have moved out into our area, I have to have a dingo fence put up before I can buy any sheep back.

"My neighbour next door bought some sheep after the first lot of rain.

"He lost four in the first night to the dingos.

"He had to pen them up and look after them until he could sell them again because he just wasn't going to let them go to the dingos.

"I can't bring the sheep back until I get this dingo fence up, you see, and once we get the dingo fence up we form the cluster of four properties here.

" We get those four properties enclosed, we then have to get the dingos trapped that are inside the fence before we can bring stock back."

One of the major problems the drought left behind was the financial cost that comes with reviving properties so they run how they used to, in particular restocking.

"Everybody is wanting to restock but there aren't the sheep numbers to do it and it will prove to be very expensive to buy them back.

"At the moment there's just no income. Everyone's taking on extra jobs and doing other things to try and raise funds but because I'm so far out of town it's difficult for me to find a way to raise money, until I can get this fence up and get some sheep back," Gwen said.

"Restocking the sheep is the most important thing for the district because it brings back the shearers, the shed hands, the musters, the classers, the wool pressers. So many people are involved with the shearing industry and we don't want our towns to fail.

"In town there are so many houses empty at the moment... That's why we are trying to get back into the sheep again."

Gwen said despite the hardships of the drought, the support which came from the town people was nothing short of amazing.

"It's been wonderful that so many of the town folk and city folk know what our plight is like and they've been sending out vouchers and donations.

"A petrol card and a food card are the most valuable things out.

"I'm lucky in a way because I don't have school children to worry about with their education, food and clothing."

But no matter how terrible the circumstances were, Gwen's love for the land never wavered.

"You think 'oh the heat's terrible, the drought's terrible' but then it rains and the country's beautiful immediately and you think 'oh this is great' and you forget all about selling."

Now thanks to the recent downpours out west, Gwen's place is looking the best it has in five, almost six, years.

"The country is so beautiful at the moment. It's full of wildflowers and it's green as England.

"We're getting what's like a wet season at the moment and we haven't had a wet season for years.

"Wet seasons usually come in February but this one's coming at the beginning of spring, which should bring up all of the grass seed again to restore the country. It's almost as if it's been sent to help recover the land ."

With the rain bringing relief, Gwen has been reminded of why she loves the outback so much.

"I just love the outdoors. You can walk out of your house out here and leave it open, you don't have to lock up. I have terrible trouble with locks," she laughed.

"I'm on my own here now. My husband passed at the beginning of this year.

"All last year I was tied up nursing him because he had lung cancer and he lost his voice and the only way to get my attention was to clap. He clapped his hands and I would have to come running to see what the problem was.

"I miss my husband and his advice and his hug, but I now use the radio and the TV in the kitchen all the time for company."

Gwen has a treasure trove of memories tied up in Glenden Station and wants to leave the property in good hands when she can no longer take care of it on her own.

"I'm just sad that none of the family want to come back out here.

"They're all used to the coast now and are all settled in with their families along the coast line, except for one.

"My neighbour who had worked with us in the shearing shed during shearing time and mustering, he wants to buy it and because he's been through the drought too I want to hang on and get this property up on its feet before I go into town to live.

"When I can't drive to town anymore I will move in there and sell this block to him.

"I take comfort that it will be in good hands."

Topics:  drought, farming, longreach, rural


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