DROUGHT and FIRE: Farmers Need Your Help More Than Ever


Drought and fires are lashing many parts of Australia with devastating effect.

This is true for Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt, however, against all odds, the community is fighting for its very survival as the area runs dry of water.

For Russell Wantling, it was a chance encounter with a family undertaking a third-world-country act that kicked him into gear to start Granite Belt Water Relief.

“One afternoon I was driving home from work, and I went across the top of the old water storage, Storm King Dam, and there’s a family there with a bucket of water,” Russell Wantling explained in the podcast above.

“I would say there was a couple of kids and the father standing on the back of the ute bucketing water – and I just sort of stopped and had a bit of a talk to him and asked what was going on.

“And then they said that he couldn’t afford to buy water and there’s a token also, you could pay $170 to get a key to access water – the family couldn’t afford it.

“He said, ‘There’s nothing I could do.’

“And he said, that dam water they’re bucketing, you know, using to wash and do whatever.

“To sustain – and I just went home and said to Samantha, ‘We need to do something’, you know, maybe being in the transport industry (we) sort of know a few people.

“So, I started just seeing what I could do, and Samantha did her part as well.

“So… that’s how it started.”

Now Granite Belt Water Relief has hundreds of people, businesses and organisations volunteering to source and pump water. This water is saving the lives of people, pets, and livestock.

Russell, his wife and the community volunteers involved in the Granite Belt Water Relief have committed to the initiative for ‘as long as it takes’.

Further, Russel encouraged everyone to come out and take a look at the Granite Belt Water Relief in action.

“Because if you come out and experience that then you’d be able to go back and tell people exactly what’s going on,” Mr Wantling concluded.

Read the podcast interview with Russell Wantling from Granite Belt Water Relief TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1: Thank you very much for your company once again, I’m Andrew McCarthy-Wood. Look, it’s no secret, it’s been widely reported. You can see it for yourself if you go for a little bit of a drive into a regional Queensland, there’s a devastating drought right now and it’s affecting everybody. And even people that may not realise it have been affected, but that effect may actually come down the line a little bit later and people will realise it. [Daryl 00:00:27] And I have been talking about this extensively, and some of those effects, while they’re immediate, as farmers that are experiencing real issues with water supply, everything from their own drinking water supply, right through to for the cattle.
And the reason why that’ll effect everybody is that cattle and farming and that, that comes to crops as well, it’s such a big part of our economy. We may not have totally realised that right across the regions yet, or across the country, but give it time and it will, even if it rains right now. We’ve been having those conversations, it’s going to take time for feed to grow again, for waterways to become safe to drink from again. All of those sorts of things.
Now the farmers that are really up against it, they have been really taking the brunt of this drought, and they took it very early on and they’ve been taking it for quite some time. They’ve exhausted their income, their cashflow and all of that sort of stuff just to sustain the cattle they may have had, the cattle and the crop that they may have had. Trying to, as they do, their forecast, they expect rain to come so they may be looking at their crop and trying to sustain that through to the next lot of rain, and then harvesting, and it’s just been unrelenting at this stage.
Daryl, to have a chat about it. You’re on the line, there is a person that’s really stepped up to the plate to help out those farmers, just immediately, and you and I have both visited this gentleman and the operation that he’s got, and it’s really something to see, isn’t it?

Daryl Nicholson: It is mate, and I want to introduce Russell [Wantley 00:01:59]. And Russell. Thanks for your time today. I really do appreciate it. How are you going?

Russell W: Yeah, good thanks. Hello everyone.

Daryl Nicholson: That’s good. Yeah. Mate, Russell, started… Look, I’ll get Russell to tell the story, but Russell’s in charge and with his wife Samantha, and they’ve got a little not-for-profit going there, a charity: Granite Belt Water Relief. Russell, tell us how you came about getting together everything and every Saturday, supplying water to people of Stanfield that are really in dire need. Tell us how that all came about with the Granite Belt Water Relief.

Russell W: One afternoon I was driving home from work and I went across the top of the old water storage, Storm King Dam, and there’s a family there with a bucket of water. I would say there was a couple of kids and the father standing on the back of the U-Haul bucketing water and all just sort of stopped and had a bit of a talk to him and asked what was going on. And then they said that he couldn’t afford to buy water and there’s a token also, you could pay $170 to get a key to access water and scantle and he couldn’t afford it. He said “There’s nothing I could do.” And he said, no bucket of water that dam water they’re bucketing, you know, using to wash and do whatever. To sustain and I just went home and said to [Samantha 00:03:13], “We need to do something,” you know, maybe been in the transport industry or sort of know a few people. So I started just see what I could do and Samantha done her part as well. So you know, we just, and that’s how it started.

Speaker 1: Russel. For that person to come across that family. Well they’re bucketing water and they’re telling you that they’re using that for washing themselves and whatever else that’s, that’s before it’s been processed. So that’s the desperation. That’s where they’ve got to, they’re taking non potable water at that point just to survive.

Russell W: Yeah. It’s pretty sad, especially with the kids, you know, it was pretty sad and it’s happening all the time. You know at the moment where the charity, I think this Saturday we, we sort of, we usually open two days a week. We’re at Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. This Saturday I’ll think we’ll have over about 190,000 litres we have to give out. That’s how many people have booked in for water.

Speaker 1: Wow.

Russell W: Yeah, it’s incredible. It’s a bit of a worry sort of anyone who’s had a little bit of money to spend on Christmas and all that. I think by the middle of January we’re going to see a big problem around here with a lot of things. We’d give out a bit of food as well as a lot of people who don’t have food. Yeah. It’s pretty sad.

Speaker 1: Russell, can you paint a bit of a picture because we’ve got a lot of listeners that may be in city areas. They turn the tap on, water comes out. It’s clear they don’t know and it’s you know, maybe no fault of their own, but they just don’t realise maybe what’s happening and yeah, look at those regions. Can you paint a picture as to what it actually looks like when it comes to water right now?

Russell W: Anyone who lives outside the Standfield area, you probably heard a lot of the stories. I think the government gave money I think $1000 a month to the Southern Ends Regional Council to cut and transport water. It’ll work up to Standfield, but you hear about these day water on a day, or whatever it is with water. Anyone who lives outside of the Stanfield area who isn’t hooked up to a reticulated system, or hooked up to the town water, they’ve been out of water for months. So they have no water at all. If they’ve got a few barriers, a few stock they’re trying to hold on to, there is no access to any stock water whatsoever.

Speaker 1: So when you’re, you know, like you mentioned, these bookings are increasing to come and pick up water from the organisation that you’ve got set up, what are the conversations that you’re having with those people as you’re filling those vessels up with water?

Russell W: Oh, it’s a pretty sad, we’ve had a lady coming in, we have a few, but one lady come in there one day, she was sort of a preop state. We all sort of keep an eye on him cause lot of locals as volunteers, we’ve got about 30 or 40 and we just sort of ask them how they going and if any of them are sort of, you get to know people. They tell us “Ah, you know, it’s a bit hard,” and we ask them to come in and just show them the food and a lot of them are broken down. And one girl actually come in and she said the kids, she hadn’t had any work for three weeks in the last three or four days, the kids had just been eating biscuits.

Speaker 1: Wow.

Russell W: Yeah, it was pretty upsetting. I followed our people there, and we just, we have fuel vouchers and washing vouchers and these sort of things. So we would try to help them to get them moving again and then send them to the right people because a lot of these people are people that wouldn’t usually be in this predicament. They sort of are working class people that … I suppose the drought doesn’t discriminate. These people are stuck in a position where they’ve just lost their jobs because I think they said a third of the population don’t have a sustainable income in the Grey Belt area at the moment.

Daryl Nicholson: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Can we talk about that a little bit further because I have heard the … I guess it’s just, you know, people maybe don’t understand the depth it is, but you’re talking about families that are multigenerational on those properties, aren’t you? You’re not talking about somebody that’s a hobby farmer and maybe they’ve got a couple of acres just to out of the city, they have their day job, they go out there. They keep their happy animals together and they might seem the odd one off to slaughter or maybe you know, a couple of tomatoes that they grow on a weekend. They might take to the market. This is where, it’s their livelihood and they’re professionals in their industries, yeah?

Russell W: Yeah. I suppose everyone knows the Grandville is a massive horticulture industry down here and yeah, there’s a lot of growers issue that didn’t have water. They carted water last year to carry thim through with tankers. And this year a lot of them decided not to grow because it’s unaffordable at the moment. There was a, couple that were growing and they’re trying to get through because they have still got to pay the bills and trying to keep people employed. But there’s a lot that just didn’t bother, or a few haven’t bothered this year, you know. And that means all them people are out of work as well or involved with that. Yeah. So there’s a lot of farmers, a lot of big graziers that have had to get rid of all their stock or they trying to just hold on with that few breeder that are left. And us having that stock water sort of helps. We’re just trying to help everyone just get through, you know, that’s what we’re up to anyway .

Speaker 1: And so you’re not just putting water in the tanks. You’re also keeping an eye on the community, standing connected with the community, and also just gently keeping an eye on the mental health that those people that are coming in, so in a round about way would you say that this has become it’s own connected community just through necessity?

Russell W: Yeah. It’s surprising. I didn’t expect it to become what it is. It’s actually a lot larger, both [inaudible 00:09:10] and I thought. There was a little Christmas presents done either Christmas because we knew a lot of people wouldn’t have had a Christmas, so we got a lot of them donated. There was hands donated and different things to help them get through and we brought about $4,000 worth of these buy local cards and we handed them out as well so that they could go and buy things locally to keep the money turning around in the town to keep people in work as well. Yeah, so we just try to keep everything local as much as we can to just keep everything ticking over, like you said.

Speaker 1: Darryl, you’ve been on the ground, you’ve gone out and check this out. I’ve seen a couple of live streams that you’ve broadcasted from the depot where this water is being pumped into those vessels. What have you been seeing?

Daryl Nicholson: Mate, I was out there on a Saturday and caught out there and spoke to some answering organisers, this podcast with Russell. Mate, look, the sausage sizzle there. It’s amazing when people come and just get a piece of bread with some sausage and knowing all the smiles on their faces, giving them the vouches. A guy turned up the other day and he went up to Samantha and he just said, “Can I help?” He said “I’d like to volunteer.” And his name is [Mervin 00:10:23] And Samantha took his dates up, so he’s starting again. He’s going to help next Saturday. Because [inaudible 00:10:29] Russell because New Year’s Day, he’ll be the second operation on Saturday so you have to have a day off I guess. And one of the things, I just don’t want this to go off the radar because I sat down with Russell at a friend’s place and I said, “How long are you going to do this for Russell?” He said, “As long as it takes.”
And, look, they’re getting volunteers there, the trucks are coming in with water and people are dropping water off and if you can’t experience like you have Andrew, like when we went in and did grazing on the granite build. I say we’ll go up to the depot and have a look.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Daryl Nicholson: You’ve saw the videos that until you actually see those pumps going and then the forklifts running and the people arriving, the convoy of trucks that have come [inaudible 00:11:07] coming in with their pods. It’s just an incredible sight and I just want to really promote to just ask the people out there, there is an account number that they can drop some money in to help buy these vouchers for people and it’s BSB, is 633000 it’s BSB 633000 and the account number is 16878364 that’s 16878364 and Russell, I’m sure that money trickling through will certainly help you keep this thing going until you need to keep going bc unless you get a couple hundred mills around in February, it’s not going to be a drought breaker, is it?

Russell W: No, no. Actually, even if we got right now, we are, as everyone knows, we get a pretty hard winner in Standtill, and nothing sort of moves too much. So I want to probably till spring until the employment sort of probably starts again with the farmers starting to plant again. You know? And at the moment I think we’re bringing in about 12 truck loads a week of water-

Daryl Nicholson: Wow.

Russell W: Yeah. And there’s some amazing people out there. Some of these transport companies, are just, you know, he’s amazing. I don’t know where to start, there’s so many of them that are just being so good to us and you know, they’re only doing this for cost or off their own back, you know, and it’s amazing. It’s just amazing how many people pulling together and actually helping us. And that’s what I think will get us through. You know, we’ve got a way to go though.

Speaker 1: You’ve got a way to go. Yeah. Go for it Daryl.

Daryl Nicholson: It can be reassured that Andrew, with [inaudible 00:12:42] and myself with Stanfill 4380 TV, we’re going to really promote this until it needs to stop. You know, we’re with you mate, and I really appreciate everything you’re doing out there.

Russell W: Yeah, no, thanks very much. Thank you for all your help. You know, and if anyone wants to come up and just have a look or wants to volunteer from anywherem you know, just come up and give us a hand and I think and sort of get an insight into what’s actually going on.

Speaker 1: That’s a really good point that you make Russell, because just going on from what Daryll was saying, like we had seen a number of Daryll’s live streams and to actually go at there yeah, you’re entirely correct. Like you see the forklifts zipping around, I’m pretty sure it was you Russell that was on it at the time and you’ve got the mechanics of everything moving so efficiently and quickly and there just seems to be this sense of urgency right across her. But what you’re really, for some reason it just doesn’t come through in those live streams. It’s something that you’ve got to go out there and pretty well stand there and just take in the … and I don’t want to make, you know, people sound like they’re charity cases in any way, shape or form. These are intelligent, well-researched people that are professionals in their industries. They have had an unprecedented weather event where there just is not rain, there’s no sight of rain at this point in time, they’ve exhausted everything else so they haven’t just gone, “Hey, let’s just do this just in case.” They’ve already got past that. They bought a water in that they can. The story that we heard earlier, they had no money left. The only thing that was left to them was a little probably 50 cent bucket and they’re trying to get water out of the dam.
Now, far out, we’re not in a third world country. Let’s fix this. Let’s all jump in as a community. Probably good that to an extent the government’s staying out of this or be it can get in and support and maybe show up at a leadership, but this is really time for the community to step up and for those people that are listening to this that are maybe out in the city and going, “Huh? But when I turn my tap on, water comes out,” get your backside into a car, go for a drive out there. Russell has invited you to come out and take a look at it. And then don’t just stand there and gawk at it. Do something. Help out.

Russell W: Yeah. And you know, and everyone’s quite welcome. They all want to tell this story because they feel like they’re sort of being let down, there’s so many of them that have a story to tell and it’s just, you know, the help that they say is available is not available, you know, I don’t know what’s going on, but you know, it’s not being rude, but it shouldn’t take us to do this. We have no problem doing it. But I had another lady, who comes in each week and she told me she cries every time she drives in because the kids keep that poney for one more week, you know, and its just water for the kids, for their poney, one more week, because I don’t really have that much at the moment as it is. You know, it’s pretty hard going for all the families. So I’m going just trying to help them as much as we can.

Speaker 1: Russell, if the farmers were to just pack it up and go and find a job on the East coast, in the cities and that, what would that do to Australia in your view? You’re out there, you’re in the middle of it. You see it.

Russell W: Oh yeah. Mate, it would be serious. The towns that die, like a lot of these small towns, that’s why we sort of done it because we’re locals, lived on, fifth or sixth generation in size, my wife and we know that how how a small community like this works. You know the money does go around and the jobs do as well. So you’ve got to keep it just ticking over. Look, it’ll rain again. You know what are the kids saying? We’re a day closer.

Speaker 1: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [crosstalk 00:16:25] yeah. So with these transport companies and all of the other organisations that have been stepping up to the plate, giving their time, giving their resources, giving money, in a lot of cases. They deserve a massive thanks. You’ve got a Facebook page where you share a lot of this. Can you tell us about it?

Russell W: Yeah, we try to be as transparent as we could to make everyone see exactly where the money’s going and what’s happening and what we’re doing so that everyone can actually see what’s going on. And you’ll see the transport companies like all the way from Lindsey’s transport. They’re a pretty big company and they’ve been really good, you know, all the bottled water they’ve been bringing it up for free, you know, and Pat [McGuire’s 00:17:08] is another company, you know, they, they bring on 40,000 litres of stock water each week. You know, boots, transport. They do as well. Steve [Walters 00:17:17], who brings up six or seven lines a week. A lot of people have heard of George [Dean 00:17:21], old George. He’s really good. You know, George will bring up her few loads, three, four loads, whatever a week we need as well. I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten any others. There’s just so many of them that just help us so much, you know? Yeah. There’s just so many companies.

Daryl Nicholson: And you’re going to New Year’s Eve batch Russell with a lot of your plain out there at the interclub so tickets are still available to support the Granite Belt.

Russell W: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. We got that fundraiser tomorrow night. I think it is, yeah so it should be good, but yeah, I just want to say, anyone who wants to come out me and yeah because if you come out and experience that then you’d be able to go back and tell people exactly what’s going on. And it’s not just the Granite Belt, there’s a lot of places, this drought’s spreading, you know, and there’s so many places now that are sort of starting to run out of water. And if we get an idea, maybe the government or someone will get off their asses and do something about it.

Speaker 1: Russell, succinctly put, thank you very much for your time with our listeners.

Russell W: Good on you, mate. Thanks for the airtime, mate. Thanks everyone.

Daryl Nicholson: Thanks Russell, happy New Year.

Russell W: Yes, same for you mate.