Truckie determined to lift station spirits

Visit a Farmer: Truckie determined to lift station spirits

Life & Style
SUPPORT DRIVE: Visit a Farmer founder Mal Highet says the charity cannot wait to get back out on the road and visit farmers in need.

SUPPORT DRIVE: Visit a Farmer founder Mal Highet says the charity cannot wait to get back out on the road and visit farmers in need.

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COVID-19 has ironically put the shackles on an initiative that aimed to reassure farmers they were not alone in recent hard times.

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COVID-19 has ironically put the shackles on an initiative that aimed to reassure farmers they were not alone in recent hard times.

But once restrictions are lifted, Visit a Farmer founder Mal Highet says their team will be back out on the road delivering hampers and supplies to those in need.

Mal founded the Menindee Water Run in January 2019 for Far West NSW landholders, who were running out of household water as the Darling River dried up.

"I grew up at Menindee, NSW, before moving to Adelaide 30 years ago," he said.

"But I always stayed in touch. So when I saw that people had run out of water and there were devastating fish kills, I put the call out on my personal Facebook for donations of water."

Mal said they worked really hard in those first few months and got up to delivering a road train of boxed water - 44,000 litres - to Menindee every month.

"We had to start a Menindee Water Run Facebook page because of the support. We now have 1400 followers," he said.

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Mal said they were lucky to form a relationship with Adelaide company Crystal Springs, which provided the boxed water at a discount.

A full-time truck driver for LCL Heavy Haulage, Mal was doing most of the transport himself, with the SA-based company donating the fuel.

"We started as a drive-thru at the Menindee pub," he said.

"The response was unbelievable, people were just so appreciative to receive a box of water. It was like we were in a third-world country.

"Young families were considering leaving the land because their children were getting sick from the water. It felt good to be able to keep them on their properties."

Australians need to start putting farmers first, because without them we wouldn't have food. - MAL HIGHET

But Mal said the task started to become a bit overwhelming.

"That was hard, because I was determined to keep providing these communities with clean water because it seemed like no one else was going to," he said.

That's when they started pushing for government assistance.

"The NSW government came to the party in May, and started paying for the water," Mal said. "We would do all the organising and they paid the bills."

They have since transported more than one million litres of water to Far West NSW, as well as helping SA pastoral landholders.

They have also received funding for new tanks and water filter installations.

"Even though there is now water in the Darling, it is still too dirty to use," Mal said.

"We won't stop delivering until it is (usable)."

It was in his trucking travels that Mal started hearing stories of Qld farmers not coping with the drought and taking their lives.

"I couldn't stand the thought of it getting that bad for anyone we had been visiting, or anyone else for that matter," he said.

"The drought was also taking a hold in northern SA and Far West NSW so it made me want to raise even more awareness of the hardships our farmers were going through."

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Mal said that's when the idea of Visit a Farmer came about.

"Farm life can be very isolated, even more so lately with COVID-19 restrictions, and often farmers can be too proud or put other people first," he said.

"Australians need to start putting farmers first, because without them we wouldn't have food.

"During the water runs, I could see people's spirits lift when we would come to visit, we would have a chat over coffee, have a laugh.

"I thought people needed to show their appreciation more, get out themselves and see how their local farmers were getting on.

"The rate of farmer suicide is out of control and I thought a little gesture like that could really help a family or farmer get through what was a really hard time."

Mal started the Visit a Farmer Facebook page in October to encourage members to "get out in the bush and say g'day to our people on the land doing it tough - thank them and be a mate".

They also started receiving donations, which enabled Mal's new team of four volunteers to deliver hampers and supplies to those in need.

"Olympic Trailers also helped part-fund a delivery trailer for us, which we were so appreciative of," he said.

Thankfully a few areas have had rain, but there are still a lot of people out there that need help. - Mal Highet

Their first deliveries went to farmers in the North East Pastoral region of SA.

"People were so grateful, we knew it had to continue," Mal said.

The Visit a Farmer Facebook page now has about 1300 followers.

They were dedicating one weekend a month to deliveries, which have also gone into Far West NSW and those hit by the summer bushfires.

Their last visit was to the Flinders Ranges in January, before coronavirus hit SA.

"We were able to send out some Easter eggs and return the favour to some RSLs on Anzac Day, but essentially the charity has come to a standstill," Mal said.

"It was really hard to stop because we had drought-affected stations that had been relying on tourism for their income, and then because of coronavirus, their bookings also dried up."

Mal said they were currently waiting on a registration number, delayed by COVID-19, to operate as a not-for-profit organisation because "we need to keep this thing going".

"Thankfully a few areas have had rain, but there are still a lot of people out there that need help," he said.

"This registration will enable us to do some serious fundraising."

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