A convoy of nearly 30 trucks has helped deliver water and food as part of the Caring for our Farmers initiative in what has proven to be a life-changing journey for many of its volunteers last weekend.
Drivers and members of the road transport community have teamed up to carry 500,000 litres of water for people and stock in Coonabarabran and also delivered chemicals for neglected public swimming pools in time for the holidays.
Caring for our Farmers, an initiative organised by Mike Williams who is also known as the Oz Trucker, travelled from Sydney to Murrurundi, Coonabarabran and Baradine – places where tank water on properties is now a luxury for the very few who can ship it in from major cities.
The little bore water on sites has mostly evaporated.
Along with the 28 prime movers in the convoy was a rigid-bodied vehicle with Christmas gifts.
Williams works for UTH Tanker Hire, one of three Road Freight NSW members who volunteered their services for the Caring for our Farmers charity along with Lopez Bros and Formula Chemicals.
Formula Chemicals provided an Omni Tanker with 10,000L capacity and a flat bed with provision to carry 14,000L of potable drinking water, and offered to fill all the intermediate bulk tankers with 150,000 litres of water.
Main Construct, a small West Ryde-based independent company run by George Elias, donated 200kg of fresh vegetables
In addition to this the convoy brought with it 3000kg of food and drinks and Christmas presents destined for the Baradine CWA Food Pantry.
One of the volunteers was Leigh Smart, Road Freight NSW Chairman, who said the Formula team departed at 4.00am Saturday morning to rendezvous with the convoy at the twin Service Station at Wyong by 6.00am.
"At this stage we had 26 trucks ready to roll. I would like to thank Chief Inspector Phil Brooks from the Highway Patrol Command who organised his men to arrange safe exit from the site onto the highway," he recalled.
"Blue and red lights were flashing from five patrol cars which closed off the exit from the service station and a couple of cars directing the convoy onto the highway."
According to Smart it was a site to behold.
So too, for altogether different reasons, was the farm he came across outside of Baradine which left a long lasting impression on those who attended it.
A couple in their late 80s, Bill and Chris Munge, have been forced to get rid of most of their cattle save for 20 head. They had survived many droughts and lost their house in the 2011 fires that besieged the area.
Chris Munge was forced to give up her job as a nurse after being diagnosed with cancer.
Her husband, Bill, whose knees are shot, can no longer operate his tractor. He keeps it charged outside anyway.
"They were the nicest couple you would ever meet,” said Smart. “They kept saying give the water to someone else more deserving.”
This was common among the township: farmers refusing to take water who don’t have any in deferment to their community.
"We went out into their paddock to drop off 9000 litres of cattle water. Talking to them there wasn't a dry eye with any of my men. You wondered how they could survive under these adverse conditions," he said.
"Several times we just had to walk away as we were really taken back. It was an earth shattering moment for many of us."
Some farmers have not been able to make a normal tasting cup of tea in two years. Others had their first proper shower in years.
Another of the tanker drivers told of a desolate farm he called in on nearby where the farmer had been forced to shoot her dogs as she could no longer afford to feed them. She had lost her husband 20 years ago and was managing the huge property on her own.
There were other stories of heartbreak people dare not repeat.
Chris Smith of Sky News, who accepted an invitation from Williams to join the convoy, called it a "weekend of great generosity and hard work in the dust of drought-stricken Australia".
As the average farm stores a 25,000 litre water tank for the home, Williams figured one truck in the convoy could replenish at least one tank.
Collectively they achieved much more than that.
Lopez Bros, one of the companies to generously volunteer resources for the trip helped coordinate the convoy of 28 trucks and support crew. Ann Lopez considers it a major achievement in a career replete with accolades.
"It highlighted the generosity of our industry that so many wanted to give up their free time and show the farmers and families of the region that we care about them," she said.
Williams told Sky News that he was overwhelmed with the generosity and support from donors and volunteers but that it was only the start of a much bigger project.
"It's mission accomplished for this thing but more needs to be done," he said.
Smart, who also serves as Formula Chemicals Director, arranged for seven volunteers to come along on the convoy – all of whose lives have been changed for the experience.
They now, he said, look at things much differently.
“We heard stories of farmers who haven’t been able to brush their teeth with fresh water for years,” he said.
A young boy they came across, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, said he hoped Santa would bring him a block of chocolate.
“He was only eight years old. That’s all he wanted. We were able to give him a pack of Tim Tams.”
Formula Chemicals is already planning on returning to Baradine on the long weekend in January 2020.
Smart hopes to make it a family day as many of his staff want to bring along their kids to spend some more time in the country but also to help the next generation raised in the city to better understand the devastating impact of drought and its effects on many rural communities whose plights have been neglected by politicians and mainstream media.
He said the next trip will also be about carrying cash, so that everything purchased is bought locally to help stimulate the local economies. This will include plans to donate a 25,000L water tank for the town of Baradine.
"We want to keep the town alive by buying everything local," he said.
"This was a life changing event for everyone in my team. For those of us in the city we really don't know how lucky we really are."
As a specialist in containerised cargo, Sydney Sideloaders, keeps a hectic schedule working on the waterfront of one of the busiest ports in the world. To ensure its fleet of prime movers is revitalised and raring to go six days a week the company invests in the Agility Program from Mercedes-Benz Trucks.