With a big heart for helping those doing it tough on the land, Mal Highet and a number of volunteers have been delivering water, supplies and friendship to farming communities over the past 18 months.
Highet, a full-time truck driver for LCL Heavy Haulage based in Adelaide, initiated the Menindee Water Run in January 2019 to help Far West NSW landholders who were running out of household water as the Darling River dried up.
Having grown up at Menindee beside the banks of the Darling before moving to Adelaide 30 years ago, Highet said he had maintained contact with people in the district and when he found out they were running out of water he put the call out via his personal Facebook page for donations of water.
An Adelaide-based water company, Crystal Springs, came onboard and provided boxed water at a discounted price enabling Highet to deliver a road train load of boxed water – 44,000 litres – to Menindee every month. He did most of the driving himself, with his employer, Peter Taylor, donating the fuel and providing use of the prime mover on weekends.
“We started as a drive-thru at the Menindee pub,” said Highet.
“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 help keep them on their properties.
“We started a Menindee Water Run Facebook page because of the support. We now have 1,400 followers,” he said.
Australians, according to Highet, need to start putting farmers first "because without them we wouldn't have food". Also, with the cost burden starting to become a bit overwhelming, he began pushing for government assistance.
“The NSW government started paying for the water in May last year, so since then we have done all the organising and the government has paid the bills,” he said.
Highet and his team has since transported more than one million litres of water to Far Western NSW, as well as helping South Australian pastoralists.
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,” said Highet. “We won't stop delivering until it is fit for purpose.”
It was during a trip to Queensland that Highet heard the devastating story of a Queensland farmer who had lost everything due to the drought and consequently taken his own life. He said that’s when the idea of Visit a Farmer came to him.
“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.
“I thought people needed to show their appreciation more, get out themselves and see how their local farmers were getting on.
Highet 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”.
He also started receiving donations, which enabled the 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,” said Highet.