Huge demand for Rural Aid's counselling service

A Hunter counselling service for farming families has been so inundated with requests for a chat that it is already looking at expanding the service – less than a week after it started.

The demand is so strong that the four counsellors – two in the Lower Hunter and two in the Upper Hunter – are already booked out a week in advance and the demand is expected to skyrocket as news of the free service continues to spread. 

Rural Aid CEO Charles Alder said the huge uptake showed people on the land wanted to chat face-to-face in the comfort of their own home. 

He is already working on sourcing a counsellor for Dubbo, saying there would be a similar need in western NSW with the region suffering drought for more than two years. 

Water is in such short supply in some places that farmers have to offer guests a glass of juice to save the drinking water. 

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“It says there are a lot of people out there who either don’t have people that they can talk to in confidence, or that they are not knowing where to turn to find someone who can try to help them through their challenges,” he said. 

Counsellor Gary Bentley said farmers put their situation into a different perspective when they spoke about their problems, and many farming families were carrying tremendous burdens. 

COUNSELLOR: Gary Bentley is one of the Rural Aid counsellors.

COUNSELLOR: Gary Bentley is one of the Rural Aid counsellors.

He said farming was a somewhat isolated existence and farmers were often too time poor to go into town and look for types of assistance.

Others were too proud to speak out or admit they needed help. 

Quite often we’ve found farmers will feed their stock before they feed their families out of necessity because they need something to build on when the drought’s over,

Mr Bentley said.

“They take care of their stock first, then their family and then themselves.”

So why is it important to speak aloud?

“You can see if differently if you are hearing it and you can step back a little bit from it and then we can help them find solutions for the problems that they’ve got,” Mr Bentley said.

“It’s much easier to gauge someone’s reactions and to gauge the way they are thinking when you look into their face.

We are there to encourage people to find that strength within themselves to be able to find the answers, because there are answers out there for everybody.

Mr Alder said some farmer’s wives had sought out the service for advice after their husbands refused to access help from charities – even though their situation is dire. 

He approached one farmer and offered volunteers to rebuild his fences, which were pieces of string between posts, but the help was refused because the farmer felt there was someone worse off than him.

Others have spoken of the physical, mental and emotional toll of the daily feeding regime and the stress of trying to pay the bills, keep animals alive and put food on the table. Mr Alder urged farmers to reach out for help and accept it when it was offered. 

“The service is needed and eventually we hope to have it spread right across the country,” he said.

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