Failed Harvest Ouyen, Victoria// A farmer situated 20km north of Ouyen in northwestern Victoria ponders yet another failed harvest. A combination of the dry conditions and frost damage means that another season has passed by without a good yield. How many more months of these conditions will his property – and livelihood – endure?
Rodney Dekker travels throughout rural NSW and victoria and returns with vivid images of the dry and dusty interior of a country in crisis.
Melbourne-based Environmental scientist turned photographer Rodney Dekker spent much of the last year focusing his lens on the serious plight of Australian farmers.
The result is a powerful look at regions of rural Australia ravaged by the harsh drought conditions that have threatened farmers, crops and livestock. “I have a strong interest in documenting social and environmental stories,” says Dekker. “On a series of separate road trips since December 2006 I photographed various aspects of drought in NSW and Victoria. It was very interesting to meet the farmers and try to understand what they’re going through – they have very different perspectives on the causes of the drought, for example. Some blame climate change. Others take the view, ‘We’ve had droughts before, we’ll have them again – that’s just life in the country.’”
Dekker’s dramatic, documentary style images illustrate the consequence of drought and how farmers depend on water to grow crops and feed livestock. With empty reservoirs, dry watercourses, scant pasture and little soil moisture, farmers are increasingly finding themselves with failed harvests. They’re having to feed livestock with grain or relocate them. The last resort is to sell and lose generations of breeding. Dekker’s Drought project was the winner of online image library Roving Eye’s “Expose Your World” competition for 2007, but that’s certainly not the first – nor likely the last – of Dekker’s accolades. His images have been published in numerous papers and magazines, he was a finalist of the prestigious Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize for 2007 and he won Capture Magazine’s Exposed Challenge in the same year, as well as appearing in several photographic exhibitions around the country.
With a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Science, Dekker is completing a Masters Degree in Environmental Analysis and International Development and has secured a grant to photograph the effect of sea level rise on island communities – and seeks further funding for this documentary project. Dekker is also an active participant of the collaborative Beyond Reasonable Drought photography project, some part of which you will see published here. For more info on Dekker and his work, check out www.rovingeye.com and www.rodneydekker.com
Deep Cracks Castlemaine, Victoria// Giant cracks in the parched earth at the virtually empty Upper Coliban Reservoir near Castlemaine. Its capacity is 37,480 megalitres, but it was holding just 50 at the time of my visit. Bloody dry and probably the most impressive cracks and the emptiest reservoir I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many).
Sheltering Sheep Hillston, NSW//A flock of sheep takes shelter from the harsh sunlight in this abandoned house near Hillston. Livestock across the country is being sold at an alarming rate simply to avoid the crippling costs of feeding and maintaining them. Water availability is everything to Australian farmers.
Stony Creek Reservoir Victoria//
Stony Creek Reservoir Victoria//One of the bleak towers of the Stony Creek Reservoir system. The reservoir supplies water to the city of Geelong, and at the time Geelong was on Stage 4 water restrictions. With dam levels low across the nation, water storage was at around a quarter of its capacity for the total Geelong region. This reservoir in particular was about 40 percent full.
Cattle Run Nyngan District, NSW//A truck driver helps a farmer and his wife move his cattle herd onto a truck. Herds are transported north to Queensland where grazing feed is more readily available – a process called agistment. If it doesn’t rain soon, this farmer will be forced to sell the cattle and lose four precious generations of breeding.
Lightning and fire Lake Brewster, NSW//Lightning ignited a fire within the empty Lake Brewster about 40km east of Hillston, central NSW. This fire burnt 3000 to 4000 acres of livestock grazing land. Grading on both sides of the burnt-out electric fence acted as a firebreak and helped extinguish the fire, along with the efforts of locals and fire brigades.
Cattle Farmer Nyngan District, NSW//This farmer’s eyes tell of the hardship he has experienced from the ongoing drought in NSW. Laughlin Ross is a fourth generation grazing farmer. To lose the particularly high quality of this breed of cattle stock he and his family have nurtured down the years will be devastating. Laughlin’s last really good rain was seven inches in November 2000. He has optimistically named his two cattle dogs “Rain” and “Sky”.
The Girl in the Reservoir Laanecoorie, Victoria//A young girl plays in Laanecoorie Reservoir near Bendigo. The reservoir had almost totally dried up, but a few days before I arrived there’d been some rain – bringing the capacity from nine to 11 percent. There was a family there, playing in the cracked mud, spending the day together at their version of the beach.