This weekend clubs across the National Rugby Championship (NRC) will come together in support of Rural Aid, with funds being raised for farmers currently suffering the impact of the ongoing drought.
For the Bond University Queensland Country squad, it’s an important cause that is close to home for many of the players.
Harry Hoopert hails from a grain farm out at Jondaryn west of Toowoomba, Harry Wilson’s family runs a cattle property outside of Esk in the Lockyer Valley, Will Dearden’s home town of Warwick is currently on water restrictions and Hamish Stewart’s family runs a stud farm near Wyreema on the Darling Downs.
“Dad started a thoroughbred breeding farm in 1979, and ever since then he’s been building an empire based around quality thoroughbreds,” said Stewart.
“We’re on about 2000 acres just past Wyreema, about 25 minutes from Toowoomba.
“We carry about 150 broodmares, we’ll look to have bout 110 foals this year and we breed to sell and to race.”
The Stewart family have been big in the racing industry, especially in Queensland, with the annual Gold Coast Magic Millions event being Hamish’s busiest time of year outside of Super Rugby season.
“The main place we sell all of our horses is Magic Millions on the Gold Coast.
“There’s three or four separate sales down there and then we venture up to Rockhampton, the Capricornia sales. We also go over to Perth to buy a two-year old prospect every-year.”
While attending famed Rugby nursery Toowoomba Grammar, Stewart would be at work on the farm each morning and afternoon, something he wouldn’t have changed for the world.
“It’s a different livelihood to anyone who grows up in the city and doesn’t get the full benefits of living in the country.
“You finish school, you get to go home and interact with animals on a daily basis, which I find great for stress relief, they take you away from anything that’s troubling you.
“You can just talk to them and they’ll listen to everything and never say anything back, it’s easy to clear your head.”
As well as their stud farm, the Stewarts also have an agricultural property close by, where they have wheat and barley crops.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a little bit of irrigation there, but now with the drought they’re making us monitor water, put metres on the bores and you don’t have the freedom to do your best to grow the best yield.
“It’s been pretty difficult with the dry land stuff, trying to keep them going.
“We’ve just cut about 900 bales of wheat, and the only rain we had on that was about two inches when we planted it.”
The effects of the drought have also affected the family’s operations on the stud farm.
“Horses are a lot different and a lot more high-maintenance than sheep and cattle.
“They need their vitamins, like every animal does, but especially because they’re carrying foals.
“They’re a lot more expensive so you want to be giving them the best food so they can do the best for the foul while they’re pregnant.
“We feed them pellets every day and we mix oats in with it.
“Oat prices went to $1,600 a tonne, which is ridiculous, and trying to maintain that is hard.
“You can buy the vitamins and minerals for about $900 a tonne and then mixing that with something that’s $1,600 a tonne, it just doesn’t work.
“We had to cut that back and just feed them the minerals.
“The only place you can get oats or barley is Western Australia, so it has to be hauled from over there so there’s haulage and freight costs and then the actual seeds itself, it’s a lot of money.”
Growing up in and around Toowoomba, Stewart has a host of school and family friends throughout the Darling Downs and further a broad from farming backgrounds who have all felt the effects of the drought.
“You don’t hear too many stories because farmers don’t like to complain too much, they just deal with what they’ve got and try and make ends meet at the end of the day,” said Stewart.
“The stress is definitely on at the moment, 75 per cent of Australia is in drought and you can see it.
“Flying from here to Gladstone last weekend, there’s not a blade of green grass anywhere.
“All my mates are doing it hard, I know that, but they’re doing all they can to get by.”
Rugby in Australia has close ties to the farming community, with many former and current Australian greats hailing from regional areas of Australia. This weekend provides the Rugby community with the chance to help those in need, thanks to Rural Aid.
“It’s not only helping the animals, it’s helping the farmers,” said Stewart.
“If there’s no farmers, no one gets food on the table, it’s a big thing.
“It helps with mental health too, the suicide rate has gone up substantially, so donating anything, whether it be one dollar or ten, it all goes a long way.”
Rugby Australia will match dollar-for-dollar the money collected at NRC grounds on game day. You can also make a donation via this link: http://bit.ly/RuralAid2019
Get to Bond University on Sunday for Queensland Country’s clash with NSW Country and get behind a great cause in Rural Aid. Kick-off at 3:00pm.