'The kids’ school has cancelled its fundraiser because nobody’s buying tickets,’ I sighed.
‘That’s such a shame,’ replied my husband Jack, 36.
Ever since the drought hit three years earlier, life had got tougher. Once, wool and cotton growing farms had thrived here.
Now, not only had many closed down, but businesses reliant on them, such as machinery contractors, were under threat.
So were local shops, as residents just didn’t have the cash to spend in them. Like many other drought-affected towns in Australia, our community was at risk.
I’d moved from Sydney to Warren, NSW, 10 years earlier, after falling in love with Jack, a third-generation sheep and cropping farmer.
We’d had three children – Eliza, seven, Maggie, six, and Charles, four, and I was pregnant with our fourth.
Now, Jack worked as a farm manager for another farmer, after we sold our own farm due to flooding.
But these days we would do anything for some rain.
It’s so bleak for everyone, I thought, my heart breaking for the town I loved.
With no rain, nothing had grown for at least a couple of years and there was little food for farm animals so they were being sold. And with dams empty, we were even buying drinking water.
Friends had confided in me how they were struggling.
The school fundraiser was just one more thing to suffer as we all tightened our belts.
The whole community was laying awake at night, worrying how to keep putting food on the table.
‘This is the worst drought we’ve ever known,’ Jack’s family said.
I want to do something to help, I thought. But what?
Then one day, I shared a Facebook link about a local gift store, hoping to generate some business for them.
Thanks, a friend replied. My family’s Kris Kringle theme is, ‘Buy from the bush’ so I’ll add that shop to my list.
It was a light bulb moment.
‘Buy from the bush?’ I said to myself. ‘That’s brilliant. I could broadcast what’s out here!’
So I asked local retailers if I could share some of their products online.
‘Sure,’ they agreed, not expecting anything to come of it.
Then I created an Instagram page, called
@buyfromthebush, and a Facebook page with the same name.
A showcase of beautiful things to buy from rural communities facing drought. A small way to invest in their future and help, I wrote, before adding pictures of the products such as hats and handbags.
The results were incredible. Strangers from all over the country began snapping up what I’d posted.
Homewares, paintings, produce, clothes, candles – you name it, people bought it.
And it wasn’t just the bricks and mortar businesses that were benefiting. Many farmers made relishes and preserves from home-grown vegies, and their sales were also going through the roof!
Within two weeks, I had 70,000 Facebook friends and almost the same number of followers on Instagram, from Australia and overseas.
I also encouraged retailers in other drought-affected areas to join our campaign.
Within a fortnight, 4500 businesses were on board – and the number was growing by the day.
Simply by hash tagging themselves #buyfromthebush buyers would find them – and boy, did they ever!
I posted some coloured glassware on Facebook and within an hour, the maker posted a message.
It’s amazing! she wrote. I’ve already sold out!
A woman who sold stationery also contacted me, incredulous.
‘We’ve made more in a week than the whole of the last financial year,’ she cried, grateful.
A local artist who created watercolour Chrissy cards messaged me too.
I’ve made more in a night than in a whole year!
She then went onto say she had now ordered blinds and hired a house painter with the money, thereby distributing her income to the town.
One artist in Dubbo sold seven of her paintings within days.
I can’t believe it, she told me. I didn’t think people wanted what I was creating!
Every day, more beautiful messages poured in.
I have not stopped doing my little happy dance since your post on Sunday, one shopkeeper messaged.My whole world has turned upside down in the best possible way!
Another wrote, You have injected new life into our business and we are so excited! We never dreamt it would be possible to receive 50 orders in just over 24 hours! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Families running local post office franchises were also grateful, selling more postage and packaging than they’d ever done before.
But people weren’t just ordering things by post.
Sometimes they’d even drive out to have a look at a shop or a town, also having lunch and getting petrol.
There’s been too big a divide between the city and the bush. This enterprise is lifting everyone’s spirits, showing rural folk that others do care.
Even fourth generation farmers in our district have never seen a drought like this one. They are very stoic but there is no doubt they are doing it tough.
Our rural communities are part of Aussie culture and worth saving.
I’m hoping that our kids will grow up here.
I’m also hoping that ‘buy from the bush’ will continue uniting people and supporting our agricultural towns – not only to Christmas, but far beyond.