Farmers receive a break from the drought at the snowfields

A 2018 initiative to allow farming families a much needed break from the ongoing drought by giving them the opportunity to visit the snow has continued this year.

The project is the brain-child of former Wellington resident and current Hotham ski-instructor Alison Plasto.

Farming family the Taylor's at Gulargambone near Coonamble in New South Wales, were the first to take part in the 2018 initiative when they visited Victoria's Hotham Alpine Resort.

After their successful holiday, Ms Plasto told Australian Community Media that her hope was other Australian ski resorts could get behind the initiative and take in more farming families in 2019.

Her dream has become a reality, because this year four farming families, two from New South Wales and two from Victoria were able to visit Thredbo, Mt Buller, Hotham and Falls Creek for a week's holiday in September.

While Ms Plasto has her fingers crossed that the drought does eventually break, she said unfortunately farmers will be feeling the effects of it for a very long time even when it does.

In the meantime, Ms Plasto hopes that this initiative can continue to help those struggling.

"This is something that started as an instructor driven initiative and there is no reason why summer resorts couldn't offer farming families a holiday for a week," she said.

The Johnstone family, The Marra:

The Johnstone family, from The Marra, enjoyed a much needed holiday at Mt Hotham. Photo: Chris Hocking.

The Johnstone family, from The Marra, enjoyed a much needed holiday at Mt Hotham. Photo: Chris Hocking.

The Johnstone family, from The Marra, which includes husband and wife Glenn and Lisa Johnstone and kids Sam, Eve and Trudy, enjoyed a much needed holiday at Hotham.

"It was a very generous, so generous, thing that they did... unbelievable," Lisa said.

This was the first time their children had ever been to the snow and the first time Trudy had ever seen snow, so was "beside herself" before they even arrived.

"And when she got there I think she was in shock with the snow," Lisa said. "They were very excited."

Lisa described the drought conditions at The Marra, about 150 kilometres from Nyngan, as "fairly desperate." While the family have stock, numbers are low and they are feeding sheep.

"It's monotonous. It's disheartening, exhausting.... at times it can be degrading too," Lisa explained.

"You think 'why are we doing this? These poor animals' but you keep on hoping there's going to be rain and there's always hope."

The family originally didn't think they would be able to attend the trip due to other commitments but were able to work everything out.

Lisa said her husband, Glenn, really needed the holiday, because he is the one going out every day to battle the drought on their property.

"I didn't know how much I needed it (the holiday) until we got back home. We're just on task now, we're happy.... it was so beautiful at the snow," she added

The Johnstone family also experienced rain while on their holiday and while snow boarders and skiers would of thought that to be agony, the farming family loved it.

"I can't tell you the last time I remember beautiful rain, but it rained all one night and all the next day and it was just glorious," Lisa said.

"We're the type of people that as much as it's miserable at home, we can gloat in somebody else's good season because it was nice to see a change and get away from the dust."

Lisa's biggest hope is that the drought breaks soon, but if it doesn't she urges other farming families take the opportunity to go on this holiday should the dry continue.

"A lot of people when they're in a drought they don't feel like going away and they don't think they should," she said.

"Sometimes yes you don't feel like going away, but until you actually do it, it feels wonderful. We all came back with a skip in our step.... we still feel upbeat even though we're coming into a very hot summer."

Lisa said the trip was rewarding and rejuvenating for her family.

"We are extremely grateful to Alison and all the people that donated to make that holiday happen," she added.

The Woolcock family, The Marra:

Thankful: Will, Sandra, Finn, Sophia and Lucas had a great time on the slopes at Thredbo. Photo: Thredbo Resort.

Thankful: Will, Sandra, Finn, Sophia and Lucas had a great time on the slopes at Thredbo. Photo: Thredbo Resort.

Drought affected farmers have described their holiday to Thredbo as a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

Will Woolcock and partner Sandra Jolitz, together with their three children Finn, 8, Sophia, 5 and Lucas, 3, visited the snowfields in September.

The farming family live in The Marra, which is about 160 kilometres north of Warren.

Sandra said while her children had seen snow before this was the first time they were able to touch it.

To make their family holiday even more special, Will and Sandra decided not to tell their children about the holiday until they arrived.

"They had no idea... when we arrived we told them and they were just like 'oh my god'," Sandra said.

The Marra family are a mixed farm business, but because of the drought have had to de-stock all of their cattle just a few months ago.

Sandra said there were so many people involved in the snow holiday, from accommodation to snow hire, food vouchers and many more.

"How can we ever thank those people," she said.

"Thank you from the bottom of our heart... it's nice to know that people hook in and do this for complete strangers.

"They don't know us or our situation... it made us think what can we do now for another person that is in the same situation."

Over two years ago, the family arrived in The Marra from Queensland, just as the drought was starting to become really bad.

Sandra hopes this holiday initiative can continue into the future, adding that getting off the farm was "so important."

"Even if it's a week at the beach, just something really different.. we hear enough first-hand here, so many people are mentally at that stage where they don't know where to go," she explained.

"It would be awesome if that (the free farmer holiday program) keeps going and gives a family a bit of hope, especially the kids because as a n adult you can cope, but the kids, they don't know."

Sandra said despite the ongoing drought, de-stocking all their livestock and having no crops to put in they are coping and keeping busy by doing repairs and other work on the farm.

"I think the hardest thing is if you sit still and start thinking," she added.

Amanda Glasson, NSW DPI Rural resilience Officer: 

The farming families trip to the snow couldn't of been made possible without the help of Department of Primary Industries Rural Resilience Officer Amanda Glasson.

Ms Glasson, who is based at Coonamble, was instrumental in linking both of the New South Wales families with Ms Plasto.

This was the second year that Ms Glasson has been involved with the drought initiative.

Ms Glasson said being able to get away from the drudgery of drought makes a big difference to farming families.

"It may only be a short break, but a trip to the snow or the beach, takes the family away from the day-in, day-out grind of drought," Ms Glasson said.

"They get a chance to have some family time, to enjoy each other's company, to laugh and play.

"Some have used this time away to have meaningful discussions about the future of their farms and family life, and make some important decisions in their lives."

Ms Glasson said NSW DPI supports initiatives like this, which are a welcome gift from the community.

"NSW DPI worked with Alison Plasto by helping to find families who could take advantage of these holidays - we want to make a positive difference to their lives," Ms Glasson said.

"It's not always easy to leave the farm when you're facing really tough drought conditions."