Ten years ago Sister of Charity Christine Henry started a fundraising campaign for farmers crippled by the worst drought in a century. Today, she continues to support communities in rural Queensland, The Catholic Leader reports.
“A lot of people had to walk off their land. It was devastating,” Sr Henry of the drought. “We could see on the faces of people they had nothing to fall back on. It takes years to recover.”
As the co-ordinator of the Downs and West Community Support, Sr Henry started serving farming communities across the Darling Downs, the Burnett, the Lockyer Valley and south-west Queensland.
As a woman raised in the tiny Darling Downs community of Allora, she knew exactly what was needed – food hampers, petrol vouchers and support paying household bills.
Sometimes volunteers were called in to help families with household cleaning and upkeep – a backyard blitz, mini renovations, a new front gate, furniture and even a new tyre for a tractor.
All were gratefully received within farming communities which, after the 2007 drought, were hit by seasons of failed crops.
By 2009, Sr Henry, a registered nurse, could see the need was so great that the Sisters of Charity service needed to continue to provide household hampers and pastoral support.
She witnessed farm communities collapsing and in dire need. She spent hours and days with families enduring their working stress and anxiety as livestock were culled and businesses failed. It was a time when the suicide rate rose among all ages, and particularly men.
“The prolonged drought was the last straw for many. And then in 2011 and 2013 they were hit really badly by the floods,” Sr Henry said.
She reached out for more donors and volunteers, and new and innovative ways to raise funds. She became a conduit between city and country – and support snowballed.
To city folk, Sr Henry has become known as the “Nun in the Bush” and the list of fundraising drives, workshops, camps and programs is impressive.