It has been 18 months since The Mercury began The Big Dry campaign to raise awareness about the plight of drought-stricken farming families and sadly not a lot has changed. In most cases the situation has become even worse.
BELINDA-JANE DAVIS spoke to Wellington livestock farmer Brian Giddings to find out how the worst drought on record was taking a toll on his family farm.
When the last of Brian Giddings' sheep were loaded onto a truck this week he was devastated.
It signaled the first time in his family's 142-year farming history that the property did not have any sheep.
It's yet another blow in an unrelenting drought where if a bit of rain does fall, it doesn't happen at his farm near Wellington.
He's at the stage now where he isn't even sure if his land can ever be repaired. A lot of his top soil, with nutrients to grow pasture and crops, has already blown away.
His photos of lush paddocks and running streams that were a reality a few years ago feel like a pipe dream now. The farm is a dust bowl in a desert and there has been just 14 millimetres of rain in over two years.
His son Fletcher, now 8, was just five when the conditions took a turn for the worst. Fletcher chose to step up and do what he could to help his dad with the gruelling routine of drought feeding and caring for the animals in such trying conditions.
He has witnessed the cycle of life and death many times. When 285 ewes died from pregnancy toxemia last year they had to be moved and buried with a machine. It was the worst day of their lives.
"He has seen many stock die," Mr Giddings said.
He feeds them with me every afternoon, he gives up so much just to help out. I think this little bloke has saved me from thoughts on so many occasions, I could never have got through this without him.
Despite being confronted with the harsh realities of drought, Fletcher is still adamant that he wants to be a farmer when he grows up.
He dreams of one day taking over the family property, just like his dad did.
Mr Giddings is frequently amazed by his son's selflessness. The family have been forced to curb their expenses to keep up with the growing pile of bills and Fletcher has always accepted it and never complained.
"Everything goes to our stock. It breaks my heart as my boy goes without a lot. He does so much and never asks for anything along with my girls and wife. I'm very lucky to have him ... My little rock," he said.
Small things mean a lot
The pair are avid rugby league supporters and Fletcher regularly records the games so he can watch them with his dad. The 80 minute match gives them a chance to escape the turmoil mother nature is throwing at them and momentarily focus on something else.
About 70 cattle remain on the farm but it's likely they will soon be on their way to the saleyards. Keeping them alive is taking a financial toll.
After three years of drought the conditions continue to decline and the challenge to keep the farm going becomes harder with every month that passes.
The cost of feed, the price of the freight, and paying the bills are among the major obstacles.
With the Bureau of Meteorology predicting above average temperatures and below average rainfall in the lead up to summer, Mr Giddings knows some of his hardest months are yet to come.
Right now 94.4 per cent of NSW is still in intense drought, drought or is drought affected according to state government mapping.
More challenges to navigate
The random cold snap last weekend saw snow blanket nearby towns and sleet fall at his farm. He was so worried about how his stock would cope with the extreme conditions.
"It was very hard on the stock. I felt so sorry for them," he said.
I went on the bike and moved them onto the hill where they could get out of the wind and I double fed them.
Mr Giddings has shared his story to raise awareness about what farmers - who are the food bowl of this country, are going through. He isn't complaining, and he doesn't want any sympathy.
As a primary producer he was able to access the state government's freight subsidy, which has helped him recoup half the cost of carting feed to his farm.
It has been a godsend at a time when every dollar is extremely precious.
"I know it will change and one day this drought will be behind us, it's just so long and hard this one," he said.
They did what they could
The family have lived through drought before and were prepared in case another one unleashed its wrath on their farm.
"We had 1000 round bales of hay and 500 tonnes of grain when we started feeding and since then I estimate we have bought three thousand bales," Mr Giddings said.
"We had enough stored to get us through 15 months."
Expressing his thoughts
Just over a year ago Mr Giddings was writing poems about the drought and sharing them on the One Day Closer to Rain Facebook page.
It was his way of coping with the situation and showing people in suburbia what it was like to be on a farm during a drought.
A farmer's plight
As I drove up to the back paddock feeder full of grain,
I could see my Cattle's eyes they were in a world of pain.
As I shook the last few grains that fell upon the ground,
I looked towards the heavens to see if god was around.
I drove back to the sheds to fill the bin up high
Around the sheep this time I cannot tell a lie.
I thought he had deserted us and left all to survive
I found no dead sheep today they were all still alive.
The forecasters were wrong again not a drop we did get
My old sheep dog could forecast better that is a sure bet.
The paddocks are so dry not a blade of grass to be seen
The sheep and cattle walking never have they been so lean
We battle every day to keep our stock alive
Sometimes I don't know whether we can keep our will to drive
But we are farmers strong and free proud of what we do
And fight until the very end that's what we have to do.
We will all stick together and beat this horrible drought
All friends together in this group I never have that doubt
So let's all keep our hopes and dreams and hold our heads up high
Until we here the sound of thunder and rain drops from the sky.
Brian Giddings, July 2018