GRIT exhibition portrays stark reality of Australian drought

- By Collaborative Media & Publishing
Droughts drain landscapes, livestock and lives, leaving a trail of devastation. Just 30cms of compacted dirt is the definition. In the area photographer Joel Pratley visited, it measured 1.5 metres.

"That was one of the things that really hit home – that’s like five droughts in a row," he says.

Pratley and filmmaker Kyra Bartley recently spent a week capturing the stark reality faced by different Australian farming families struggling through the worst drought in a generation. The results can be viewed at GRIT – Australian Drought Stories - presented by BPAY, as part of a campaign to help drought-affected farmers pay their bills.

Pratley's portraits capture the emotion of everyday people – like David Kalisch and his family – who have been pushed beyond their limits by an unforgiving climate. One memorable shot occurred when a dust storm unexpectedly descended on the 1000-acre farm, where David has lived all his life.

"David's composure during that dust storm was really surreal because they're just so used to it," Pratley says. "It dropped very little rain at the time but to be out amongst that – it was just like being on Mars. It was incredible – the speed of the wind was ferocious."

The online exhibition also includes interviews with farmers such as David telling their story in their own words.

The pressure of the drought has forced David to take a second job off the farm.

"So that puts stress on their family life – their son is kind of really struggling and can't see that he's very loved and the family is doing the best they can – he just sees that he's a bit neglected."

Despite the personal toll, Pratley says he was struck by the "the kindness, generosity and hospitality of people, with so little left to give mentally and physically".

"I try with a lot of my photos through conversation to make it a bit of a cathartic process for people. It's funny when you talk to a perfect stranger with a camera – people in communities can open up to you like they wouldn’t normally to others. I feel like it transports them somewhere else and allows me to find that in-between moment where they forget they're being photographed."

Pratley says he could also see the cracks beginning to show. Farmers Rhonda and her husband Tony are enduring a drought more brutal and lengthy than they've ever seen.

"You could see them getting very emotional with little things. Tony, as accommodating as he was, seemed to be always thinking about other things he had to do. He just didn't want to stand still because that meant he was left alone with his thoughts of 'what am I going to do'?"

Large areas of Western Australia and the eastern seaboard have recorded their lowest rainfall on record between April to October over the last 20 years (1999–2018), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.  Australia's national climate projections indicate further increases in temperature and more time in drought over coming decades.

The GRIT exhibition is also aimed at encouraging people to help farmers by making an online donation to charity Rural Aid using BPAY. To kick-start donations, BPAY has already contributed $100,000.

Pratley says the support of BPAY and Rural Aid was of crucial importance in helping tell the story.

"It's rare in this day and age to get an ethical and moral commission – those jobs are too few and far between," Pratley says. "But that's where I want my work to go – what I really enjoy doing is connecting with those types of everyday people."

A number of BPAY Group staff were also able to visit the farmers, underling the organisation's decision to help create awareness and drive support through the campaign.
 
“An online exhibition is just one way we can share the stories of the most resilient Australians I've met," Renee Amor, General Manager Marketing and Communication, BPAY Group, said. "This exhibition creates awareness and drives support to help pay the bills of drought-stricken Aussie farmers across the nation who are going to need support for a long time to come.”

You can view ‘GRIT - Australian Drought Stories’ exhibition at  www.gritstories.com.au and make donations to Rural Aid at https://www.ruralaid.org.au/bpay
 

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