Crossing the Great Divide with an extraordinary idea for drought relief

Ipswich City Council staff are behind a heartfelt initiative that has already made a difference to a farming family in need.

The 36 round bales of hay delivered this month to a dairy farm at Goombungee was just the beginning for an Ipswich City Council staff-led initiative.

For the Pukallus family who received the hay it was a wonderful bit of relief amid “unbelievable” dry conditions. They have been turning to everything from sugar cane silage to watermelons and pineapples to help feed their herd.

It doesn’t take a long trip ‘out west’ to find drought. It’s less than 150km from Ipswich to Goombungee, the two communities on either side of the Great Dividing Range, and yet within that short distance there are bone-dry dams and farmers in desperate need.

Main picture: Ipswich Waste drivers Justin South and Shane Hall volunteered to deliver the hay. They shake hands with Ivan Pukallus.

Above: Ipswich City Council’s low loader truck arrives in Goombungee. Pictures: Kerry Hobden PBK Memorable Moments.

Ipswich Waste driver Justin South knows the brutal reality of drought, his family experiencing it on their sheep property during the 1980s. The experience was similar to the devastation many farmers across Australia are living today – barren earth and the hard decision to cull stock.

That compassion for rural life was shared by council mechanic Brett Kerle, who has done work previously with Aussie Helpers charity and wanted to find another way to support their efforts during the current drought.

Both Mr South and Mr Kerle looked at the large open grassed areas owned by council and saw an opportunity. Those areas are slashed or mowed to reduce fire risk with the grass left to decompose. But that grass could be baled and transported to areas in desperate need from the drought.

“We’d like our council to be a model for other councils, that they can get in and start doing things like this, because it’s possible,” Mr Kerle said.

Unloading the hay at Goombungee. Picture: Kerry Hobden, PBK Memorable Moments

Unfortunately winter frosts had killed off a lot of the viable grass, so in the meantime council’s 1300 staff held a fundraising campaign, raising more than $4000 which council matched dollar-for-dollar.

That money will purchase hay, with council providing the transport, and experienced staff volunteering their time to deliver it personally to a farm nominated by the Aussie Helpers charity.

The Pukallus family at Goombungee were the first recipients of Ipswich City Council’s hay contribution, but the initiative is set to become an ongoing commitment as the spring grasses start to grow.

Already council is identifying council-owned grassed areas across Ipswich that would be suitable to slash, bale and transport. There are also opportunities for organisations or landowners with large grass areas to be a part of this council initiative.

Ipswich City Council Acting CEO Charlie Dill said staff were proud of the hay initiative and it was fully supported by all levels of the organisation.

“There is much compassion and generosity within Ipswich City Council, with staff who are proud to support our community and those well outside our area,” he said.

“Staff have really gone above and beyond with this initiative. It just makes sense but needed initiative and drive for it to happen. ICC staff have lead by example and hopefully other SEQ councils will follow.”

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