Queensland’s lingering drought has made Kerri Brennan’s farm on the Darling Downs completely unrecognisable but her fighting spirit for fellow farmers is stronger than ever.
Mrs Brennan is the founder of Buy From the Bush Queensland, a Facebook page that is now a viral social media movement with a following of more than 15,000 people.
The Catholic mum from Holy Name Catholic Church, Toowoomba, started the Facebook page 18 months ago to reinvigorate life for Queensland farmers, including herself and husband John.
The couple own a 2000-hectare farm near Leyburn, about 70km from Toowoomba, which has nearly completely dried up due to the lengthy drought.
“Our property has been in drought for about eight years, but four years ago things got really bad for us,” Mrs Brennan said.
“We’ve got five children and I couldn’t afford school fees.
“Things were really, really tight.”
To help provide for the family, Mrs Brennan opened a small business, Little Miracles Maternity Wear, a store that helps pregnant women feel and look beautiful.
As her small business grew in popularity and profits, Mrs Brennan noticed other women farmers were also having success with their own “side gigs”.
“I began to realise that so many women on the land were doing the same thing,” she said.
“The need to then feel that they can contribute to the family income in another way is stronger than it’s ever been, I think.”
Mrs Brennan said women, particularly mothers with young children and babies, were using their skills to diversify their family’s income because earning money from farming alone was no longer sustainable.
“Women who are at home with young babies, they’ve got to be in the house while the baby sleeps and someone’s also got to cook and clean and do all those jobs,” she said.
“You’re inside the house, you look out the window and think, ‘There’s nothing I can do except to pray, but while I’m praying maybe I can knit baby booties and sell them and make a bit to help the family’.
“I think having a hobby is also something for them to think about other than about how bad things are.
“So instead of watching a movie, (these women) are crafting, making things, dreaming big.”
Mrs Brennan said she was inspired to start a Facebook page that would help build a community for the farming women who were trying to support their families financially.
“Women who have a side gig to help the farm, we can join together, and joining together we can create a greater reach on social media,” she said.
“That’s where it’s started, and from there I haven’t got words for how big it’s got.
“My phone runs hot every night, and is always very close to dying because I run this page.”
The social influence of Buy From the Bush Queensland is still a shock to Mrs Brennan, who feels like a counsellor, business partner, and friend to hundreds of farmers.
“I’ve had some really tough country women in tears telling me the difference it’s made to them,” she said.
During an interview with ABC Radio last year, Mrs Brennan said she received statistics from Australia Post showing that parcels from the bush had increased by 30 per cent.
“They did a survey and a large portion of that was attributed to our page,” she said.
“That just blows me away.
“It’s become a massive movement.
“It’s a movement of change in the bush and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.
“It’s exciting because it brings hope.”
But Mrs Brennan said unlike other similar campaigns, Buy From the Bush Queensland was more than just “a shopping page”.
She hoped the movement would also entice people to take up “a bush change, not a sea change”.
Mrs Brennan said Buy From the Bush Queensland was also launching a website this week to promote accommodation options for people who were considering visiting Queensland’s western region.
“There are so many fantastic tourist destinations, and I would love parents to say ‘I should take my children out west once in their life’,” she said.
Another way the page is promoting Queensland bush life is through Share Your Story, a recorded event that gives farmers the opportunity to talk about their creations on Facebook.
The events are organised in regional and rural towns, and farmers can discuss their products on video, which is then posted on the Buy From the Bush Queensland Facebook page.
“I wanted to connect with the person behind the bush because mental health in the bush is very real, very serious,” Mrs Brennan said.
“I’ve had women message me in the middle of the night, just desperate.
“Some people have lost their faith, but some people, when times are desperate, God’s all they’ve got left.”
On February 24 Mrs Brennan, her two daughters, Amelia and Catherine, and local Toowoomba doctor Lauren Michael will take Share Your Story on the road for a 30-day trip to outback Queensland.
The group hopes to meet farmers and business owners around the state’s more isolated regions, including Winton, Longreach, Tambo, Cloncurry, Kingaroy, Chartres Towers, Emerald, Tannum Sands, St George, Roma and Charleville.
The team will also provide free training for farmers on how to use Facebook, how to take electronic payments, and basic marketing skills.
“It was always bit of a mission for me, it was always my way of serving these people,” Mrs Brennan said.
By Emilie Ng. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the news publication of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.