Proud to be a talker

Julie Andreazza is proud to be an Australian farmer.

The mother of four runs a mixed cropping operation with her husband, Glen, in Willbriggie near Griffith. Having worked the land for the past 28 years, Julie knows firsthand the hardships of the present drought.

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“We have three properties and grow mostly rice and wheat, and recently corn. Unfortunately, we didn’t grow rice last year, and it's becoming really difficult to make a decision this year as to what crop we grow.

“The drought is difficult. It’s impacting us in the way of not knowing what crops to plant, knowing when to buy water. Water is just such a huge issue. It's the main issue. It controls everything.

“It's really stressful not being able to actually just do your job and farm and grow food.”

This is not the first time drought has touched the Andreazzas. During the Millennium drought, Julie and Glen had four young children and were watching their livelihood die before their eyes.

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“You could look out the lounge room window and see it. We were told we weren't getting any more water and literally had to turn the water off and look out that window and see our rice dying.

“And we struggled. Glen and I were both on Centrelink payments, our kids were trying to get through school. We had personal issues and traumas going on at the same time. It was tremendously difficult.

“We were at the point of do we sell, or do we stay. We had a kitchen table discussion with our kids, and they didn't want to leave the farm. So, we made a conscious decision to stay and told the kids that there would be no holidays, there would be no going out for dinner. There would be no fancy clothes, there would be no special things. We'd all have to pitch in and work hard.

“And they did. They even pitched in their own savings, because we had no cashflow. There was no money coming in.

“Glen said, ‘If we're staying, we've got to drought-proof this farm’ and he sunk a bore and went about buying high security water. Sinking the bore was a $600,000 investment that we couldn't afford. I think the bank nearly laughed at us when we asked them for the money. But when we finally got the bore up and running, it saved our wheat crop that year and has saved every crop since.

“We made a lot of sacrifices to have that water and it makes me emotional to think about how we did it together. Our kids sacrificed a lot and so did we. We got through it together. That's why we call ourselves the A Team, because we're a team.”

Farmers of the Year

The Andreazzas’ innovative approach to farming was recognised when they were named 2018 NSW Farmers of the Year.

Julie described winning the award as humbling.

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“It was such an honour. We never could have done it without our children, who all pitch in on the farm and have gone into careers that are beneficial to the farm.

“We feel proud that we can now go out and advocate for farmers. We can go out there and say, ‘Look, we know it's been tough. We've all been to hell and back’ but there are some good stories out there and we have made it through.”

Winning Farmer of the Year was a significant achievement for the Andreazzas, especially given the difficult time they had been through in the years prior to their win, with Julie losing her father to a sudden heart attack days before Christmas and Glen suffering Myocarditis.

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“Winning NSW Farmer of the Year topped off four horrendous years for us in which I suffered with severe depression and was put on medication.

“Glen saved my life. He and our children were what got me through, and I had a couple of good friends that would text me and say, ‘Let's go for a walk. I'll come round’.

“To live through all of that and win NSW Farmer of the Year was like, wow. Not only did we survive the drought, we thrived. We maintained our business and raised our kids to be four wonderful humans, all while I didn't think I was going to get out of bed some mornings. I can't even tell you what it means. It was amazing.”

Julie’s tips for tough times

Having lived through such tough times, Julie has some advice for others who might be struggling.

“I think we need to be able to ask for help. Even when you're in that foetal position on the floor and you don't want to open your eyes ever again, it's important to ask for help. It's important to have people around you that are keeping an eye on you and for you to keep an eye out for others.

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“We become very good at hiding and putting on that face, ‘No, it's cool. I'm great’. But we're not really. We're just good at hiding it. So, if you see a friend that's not doing the things they used to do or hasn't turned up to training or is always late ask them, ‘Are you okay? Come on, I'm buying you a coffee’. Don’t wait to be asked. If you've got a gut instinct that someone's not right, follow your gut.

“I was very fortunate to have people there for me but it's important to nip it in the bud if you can. If you see yourself stressing and being irritable and just biting everyone's head off, take a step back, take a deep breath, and go, ‘Okay, what's going on here? Maybe I need to just go for a walk. Maybe I need to ring my neighbour and go for a beer down the pub. Maybe I just need to park the tractor and just stop stressing about this and just go home and have tea with my family.

“Go and hug your kids, go and pat the dog, get some fresh air. Just breathe. Talk. I'm so proud that I'm a talker. I was told once that I talk too much, but maybe that was my talent, because talking's important.”

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Julie said communication is what got her family through the Millennium drought.

“Communication is the single most important thing. It's okay to talk about it. Use your voice, especially if you've got a positive story coming out the other side of this black hole we've all been in. I just want to tell everyone, because I'm so proud of my kids, I'm proud of my husband and I'm proud of myself because we did it together.

“We got here, and I live to tell the story and I want everyone else to be the same.”

The Australian Government resource Head to Health has digital mental health and wellbeing resources, for yourself or for someone you care about – visit headtohealth.gov.au.

 Anyone who is experiencing a mental health emergency (themselves or others) should call Mental Health Line 1800 011 511, Lifeline 13 11 14 or call 000.

Monica McInnes