22-months of drought not drying out Christmas spirit

CASTING an eye over the Longreach skyline, James Walker wanted people to see hope and celebration, not just heatwaves.

So despite entering their 22nd month of drought, the grazier and his family salvaged one hay bale to continue a much-loved Christmas tradition.

For the past six years, the Walkers have built a giant Christmas tree at the entrance to their property, Camden Park.

"The first year we did it was to surprise family who were coming up from New South Wales," James said.

"People drove past and loved it. They would stop and get photos, all the tourists, and send it around social media."

James said people started leaving notes on the tree and then decorations and even lollies for passing children.

Eventually, the Walkers began holding "decorating parties", inviting their friends and neighbours to come and help adorn the unique tree.

After a tough 2014, James yesterday said he was unsure if they would get a tree up this year.

"I thought we might not do it because it was just so dry and I couldn't get the hay," he said.

"But we devised a way to get around that using one bale and an old poly spinner."

James said this year it was more important than ever to spread the Christmas spirit.

"People have got to learn to shut off," he said.

"You need to enjoy family and friends and block out the drought."

James, a 2012 Nuffield scholar, is passionate about improving on-farm profitability and recently set up an online agricultural business community called Agrihive.

With partners across Australia, James said the site was all about generating and sharing ideas and information to help rural producers cut costs, make more money and ultimately improve their resilience.

For example, James said a lot of farmers "set and forget" their insurance so as premiums creep up they have no idea their business is leaking costs.

He said they were also looking at negotiating better prices for farmers, from fuel to solar power.

While the forecast for 2015 is still pretty bleak for the Walker family, James isn't complaining.

"I could sit here and be in drought, or I could sit here and build opportunities," he said. "What drives me is seeing that farming family sitting around the table; they've spent all their money, there's no rainfall forecast and they're looking at each other for new ideas and there's none. We want them to know there's hope"

Next week James will fly to the United Kingdom for a three-week rural leadership course.

Topics:  christmas drought farmers longreach

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