When Rural Aid announced a “mega farm rescue” at Forbes in central western NSW, Kennards Hire jumped at the opportunity to help farmers in one of the areas hardest hit by the drought.
Craig McMahon, who headed up the operational side of the project for Kennards Hire, said staff from the Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange branches were keen to be involved in the project, which is the largest farm rescue Rural Aid has done.
“When the farmers are hurting we feel the effect of it in town. Everyone is aware of the drought and the impact it’s having on people’s personal lives,” he said.
“When I floated the idea with the guys about supporting the farm rescue, everyone was on board. When you ask people to go away from their families for a period of time, that has a real impact, but once they knew what they were going to do, they were happy to be there.”
Here comes the cavalcade
Over the week of October 14 to 20, some 180 volunteers plus support staff camped at the Forbes showgrounds, injecting some much needed cash into the local economy.
“Farm armies” of 10 to 15 volunteers spent the week working at 14 farms in the district, fencing, removing rubbish, plumbing, painting, and doing whatever else the farmers needed them to do.
A day earlier, a cavalcade of tippers, trucks and utes had set out from Kennards Hire’s Orange branch. On board were a site office, a hydraulic lift, cherry pickers, bobcats, post hole diggers, portaloos, pressure washers, jack hammers, demolition saws, floodlights, ladders, trestles, nail guns, saws, welders and safety gear.
At the Forbes showgrounds, staff set up a pop-up branch, complete with site office. They gave each volunteer a bag of essentials – cap and sunscreen, stubby holder and keyring – donated vouchers and prizes, and provided a TV and air-conditioner for the volunteer shed.
The Orange branch was heavily involved in the farm rescue project. Luke Compt, assistant branch manager, spent two days at the showgrounds allocating equipment and showing the less experienced volunteers how to use it safely.
“It was a massive part of the exercise to give the farm rescue teams the right equipment. It saved a lot of time and meant they could achieve so much more.”
“This is what we do”
He said the knowledge and experience of the Kennards Hire’s staff was vital. “From a logistical point of view, this is what we do. It’s a gig we deal with every day.”
Brenden Molles from the Bathurst branch of Kennards Hire was at Forbes from the Wednesday to the Sunday, servicing equipment, checking it in and out and delivering equipment to the farms. He enjoyed being involved with the project, meeting volunteers from all parts of Australia, from Perth to Tasmania.
“I was proud to be a representative of Kennards Hire,” he said. “To show how we can give back to the community.”
Four Kennards Hire staff also joined a farm army that worked on a property owned by Forbes wheat and cereal farmer Tim Hewitt. Like most in the district, the Hewitt family is facing tough times, and Tim has been working off the farm to try and make ends meet.
He asked his farm team to tidy up the small weatherboard house his elderly parents Con and Joan live in.
“It was starting to look scruffy and I just haven’t had the time.”
The team cleaned, sanded and painted the gutters, window frames, fascia, poles, beams and deck. Tim Hewitt said the makeover gave his family a real lift at a difficult time. “Mum and Dad think it’s fantastic!”
The experience also increased his respect for Kennards Hire and their staff.
“It’s an unreal company. Every one of them was good. Nothing’s an issue. They enjoy what they’re doing but at the same time they make sure everything is done right. They obviously hire the ones that have that personality about them.”
Making an impact
Luke Compt said there were some special moments for the Kennards Hire team.
“The appreciation is second to none. You could just look at people and see it. They didn’t have to say anything. It was one of those feel good moments you don’t get very often,” he said.
“From a personal level, it was very rewarding to know you can make a difference and have a pretty big impact on someone’s wellbeing. Every one of the guys would do it again in a flash.”
Craig McMahon believes there were enormous personal benefits for the staff who took part.
“There was a sense of social responsibility. As a company we’re fortunate we’ve got a culture that allows us to do this sort of thing and the capacity to make it happen.”
His favourite moment came during an appreciation night at the showgrounds on the Thursday.
“It was full of volunteers and they brought their farmers along. Charles Alder, the CEO of Rural Aid introduced the Kennards team and brought us up onto the stage and there was a huge roar and cheer! That really touched me.”
The widespread drought in Australia has been top of mind for Kennards Hire this year. Before helping on the mega farm rescue, staff raised more than $12,000 for Rural Aid’s Buy a Bale program, which the company matched, handing over a cheque for $25,000.