Meet our Executive Committee Members
The hardworking individuals driving the Western Queensland Drought Appeal.
Run mouse over each photo to read bio of each person.

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David Phelps (Chair)
Dr David Phelps grew up on a sheep, cattle and cropping farm, completed primary school through distance education, studied agriculture at a rural agricultural high school, completed an agricultural science degree at a rural university and has worked as an Agricultural Scientist in western Queensland since 1990. David is passionate about the outback, family farmers and his home-town of 25 years, Longreach. David kicked off the Western Queensland Drought Appeal through a public meeting in Longreach, which was held in conjunction with Longreach Regional Council. Leading community members from this public meeting have gone on to form the Western Queensland Drought Committee, which is a truly local community group.
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Jenny Coombes (Treasurer)
Rev Jenny Coombes fulfils the role of Treasurer and leads the Operational Sub-Committee of the Western Queensland Drought Committee Inc. She moved to Longreach at the beginning of 2014 and from the moment she arrived was involved in managing drought relief coming into the area from church and other groups far and wide. After 12 months of this it became quite apparent that a coordinated approach to handling drought relief was required and so became a strong supporter of the Western Queensland Drought Committee Inc. from its inception.
After training and working as a Maths-Science teacher for many years, she followed a change in vocation, becoming a minster within the Uniting Church, commencing with 6 years as Pastor in the town of Murgon in the South Burnett. She and her family own and worked a farm there for 16 years before moving to Longreach. During that time she experienced the joys and difficulties of rural life first hand – including drought and the floods of 2011 and 2013. Living in the outback through a drought is challenging- no denying that, but it is amazing country and the so are the people who live here.
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Nicki Heslin (Secretary)
Nicki Heslin is the Secretary of the Western Queensland Drought Committee. Nicki has lived and breathed Western Queensland life for many years having raised her family in the region. Nicki has a diverse range of expertise that she brings to the Committee including experience in politics, banking and business management. Nicki is also heavily involved in many community groups and causes making her knowledge and skills a huge compliment to our Appeal.
Ingrid Miller (Administration)
Ingrid Miller has a background in event planning, business, mental health and agriculture. She lives on a station near the small town of Stonehenge within the Barcoo Shire and has been a local to the Western Queensland district for over 25 years. Ingrid is the support person for the Western Queensland Drought Committee, and splits her time between that role and volunteering for various other causes/groups in the region. Ingrid is passionate about helping isolated communities remain healthy and vibrant for longevity and future growth and she is honoured to be able to help people in Western Queensland get through tough times.
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The reality of drought in Western Queensland
Western Queensland stretches from the Gulf of Carpentaria, from Normanton and south roughly through Hughenden, Barcaldine, Blackall, Tambo, Charleville and Cunnamulla, and west out to Birdsville, Bedourie, Boulia, Mt Isa and Camooweal. Mt Isa, Camooweal, Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Richmond, Winton, Longreach, Tambo, Augathella and Charleville are all within the west. This is an area of 934,400 km2 or 54% of Queensland with a population of 55,710 in 2014. Of these people, 60% live in very remote Australia, compared with less than 1% of the rest of Queensland.

The economy of western Queensland is driven by agriculture, with family beef, sheep and goat farms usually worth over $1.4 billion and employing more than 4,000 people (15% of the region’s population). Nearly half (45%) of all businesses in the west are based on grazing. This is in contrast with the rest of Queensland, where only 2.5% of people are employed, and less than 10% of businesses involved, in agriculture. Drought has a much greater impact on western Queensland than the rest of the State, simply because the west is so reliant on agriculture and family farms.

The region is the start of much business activity for the rest of Queensland and helps to keep 1,000s of people employed in butcher shops, corner stores, supermarkets, shopping centres, malls, restaurants, food retail outlets, processing plants and feedlots. The family farms in western Queensland are the at the start of the production line for the steaks on supermarket shelves and in restaurants, of woollen clothing for sports-wear and suits, of fine leather products such as elite football boots or luxury car seats, the ever increasing consumption of mutton, chevron and even of kangaroo pies.

The value of agriculture from the west is multiplied substantially through processing and services in the eastern parts of the State. One quarter of Queensland’s cattle and nearly all of the State’s sheep are run in western Queensland. When drought forces farm families to sell off their livestock, the effects ripple through rest of Queensland, Australia, and even overseas, with fewer cattle, sheep and goats available to contribute to the domestic economy or for export.

Western Queenslanders are hard workers and highly efficient. Under normal seasons, each agricultural worker contributes $282,000 to Queensland’s economy every year, and helps feed an estimated 1.6 million people globally. The region normally runs 3,000,000 beef cattle, 1,000,000 sheep for wool and meat and an increasing number of goats. It is the home of the world’s largest sustainable wildlife industry, with kangaroos humanely brought from the wild into local processing plants for leather and meat products.

Western Queensland has been officially drought declared since mid-2013 following the failed 2012-13 wet season, and the situation has been steadily worsening. At the onset of the drought, family farms were already facing poor returns, driven by low commodity prices, high costs, reduced market access, wild dog attacks, poor returns on investment and limited viability. Since the current drought began, the majority of family farms across western Queensland have been partially or fully de-stocked. These families are self-employed and depend on their livestock. Over three-quarters of landholders report a halving—or worse—of their income and are facing incomes below the poverty line. Many have had to increase their debt just to keep their farms and families going.

The hardship being faced by family farms leads to farm workers being retrenched, a lack of spending in towns and reduced town employment. For example Longreach, in the centre of the region, has seen businesses close and staff numbers reduced. Town business turnover was reduced by 22% in 2013-14 and a further 36% in 2014-15. One shearing contractor who used to employ 74 staff has been forced out of business, with all the shearers and associated staff leaving the district to find work elsewhere. Retail shops and service provides have retrenched 38% of their staff since the start of 2014. There are 330 job seekers within the central-western district alone.

The people of Western Queensland are facing a cash drought. The reduced farm economic activity is costing the region in the order of $700 million.

This cash drought leads to reduced employment, forcing families to move away which means there are fewer children in school. Longreach Primary School has 120 less students than 2 years ago, about one-third of the student numbers. This reduces the number of teachers employed; further reducing services and business activity in town. The local Council run boarding Hostel has too few paying students, and will close its doors at the end of 2015. This was an essential place for youth from as far away as Boulia to stay and access primary and high-school education.

Tourism into the region offers some respite from the cash drought, contributing over $220 million per annum. Increased tourism numbers will help the towns and communities of Western Queensland substantially.

The Western Queensland Drought Appeal is a grass-roots community response to the hardship of the drought. The appeal has representation from Churches, Service Clubs, Local and State Government, charities and community groups. It is active in fundraising and the distribution of funds to those facing hardship in the community.
The appeal is bringing in donations from outside the region and disbursing funds to people on family farms who are suffering hardship. The funds are loaded onto debit cards for personal spending in their local town. With a multiplier effect of 6-7 times for each dollar donated, this concentrates the donations into our towns, stimulates the local economy and helps to keep families on farms and services in town.
When it does rain, as many as a third of the family farms could be for sale. The reasons will vary but include bank foreclosures, to settle debt or because people will be unwilling to face the stress of another drought. Those that stay on their properties will face 3-5 years of rebuilding their sheep and cattle numbers and getting their businesses back on track, assuming another drought does not intervene first. This also means a slow recovery for the towns and communities of western Queensland. The Western Queensland Drought Appeal will continue through this rebuilding phase to help our communities recover.