Fears of 'mass exodus' from drought-hit Qld
Small business leaders fear if rain doesn't come by Christmas, drought-ravaged communities in south west Queensland will be pushed beyond the "tipping point".
St George in Queensland has been in drought for seven years, seeing farmers' incomes stall, bills continuing to pile up and a lack of money to spend in town.
Business owner Samantha O'Toole has seen her rural aviation business employees shrink from 12 to two as a result of lack of business due to the drought.
She's heard "horror stories" of people dealing with the banks and said a "mass exodus" could be facing the community.
"We hear horror stories of people around the district that are at the end of their negotiations with their bank and the banks are not allowing them to restructure any further," Ms O'Toole said.
"If we don't get rain by Christmas we're going to see a mass exodus from our business district which would be devastating."
Ms O'Toole also noted that the community is only just holding it together without the desperately needed rain.
"I don't think anyone likes to admit how challenging it has been for us each individually but I think if it doesn't rain by Christmas the whole facade will come down and we'll collapse like a house of cards," she said.
Neil O'Brien of O'Brien Toyota dealership in St George saw vehicle sales shrink by 75 per cent in the first three years of the drought and has been struggling since.
Once of his biggest fears is that though they are waiting for rain, once the drought is broken it will take months before income reaches farmers' pockets for money being spent in town.
"After two years of drought, all the bad businesses closed up but that did mean that all the strong businesses were left in town," Mr O'Brien said.
"So it's been a fight to the death and we're just fighting as hard as we can. Now it's getting a bit long and even those strong businesses are really struggling."
Local businesses aren't able to access the Farmer Household Allowance and Mr O'Brien wasn't confident in the government's action around the struggles his town has faced, demanding to know their plan while they wait for rain.
"Tell us what's going on so we can structure our businesses around it," he said.
"We've been waiting for seven years but we haven't been listening to the federal government because we just don't think anything is going to happen."
Livestock producers in the Balonne Shire have been hand feeding their animals on and off for the last seven years and it's become to hard and more expensive to find feed.
Fourth generation farmer Rosie Drynan runs her family owned and operating 'Bogong' near Bollon for over 100 years.
She and her husband Cameron took over at the start of this latest drought and started destocking the place - selling off animals because there wasn't the grass to feed them.
They're now down to 40 percent of their herd, and Ms Drynan said their situation worsens each day.
"Just when you don't think it could get any worse, it seems to," she said.
The property's average annual rainfall is 500 milimetres and this year, they've only had one fifth of that on the back of many failed wet seasons.
The couple said the state and federal governments need to be doing more for communities to make it through the drought.