By any measure, David Wicks is lucky to be alive.
The Upper Hunter farmer was one of many who had been battling the drought that had tormented the region for the previous nine months when he was rushed to hospital for open heart surgery.
He’d visited the GP for a check-up a few days before Christmas, when the doctor conducted a stress test. Within hours, the Bunnan farmer was having a quadruple bypass.
“They opened me up. I asked the surgeon what caused this and the first word he said was ‘stress’,” Mr Wicks said.
“That’s what [the drought] puts on us. I’m 55 and I’m having a quadruple-bloody-bypass two days before Christmas.”
The 55-year-old told Fairfax Media his story at the Scone saleyards this week, where he was sitting in the stand watching his last 11 calves be sold.
Mr Wicks was one of the many farmers forced to sell livestock much earlier than they’d hoped, at a fraction of the cost they could have demanded in six months time.
“I’ve never ever seen it as bad as this, it’s absolutely shocking,” he said.
“I’ve cut down from 170 cows – I’ve only got 30 cows left on 2000 acres. My last 11 calves are going today.
“It means this time next year I’m going to have no income whatsoever.
“Rain is the biggest answer. Our last good fall was March last year, so we’re coming up to 12 months.
“Everybody is in the same boat in this area.”
Like many others in the Upper Hunter, Mr Wicks has lived on his property his entire life and it’s been in the family for generations.
His daughter Kel has left her job as a jillaroo on another Upper Hunter property to come home and help run the family farm while her father recovers.
“We just decided it was for the best for the family,” the 23-year-old said.
“He’s got to have a lot more time out and I just decided that if we aren’t productive, we’re going to go backwards and that’s not an option.
“It’s very stressful, the hardness of what’s happening at the moment, the weather, it just gets to you and you just see the stress building up – the more work you’ve got to do, the higher the budget is going with little profit.
“A lot of people manage it differently. Farmers are pretty strong-willed people. We just sort of suck it up.”
When asked about the impact the drought had on families, a visibly emotional Mr Wicks said: “It does take a toll at the end of the day for the simple reason that you pass [the land] down to your kids”.
So no matter how bad it gets, Mr Wicks says he won’t leave the farm.
“I want to pass it on to my son and daughter,” he said. “I’ve got to hang on.”
Help is always available at Lifeline: 13 11 14.
- ‘David Wicks’ quadruple bypass after drought stress’ is part of an ongoing series of reports by the Newcastle Herald, Maitland Mercury, Singleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the effects of drought of local farmers in the Upper and Lower Hunter.