Drought in Australia Turns Farmland to Barren Dustbowl: Heartbreaking Photos

"I find droughts a little bit like cancer—it sort of eats away at you," one farmer said.
Drought in Australia Turns Farmland to Barren Dustbowl: Heartbreaking Photos Newsweek

From ground level, Australia's drought looks like a featureless brown dustbowl. However, from the air it transforms into a gallery of color and texture as the land cracks open under a blazing sun.

Circular dry plow-tracks resemble the concentric circles in First Nation dot paintings that tell of an ancient mythology, while starving cattle queuing for feed look like an abstract painting with their black shadows stretching across the land.

But for Ashley Whitney there is no such beauty, just blood, sweat and tears as he struggles to feed his cattle, cutting the drying branches of Kurrajong trees—a last resort during the worst of droughts.

A despairing Whitney said the drought feels like it could be around for a while. His property—near the town of Gunnedah on the Liverpool Plains—is usually fertile plain, but has now withered after receiving the lowest average rainfall in more than 25 years.

Cattle farmers Margo and Tom Wollaston are afraid of what this drought will mean for their children, who aim to take over the running of the 5,600-acre property when they "hang up their boots".

Margo said droughts have a very negative impact not only on her family, but the whole farming community around the nearby town of Tamworth in northwest New South Wales (NSW) state.

"I find droughts a little bit like cancer — it sort of eats away at you," she said.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said parts of Australia experienced the second-warmest summer (December-February) on record in the past year and had also just been through one of the driest and warmest autumns (March-May) on record.

Still, for the farmers struggling to water their charges, the dry spell—which has left over 80 percent of NSW in drought according to Department of Primary Industries—looks to be a prolonged and dusty road.

We've collected the most powerful images from the droughts, which show farmers' helplessness in the face of natural disaster—even one as slow-burning as a drought. With global temperatures rising, it looks likely scenes such as these will become a regular occurrence in rural Australia.

—Reuters contributed to this report

Scenes at the Jerry family farm, located 25 miles outside Coonabarabran. The New South Wales State government recently approved an emergency drought relief package of A$600m, of which at least A$250m is allocated for low-interest loans to assist eligible farm businesses to recover. Brook Mitchell/Getty Images