More than 10 years since Moree bush poet Murray Hartin penned his powerful poem about drought and depression, Rain From Nowhere has been thrust back into the public spotlight, once again striking a chord with farmers and communities currently feeling the tightening pinch of the crippling drought.
As farmers are dealing with what is being described as our worst drought yet, with many being forced to sell or put down their stock, Hartin’s poem has been making the rounds on social media as a glimmer of hope during these tough times.
Written in 2007 on the back end of what was then the worst drought ever recorded in Australia, Rain From Nowhere is about a young farmer contemplating suicide before a timely letter from his father reminds him there’s still hope.
“I didn’t set out to write the quintessential tear-jerker about drought and depression, I just created a story a lot of people tapped into, and a lot of people were living at that time,” Hartin said.
“While it’s about a farmer and his dad, it’s accidentally about any relationship, it’s about communication, it’s about family and it’s about hope.
“And it talks about community – and how a simple letter or hello can mean so much. We do have to look out for each other.”
After receiving a call from a Scottish mate, Russell Workman, who was wanting to find out a bit more about the bush for a documentary he was making about the drought and its connection to depression and suicide, Hartin woke up on the morning of February 21, 2007 with “a couple of lines in my head”.
“I sat up and wrote it inside three hours,” he said.
“The good ones tend to spit out.
“I heard a bit of a story about a Victorian farmer doing what happened in the poem to his cattle. The story just flowed out. But I didn’t want it to be a tragic ending, so I came up with the letter which gives him cause to think.”
The relationship between father and son and the long-held tradition of not sharing feelings in the bush is one of the biggest themes in the poem, one which Hartin said is improving, but still needs plenty of work.
He said the most important thing is opening up that communication and conversation, which is exactly what Rain From Nowhere continues to do 11 years on.
It somehow reminds us we can all be vulnerable, we all need good people around us and we all need to watch out for our friends and family.Murray Hartin, poet
“Farming was one of those stoic industries – you never let anyone know you were doing it tough,” he said.
“Now there’s more communication.
“The biggest thing is trying to get the message across that there are people out there that can help. We’re all good at lending a hand but not good at asking for help. Family and friendships are everything.”
For the past few months, Hartin has been travelling around NSW and Queensland, sharing his poems and yarns at rural gatherings organised by the Department of Primary Industries in communities that are doing it particularly tough.
“These events are about letting people know they’re in it with other people and that no matter how good you are, how prepared, if you don’t get the right weather for an extended period of time, you can’t do anything about it,” Hartin said.
“Socialisation is really important in tough times – as is laughter.
“I wrap the funny poems around Rain From Nowhere and hopefully everyone leaves feeling a bit better.”
During his travels, Hartin has witnessed just how bad things are and said he’s heard some hard stories along the way.
“It’s tough everywhere,” he said.
“I’ve had people come up and talk to me, telling me how they were in a bad way and heard the poem and it gave them cause to think. That’s pretty powerful.”
The poem has been shared in the One Day Closer to Rain (Drought) Facebook page, and was used as part of the Sunday Telegraph’s eight-page drought special earlier this month.
It was also recently posted on a New Zealand Facebook group, NZ Farming, where, in the space of two to three weeks, it had received 34,000 views, 29,000 likes and 3,800 comments, resonating with people all over the world.
The poem is always well received, it’s brought tears to the eyes of a lot of tough people and it appears it will always be relevant.Murray Hartin
“The poem is always well received, it’s brought tears to the eyes of a lot of tough people and it appears it will always be relevant,” Hartin said.
“It somehow reminds us we can all be vulnerable, we all need good people around us and we all need to watch out for our friends and family.
“Knowing you have written something that can have a positive effect on people’s lives is very special. It doesn’t make me special, sometimes these things just happen.
“But the fact a bunch of words thrown together in three hours can make a difference is pretty amazing.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
Rain From Nowhere, by Murray Hartin
His cattle didn’t get a bid, they were fairly bloody poor,
What was he going to do? He couldn’t feed them anymore,
The dams were all but dry, hay was thirteen bucks a bale,
Last month’s talk of rain was just a fairytale,
His credit had run out, no chance to pay what’s owed,
Bad thoughts ran through his head as he drove down Gully Road.
“Geez, great grandad bought the place back in 1898,
“Now I’m such a useless bastard, I’ll have to shut the gate.
“Can’t support my wife and kids, not like dad and those before,
“Crikey, Grandma kept it going while Pop fought in the war.”
With depression now his master, he abandoned what was right,
There’s no place in life for failures, he’d end it all tonight.
There were still some things to do, he’d have to shoot the cattle first,
Of all the jobs he’d ever done, that would be the worst.
He’d have a shower, watch the news, then they’d all sit down for tea
Read his kids a bedtime story, watch some more TV,
Kiss his wife goodnight, say he was off to shoot some roos
Then in a paddock far away he’d blow away the blues.
But he drove in the gate and stopped – as he always had
To check the roadside mailbox – and found a letter from his Dad.
Now his dad was not a writer, Mum did all the cards and mail
But he knew the writing from the notebooks that he’d kept from cattle sales,
He sensed the nature of its contents, felt moisture in his eyes,
Just the fact his dad had written was enough to make him cry.
“Son, I know it’s bloody tough, it’s a cruel and twisted game,
“This life upon the land when you’re screaming out for rain,
“There’s no candle in the darkness, not a single speck of light
“But don’t let the demon get you, you have to do what’s right,
“I don’t know what’s in your head but push the bad thoughts well away
“See, you’ll always have your family at the back end of the day
“You have to talk to someone, and yes I know I rarely did
“But you have to think about Fiona and think about the kids.
“I’m worried about you son, you haven’t rung for quite a while,
“I know the road you’re on ‘cause I’ve walked every bloody mile.
“The date? December 7 back in 1983,
“Behind the shed I had the shotgun rested in the brigalow tree.
“See, I’d borrowed way too much to buy the Johnson place
“Then it didn’t rain for years and we got bombed by interest rates,
“The bank was at the door, I didn’t think I had a choice,
“I began to squeeze the trigger – that’s when I heard your voice.
“You said ‘Where are you Daddy? It’s time to play our game’
“’ I’ve got Squatter all set up, we might get General Rain.’
“It really was that close, you’re the one that stopped me son,
“And you’re the one that taught me there’s no answer in a gun.
“Just remember people love you, good friends won’t let you down.
“Look, you might have to swallow pride and take that job in town,
“Just ’til things come good, son, you’ve always got a choice
“And when you get this letter ring me, ’cause I’d love to hear your voice.”
Well he cried and laughed and shook his head then put the truck in gear,
Shut his eyes and hugged his dad in a vision that was clear,
Dropped the cattle at the yards, put the truck away
Filled the troughs the best he could and fed his last ten bales of hay.
Then he strode towards the homestead, shoulders back and head held high,
He still knew the road was tough but there was purpose in his eye.
He called his wife and children, who’d lived through all his pain,
Hugs said more than words – he’d come back to them again,
They talked of silver linings, how good times always follow bad,
Then he walked towards the phone, picked it up and rang his Dad.
And while the kids set up the Squatter, he hugged his wife again,
Then they heard the roll of thunder and they smelt the smell of rain.