Case study: Accepting help
Michael Shannon is the managing partner at Lowanna Properties in Cathcart near Bombala, NSW. Following bushfire on the farm at the end of January 2020, his recovery was supported by both professionals and local community members.
Getting started in recovery meant prioritising the necessary work and establishing cash flow. “The rural financial counsellor came in; it was seriously the best thing ever. He was my saving grace. Effectively, we just came up with this plan of attack for how to get our fences up and running, how to get going again.”
Drawing on the community in the local area was also very helpful. “The best thing between my neighbours that got burnt, we sat down and had a beer and said, ‘We have a lot to do here. So what are we going to do? Let’s turn a negative into a positive.’ We built an exclusion fence that runs along the bush, about 30 km long. In times of desperation, farmers get together – what a great thing to come out of it all.”
Michael also sees great value in taking advice from professional advisors. “Trust in others who have on-ground experience and have 100% of their focus in that area as part of their job. You rely on innovation in yourself to resolve issues every day, but you don’t know everything. If you don’t have advisors all around you, you’re limiting your ability to address certain situations that come upon you. Dealing with recovery is a combination of the tacit knowledge that you have and also the information that comes in from others. You haven’t got time to go and read all that information.”
“A lot people think, ‘I can do it all’ but at the end of the day you don’t want to get yourself mentally sick because you have overdone it. A sunk cost now might have benefits on the other side. I asked myself, ‘How can I recover as quickly and successfully as I can, to re-establish my cash flow?’” The answer for Michael was agistment rather than selling his livestock.
Finding the right agistment can be daunting, especially if it’s not a normal part of your farm operations. “You really rely upon trusted agents to do the right thing and find the right agistment. For me, I had some anxieties from previous experiences in the family, but I was so pleasantly surprised. I had all the cows come back, they had the best calving, the guy treated them like his own family. That trusted relationship is so important.”
To other fire-affected farmers in future, Michael says: “Don’t be afraid to get help. Reach out to your mates, your neighbours, your livestock agent. Whoever you have trust in, they’re there to help. I had a great support network around me and I could really rely on them in recovery.”