Regional Australia, Part 1 of 2
Australia is a breadbasket to the world and a globalization success story. So why are its farmers killing themselves?
The grave of James Guy at a cemetery in the Australian state of Victoria. Mr. Guy hanged himself on the dairy farm that he owned with his wife, Mary.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times
May 20, 2018
SIMPSON, Australia — James Guy had been a dairy farmer since he was 15, and at 55, he thought he’d be preparing for retirement. Instead, he struggled to make the payments on a bank loan after the price of milk fell and never recovered.
One night in November 2016, his wife, Mary, who was working part-time as a nurse to help make ends meet, came home to find he had hanged himself.
“When a farmer is looking down the barrel of having to sell his farm or lose his farm or give up the profession he’d done all his life, it’s devastating,” Ms. Guy said, her voice wavering, from her farmhouse in Simpson, a town in Australia’s dairy heartland of Victoria. “They just lose their identity.”
Family farms like Mr. Guy’s have been the producers of Australia’s agricultural bounty, and the bedrock of its self-image as a nation of proudly self-reliant types, carving a living from a vast continent. But as Australia’s rural economy has boomed on the back of growing exports, small farmers have not always shared in the bounty, with many forced into borrowing money or selling their farms.
The emotional cost of these losses has become visible in a slowly unfolding mental health crisis in rural regions, seen most tragically in a rising number of suicides.
[One rural town found success by welcoming immigrants. Read our second story on regional Australia tomorrow at nytimes.com/au.]
Nationwide, people living in remote Australia now take their own lives at twice the rate of those in the city: Every year, there are about 20 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in isolated rural areas, compared with 10 in urban communities, according to independent studies of local health figures.
ImageJim Whelan, a cattle farmer, at his mother’s property near Charters Towers, in northern Queensland, Australia. Mr. Whelan has struggled with depression and the difficulties of farming through drought. His son, also a farmer, killed himself in 2013.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times
In very remote parts of the country, the figure is closer to 23, the studies say.