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“Just a Farmer” Tackles a Heartbreaking Reality

Melissa Smith

In Australia, one farmer every 10 days dies by suicide and almost half of Aussie farmers have thoughts of self-harm


Let that sink in for a minute.


As my farming friends and I (some of us who label ourselves as farmers’ wives, others who take on a more “hands-on” role on the family farm), hit the dirt roads headed for Blyth’s quaint, country Cinema, we weren’t quite sure what to expect as we grabbed our popcorn and tickets to see Australian feature film “Just A Farmer”. Tissues, however, were a must.

The thought-provoking story is based on a widowed young Mum, left to manage an ailing farm with an alcoholic father-in-law after her husband’s suicide.

Written by and starring real-life “farmer’s wife”, Leila McDougall, the film shines a light on an often dark and unspoken reality – a reality close to McDougall’s heart.

After her own mother’s attempted suicide and her husband’s uncle taking his own life, mental health awareness and education are a driving force behind the hard-hitting drama.

Filmed in McDougall’s hometown of Tatyoon in Western Victoria, the scenes were much like most Australian country towns, with open land, shearing sheds, dirty boots and eerily familiar characters coming to life on the big screen.

From the larrikin Shearer and a group of fellas having a beer under the veranda of the local footy club, to the kids helping with farm work, sunset vistas, family dinners around the table and an office with paperwork piled high, it was an authentic glimpse into the world of a typical Australian farming family.

But just when you’ve relaxed with your popcorn and settled into the scenes of familiarity, the storyline takes you on a journey of grief and resilience as reality unfolds for the lead character, Alison, who’s left to rebuild after the devastating loss of her life partner.

We rode the ripple effect of the suicide and the complexities and stories of other characters along the way, especially Alison’s father-in-law Owen, played by Robert Taylor.

Interestingly for my carload of “farmy women”, what struck the most was the fact that the audience wasn’t shown how at times like this, country communities usually shine the brightest with overwhelming support. It was insinuated that Alison had the support of her friends and community in her time of need, however, there was no Lasagne line-up at the door.

But maybe that was the point… to show the isolation Alison felt as she forged a pathway through. As much as communities, families and friends gather and rally at tragic times, no
doubt the long days and even longer nights can feel lonely. The stock still needs feeding, as do the children. The bills keep coming and life so cruelly continues when it seems it should stop. Suicide also carries stigma and fear. It can be hard for people to understand, to forgive the person who has died and to find the right words to say.

But that’s the point of the film –  to get us talking and shine a light on the challenges our farmers go through. And this movie will certainly ignite conversations otherwise not had.

Most importantly the message “Just a Farmer” shares with its audience is clear – check in with each other, prioritise your mental health and seek help before it escalates. The ultimate goal is to demystify mental health and save the lives of those doing it tough on the land.

As I arrived home, still digesting the movie, deciding that the next girl’s movie night would definitely be a Rom-Com, I saw my farmer husband, still in his work clothes, fast asleep in the armchair. As I turned the TV off and glanced over at him, the opening line of the movie ran through my head – “I didn’t choose this life – I was born to live it”…. And that he was.

“Just the Farmer” is currently being screened across Australia. To find out more about the movie at an SA cinema near you, click here.

If you or someone you love require support or advice, please call the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636. The Support Service is open 24 hours, seven days a week. If you
are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000.

For more details go to the Beyond Blue Website



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