The Press Book House Cafe: caffeine and wisdom

Classics and discoveries: Murrie Harris at The Press cafe on Hunter Street, Newcastle. Picture: Marina NeilThe Press Book House & Café, 462 Hunter St, Newcastle, Mon/Wed/Fri: 7-4; Thu: 7-6; Sat: 8-3; Sun: 9-2.
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Selling books under the same roof as your coffee and enjoying a lasting and dedicated following has always proved to be an elusive achievement here in Newcastle.

Twenty odd years ago there was an elegant establishment opposite the old Newcastle Herald offices on Bolton Street in the East End. Tastefully arranged around bookshelves were a select number of tables at which well-dressed coffee drinkers would sip to the cerebral sounds of classical music. The ceilings were high but so were the prices. It sometimes felt more like a minimalist art gallery for the well-heeled than a place for a student to sink into a cosy corner with a second-hand novel.

At The Press Book House Café on Hunter Street, Murrie Harris and Ivy Ireland have arranged their shelves a little differently. With an espresso machine at the front of their bookstore and long, communal tables nestled between the novels at the back, they have created a cerebral atmosphere that is less about exclusivity and more about community and inclusion. You are unlikely to see anyone sipping to classical music in here. As the artistic and the unkempt share their ham and pickle sarnies ($10) in an atmosphere that only a needle crackling along old vinyl can create, the ambience at this bookshop is more of a blue-jean 1970 than a blue-blooded 1790.

But none of this means that The Press perceives itself to have reached an untouchable level of cool. This is in no way a café where a roster of surly adolescent girls will make you feel unwelcome because you have not been named after an Indian spice powder. The same couple of blokes making sandwiches and coffees have been here for years.

If anything has changed, it has been the adoption of a philosophy that says your stay should be as long as you want it to be. For every bohemian university student lounging at The Press there is a sharply dressed lawyer who only has time for a $2, cup-through-the-window espresso.

For those with less pressing priorities, Murrie will refill your cup all day long with a rotating single origin filter coffee for $4 – perfect for those who find something on the shelves that they just can’t put down.

If your tastes lean more towards your easy drinking, milk-based coffees – a James Patterson rather than a James Joyce – then these baristas can certainly be relied upon to keep you focused on flipping the pages.

For reasons that have nothing to do with their reputation down South or the quality of their blends, their Melbourne-based roaster Gridlock’d still enjoys a relative anonymity here in Newcastle.

Alternating between the High Beam and the Ghetto Blaster blend, The Press boys have ensured that their following have stayed dedicated to the standard of coffee as much as they have the quality of the literature.

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Pregnant woman jailed over fatal SA crash

GREATLEYAn Adelaide woman who caused the death of a work colleague in a road crash will be sent to jail despite being about to give birth.
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Rebecca Lee Greatley was high on cannabis when she drove through a stop sign and into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer in South ‘s mid-north in May 2016.

The crash killed 26-year-old British backpacker Jamie Dumbleton and injured two other charity workers – Lauren Canciani and Dylan O’Donnell-Middleton.

Greatley initially denied charges of causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty on the second day of her trial.

On Tuesday, she sobbed uncontrollably in the District Court as Judge Stephen McEwen described her failure to see the truck as “grossly defective” and jailed her for almost two years with a non-parole period of 18 months.

“For whatever reason, she drove straight out onto the highway and into the path of the prime mover,” he said.

Judge McEwen refused to suspend the sentence, despite the 25-year-old being due to give birth in March and facing the prospect of having her newborn taken from her soon after.

In a statement read on their behalf outside the court, Mr Dumbleton’s family said the jailing of Greatley was “the light at the end of our very dark tunnel”.

“Although we now have a sense of justice we still feel, that given the harm done and the loss of Jamie’s life, it is not a complete justice,” they said.

They criticised Greatley, who they said had manipulated the justice system from the moment she was arrested.

“Shown a coldness and selfishness beyond compare. She has played the game and been successful,” they said.

“She has shown very little remorse or apparent sorrow for her actions until today.”

Ms Canciani said she was happy with the sentence and tried not to think too much about the crash or Greatley.

“I don’t have much emotion for her. I’ve tried not to be angry because I don’t think that’s fair to myself either,” she said.

“I hope she’s remorseful. I hope it wasn’t an act and that she really feels bad for what she has done.”

Ms Canciani said while she hadn’t known Mr Dumbleton long, he was wonderful, caring and thoughtful.

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Wark jailed for life over Dodd teen murder

WARKTeenager Hayley Dodd dreamed of setting up a lolly shop before she was abducted and murdered in a sexually motivated attack almost 20 years ago by a man later convicted of raping another woman.
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The 17-year-old’s family says it has been a “living hell” not knowing what happened to her, with their painful wound growing deeper every year justice eluded them.

Justice finally arrived on Tuesday when Francis John Wark was jailed for life, with a minimum of 21 years, for murdering the hitchhiker after luring her into a ute on a road near rural Badgingarra on July 29, 1999.

Hayley’s mother Margaret Dodd smiled as she left the WA Supreme Court with her family, including two of her 15 grandchildren.

“He’s 61, the same age as me. We’ve already served 18-and-a-half-years, his (sentence) is only just going to begin,” she said.

“We go to bed with pain and we’ll wake up with pain every single day.

“When Hayley went missing, we received a deep, deep wound. That wound got wider and wider over the years.

“Maybe now it will start to close up. We will never get rid of the scars but at least we can start healing.”

Ms Dodd’s grandchildren, aged five and eight, carried a “no body, no parole” banner and she renewed calls for her daughter’s “coward” killer to reveal the location of Hayley’s body.

“Be a man for once in your life. Tell us where Hayley is,” she said.

“I hope that he gets a conscience and he turns around and says ‘no, I’ve done enough, I have to accept responsibility for what I’ve done. I will tell the family what I’ve done with their daughter so they can have some rest and get on with the rest of their lives’.”

Wark showed little emotion as Justice Lindy Jenkins sentenced him, but some people in the packed public gallery clapped.

Justice Jenkins, who presided over Wark’s trial without a jury, said the way he disposed of Hayley’s body “prolonged and increased the suffering” for her loved ones.

The victim impact statements from Hayley’s family were “highly personal” and Justice Jenkins said she could “feel the pain and despair” they suffered, which had ruined their lives.

Hayley’s sister likened it to being a prisoner in her own body.

Prosecutor Amanda Burrows described Hayley’s murder as “every parent’s worst nightmare”.

Wark was convicted largely on the evidence of an ankh-shaped earring found in 2013 when a car bench seat cover that police seized one week after Hayley vanished was examined at the state forensic laboratory.

Justice Jenkins also found Wark had a propensity to pick up lone female hitchhikers then overpower and rape them.

Wark was charged in 2015 following a cold case review, and was serving a 12-year prison term at the time for raping a woman he picked up on a remote Queensland road in 2007.

Given his age, it is possible Wark will spend the rest of his life in prison.

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Sydney’s Ferry McFerryface scrapped

FerriesThe name Ferry McFerryface, given to one of Sydney’s newest ferries, has sparked controversy since it was first introduced and will now be replaced with the name of treasured children’s author May Gibbs.
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Ferry McFerryface was reported as the most popular name nominated by Sydneysiders in a competition last year, but freedom of information documents reveal the name attracted just 182 votes and was ineligible under the NSW government’s criteria, according to the Nine Network.

The documents revealed the criteria for the ferry naming competition, drawn up by Transport for NSW, suggested “mitigating the risk of satirical naming campaigns” and avoiding “the highly publicised mishaps in the naming of ships in other jurisdictions”.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance signed off on the plan and later went ahead with naming the vessel Ferry McFerryface, the Nine Network says.

The documents reveal environmental campaigner Ian Kiernan received the most votes in the competition which cost $100,000.

Hours after the documents were released on Tuesday, Transport Minister Andrew Constance announced the vessel, which he says was branded as Ferry McFerryface for the summer only, will be renamed.

“We always intended this vessel would be named for the kids,” Mr Constance said in a statement.

“After a summer on the harbour, Ferry McFerryface will now be renamed after prominent n author May Gibbs. This will retain the vessel’s appeal to our youngest customers while also recognising an n icon with a long connection to Sydney.”

NSW opposition spokeswoman Jodi McKay slammed Mr Constance saying he had been caught out “rigging the ballot”.

“We know Andrew Constance can’t run a train network but now it’s clear he can’t even run a competition to name a ferry,” she said in a statement.

“He flat out lied about the competition repeatedly saying Ferry McFerryface was the popular choice when he knew it was anything but.”

Earlier, Mr Constance denied the claims, saying the reports were “incorrect”.

He said Ferry McFerryface came from the first open call for public nominations where people could vote for any name without stringent criteria.

“In this round, Ferry McFerryface received 229 nominations and Ian Kiernan received 17,” Mr Constance told AAP in a statement.

The second round of public voting included set criteria and did not include Ferry McFerryface as an option, he said.

The name Ferry McFerryface isn’t original. It follows a public vote in the UK to name a new polar research ship Boaty McBoatface but the Natural Environment Research Council choose “Sir David Attenborough” instead.

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W-League: Newcastle Jets boss Lawrie McKinna full of praise for coach Craig Deans

Even if Newcastle’s W-League side missed the finals, Jetschief executive Lawrie McKinna would have ratedcoach Craig Deans’ work this season as“amazing”.
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STARRING ROLE: Newcastle Jets boss Craig Deans was W-League coach of the year in 2015-16 and could well win the award again this season. Picture: AAP

And if the former Jets A-League assistant and interimcoach wants the job again next year, McKinna says it’s his.

In his third campaign as W-League coach, Deans has steered Newcastle to the finals for the first time since the competition’s inaugural season of 2008-09.The Jets sealed a top-four place with a 5-1 victory over Canberra on Sunday and play Melbourne City in the final round on Saturday night at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The play-off spot has also come in the team’s first season under the management and backing of the Martin Lee-owned Jets club.

McKinna said Deans’ work in assembling the squad during the change from Northern NSW Football to Jets’ control has been instrumentalin this season’s success and he hoped to have him in charge againnext season.

“If Deansy wants the job, he’s got it,” McKinna said.

“It’s as simple as that.

“To be fair, it’s been a one-man band. When we took over, Deansy had done all the player recruitment. He’d done an amazing job at the start of the season to get them all on board. Obviously we gave him back-up with signing and looking after the players, but it was Deansy who’s done an amazing job.

“And that is regardless of being in the finals or not. If he hadn’t made the finals, he wouldstill have done an amazing job.

“His staff came on board right at the end, but Deansy deserves all the credit.”

McKinna said the Jets had great support from Newcastle City Council, the Greater Bank and NNSWF to recruit the likes of Emily Van Egmond but “Deansy was at the forefront”.

“It’s been a long while and they just missed out last year, but it’s just great for the club and for Newcastle that ourW-League team is going to be in the finals,” he said.

In 2008-09, Matildas stars Cheryl Salisbury, Katie Gill and Joey Peters were part of a squad that finished second then lost 1-0 to Canberra in asemi-finalat McDonald Jones Stadium.

Newcastle willfinish second again and host a grand final qualifier if they defeat City and Sydney do not beat Western Sydney on Sunday.McKinna said McDonald Jones Stadium and No.2 Sportsground were potential venues for a home semi.

The Jets have made No.2 Sportsground their training base this season and also played one game, a 2-1 loss to Canberra, at the venue.After Saturday night, their remaining five home matches will have been at McDonald Jones Stadium as double-headers with the A-League side.

McKinna said the stadium, which would be used partially,was available for the finals weekend andcost was not a factor.

”They’ve played at No.2 and got 1200-1300 for the stand-alone game, which was good,” he said.“And obviously we get good crowds for the double headers, compared to some other teams, so we’ll actually put it to the girls, ‘where would you prefer to play a final?’”

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Samurai Beach Bungalows: 25 years of making manana better

Hands on: Sandy Munday cleaning the pool at Samarai Beach Bungalows. Pictures: Max Mason-HubersTwenty-five years ago, Sandy and Mark Munday, then in their late 20s, built a house for themselves in the Port Stephens area. Then the Mundaysleft and travelled around the world for the next 10 months.
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The trip was supposedly their last for a while, as when they returned they would build a few bungalows and start a small hostel business.

“We came back engaged,” Mark says. “We had our honeymoon before the wedding.”

Now, the bustling hostel in the bush is called Samurai Beach Bungalows, and since its inception, it’s been a place for backpackers and tourists from all walks of life to visit, andreturn to over and over.

The Hunter Tourism award-winning hostel just had their best January yet, and they’ve been mentioned in Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and German and French tourism guide books. Their occupancy rate thissummer is 86 per centand thewhole facility gets booked out several weekends a year for family and social groups.

A huge long-haired German shepherd named Bo can be spotted lounging around their small rainforest, along with kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, brush turkeys, possums, blue-tongued lizards and maybe a koala if you’re lucky.

Next to their reception and home is a lagoon-style saltwater pool. Nearby, nature activities are abundant, ranging from hiking to surfing to whale-watching.

On the map: Mark and Sandy Munday, owners of Samurai Beach Bungalows, an award-winning hostel mentioned in Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and German and French tourism guide books.

Unlike many accommodations in the Port Stephens area, this small habitat in Anna Bay was built for travellers, by travellers, with a design that encourages group interactions and communal mingling.

“Our catchphrase is ‘a touch of Asia in ’,” Sandy says. “People come in here and it’s a rainforest, its own eco-system, especially if they’re coming out of a mass-produced dorm room from Sydney where no one talks to you. There, it’s ‘here’s your number and key’. Here, we walk them to their room, and we know everybody by their first name.”

The bungalows built on three-and-a-half acres hold up to 31 guests. The Mundaysfirst built rooms One, Two, Three and Four. Later,they addedprivate rooms and even two cabins with an ensuite bathroom.

A large, covered bush kitchen complete with a massive barbecue sits in the middle of the accommodation, a great place for communal meals. The fire pit is perfect for a weekly campfire/pizza night where guests regularly swap stories.

INSPIRATIONThe vibe and design of their hostel was inspired based on the Mundays’ travels through Asia and Guatemala. They visited places in Thailand and Indonesia where the accommodation had high fences surrounding it to have total view control. Similarly, at Samurai, all the bungalows sit in a bit of a circle, facing inwards towards the trees and each other. This arrangements alsohelps minimize noise from the exterior.

Guatemala was the other location of inspiration for the Mundays. They visited fincas (farms) where they’d chill, sit around with other people and chat.

In Guatemala they stayed in treehouses and lounged hammocks. Structurally, Samurai is not the same, but a similar atmosphere is what they aim to create with a chilled, laid-back nature base.

“Guatemala is where we got the name ‘manana syndrome’,” Mark says.

Manana means “tomorrow”in Spanish. Onthe farms the Mundays wouldask their fellow travellers when they were leaving, and if theyresponded “manana”, theyknew they were having a good time.

“You want to make them feel welcome and at home. It’s the manana syndrome;you know you’ve done a good job when people want to stay another day,” Sandy says.

“I’ll spend 10 or 20 minutes checking someone in, because I want people to feel comfortable.”

“We like small places,” Mark says. “If someone walks past, it’s ‘how ya going, Frederic’, you remember people’s names.”

“It’s small enough to remember them when they come back,” he says.

The secret of success: “You want to make them feel welcome and at home,” says Sandy Munday. “It’s the manana syndrome; you know you’ve done a good job when people want to stay another day.”

The Mundays have many returning guests. Mark recalls a man named Roger who was Swiss and had a very distinct voice. Roger came back to Samurai two years later and before Mark had a chance to look up from the front desk, he heard Roger’s voice and greeted him by name.

The family vibe spills from professional to personal as well. Guests will occasionally have opportunities to volunteer on the property in exchange for accommodation. The Mundays refer to them as their “international children”.

At the time of writing they have a couple from South Africa volunteering at Samurai, and an American woman just left. These volunteers sometimes stay for a while, helping out with gardening, cleaning, and leading guest activities.

In exchange for their hospitality, the Mundays often get the royal treatment when they go abroad. They just returned from Germany and didn’t pay for accommodation. They stayed in Berlin with the parents of a German backpacker who volunteered in their garden when he was 18. His parents had gone on holiday and gave the Mundays their home for the duration of their absence. The Mundays said that previously their son came back to Samurai five or six times, and once he even stayed with them for a year-long while attending Newcastle Uni.

“He was in our house, he was just like a son,” Sandy says.

The two have been on some spectacular holidays throughout the years, including a trip to Machu Picchu, Croatia, Turkey, Portugal and even seven-month trip around in a caravan with their son and their dog. Their next holiday will be in Bali for their 25th anniversary.

When not travelling, the Mundays never really stop working or get much time off because they live on location.

To go with their bungalows, they also have some land, cows and cabins on the Allyn River which they host people via Stayz or through their own website. Between holidays, these two properties keep the Mundays very busy.

But the ongoing work doesn’t seem to faze them. Together the two have worked hard for decades to craft a life that they want while also helping visitors have experiences up to par with their own.

“They call them lifestyle businesses; this is our life business,” Sandy says

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VIDEO: Crawford Brothers are focusing in on pop ambitions

ON A MISSION: Hinton duo The Crawford Brothers are aiming for the stars with their latest single Highlife.
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THE Crawford Brothers aren’t hiding it. They’re crystal clear about their intentions.

They want to become certified pop stars and enjoy all the spoils it entails –the fame, the women and the money.

The Hinton duo’s latest single Highlife, completewith the self-produced and self-fundedHollywood-style music video, perfectly encapsulateswhat Ben and Zac Crawford are aiming to achieve.

Think limousines, country mansions, yachts with bikini girls, fancy hotel suites and lots and lots of cash, and you’ve got the idea.

“The original melody for the chorus, my brother [Zac] came up with it in LA,” Ben said.

“It was a spontaneous melody and then we started putting themesaround it. We had the general lyric about the highlife andextravagant lifestyles and the pinnacle of success. Something everyone can relate to.”

The Crawford Brothers have had plenty oftime in LA since 2015honing their craft among music industry representatives fromAtlantic Records andUniversal Music Group.

It’s spawned a debut self-titled EP which featured the track Feel thatwon the rock category of the 2016John Lennon Songwriting Competition, set up by the late Beatle’s widow Yoko Ono.

The Crawford Brothers are no strangers to accolades. They were formerly known as rock band Powerage, whowon the2010 YouthRock, a statewide competition that helped propel Silverchair to fame.

While Powerage and even early Crawford Brothers songs focused ona traditional rock sound, Highlife embraces aslicker pop instrumentation with elements of funk, soul and hip-hop aimed to get dance floors pumping.

Ben promises the secondsingle You and I will be a different beast.

The Crawford Brothers – Highlife“The girls will love it. It has more love themes,” he said.“I think Highlife is appealing to the fellas, or everyone really, but Youand I is more of a heartfelt tear-jerker.”

The Crawford Brothers were previously a four-piece featuringdrummer Adam Harris and bassist Ben Lawrence, but two years ago the two blonde-haired siblings made the decision to go it alone and handle allduties in the studio.

“It seems to just work a lot easier,” Ben said.

“My brother and I are on the same page and we’ve been at it together for 13 years now so it’s a lot more smooth sailing and not too many minds in the one pot.”

For the upcoming tour to support Highlife and You and I The Crawford Brothers will be joined by Newcastle drummer Hudson Wallace and Mexican bass playerRocko Van Köperen.They met VanKöperen in LA after he travelled from Mexico to Californiato follow his dream of joining a band.

“We ended up connecting with him on a brotherly level, it was crazy, and we did a heap of shows around America with him and at the end he had to sadly depart andgo home,” Ben said.

“We kept in good contact and we’re going to bring him over this year and tour and then jet back to the States and tour there.”

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Bombers target AFL finals win: Merrett

AFL BOMBERSEssendon Bombers star Zach Merrett has set the bar at winning a finals game in 2018.
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After collecting the wooden spoon in 2016, John Worsfold’s side surged into the finals last season after welcoming back the core group of players who served doping bans.

But they came crashing to earth with a 65-point elimination final loss to the Sydney Swans.

A recruiting spree that netted Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad followed, fuelling optimism at Bomberland.

“To add three pretty quality players … hopefully means we will improve,” Merrett told SEN on Tuesday.

“The expectation is to improve which means we obviously need to win a final.

“Losing pretty poorly to Sydney last year was really disappointing.

“I think a lot of guys will still be holding onto that loss, I guess improving would be to win a final and experience winning those big games.”

Merrett is keen to take his game to the next level after winning the club’s best-and-fairest award in 2016 and earning All n honours last season.

He was eager to learn as much as he could when he rubbed shoulders with some of the game’s greats in the most recent international rules series.

“I spent a lot of time with Nat Fyfe actually … he sat next to me most of the time,” Merrett said of the Brownlow Medal winner.

“To pick his brain and work out how he goes about it was great, but I certainly made sure I sat there and didn’t say too much.

“I listened to the way (Joel) Selwood and Paddy (Dangerfield) went about their work and tried to take in as much as I could.”

Essendon kick off their 2018 season with a Friday night clash against Adelaide at Etihad Stadium on March 23.

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Ben Folds adds flight risk to request show

BEN FOLDS PORTRAITBen Folds is asking his audience to take aim at him.
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Halfway through his set, the musician will watch as a sea of paper aeroplanes float through the concert hall and land on his stage.

It’s risky, not least because of the potential paper cuts, but because each plane bears a song request which Folds is expected to play. In fact, the whole second half of his show, which kicks off in this week, will be dictated by whatever song he sees written on these airborne suggestions.

“It’s good and scary. I like to be scared,” Folds told AAP in Sydney.

Scary because Folds is often expected to remember songs he hasn’t even released.

“There are some of them that I wrote when I was 16 years old that come up. I guess they got out on the internet,” he said.

However, being put on the spot like that seems to be something he relishes when he’s alone on stage with his piano. His only concern when those teenage songs are requested is that he doesn’t bore the audience.

However, that hasn’t happened yet.

“By design it’s always a success because it makes every show absolutely unique,” he said.

“The prettiest part of that to me is the stage just littered with paper aeroplanes. There’s something really interesting about it. It looks like a set design that somebody would have thought up.”

Folds’ last album release was the semi-orchestral So There in 2015 but he’s not working on another record yet. His next project will be a book, a way to educate people about music through his own story.

“I’m writing a book that’s basically sort of in memoir form but it’s lessons. I’m working on that tightening it up and trying to make it a real book.”

* Ben Folds kicks off his n tour in Sydney on Thursday February 1 at the Sydney Opera House, then heads to Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Melbourne.

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Drought in the Lower and Upper Hunter

Farmers in survival mode: Hunter battles awful drought | PICS, VIDEO WATER SHORTAGE: Dams on the Stork family property are in crisis. Four out of the five dams are empty.
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DROUGHT: Farmer Danny Stork stands on the family property at Glen Oak pondering the landscape. Pictures: Belinda-Jane Davis

DRY TIMES: Brown grass everywhere.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stock in the creek bed that should be full of water.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stork in another dry creek bed.

DAM: A dam that is almost dry.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape at Glen Oak.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Another dry creek.

HOPE: Some green grass shoots among the dead grass. They will also die if there is no rain soon.

BROWN GRASS: Farm dogs take a stroll on the grass.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: Corn crop looking miserable.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Dry creek bed.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle in the shade.

DRY TIMES: Cattle are being fed with forage to survive.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Glen Oak.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Hinton.

WATER SHORTAGE: A dry lagoon between Phoenix Park and Largs.

TweetFacebookBelinda-Jane Davis reports

HUNGRY: Cattle are looking for food at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

It’s strange to look around and the leaves on the trees are the most vibrant object on the horizon.

Drought isn’t a scenario we encounter often in the Lower Hunter.

I’ve lived on the land my whole life and I’ve experienced way more floods than droughts, but here we are battling a crippling drought that resembles the dry times of the early 1990s.

HUNTER DROUGHT: 33 per cent of the region is in drought, 39 per cent is at the onset of drought and 28 per cent is borderline and could slip into drought or recover. Picture: NSW Department of Primary Industries

The further you travel into the countryside from Maitland the more the landscape dramatically changes.

There are barren pastures, dry dams andhungry cattle.

Already two Slow Food Earth Market Maitland farmers are totally out of water and another is relying on suitable salinity levels in the Hunter River to keep vegetable and lucerne crops alive.

Vegetable growers Tom Christie and Dominique Northam, who have a farm near Dungog, had been using a dam to irrigate their crops until it went dry. Now they are praying for rain.

Dams are drying up and cattle are hungry across the Lower Hunter.Somefarmers around Dungog and Gresford have already run out of water and been forced to sell their cattle despite prices being right down.

Read more:How you can help Hunter farmers battle the drought

Read more:Dairy farmer paying $100,000 a month to keep his herd alive

As more cattle hit the market the price declines, and right now farmers are losing $200 on an average animal.

Take a drive west to the Upper Hunter and things are just as dire–the landscape looks like a desert. Farmers are hand feeding, dams are dry or drying up and winter, which will bring even more challenges, isn’t far away.

Read more: Everybody’s looking for rain

ARID LANDSCAPE: Farmer Danny Stork stands among the dry pastures at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis.

Maitland has recorded its driest January since 1932, with only 6 millimetres of rain.Paterson has done little better with 10 millimetres of rain –it’s lowest January rainfall since 1903.In Cessnock things are not quite as dire, with the driest January in fifteen years recorded after only 6 millimetres.

“The dams are dry everywhere around here,” Ms Northam said.

“We haven’t had decent rain since autumn last year,” Mr Christie added.

Oakhampton farmer Austin Breiner has lost most of his crops because of a lack of water and is carting water to the property to keep some tomatoes and eggplants alive.

WATER SHORTAGE: Tom Christie and Dominique Northam pictured at the Slow Food Earth Market in Maitland during better times last year. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

Matthew and Liam Dennis are closely monitoring salinity levels in the Hunter River so they canirrigate their crops.It’s the driest Matthew has seen it since he moved to East Maitland 28 years ago.

After months with little –or no rain –the land isscreaming out for it.

Unrelenting hot weather during January has also burdened farmers, ripping moisture out of the groundand forcing the grass to die more quickly.

BIG DRY: The hot weather helped killed off pastures more quickly. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

While it often brought storm clouds, and lightning shows on the horizon, there was precious little rain and on the rare occasions when it did fall, it wassporadic.

When grey clouds formed this week hopes went up, but there is barely any rain predicted.

It’s a frustrating situation for the Stork familyat Glen Oak -29 kilometres out of Maitland – who desperately need decent rain.

Five of their six dams are dry and the many creek beds are barren.

WATER SHORTAGE: Five of the six dams on the Stork property at Glen Oak are dry. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

The paddocks are scorchedand there are only 20 bales of hay left in the shed.

Their 100 head of cattle are being hand fed light rations in the hope that rain will come soon.

If it doesn’t, and they run out of water, they’ll be forced to sell the entire herd.

If their water supply holds on they can buy in hay, but that’s a very expensive, short-term option.

Farmer Danny StorkEveryone’s in survival mode waiting for that good fall of rain. We have to get a break in the weather and we have to keep our eyes looking to the sky and hoping. We want 100 millimetres pretty much straight away. We usually get a break in February so let’s hope that happens,

Tony Bowe

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