Robertstown bear drought's long-term brunt

The effects of drought in Robertstown have extended beyond the farms in the area.

Small business operators are battling to keep their businesses alive as the worst drought the town has ever seen ravages on.

With farmers struggling to make a profit as they destock their properties and their crops fail, the snowball effect on the town’s economy has been brutal.

Tschirn’s Mechanical owners Donald and Janice Tschirn are one of the operators who had been hit hardest.

Two years ago there was four employees on the pay roll.

Now only the couple remain.

“We had two staff members that we had employed, they are now unemployed,” Mrs Tschirn said.

“They lose out as well because we can no longer give them pay.

“That leaves us very tight because we have to do everything ourselves, which means even if things do pick up we cannot do it all because we are only two people.

“It is terrible.”

Mr Tschirn conceded that he kept his second mechanic on board for too long, but he did not not want to add to the unemployment in the town.

Both former employees have moved away from the town to find work, taking away spending from businesses such as the Robertstown Hotel and the general store.

Tschirn’s main customer base are farmers who require repair work, but with a lack of income that work is done at home to save costs.

The amount of stock ordered in had also been dramatically reduced.

“There is certainly stress, I would say it certainly puts a lot of pressure on you,” Mr Tschirn said.

“At the end of each month you have to pay bills and there is never quite enough money there.”

On the other hand, Mrs Tschirn said she was close to breaking point.

“I am at the stage where I don’t want to be here anymore because we are just fighting and fighting and pushing all the time to stay afloat,” she said.

“It just gets so hard, people will come in and you just want to tell them to go away because you can’t do everything they want you to do because the money is not there.”

It has been over a year since Robertstown last saw a significant downpour.

Farmers in the area have called it the worst drought conditions they have ever seen.

A quick drive along the World’s End Highway and through the Robertstown area shows just how bad the past few years has been.

Red dust stretches as far as the eye can see, where it once would have been healthy crops of green.

Rain will be the only saving grace, but how long the town can afford to wait remains the biggest question.

Mr Tschirn said he was struggling to remain positive in the short term but knew there would be a turning point at some point in the future.

“Where we are at, if I can maintain the status quo and break-even every month we can keep the doors open,” he said.

“If there is not going to be rain and we have another year of drought, it is going to depend a little bit on farmers incomes as well.

“We have thought about that but what can you do? At the moment we are living month by month really and just hoping like hell that this year will be better than it was last year.”

The financials of last financial year compared to that of previous years at Tschirn’s are chalk and cheese.

Mr Tschirn said he “would have been lucky to make dole wages” last financial year.

When times were good, two other mechanics besides Mr Tschirn were working full time, as well as another lady working in administration alongside Mrs Tschirn.

Mr Tschirn said he would like to see more support from the federal government for small businesses in rural areas.

“Sometimes I just think we are forgotten about a little bit,” he said.

“You get the feeling from government that these small places are like a thorn in the government’s side.

“My wife and could probably go on certain Centrelink benefits but that it is a day down in town. Out here in the country it is not like we are just a five minute ride, they forget that.

“For us, being in business, when we are not here we are not earning an income so it is costing us money. Those sorts of things need to be looked at and made easier.”

Mrs Tschirn said her message to the government was simple.

“Just because we are small business does not mean we need to be kicked to the curb,” she said.

“We are you tax collectors, we collect your GST, we work for you so why don’t you do something and work for us?”

Mr Tschirn said he would like to see a Member of Parliament visit Robertstown and listen to the problems small business operators are facing during drought to help find a solution.