Slow English

Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 126 – Drought in Australia


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Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 126 – Drought in Australia

(This podcast is 14 minutes and 4 seconds long)


For those Australians who live and work on the land to grow our food, the seasonal weather is what drives their success or failure.  In particular, farmers need water.  One of the harshest aspects of the Australian climate is drought.  Drought means that there is a long period when there is not enough rain.  Farmers who grow crops or livestock need rain.  The cities are also not immune from drought. Without adequate rainfall, the water supplies needed by millions of city dwellers are in danger.  In this podcast, I would like to tell you a little about the effect of drought in Australia.

Drought in Australia is defined by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which is a government organisation.  This bureau records and studies the weather and the climate, in order to give us forecasts of what the weather will be in the near and longer term future.  They say that a locality is in a ‘serious’ drought if, over a 3 month period, it has recorded rainfall in the lowest 10% of all rainfall readings for that locality.  If the rainfall is in the lowest 5% of all rainfall recordings, then the drought is called a ‘severe’ drought.

Photograph by
VirtualSteve, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s rainfall records go back to the 1860s when detailed record keeping began.  It shows that droughts occur in Australia frequently, with ‘severe’ droughts occurring approximately every 18 years.  It is also important to note that some droughts in Australia have lasted for many years – in some cases up to 10 years.  Farmers are most impacted by drought.  Their livelihood depends on it.

In the recent past, it seems that droughts in Australia are becoming more frequent and harsher.  Researchers have indicated that climate change is a major cause. When a farming region has minimal rain for a whole season, and then another season after that, the ground becomes bare as the grasses and ground plants die off.  The larger trees can often outlast a drought, because their root systems go deep into the soil where there is still some water.  But the important grasses and plants normally eaten by livestock simply die off.  The ground becomes bare and, after a whole season with little or no rain, it becomes dusty and dry.  Nothing will grow and there is nothing for the livestock to eat.  Once the ground is bare, farmers must hand-feed their livestock with their supplies of hay or other feed which they have set aside.  Once that is gone, they must buy additional animal feed to keep their animals alive, often brought in by trucks from distant areas where drought is not such a problem.

Now I should say that I have never lived on a farm so I don’t really know what it is like to experience a drought from a farmer’s perspective. However, over the years, a number of excellent news reports and television programs have been made.

They show how heartbreaking it is to see your livestock suffering and losing body weight.  Despite hand feeding, many animals become weak and must be humanely destroyed.  Other farmers end up having to sell their animals, usually at lower prices because of their poor condition. Understandably, many farmers and their family members find this distressing and depressing.  Mental health issues and even suicide becomes a real problem. Tragically, suicide rates in rural areas of Australia are more than double the rates in the big cities.

It is not only the farmers that suffer during a drought.  The small towns and their small businesses which support our farming areas are totally dependent on the farmers who are their customers. When farmers have hard times and have no money to spend, the hard times also come to everybody in rural towns and communities.  Businesses lose money and many close down, adding to the feeling of gloom and despair in drought affected areas.

This all sounds rather bleak, and it is.  That is why state and the federal governments have a range of drought relief programs which are implemented to help farming and rural communities.  Two examples include the Farm Household Allowance program, which provides income support for affected farmers, and the Rural Financial Counselling Service, which provides special advice and help for those farmers having financial problems due to the drought.  There are many others and often new programs are put in place by the government during periods of prolonged drought.

It is also now recognized that support for the mental health of farmers and rural people generally needs to be improved, especially during a drought.  There are now online mental health support services such as Lifeline (  People in need can also seek help through the Head to Health website ( which people can use to find help in their area.

At the date of this podcast in 2021, there are areas of Australia in drought.  For example, in Queensland, around 67% of the land area of that state is now officially in a drought.

Since Europeans first came to Australia, there have been many long and harsh droughts. One of the longest and harshest was from 2001 to 2009, which affected most of southern Australia.  I can remember this drought well, even though I lived in Melbourne throughout that time.  As a city dweller, the reality of the drought became obvious to all Melbournians.  Our water supplies started to go down in our dams.  From a high of 97% full in 1997, our water storage supplies went slowly down and down, year after year, until in 2009 they reached only 26% of their capacity. There was a real concern and fear that Melbourne, a city of around 5 million people, would run out of water if the drought lasted another year.

We had water restrictions which became stricter as the drought progressed.  By 2007, at the height of the drought, you could only water your garden under certain conditions.  You could only use a handheld hose, and only between 6am and 8am on alternate days (that is, every second day).  No sprinklers were allowed and you could not water any of your lawn, only the plants in your garden.  All the beautiful green lawns of Melbourne died off, turning brown and then to bare earth.  All the keen gardeners were unhappy, but it was necessary. You couldn’t even wash your car, other than the windows and mirrors, and even then only with a bucket of water – not the hose.  Everyone was given a target of using no more than 155 litres of water per person, per day.  To assist in this, we replaced our shower rose with a low volume shower rose.  By following our water restrictions, and saving water whenever we could, Melbournians were able to reduce our water usage by 22%.

The Victorian government knew that something had to be done to safeguard Melbourne’s water supplies in case of droughts in the future.  They decided to build a major desalination plant here in Victoria.  It was announced in 2007 and completed in 2012.  It can provide up to one third of Melbourne’s fresh water requirements and is one of the world’s largest desalination plants.  It costs the government of Victoria $608 million per year to operate and cost around $4 billion to build, however the cost of not having the required water for the city of Melbourne would be much, much greater.  It was a good decision, in my opinion.

Luckily, the drought ended in 2010 with normal rainfall returning.  Our water supply dams are now at 79% full.  But it is only a matter of time before our next drought will come.  In Australia, we must always be careful with our water.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  I will write back to you, in English of course.  If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.


Podcast 126 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the quiz as many times as you like.



adequate = enough of something, sufficient

advice = when you don’t know what to do and someone tells you what to do

announced = to tell other people about something, to give information

aspects = parts of an idea, characteristics

bare = there is nothing there

bleak = gloom, when things are bad with no hope

capacity = how much something can hold

climate = the weather over a long time (many years)

condition = (here) how things are, the state they are in

conditions = (here) the things that you must do as part of an agreement or rule

crops = things grown which we eat, such as wheat, corn, vegetables, etc

customers = people who buy things from a shop or business

dams = built across a river to store water for drinking

defined = to give an exact description of something, often used by other people

dependent = when one thing or person needs another thing or person

depends = when one thing affects something else

depressing = when something makes you very sad over a long period

desalination plant = a huge factory which turns sea water into fresh water

despair = a strong feeling of sadness that comes when things are bad

despite = even though, nonetheless, notwithstanding

distressing = when something makes you sad

drives = (here) causes

dwellers = people who live in a place

experience = when you have done something before

feed = to give food to animals

financial = to do with money

forecasts = predictions of the future

frequently = happens many times

gloom = a feeling that things are bad

hand-feed = give by hand

harshest = baddest

heartbreaking = when something makes you very sad

hose = a long thing tube or pipe used to send water from a tap to your garden

humanely destroyed = to kill an animal without being cruel (e.g. with a gun)

immune = protected

impacted = affected

implemented = have been put in place

income = the money you get from doing work

indicated =  shown

livelihood = the way that you make money in order to live

livestock = animals kept on a farm, such as sheep, cows, pigs, etc

locality = a place

mental = to do with your mind and how you think

minimal = small amounts

occur  = happen

officially = announced by someone, usually in the government

operate = to make something work, to keep it working

perspective = the viewpoint of

prolonged = lasts for a long time

rates = how fast something is happening

readings = to measure something which is then recorded (such as rainfall)

recognized = when a person or group accepts something as true or correct

recordings = records

records = (here) details written down about something, such as how much it rained

reduce = make smaller

requirements = (here) what is needed by people

restrictions = a list of things you cannot do, or must do differently

root = that part of the tree which goes into the ground

rural = areas away from the city

safeguard = to protect

seasonal = (here) that time of the year when it rains

‘serious’ = (here) a measure of how bad a drought is (in this case, quite bad)

set aside = (here) when you saved something earlier

‘severe’ = (here) a measure of how bad a drought is (in this case, very bad)

shower rose = where the water comes out in a bathroom shower

soil = earth

sprinklers = used to spread water over a lawn (attached to a hose)

suicide = to take your own life

target = a goal, an objective

water storage supplies = the water stored by a town or city and used for drinking

water supplies = water stored by a town or city and used for drinking


  1. Hi Rob,
    How can human and nature live in harmony? Everyone on the planet must answer the question, I think, just like you do.
    Why are the suicide rates in rural areas of Australia much higher than in big cities? I find it quite incredible. Is it just due to natural disasters?
    Have a good day.

    • Hi Dep,
      Yes, life in the rural areas can be very tough during a drought in Australia. I guess that comes with living in a rural setting in Australia during such an event. I am glad that our government is doing many things to try and help those doing it tough.

  2. Dear Rob, I have a question as a suggestion to another podcast episode: if I find a snake in my backyard, I’m not sure how it works, it seems that in Perth we can call a Ranger of the council to catch the snake but in Melbourne we have to call a professional catcher and we pay for this service. How does it work for each state?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Rosie,
      Thanks for your comment. Luckily, like most Australians, I have never had this situation. I think a phone call to the local council would be my first response. They would soon point me in the right direction, even if is a private snake handler. Personally, I would be happy to pay to get the snake removed. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion. I shall add it to my list of possible topics.
      Have a great day.

      • Unfortunately I found a snake in my backyard. ?
        I have called a private catcher but he couldn’t find the snake. Some months later, a dead snake was found on the middle of the road near of my house. I think it was the same that was in my backyard.
        Thank you for your reply. ?

        • Hi Rosie,
          Oh, so I guess your first comment was describing a real situation for you. It must have been a little worrisome that the snake catcher couldn’t find the snake. You would always be very wary when you went into your backyard, in case the snake came back. Anyway, it was unfortunate for the snake that it was killed on the road. There are a lot of native animals killed on our roads actually. I see many when I ride my motorcycle into country Victoria. It’s a great pity, but I think it can’t be avoided in Australia.
          Best regards,

  3. Dear Rob,
    I’m astonished with Australians discipline! I heard from my friend who lives in Perth that during drought time you have limited time even to take a shower. She said despite real control has missed australians take care and they do not waste water. BRAVO!
    Here in Serbia we have tempereted continental climatic and for now we haven’t such a big problem with water supply so we don’t value that resurces in right way. For example water polution is in dramatic high level.
    I hope that we will learn to keep our water clean and fresh for next generation.
    In hope that you understand me well,

    • Hi Boban,
      Many thanks for your comment. I come from Perth originally, so I know that saving water is also a problem there. You are lucky in Serbia not to have a problem with drought. However, as you say, there are always problems with keeping our water free from pollution. That is always a priority and also a great challenge.
      I hope you are well during the pandemic.
      Best regards,

  4. Hi, Mr. Rob. Here in Brazil we also have to be careful with our water consuming. Drought is a real problem here, mostly in the northeast region of the country.

    • Hi John,
      Many thanks for your comment. Yes, I can imagine that many countries, like Australia, would have a drought problem. When I think of Brazil, I think of tropical rain forest, but of course your country is large with many different climate zones. So it makes sense that Brazil would have areas where drought is a problem, such as the north east region.
      I hope you are well during the pandemic.
      Best regards,

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