Flinders University graduate Meg Clothier (BHlthSc,MOccTherapy ‘ 18) has taken the core values and principles installed throughout her Occupational Therapy degree to drought-stricken lands across the country to give farmers a well-deserved break.
Over the past 10 months Meg and her husband Oliver, a boilermaker by trade, have travelled more than 25,000km and provided much-needed relief to many drought-affected farmers and their families.
The pair are behind the Two Young Nomads initiative, caretaking properties for farmers free of charge, allowing them to take a break from their everyday lives and enjoy time away.
Although barren paddocks and dry dams aren’t the typical backdrop for an occupational therapist – the support Meg and her husband are providing to farming families speaks to the core values of the profession.
“Throughout University we learnt that engaging and participating in meaningful occupation is an indicator for overall health and wellbeing,” Meg says.
“I was able to identify that the drought was a significant barrier to farmers participating in the activities that matter to them. The occupations they were engaging in were no longer meaningful; it was stressful, time consuming and depressing.
“Their motivation to engage with tasks was declining as well as their quality of life. Their routines were complex and daily balance was non-existent.
“By modifying their daily routine, getting them off farm and engaging with a leisure activity in a different environment their psychological, physiological and physical well-being is significantly improved.”
Throughout their farm stays, the Clothiers take care of properties by looking after family pets, livestock, cleaning water troughs, checking fencing and windmills and carrying out maintenance and repair work. All they ask for is a bed and a full tank of fuel to get to their next destination.
“Over a period of 10 days, we notice that the farmers return to the farm with improved energy and motivation levels,” Meg says.
“Many farmers state that they return without feeling cloudy and are ready to make clear decisions and tackle the drought differently.”
According to the SA Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions, about 70% of the state and more than 4500 farming properties are affected by drought.
Meg is all too familiar with the experiences of drought, growing up in a farming family in Orroroo, a small town 100km south east of Port Augusta on the doorstep of the Flinders Ranges. Being from a rural town she was also aware of the ongoing shortage of health professionals in regional areas.
After finishing high school, she moved to the “big smoke” to pursue aspirations for helping others, improving people’s quality of life, and bettering health care in remote communities.
Meg enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Sciences/Master of Occupational Therapy degree at Flinders, feeling at first daunted by her change in lifestyle but eventually settling in and setting the foundations for lifelong friendships.
After finishing the five-year course, she returned to the country after securing a graduate occupational therapist role at a private practice in Broken Hill, NSW, servicing many remote communities.
“Throughout my time as a graduate OT, I travelled countless kilometres to service remote communities. The country was barren, and the drought continued to persevere,” Meg says.
“Rainfall measures were record low and the dust storms were rolling in on a frequent basis. Farmers were exhausted – mentally, physically, and financially. My family and friends were in the heart of this drought, and it was completely and utterly demoralising.
Financially strained, many farmers refrained from hiring staff, which reduced their likelihood of leaving their property and engaging in meaningful occupations. Many farmers had not had a break from their property for five-plus years – their work life balance was non-existent.”
In December 2019, Meg developed the Two Young Farmers initiative, announcing their intentions among the community. Within 48 hours a rural Queensland company – Country Allure – contacted the Clothiers and offered to sponsor the campaign.
Although the COVID-19 restrictions slowed down their travelling between states and properties, Meg gained a short-term contract with a private OT business – Total Therapy Solutions – until the Northern Territory border reopened with SA and they were back on the road helping farmers.
Meg has reached her goals of being a rural clinician as well as giving tireless producers a chance to ‘fill their cup’ to avoid burning out or breaking down.
She already has her eye on further qualifications, by aiming to complete a Graduate Diploma in Remote Health Practice, leading into a Master of Remote and Indigenous Health at Flinders.