Drought: ‘You shouldn’t be farming if you get distressed’
Farming runs in the blood of five-year-old Eddie Cox, who will already be dressed for work when he wakes his parents before the sun rises.
Telling him to go back to bed is a fruitless exercise - usually he is already covered head-to-toe in dust and reeks of sheep by the time he walks into their room.
His father Brad, 33, is confident Eddie and his siblings will one day take over his mixed farm in Kickabil, about 40km northwest of Dubbo, which has already been in the family for four generations.
That's despite the last three years being the toughest that any of them can remember.
Over the last financial year alone, the family spent about $700,000 on fodder to keep their stock alive while their wheat, barley and oat crops - which cost about $500,000 to sow - failed to grow in the drought.
"It's been terribly hard - my father is 70 and the last three years are the hardest that he can remember and they've all been in a row," Mr Cox said.
"Usually we can always get some crop but … this year was a total write-off."
To make matters worse, they also face the prospect of having their lives turned upside down by the Inland Rail, with one of the planned routes located about 150-metres from their doorstep.
The project will allow freight trains to travel between Melbourne and Brisbane within 24 hours via regional Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
"It'll disturb the feeding yards - so when we're trying to do stock work it'll be unsettling to (them)," said mum-of-three Katie Cox, 35.
"When we're trying to fatten them, their feeding routines go out the window. When we try to wean them, it's harder to separate them and keep them calm."
"And that's not to mention our living conditions - our kids are used to the tranquillity of farm life ... apart from the dust that's causing a nuisance lately."
But the family are taking every obstacle in their stride.
Dennis Cox, who also lives on the property and still helps his son Brad manage the workload, has been farming long enough to know that it is a business, adding: "You shouldn't be farming if you get distressed".
"In my opinion, if you've got mental health (issue) you should have a 'for sale' sign on your property. You don't have to be in it," the 71-year-old said.
"(Farming) was in my blood from a young age, it was in Bradley's - even young Eddie here.
He says he wants to be a farmer; he loves working - time will tell."
"If it's in your blood, it's a joy. If you haven't got it, then you don't appreciate it."
Mrs Cox said while farm life can be "isolating" at times - particularly with young kids and no end to the drought in sight - her family are closer than most as a result.
"You've got friends in town who go off to the park or to get coffee but by saying that, Brad comes in and goes, I'll take the boys for a drive, I'm going up to the paddock, or they go with Dennis as well," she said.
"(The boys) actively show interest in it too … Eddie is five and he will work from sun up to sun down."
"He gets up and there's been multiple times he's come into our bedroom before daylight and he has his work clothes on."
The family say next year will be their biggest test yet but remain hopeful that rain is on the horizon.