REAL AUSTRALIA

Who got the rain: an age-old question with a modern answer

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Queensland Country Life senior journalist Sally Gall.

One of the page's founders, Winton grazier Donna Paynter enjoyed a 44mm downpour with her grandchildren Amber and Logan Ellis in January 2016. Picture - Heidi Paynter.

One of the page's founders, Winton grazier Donna Paynter enjoyed a 44mm downpour with her grandchildren Amber and Logan Ellis in January 2016. Picture - Heidi Paynter.

I count myself lucky to have grown up in the era of party line telephones.

For those who are imagining I got out my chip and dip and hung balloon and streamers to make calls, let me enlighten you.

The party line connected four or five properties in rural areas to a single telephone service with wire, and it used a Morse code ring signal to signify who the call was for.

For example, my number was 126-R. In Morse code, you use dot dash dot to symbolise R, so my ring code was short long short.

If you heard another code, say a long and two shorts, or D, you were not supposed to answer.

But people often did listen in to their neighbour's calls, and that's how much of the bush telegraph worked.

It was especially relied on in times of rain - where the big falls were, what creeks were coming up, who'd missed out - it was not just a way of satisfying your curiosity but of vital assistance as you planned how to get to town for stores, what paddocks to clear out ahead of a flood, or who might have grass you could ask for agistment from.

The destructive power of a flash flood was apparent at Jondaryan Station, taken the morning after Oakey Creek poured through from a 150mm fall upstream at Oakey on the Darling Downs. Picture - Louise Gall.

The destructive power of a flash flood was apparent at Jondaryan Station, taken the morning after Oakey Creek poured through from a 150mm fall upstream at Oakey on the Darling Downs. Picture - Louise Gall.

Then along came progress and automated telephones, and we all went into a communications cocoon. That is, until the internet facilitated an enormous unification, at least in terms of being able to share messages.

Two western Queensland women, Donna Paynter and Jenny Gordon, saw the possibilities of social media in reviving the bush telegraph and the Who Got the Rain page was born.

Set up in 2013, its purpose was to give people on the land a 'safe' outlet to express their excitement when it rained - in a drought, people often feel guilty about being jubilant that their creeks are running again when others are still aching inside and looking at dead paddocks.

It was enormously popular, so much so that a copycat page with not as much care for members' sensitivity tried to muscle in on the action.

And although it was set up with a positive intent, many were unable to resist the need to share that they hadn't got the rain, and so the Thirsty Thursday concept was born, giving members of the private group a chance to vent their frustration with the rain gods, and receive supportive comments in return.

Who Got the Rain page co-founder Jenny Gordon, and husband Keith Gordon, have experienced their fair share of dry dams and drought. Picture - Sally Gall.

Who Got the Rain page co-founder Jenny Gordon, and husband Keith Gordon, have experienced their fair share of dry dams and drought. Picture - Sally Gall.

With close to 60,000 members now, from metropolitan centres as well as from the most remote desert outstation, managing the page is an enormously challenging task and the two administrators have the patience of saints at times.

But it's a wonderful example of how you can harness social media to enjoy some mud, even if only virtually.

And in case you were wondering, we Queensland Country Life journos have at last been able to report on decent rain falling in the state's north west, in the central west, and finally some relief on the Darling Downs.

Sally Gall

Senior journalist, Queensland Country Life

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