NO END IN SIGHT: People are becoming desperate as dams reach new lows. Photo: David Martinelli
NO END IN SIGHT: People are becoming desperate as dams reach new lows. Photo: David Martinelli

‘No money, no job, no choice’: Families steal to survive

RESIDENTS are stealing for survival on the Southern Downs where water theft is on the rise, according to Stanthorpe police.

Acting Senior Sergeant Shane Gleeson said a tip-off from residents on Eukey Rd lead to revelations of suspicious activity in the area.

"Their tank of water had been stolen and when we inquired with the neighbours it turned out they'd lost a fair bit of water, too," Sgt Gleeson said.

"There seems to have been a lot of movement around the tanks."

Granite Belt Water Relief founder Russell Wantling said his heart broke for residents who felt the need to resort to crime in order to provide for their families.

"To do that, to steal that water, those people have to be really bad off," Mr Wantling said.

Mr Wantling said he'd witnessed instances of this kind of desperation himself.

A few months ago he'd watched as a father, with his two children, bucketed water out of the dam into their pod.

He cautioned the family to be careful and warned their actions could lead them into trouble.

The father responded: "I have no money, I have no job and I have no choice."

That conversation led Mr Wantling to establish a water relief fund that, at most recent count, supplies water to upwards of 300 Southern Downs families every week with more arriving each day.

"It breaks your heart," Mr Wantling said.

"These are hardworking people, people who would never rely on the system, that have all of a sudden lost everything to drought.

"They have kids and no money left, no nothing left."

People are finding it harder to keep their composure, dissolving into tears in public spaces, broken under the pressure of drought, according to Mr Wantling.

"They can't hold it in anymore. There was a woman crying on the floor of the grocery store the other day because she had no food for her kid," he said.

"It's just getting worse and worse and we don't know what to do."

After bearing witness to the sadness surrounding Stanthorpe, Mr Wantling says he cannot vilify those driven to steal.

"It's an awful predicament and people aren't getting the help they need," he said.

"We gave out just 149,000L of water in two and a half hours yesterday.

"Things are getting a lot worse than people realise, and there's no end in sight."