The Power of a Cup of Tea

Host: Dr Jillian Kelly

Smoko: a rest from work for a smoke; a tea break.

Everyone knows that smoko is the best meal of the day (closely followed by beer time, might I add).  This is very important to me in my job as a veterinarian for several reasons.  Not only do I love cake, I learn so much about the farm and the animals over a cuppa and a chat, and it’s really good for relationship building and cheering up!

Back when I was working in private veterinary practice, we used to add notes associated with the quality of the smoko spread into the computer system associated with the farmer’s file.  If it was chocolate cake, slice or scones, we’d make note of it, and then we’d all clamber to go to the jobs with the best smoko next time the client rang up and booked in!

Over the last 12 weeks, I have seen a steady decline in people’s demeanour and level of depression associated with the severe and ongoing drought.  As a way to help, I’ve been running “drought smokos” – an opportunity for farmers to come and have smoko and talk about feeding livestock. We’ve been talking about animal health conditions associated with feeding, helping people design cost effective rations for their stock and feed budgeting. But more than that – we’ve been having a cup of tea together which is more powerful than all of the livestock feeding advice put together.

Over 12 weeks, I’ve run 34 smokos in various locations and had over 700 landholders come along.  It started off as a laid back weekly affair in my office, but the demand grew and we ended up running them in country halls, pubs, back lawns, machinery sheds and clubs all over the area.  Some farmers have never asked for help before, some come every week. They say it’s for my cooking, but I think it’s for the social outing and the opportunity to get away from the farm.

Most producers are sole traders. They work alone and are not used to discussing what is happening on their farm or tossing ideas around with other people.  Drought is so insidious and wears away at people’s mental strength, and it really impacts decision making.  I sympathise with the wives, many of whom work off farm to keep things afloat and who are bearing the brunt of the worry and the indecision and can see the impact of the social isolation in the men in their lives.

I started off cooking scones at my drought smokos every week, which I thought I’d perfected after umpteen batches. But I entered them in the local show and didn’t even get a highly commended!  It may well have been a CWA conspiracy, but it also could have been that they’re not actually that good – so I’ve branched out to fudge brownie, peanut biscuits and banana cake!

So whatever the season brings, whilever the farmers keep turning up, I’ll keep boiling the kettle and sitting down for a chat.  You can’t underestimate the value of a cuppa – after all smoko is the best meal of the day!

Drought Resources

NSW DroughtHub  provides a one-stop online destination for information on a vast range of services and support available to primary producers, their families and communities to prepare for and manage drought.

Managing Drought – Booklet

Aussie Helpers 

Drought Support in Australia

Mental Health Resources

If you are experiencing depression or are suicidal, or know someone who is, help is available.

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Mindspot: 1800 61 44 34
Men’s Shed:


A good spread.

A smoko at a shearing shed.

My non-award winning scones.

Our biggest smoko to date – 70 farmers.

Smoko is definitely the best meal of the day.