Lower Mt Walker dairy farmer Ross Blanch has volunteered as a Lifeline counsellor for 23 years.
Lower Mt Walker dairy farmer Ross Blanch has volunteered as a Lifeline counsellor for 23 years. David Nielsen

OUR IPSWICH, OUR PEOPLE: Dairy farmer lends an ear

IF YOU had asked Lower Mount Walker dairy farmer Ross Blanch about mental health 23 years ago his response would have resembled a dismissive grumble. But that was then.

After more than two decades working the phones at the Ipswich Lifeline Crisis Support centre, Ross has learnt a thing or two about the challenges faced by those in the Ipswich community and the importance of asking for help.

"I'd never had any experience in mental health before,” Ross said. "I'd only ever talked to my cows.”

His involvement with Lifeline stemmed from an advertisement asking for volunteers.

"I knew I wanted to do something to help people and when I saw the ad in the QT I thought I'd give it a go,” he said.

While it started as a way of helping, Ross couldn't have imagined the impact it would have on his own life.

Lower Mt Walker dairy farmer Ross Blanch has volunteered as a Lifeline counsellor for 23 years.
Lower Mt Walker dairy farmer Ross Blanch has volunteered as a Lifeline counsellor for 23 years. David Nielsen

Self-confidence, empathy, and the ability to "really listen” are among the skills he has garnered over the years.

"I'm a way better listener now than I was back then,” Ross said. "If you don't

listen you don't pick up what's actually important to people.

"You don't understand what they're going through.

"You can't help but grow in yourself once you start listening to the experiences of others.

"You hear from people from all walks of life, from mental health issues, terrible domestic violence or suicide situations to old people who are just desperate to hear another person's voice.

"You've got to take yourself out of the conversation and just be a listening ear.”

Ross is often asked to spend time with farmers throughout Queensland struggling with mental health issues.

"They're resilient people. They wouldn't be farmers if they weren't,” Ross said.

"But sometimes it helps to talk to someone who understands what you're going through.

"The problem with farmers, and a lot of Australian men, is that if something breaks we just fix it, but we don't have the skills to put ourselves back together if we break.”

Ross now has the tools to leave the emotional burden at the door of the crisis centre, but it wasn't always easy.

In the early days, he would use the drive home to play calming music, or talk it out with his cows as the sun came up over the milking shed.

"Lifeline gives all new crisis workers great training these days, and we all debrief after each shift so no one goes home feeling overwhelmed,” he said.

Ross believes there hasn't been enough conversation around mental health but the tide is turning.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness talk to a GP or health professional. Contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or headspace www.headspace.org.au or 1800 650 850.

To volunteer at the Lifeline Crisis Centre visit http://www.lifeline.org.au

Ross's toolkit

Reach out for help if you need it.

Talk through your problems with someone, be it a loved one or professional or even a cow.

Get to know your neighbours. A good community is invaluable.

Flood trauma stands out

THE aftermath of the 2011 floods still stands out as one of the most difficult periods in Ross's time as a Lifeline recovery worker.

In addition to his work as a Lifeline crisis worker, when disaster strikes he can also be called upon to help in community recovery operations.

"We go into communities to assess where people are at and help them make sense of the situation,” Ross said. "It's really psychological first aid.”

Ross has helped with operations from the horse flu outbreak in 2007, to the 2011 floods in Ipswich and Central Queensland's Cyclone Marcia in 2015.

"The scale of the devastation from the 2011 floods and the ongoing trauma has stuck with me,” Ross said.



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