Rural Aid founders Tracy and Charles Alder stand down from the charity they built

LEGACY LEFT: Tracy and Charles Alder founded Rural Aid in 2013 and since then have raised more than $90 million to help drought affected farmers across Australia. Photo: SUPPLIED
LEGACY LEFT: Tracy and Charles Alder founded Rural Aid in 2013 and since then have raised more than $90 million to help drought affected farmers across Australia. Photo: SUPPLIED

SEVEN years ago a heartbreaking photo in a newspaper set about a chain of events that would change countless lives and raise more than $90 million for charity.

AS pastures turned to dusk, stock stood hungry and the scorching sun seared away the hopes of many, there have been two familiar faces.

For the past seven years Tracy and Charles Alder have been the founders and faces of Rural Aid, but recently they've moved on and left the charity they created.

Since 2013, they have raised more than $90 million, traversed Australia more times than they can count and often they've walked in just in time as farmers were in utter despair.

"Once I drove into a farm and I saw a gentleman and he was sitting in his chair with his hat in his hands," she said.

"With the frost and new lambs he was losing a lot of sheep. He and his wife were in financial stress and they'd just had a fight.

That's one story where I think I saved a life.

Rural Aid co-founder Tracy Alder

"I saw a grown man sitting there like that and say 'I'll be right, I'll work through it."

The Alders handed over dog food, hay and went back to check on him again another day.

"That's one story where I think I saved a life," Mrs Alder said.

NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Sunrise presenter Edwina Bartholomew (with phone) helped raise awareness of the drought and Rural Aid during a national broadcast from Mount Panorama in Bathurst. Photo: VICTORIA EDWARDS

NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Sunrise presenter Edwina Bartholomew (with phone) helped raise awareness of the drought and Rural Aid during a national broadcast from Mount Panorama in Bathurst. Photo: VICTORIA EDWARDS

Looking back, Mrs Alder said it was one photograph in one newspaper seven years ago that prompted her and her husband into an idea that would one day become Rural Aid.

"There was a photo in the newspaper of a farmer who was about to shoot their cow, it was a bag of bones," Mrs Alder said.

That photo changed everything.

The Brisbane couple researched what help was available for farmers, and upon deciding that there wasn't enough they aimed at making a real difference.

Their first idea was Buy a Bale where for a donation of just $20, the Alders would buy a bale of hay that was then be given to a farmer struggling to feed stock.

"It's a simple way for people [who donate] to assist," Mrs Alder said.

"Way back in the early days people didn't have any idea that people in rural areas were struggling [during the drought] ... people didn't realise it was quite that bad."

As the couple's idea grew, they first partnered with Aussie Helpers, then Frontier Services before Rural Aid became a standalone charity in 2015.

"Buy a Bale became a program under Rural Aid," Mrs Alder said.

FUNDRAISING: Rural Aid founders Charles and Tracy Alder, with Em Rusciano, and Rural Aid ambassadors Chezzi and Grant Denyer at the Black Tie and Boots Ball in Bathurst in August, 2018 which raised $150,000 in one night for the charity. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 081118cboots

FUNDRAISING: Rural Aid founders Charles and Tracy Alder, with Em Rusciano, and Rural Aid ambassadors Chezzi and Grant Denyer at the Black Tie and Boots Ball in Bathurst in August, 2018 which raised $150,000 in one night for the charity. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 081118cboots

"In 2015 the drought was getting worse for people in the country and we spent a lot of time out in the field."

At the height of the drought in 2018, Mrs Alder's mobile phone would ring late into the night, sometimes up to 1am, with a farmer at breaking point who needed to talk.

For many of them the water and money had run out, they were in financial ruin and some were so desperate about their plight that they were unable to see a way forward.

"Often they're saying 'oh my god, I could be the one to lose the family farm'," she said.

Each time she hung up she hoped that she'd said enough and done enough to ensure that farmer would stay safe until help could arrive.

"I had so many sleepless nights ... all I thought was 'what might they do'," she said.

Mrs Alder said there is a widespread reluctance among farmers to accept help.

"They're proud people, they'd say there's always 'someone doing it tougher than me'," she said.

"If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me."

Mrs Alder said country Australians are "tough as nails" and recalled her visit to an elderly couple's home in Lightning Ridge.

It was 10am, already a scorching 38 degrees and while the woman who lived there was "gravely ill and on oxygen" they had the air conditioning turned off to try and save what little money they could.

In early 2018, Bathurst couple Grant and Chezzi Denyer signed on as ambassadors for Rural Aid to help shine a light on drought-affected farmers across the country.

HELPING HANDS: In early 2018 Bathurst couple Grant and Chezzi Denyer (on right) signed on as Rural Aid ambassadors to help Charles and Tracy Alder (on left). Photo: SUPPLIED

HELPING HANDS: In early 2018 Bathurst couple Grant and Chezzi Denyer (on right) signed on as Rural Aid ambassadors to help Charles and Tracy Alder (on left). Photo: SUPPLIED

Not only did the Denyers bring television show The Project to a drought-stricken farm and the Sunrise show to the Central West, Grant also released a festive song called Driving Home for Christmas to help raise funds for the charity.

In mid-2018, the Denyers and a string of other celebrities helped Rural Aid raise $150,000 in one night at the Black Tie and Boots Ball in the Central West.

During the past seven years the Alders and Rural Aid have delivered stock feed, groceries, counselling services and liaised with other charities to help provide assistance to farmers in need.

Eventually, however, Charles and Tracy appointed a board to Rural Aid and decided it was time to move on.

"It's been a long, hard slog and we've spent lots of time on the road away from each other," Mrs Alder said.

"At one time I spent four months on my own picking up and delivering dry goods to farmers."

May 29 was officially their last day with Rural Aid and the couple agree they will miss it immensely.

At one time I spent four months on my own picking up and delivering dry goods to farmers.

Rural Aid co-founder Tracy Alder

"It was exciting and I loved the people, the staff and the farmers," Mrs Alder said.

"We've helped thousands of people across Australia.

"At best we would have saved some human lives and at the very least we gave people some hope."