"He's got his dad and his dad's footprints/ buried deep in this sand/ but he's tired and he's stopped talking/ and his mind is getting weaker every day/ so behind a diesel running/ Bang! he takes it all away." - Land Cries Out - Sara Storer

When Sara Storer returns home to her family farm way out west in outback NSW she is reminded that farmers' suicide is no rural myth.

Some drought stricken sons of the soil walk off the farm alive - others bite the bullet in a more literal sense.

Storer has sprayed solace, like her father and brothers spread super phosphate in the odd good season, in her songs.

So it's surprise that debut single Land Cries Out is a focal point of her fourth album Silver Skies (EMI) that also deals with death by drowning in another haunting outback song Cold River.

Although Sara's single is based on a spate of agrarian suicides her other death tune is a flashback to a treble child fatality during floods in the Northern Territory settlement where she began her teaching career in the nineties.

Storer gravitated from her embryonic producer Garth Porter to Matt Fell and Waifs guitarist-songwriter Josh Cunningham for her new disc.

And, like fellow Victorian bush born peer Adam Harvey, she swapped her ABC label for a major - EMI.

Porter, long time producer of Lee Kernaghan, was behind the success of multi Golden Guitar winning album Beautiful Circle.

But this time around Storer, tilling a tougher terrain, is aiming beyond the confines of ABC and community radio and TV.

The singer, now touring with soul sisters Gina Jeffreys and Beccy Cole, had already beaten pop peers for the support role on the prestige 2008 Beauty And Crime tour by acclaimed U.S. singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega.

The pairing of Vega, 48, and Storer, 32, is not as strange as the poppies protest.

Vega first hit in 1985 with her self-titled debut disc and 1987 with her song about domestic violence - Luka - and Tom's Diner from her Solitude Standing album.


"The one who's loved me so so long/ now he's tired and he's stopped fighting/ and he thinks that he's let everybody down/ a desperate man, desperate measures/a desperate fire rings out." - Land Cries Out - Sara Storer.

So where did Sara source her suicide song?

Well, the kitchen of the farm house at the Storer family property outside Dubbo and between Warren and Gulargambone.

It's a far cry geographically and agriculturally from Wemen near Robinvale in the Sunraysia where Sara and her songwriting brothers first drew breath in the seventies.

"It was a discussion I was having at the kitchen table with my mum," Storer, 32, told Nu Country TV on the eve of the release of Silver Skies.

"We were talking about suicide among Australian farmers. We were talking about the bigger picture - the connection between the farmers and the land. It's much more than people think. We were talking about the rate of suicide and how extreme it's getting. It's not getting better - it's getting worse. This is a really delicate thing. I thought of the passion and the need to write about it. It's a very personal thing - it effects every farmer. They all know a friend or a neighbour who has to deal with it in their family. I didn't want to be too scared to write about it. I think it needs to be talked about."

And, of course, the best way of raising awareness is through songs or stories in the media.

"People need to raise the awareness," Storer explained.

"Whether it's an old farmer who hears the song and gets talking about it or a friend. We also let them know there is a beautiful connection that a farmer would know anyway. I thought let's write it from the man's eyes, heart and soul - rather than just coming from me. It's just a different angle into the song and being aware of people's feelings. We have to keep raising the issue."

The Storer family, like many peers, began 2007 with an unseasonal burst of optimism and cast aside doubts to spend on cropping.

"There was a beautiful rain earlier in the year and they decided let's go for it," Storer added.

"There had been four or five years since they've had a crop. They bought their seed and planted back then. They get confident and think this is going to be the year. But now it's a disaster. They've got sheep and they're surviving just but have to sell them to make money to survive. In the media it's raised every now and again but these guys feel it every day. They suffer depression to an extremity and the suicide's now getting extreme and it's nationwide, not just in the west of NSW."


"I was only two/ they must have sensed I knew/ they were four and five/ that little township cried/ standing on an edge/ playing with their friends/ then cries from underneath/ they were falling in too deep/ I can hear them call me/ they run right round and haunt me." - Cold River - Sara Storer

But it was further inland - in the remote Northern Territory settlement of Kalkaringi - that death dealt a treble fatality to young indigenous children.

It wasn't just the drowning - but flashbacks a decade later by a survivor - that inspired Cold River.

Cold River - like the Alison Moorer family death songs Cold Cold Earth and Dying Breed - has a chilling reality.

"When I lived in the territory there was a tragic accident when three or four children drowned," Storer recalled of a tragedy that occurred during her first year of teaching when she was just 22.

"I was teaching one of the children. It was after school one day. They have lots of flash flooding. One of the little ones went into the river - the others jumped in to save her and the children drowned."

Although Storer changed the name of the Victoria River to Cold River to mitigate the pain for the survivors it was one of those left behind who inspired the song.

"Although I knew one of the kids who drowned in the river it wasn't my story," she explained.

"It all happened over a ten year period - one of those true stories that effected my life. It was last year another story eventuated where a girl - one of the survivors - believes she is being haunted by girls who drowned in the river. I heard from a mutual friend who still lives there that they've been haunting her for years. I thought 'what a great idea for a song. It's funny how things come back after years. If the girl wasn't haunted there would be no cold river song. There would be no point in writing it. In the song she says I can hear them call me. That's where the idea came from - I thought what a powerful true story. If I can convert that into a song it might come out OK. It made the album."

Storer says she suspects the girl doesn't know she inspired Cold River.

"The girl is now a teenager and she had been haunted all her life," Storer added.

"She hadn't told anyone apart from her best mate. But she can see the children - they tease her and haunt her. I found out about it through a mate who works at the same place. When they hear the song they will wonder how I found out about it. It effected my life all those years ago but kept it pretty general. I didn't want to put the name in the song because it's about Aboriginal people and they like to be pretty protective about personal stories. But in the wet seasons in the Victoria River when it pours they get inches and inches of rain coming down the river and the bridge are closed."


"Captain tells me we'll be touching down in Darwin soon/ you can have your wicked way with me/ when I'm back in the Territory/ a double rum and songs, well changes me from 33 to 20 again/ I should settle and go back home/ but nothing makes me want you more/ when I'm back in your arms.'" Back In The Territory - Sara and Greg Storer

Storer has long turned her outback memories into song on previous discs but Back In The Territory has a certain literary licence.

And, sharing that licence on this and previous songs, is her songwriting brother Greg.

"I spent five years there, my heart and soul is still there," Storer says of her spiritual home.

"I had to leave to follow my music career but I love writing about it. I still go back and turn into this other person. I just love going back. This song could be about a fellow but it's more about my love for the territory and its lifestyle and its people and everything about it.

It's about being and finding a people and connecting with it. If I wasn't doing my music I would be up there - living there."

Storer, like many country peers, lives in hillbilly heaven on the NSW central coast but has a healthy penchant for touring the bush.

And unlike rappers, rockers and poppies who perceive the bush and regional areas as flyover kryptonite, she is generous with return tours.

Sadly time constraints and Storer's articulate nature meant we only explored three of the 12 originals on her new album.

Brother Greg joins Paul Kelly among the co-writers.

But we'll review it in the Diary before we run the video for Land Cries Out when we return to C 31 from December to March.

Sara supports Suzanne Vega on her Australian tour that includes Jupiter's Casino in Queensland - January 27, Star Casino, Sydney, January 30, Crown Casino, Melbourne - February 1 and Burswood Casino - Perth - February 5.

CLICK HERE for Sara tour dates in TonkGirl's Gig Guide.
CLICK HERE for a Sara feature in the Diary on August 28, 2005.
CLICK HERE for a previous Sara feature in the Diary on October 19, 2003

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