By Stefica Nicol Bikes
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Thirsty city slickers are pitching in to help farmers in Australia's parched interior by eating a pub delicacy called a "parma," with some of the proceeds marked for drought relief.
The dish of fried crumbed chicken topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese, called parmagiana, or parma for short, is staple pub food across a country in the depths of a big dry.
Winter's wheat crop is failing in the east and graziers are struggling to keep livestock alive on bone-dry pastures.
All over a continent where "the bush" looms large in the public psyche, that's prompted bars to promise a dollar in donation from each meal sold, as well as collecting cash from barflies, as part of the "parma for a farmer" drive.
"We thought let's double that, we'll do two dollars," James Martin told Reuters at the Old Fitzroy Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo where he is chef.
"It resonates for me to jump on board, to help do what I can," he said.
"We use a lot of produce, a lot of meat and the drought issue is obviously massive for the farmers, but there is this huge ripple-on effect that's occurring throughout Australia."
A thousand other pubs have signed on as well in just a week, illustrating the depth of feeling for drought-stricken farmers, which has deepened further still as images of starving sheep, dry waterholes and fields turned to moonscapes have hit the city press and evening bulletins in recent weeks.
"We've all seen the horrendous pictures on the news, it's shocking," said Amanda Kinross, a cake decorator from rural Victorian town Bendigo, who began the campaign with a Facebook post. "Within minutes pubs were saying: 'Yep, we're on.'"
Australia's government has already pledged almost A$600 million ($440 million) in aid but proceeds from the "parma" drive will be directed especially to assist with buying and sending emergency livestock feed to affected farms.
"Sometimes in the city we don't realise how tough it is out there, and it's a bit of a tough time at the moment, so supporting in any way that we can," said Andy Casey, who tucked in to a huge A$24 parma, with chips and salad, for lunch.
"It was fresh, it was delicious," he said, washing it down with a beer.
(Writing and additional reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Michael Perry)