Inland Tsunami in the Gulf

After six years of drought, Mount Isa residents prayed for rain. Then it flooded

For graziers who sweated to keep their herds alive, praying for rain, the scale of the flood is hard to take

Out the back of Mount Isa, in late January, the locals marked a wry milestone.

For an unbroken stretch of 43 stinking afternoons, the temperature at Cloncurry and Camooweal had topped 40C. The herds of cattle in Queensland’s north-west, the ones that had survived through six years of drought, started to show signs of severe heat stress. They became thinner, weaker.

Then one Monday, the temperature dropped. The following day it started to rain.

“It was magnificent, we all cheered,” says Marcus Curr, who owns Yelvertoft Station, about 100km north of Mount Isa.

“Then it rained and it rained and it rained.”

The scale of devastation in the north-west and the Gulf country has been described as an “inland tsunami”. There are about 1.5m cattle in the Gulf, and some estimates are one in three died in the flood waters. For the graziers who had sweated through those six long years to keep herds alive, praying for rain, the scale of the flood disaster is hard to take.

There’s grown tough men I know who have been reduced to tears. And I’m one of them. Marcus Curr

“We’ve probably lost 4,000 to 5,000 head of cattle in horrific circumstances. It’s not even about our livelihood. They’re our animals. I know we make a living out of them but they’re also our pets as well,” Curr said.

“They’re all our sale cattle for the year, our younger sale cattle. We’ve just dragged them through a drought, spent a fortune on them keeping them alive.”

Once the water recedes, the carcasses will have to be buried or burned.

The Gulf

Queensland floods: satellite images before and after reveal devastation

“It is going to be horrific,” Curr said. “There’s grown tough men I know who have been reduced to tears. And I’m one of them.”

Curr said locals were desperate for governments – and the media – to recognise the scale of the emergency. The immense distance between the reality of life on those outback stations, and the political manoeuvring in Canberra, seems even greater at times of crisis.

This picture taken by Anthony Anderson shows dead cattle in a flood-affected area near Julia Creek

This picture taken by Anthony Anderson shows dead cattle in a flood-affected area near Julia Creek. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Advertisement

“We need people to take this seriously,” Curr said. It’s not just the graziers, it’s the small country towns, it’s the station agents, it’s the bloke that owns the grocery store in Julia Creek and Cloncurry. They make their living out of us and they’re relying on us as well.”

‘The rain didn’t discriminate’

As flood waters recede on some properties, the graziers face the task of scouring the land for dead, sick and injured animals. On some stations, carcasses are clustered in the corners of paddocks, where cattle had attempted to find high ground as the floodwater took hold.

In areas where cattle were able to keep their heads above water, livestock appear to have starved, isolated in the bog without food. Graziers say those who survived lost up to half their body weight. Some can be saved. Others had to be shot.

“I still can’t get far from the house,” said Nigel Simmons, who runs three family properties near Julia Creek, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. “Just this morning I took the gun with me and had to put about three down. We found half a dozen that were (sitting) down that I was able to get up in the hope that they’ll live.”

Simmons said during an initial survey he thought about half the cattle had been killed. He now thinks that number might be closer to 70%, as many suffer the effects of the sudden cold, rain and lack of feed.

Dead cattle at Eddington station, 20km west of Julia Creek, Queensland

Dead cattle at Eddington station, 20km west of Julia Creek. Photograph: Rachael Anderson

“Everyone is in a little different situation (but) the rain didn’t discriminate,” he said.

“The whole area up here had a very hot summer leading up to this. The cattle were in relatively good condition, most of ours that had been down here for 12 months and had been doing well up until November when the heat sort of hit, the grass deteriorated then.

“Everyone is the same, they were lightly stocked so the cattle had enough feed, but nothing had prepared people for the rain we had, really.

“We surveyed everything in the chopper but today (Tuesday) is the first day I’ve had to get around now, in terms of access. It’s been very sickening, very disheartening and a sad sight to see.”

‘You won’t get insurance on livestock’

One of the region’s livestock agents, Peter Dowling, said the losses would be doubly devastating because graziers could not fall back on insurance policies.

“You won’t get insurance on livestock,” he said. “You just can’t get policies to cover that.”

Dowling has been in regular contact with his clients and says the losses could be greater, as surviving cattle were mostly in poor condition.

“A lot of people I talk to, a couple of days ago they were saying that just from the air, from helicopters checking their country, they were probably losing average 80% [of their stock],” Dowling said.

“There was going to be a big sell-down if it didn’t rain.

“A lot of people are struggling to come through at the moment. They’re really struggling. They’re losing what they’ve been keeping alive, some of them for six generations. They’ve had no income effectively for three years, everyone has money owing to banks. There’s so much insecurity about what the future holds.”

From the Guardian Australia 13 Feb 2019

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