First cattle sale in nearly five years brings hope to outback Queensland town
By the National Regional Reporting Team's Dominique Schwartz and Aneeta Bhole, Sat 23 Mar 2019
It was so much more than a cattle sale. For the residents of Longreach, in the parched heart of central-western Queensland, it was about rekindling hope.
On Friday, the town's saleyards opened for business for the first time in five years, selling nearly 6,000 cattle for Australian Agricultural Company.
"A boost like this for the town is phenomenal," said Tim Salter, Longreach branch manager for livestock agency Elders.
"Everybody who's here today will be staying in town and using services in town.
"When we were running sales here week in week out there would have been in excess of 50 or 60 people who worked out here.
"But since the sales stopped those people naturally moved on with the drought."
Buyers from near and far
Longreach is now in its seventh year of the Big Dry.
Many local graziers sold their stock years ago and were in no position to buy, but happily joined the caravan of bidders and onlookers snaking its way through the dusty maze of pens.
"We're definitely not in the market," said Doug Allpass, who sold his property in August after little reprieve from drought.
"But I could watch and look at cattle all day, we've had sheep and cattle all our life.
"So, it's great to come and see a good line of one-brand cattle, well-presented good set of saleyards and a lot of people here today having a look, producers, buyers, business people, bank people they're all here today."
"It brings people out for a social day," said Fiona Owens, the President of the Longreach Country Women's Association, and "that's very important".
"When you're in drought you tend to think you're far too busy to do anything and everyone stays home and it cheers you up amazingly to talk to people," she said.
But of course, drought isn't the only disaster that's taken its toll on Queensland.
For people further north, the sale was a chance to start restocking properties which were devastated by the widespread flooding last month.
The flooding killed several hundred thousand cattle.
Livestock agent Mick Highland was hoping to fill six orders from graziers around Julia Creek, but demand and prices were so strong, he was battling to clinch a sale.
"We're having a go, we're having a go," he said, racing to keep up with the auctioneer.
"That's the first lot we've got, not sure how we'll go with the rest of them," he said.
While there was keen interest from the north, a majority of the cattle will be heading to feedlots, properties and meatworks on the Darling Downs to the south-east.
"They must be sensing a shortage (of cattle) coming down the track, so are looking to get some numbers now," said Mr Salter.
"The numbers lost in the north have been just horrific, so there'll definitely be a shortage later on.
Optimism in the region
But he said the higher-than-anticipated demand also spoke to renewed optimism.
"There's just a lot of confidence with perhaps a weather change that's coming through," he said.
There are forecasts that Tropical Cyclone Trevor, which is bearing down on the Northern Territory, could next week result in heavy rain in large areas of drought-weary central and eastern Australia.
As always, on the land, one person's disaster can be another's gain.
And the people of Longreach are used to waiting it out.
© 2019 ABC