Surviving hell and high water one year on from record north-west Queensland floods
Arlie Felton-Taylor, Fri 14 Feb 2020
This time last year, communities in Queensland's north-west were dealing with the aftermath of unprecedented monsoonal rain.
caused major flooding and freezing cold weather which .
Rural lobby group AgForce has estimated more than 664,000 head of stock were lost, and a Deloitte report conducted in June last year estimated the social and economic cost of the disaster will exceed $5.68 billion.
At the time, pictures of dead and dying cattle were hitting the mainstream media and the weeks to follow had many tasked with the grim job of burying carcasses.
People on the land and in the towns agreed it was something they never wanted to see again.
But with the haunting memory remaining, there is a positive outlook and steely resolution to rebuild their lives.
Deluge prompted hasty exit
At the height of the flooding, veterinarian and cattle producer Lindsay Allan was evacuated with his wife Sally by helicopter.
The pair had to climb a ladder onto their hay shed roof at Longford Station near Cloncurry when the Fullerton River hit record levels.
"The water came through the house here and none of neighbours have even known it to get this high. It went about three or four inches through the house," he said.
"I came back two days later and there was a bloody great kangaroo domiciled in our lounge room. I walked into house and I don't know who got the biggest fright, me or the roo."
Mr Allan said family and some friends came from Brisbane, along with charity groups, to help them in the clean-up.
"We had to put up about 12 or 14 kilometres of new fence so we didn't do too badly that way. And it was great having the help of the BlazeAid people," he said.
With losses of more than 400 head of cattle due to hypothermia and pneumonia, Mr Allan said it was hard to say what he could have done differently to save stock.
"The whole event happened so rapidly and you can't spend your time putting them on high ground because it wasn't really flooding. You can't give them all a blanket," he said.
"The only thing that I think you can do is always make sure that your cattle are in good order."
Renewed hope with a good start to 2020
and Longford Station has recorded over 250 millimetres already in 2020.
"If it kept coming until around about the end of March or even into April, that would be one of the best seasons that we've had for fifteen years, I'd say," Mr Allen said.
He said he hoped to buy cattle for his country and would probably access one of the loans being offered by the Federal Government.
"It might be that [the cattle are] not about, but Australia's a pretty big paddock and we'll find them somewhere," he said.
Bold moves to restock reap rewards
Meanwhile, young Winton couple Tom and Belinda McLeish had taken a bullish approach to rebuilding their herd numbers and were now back to the numbers they had before the disaster.
"We did step out and basically buy back the stock that we lost through a multitude of different deals Ã¢â¬â being time payment deals and government-assisted deals through different grants," Mr McLeish said.
Mr McLeish said the confidence in the livestock sector was strong and more rain on their property Cooinda would see them set.
"We're in a pretty good position to go on if we can get further rain and we're in a good average stocking position because we took some big risks," he said.
Mr McLeish said government loans were invaluable but required a very good grasp of the applicant's business and financial position to work through the application forms.
He said the livestock sector was buoyant and, as a rural property agent and grazier, he had seen positive trends.
"I think anyone who is investing in agriculture is doing a pretty sound thing," he said.
Knocked down but not out of the industry
On another Winton district property, Tahnee Oakhill husband Ross were rebuilding at a slower pace on their property Bernfels.
Twelve months ago they were cut off by floodwater, and the young family witnessed some horrific scenes in losing 90 per cent of their cattle herd.
Mrs Oakhill said the disaster took a toll on her children, even with counselling and the support of the local school.
"It's probably only been six months later that I found my daughter was starting to be more afraid of everything," Mrs Oakhill said.
"She has sort of been fairly fearless before that so I think the finality of life and death had started to hit her.
"Anybody that lost on that scale you do feel responsible.
"Even at [the age of] 10 at the time, [my son] asked if it was okay that I tell them how many we lost and that we did have to shoot some."
In the aftermath of the disaster, the Oakhill family had to decide whether to keep on running their cattle business after losing 800 of their 1,000-head herd.
"Are we going to have another crack? Do we actually have the energy to start this thing again? Because we were literally starting from scratch," Mrs Oakhill said.
"We talked about it over Christmas with our family and said we still love this place, our kids' lives are here, and you start to forget the ugliness."
Rain proves a surprising tonic
The unprecedented number of mental health experts sent in early to carefully monitor and help victims in recovery had been hailed a success.
Royal Flying Doctor Service psychologist Tim Driscoll said he was reassured by hearing that people are sick of hearing about mental health.
"I think that tells you we've done a reasonable job if they're sick of it. They know about it. And I think there have been a lot of resources put into mental health from a lot of different stakeholders," he said.
Dr Driscoll said there had also been a longer-term benefit from the investment in mental health support.
"Certainly it's easier to get services into these communities than it ever has been for mental health, so that has been one positive that has come out of these events," he said.
He said the disaster event had evoked loss and grief responses in the people affected.
"We saw catastrophic levels of stock loss, we lost bloodlines that had been built up over many years lost. So that has a long term impact on the industry, individual properties, and family," Dr Driscoll said.
He said had evoked some concern in locals.
"Obviously there was some concern and anxieties brought up when that low pressure system moved over and people were watching that closely," Dr Driscoll said.
"But overwhelmingly we've seen a very positive response to that rain.
"That's the sort of rain we need to get pasture up and going again and the region moving towards recovery."
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