14/02/2019

'We Have Death And Devastation At Every Turn': The Flood Massacre Of Queensland Cattle

The Guardian|

Almost overnight we have transitioned from drought to a flood disaster zone. There are kangaroos dead in trees, birds drowned in drifts of silt and our beloved bovine family perished in huddled piles
A cow and calf killed by flood waters in Queensland: ‘It is absolutely soul-destroying to think our animals suffered like this.’ Photograph: Jacqueline Curley
After what can only be described as an environmental massacre of mammoth proportions throughout the whole of north-west Queensland, the people of this country are heartbroken.
We live on a family cattle station 60km north of Cloncurry, where we have just received 700mm-plus of rain over seven days, with the majority of that falling over four days. This extreme weather event, equivalent to an inland cyclone, has decimated much of our native wildlife, along with our domestic livestock. They were constantly exposed to wind and cold driving rain for far too long. The majority of the country was either covered in flood water or churned into a bog, making their feed inaccessible.
The cattle became weak, using what energy they had struggling through the mud and pushed by the driving rain. After withstanding these harsh conditions for days on end their energy was depleted and they finally became exhausted simply trying to stay warm and died.
Graziers around the district are working tirelessly to save what they can and also to humanely euthanise those animals that sadly are beyond saving. My son has been flying over and shooting his beloved cattle for several days, which is absolutely gutting – he has grown up with them, their parents, their grandparents and great-grandparents. Helicopters are being used to distribute what fodder we have available to the survivors and right now this is our only form of transportation. The majority of the region is still inaccessible to vehicles and will be for some time.
‘We just couldn’t get the machines to get them out in time. The tears are rolling as I write this, I love these animals and can’t bear to see them suffer unnecessarily. This is why landholders need revolver licences, we are not the cowboys some government ministers try to portray us as. It may be tough love but quick death is better than perishing and starving until they expire, and in conditions like this long barrel rifles are heavy and difficult to carry. Many farmers will have to walk around in clogging mud and shoot hundreds of these poor animals.’ Photograph: Jacqueline Curley 
The scale of devastation here and throughout the north-west is impossible to put into words. There are estimates of hundreds of thousands of domestic livestock having been lost so far during this disaster and it is impossible to put into numbers the impact on the region’s native wildlife. In some of our paddocks we are facing a 95% loss and on average we are estimating approximately 50% losses over all of our family’s flood-affected properties, encompassing approximately 120,000 acres.
Our cattle have been in a significant supplement feeding program, having withstood the last seven years of relative drought. As a result of this our girls were in great condition and we were seeing the beginning of another exceptional crop of calves. Almost overnight we have transitioned from relative drought years to a flood disaster zone. No amount of preparation could have readied our herd for the relentless driving rain and near gale-force winds they had to endure.
On day eight the creek by our houses had dropped and slowed just enough for Robert and Kate to swim across and check on some cows close by. The heartbreaking scene they were confronted with on the other side very quickly turned our fears into the horrific nightmare that not only our family but our extended family, the whole of the north-west, are now battling with. It is unfathomable that our ladies in such a short period of time have lost roughly an incredibly 50% of their body weight. The survivors are a mere shadow of the strong healthy animals they were only a fortnight ago.
As we begin to access our paddocks we are being confronted with death and devastation at every turn. There are kangaroos dead in trees and fences, birds drowned in drifts of silt and debris and our beloved bovine family lay perished in piles where they have been huddling for protection and warmth. This scene is mirrored across the entire region, it is absolutely soul-destroying to think our animals suffered like this.
‘This event was on the same scale as a blizzard in America, no warning, absolutely nothing that could be done to save these animals that just walked in this “cyclone over land”. They stopped and died of cold and flood water here.’ Photograph: Jacqueline Curley 
The scale of destruction this disaster has left in its wake we are only just beginning to discover. The sheer amount of storm water that engulfed the region has demolished fences, exposed pipelines, destroyed water infrastructure, created huge gullies that were once only small seasonal streams, turned roads into rivers and washed dam banks away. Our dam, which was an amazing refuge for birdlife and where I spent many peaceful hours watching them, has been destroyed.
Properties further downstream have been inundated by flood water and reports are coming in of entire herds being washed away. Many homestead complexes have been completely submerged. Here we have been lucky – our houses, sheds and out buildings have remained relatively dry. Others will have lost everything, facing an enormous clean-up on the home front, not just out in the paddock.
Right now – I’m sure I am speaking on behalf of everyone affected – our focus is entirely on the welfare of our animals. In the coming weeks when the surviving animals no longer require our constant care, our focus will shift to the colossal task of clean-up, repair and rebuilding where possible. This will also be the time where many will start the gruelling task of tallying up the horrific financial cost. I fear many families will not be able to recover from this blow financially – in some cases their entire future income has literally been washed away.
Graziers are battling a race against time to get fodder out to their cattle. With so many facing the logistics of such a task all at once, helicopters, hay and aviation fuel are in short supply and many are completely helpless to do anything until their name reaches the top of the list. Local emergency teams and private helicopter companies have been doing an amazing job with what resources they have. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
‘Danny Mara getting ready to sling a live heifer out to dry ground, medication and fodder. With a 44 Robinson chopper above.’ Photograph: Jacqueline Curley
This is an absolutely gut-wrenching time for all of us out here, these cattle are not just our source of income: they are our family and, for many of us, our life’s passion. The toll that this will take on our extended agricultural family and our entire local communities, financially and even more so emotionally, really is immeasurable.
Australia, we need your support. Our state and federal governments can do much to help by providing financial funding and disaster assistance packages to help our communities recover and rebuild. The banks can assist by suspending interest repayments on existing mortgages, and writing off significant portions of mortgage debt while our livestock herds rebuild. They own the mortgages on most of this grazing country so they will take a hit with us either way – they may as well let us make a profit for them again down the track.
‘This makes me cry every time I look at these photos. Our crew spent hours here slinging the live heifers out and medicating them. Most still died. They were just the most beautiful mob of stud heifers.’ Photograph: Jacqueline Curley 
It will be four years before many of these people once again have a useful income, which means unless we are back in production again as soon as possible, thriving country communities such as Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Richmond and Hughenden will also perish with us. This is possibly the greatest disaster that our livestock industries have suffered in Australia’s history.
These graphic images should be seen by all Australians so that they have an understanding of our rural life. Empathy for us from our city dwellers will indeed help us to survive and rise again from this catastrophe, just as we have empathy for city dwellers during the many crazy weather events that continually happen in this land. But apart from empathy we need consumer power – insist on buying local produce so we can continue to provide top-quality, homegrown, nourishing Australian beef.

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