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As drought bites, Cunnamulla's population has dropped 40 per cent, but not everyone is leaving

Nathan Morris, Friday December 14, 2018 - 16:27 EDT
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Most of the paddocks on the Moody's station are bone dry with sheep relying on feed and vegetation. - ABC

On Abbadoah Station, the Moody family has been feeding stock for seven years.

"My entire working life has pretty much been drought — feeding sheep, feeding cattle and pushing scrub, that's about all it is," Jesse Moody said.

He is 26, a fourth generation grazier, and alongside his family manages more than 50,000 hectares near Cunnamulla, in south-west Queensland.

After the millennium drought, the Moodys invested in more on-farm feed storage, hoping to set themselves up for the next long dry.



Unfortunately that came again before the country had time to recover.

"We're now at the tipping point — whether we start selling now [or] we don't really know what we should do," he said.

"Seven years really stretches you a bit.

"Like a lot of other businesses in the drought, if it doesn't rain this summer, we're all going to be in some serious trouble."

Back-to-back droughts

Cunnamulla has only received its in 11 of the last 20 years.

The last two droughts have come too close together to allow the country to recover and the perennial grasses, that graziers rely on, to grow.



"Average rainfall for Cunnamulla is 13 inches [330mmm], so we've been getting by on five, seven, eight [inches] the last few years," Michael Moody said.

"We haven't joined our rams for two years — that's a big economic loss. The cost of this drought is incredible."

Paroo Shire Council Mayor, Lindsay Godfrey, whose family has been in the region for 50 years, said it was the worst situation the district has faced.

"The Paroo Shire has lost 40 per cent of its population in the past 20 years," he said.

"In town here in Cunnamulla our unimproved valuations have dropped by around 40 per cent since the last valuation — that's in a couple of years."

Exodus of younger generation

More concerning to Mr Godfrey is the exodus of the next generation.

"Some of our best people have left, and a lot of our young people are thinking about it," he said.

"We need to retain those people in our district — they're the ones that are the future of the district.

"They're the ones who'll work in the race meetings, they're the ones who'll drive the economy."

From cattle station to cafe owner

But not everyone is leaving.

Eighteen months ago, Rebecca King moved from the Gold Coast back to Cunnamulla to manage a cafe her family had bought after they were forced to destock their cattle station.



"I knew that they were going through drought, I knew that they were having hard times, but it wasn't until I got here and physically felt the emotions of what was going on that it really really hit me," she said.

For the interim, former shearer Herb Martin now juggles managing the station with making coffees.

"There was no money coming in in the end, that was the decision that was worrying me," Mr Martin said.

"So we made the decision that we'd sell the cattle, and then we said, 'We've only got eight or 12 months and we've got to do something else, otherwise we'll lose the place'."

For now the family have kept their property, but the stoic family remains cautious.

"We have three grandchildren who live here [and] I do worry about what's going to happen for their future," Jean Martin said.

Politics of drought

Mr Godfrey said the process of defining a drought needed to be reformed.

"At the heart of a drought like this, in Cunnamulla for instance, is defining it," he said.

"We've had five to six years of drought so that should be an exceptional circumstance trigger, which triggers policy akin to a natural disaster.

"This is as bad for us as any flood or fire or any extreme event."



Mr Godfrey is frustrated at the politicisation of the drought and a response dictated by media attention.

"Money coming into the shires to be used for infrastructure in those exceptional areas is one way you can generate employment and get people working relatively quickly," he said.

Changing land management

Acutely aware of the changing weather patterns, the Moodys say the way the country is managed needs to change.

"We have to be really good businessmen if we want to succeed out here," Jesse Moody said.

"There's no chance for mugs or anything like that, we've got to do a proper job."

Generations after his grandfather first took up country in the Cunnamulla district, Jesse and his family are still hopeful about the future.

"If we can get some reasonable — even average — seasons there's a good future here," Michael Moody said.

"There's a good future in this sort of environment with sheep and cattle.

"It's healthy country, it just doesn't rain lately. That's the whole problem."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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