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Lake Eyre flood lures tourists to 'once-in-a-lifetime' spectacle providing outback businesses with key lifeline

Patrick Martin and Gary-Jon Lysaght, Monday June 25, 2018 - 14:46 EST
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Wrightsair owner Trevor Wright said water at Lake Eyre was vital for the outback economy in South Australia and Queensland. - ABC

This year's flood event at Lake Eyre hasn't just delivered a spectacular natural wonder, it has also brought new life to Central Australia and a crucial economic boost to remote businesses.

The floodwater has invigorated local communities throughout its almost 1,000-kilometre journey from north Queensland through the Lake Eyre Basin.

The opportunity to see the usually dry lake in flood attracted tourists like Penny Davidson to catch an aerial glimpse of the ephemeral event.

'Stunning, remarkable, goose-bumpy'

"We've travelled from Tasmania," Ms Davidson said.

"We knew there was water coming in to Lake Eyre and we thought it might not happen again in our lifetime."

She said the experience was awe-inspiring.

"It was absolutely stunning, remarkable, goose-bumpy," Ms Davidson said.

"There's a vast amount of water in the middle of nowhere and the reflection on the water makes it feel like you might be flying upside-down because it is so flat.

"You can see right to the bottom of the lake and nothing's changed — the bottom still has tracks and holes in it because there isn't enough current to wash that away."

The water attracts wildlife not usually seen in the area.

"We saw pelicans and a swan and ducks — how many people get to see that in the middle of Australia in the desert?" Ms Davidson said.

"It is absolutely unique — we won't see anything like it again in our lifetimes."

Fellow tourist Trevor Jennings first visited William Creek 10 years ago hoping to see water in Lake Eyre.

"I've had three attempts at trying to get up in the Eyre but there's never been any water in the Lake, so it was definitely on my bucket list," Mr Jennings said.

This year the wait paid off.

"You get the sunrise, you get the reflections off the water and the different undulations — it's just magic."

"It is right up there with so many of the great locations around Australia."

He said the size of the flood, which was smaller than previous years, didn't detract from the experience.

"If anything, it probably highlights the significance of the water that is there, and you actually get to see those areas that are yet to be filled."

He had advice for any traveller considering making the trek to the famous salt lake.

"Do a bit of research - check where the water is and whether there's any water here at all. Call the William Creek Hotel or any of the information bureaus around.

"It's a rather arduous journey to get here to see no water, which I've done twice before."

Water's impact plain to see

Wrightsair Chief Pilot, Matthew Harnetty, said interest in Lake Eyre had increased in recent weeks.

He said the water had drastically changed the Lake Eyre environment.

"You get that salt diluting into the water so you get a bit of an algae growing which is pink in colour," Mr Harnetty said.

"When it is at low capacity you can see it changing from blues and whites to pinks and reds and also get the white of the salt and the blue of the water.

"You get a lot of pelicans making there way down the river systems as well from central Queensland following that water all the way down, feeding on the fish as they go."

Lake Eyre is usually filled by local rain, but this year was different.

"All this water fell with local rain in central Queensland's earlier this year," Mr Harnetty said.

"In the last three to four months it's been making its way through the Diamantina and Georgina river systems, filling up all the flood plains and lake systems as it goes."

The lack of local rain meant the water took about three weeks to flow from the Warburton inlet to the southern end of Lake Eyre.

"It's amazing to watch," Mr Harnetty said.

"Just to see the head of the floodwater slowly moving down each day.

"Each flight you do over the lake you can see the water changing position."

But just how long the water would remain was unknown.

"Variables such as wind, heat, the local environment — they all play a role in either keeping the water there longer or evaporating it quicker," Mr Harnetty said.

Tourism season turning thanks to water

Wrightsair owner and William Creek Hotel publican, Trevor Wright, said the water had undoubtedly brought an economic boost.

"The tourism season in the upper north of South Australia was definitely down March-May, but now we're starting to see an increase," Mr Wright said.

"It's getting cooler down south, and water in the lake means things are picking up."

He said the flood event had benefits for many remote communities.

"It puts these remote areas like your Innamincka, your Marree, Coober Pedy, Mungerannie, Birdsville on the map once again," Mr Wright said.

"It actually increases employment — with more people coming through we need more staff to service them both in hospitality, accommodation and in aviation and tour guides."

Mr Wright said that minimal local rainfall had made it difficult for the region and any water was welcome.

"Rainfall in the last year or so has been reduced to the normal and its quite dry out here," Mr Wright said.

"We'd probably be entering a drought at the moment.

"But you've got that contrast with the lake out there and also the channel systems where you're starting to see green.

"Even though there wasn't a huge amount of water the channel country is now starting to flourish again ... we're seeing an increase in birdlife, vegetation and animal life at the same time."


© ABC 2018

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