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"When the only way home is to fly": The big wet hits pastoral stations on Kimberley coast

Courtney Fowler and Michelle Stanley, Thursday February 1, 2018 - 18:06 EDT
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The roads on Kilto station have been washed out by heavy rainfall on the weekend and are only accessible by chopper. - ABC

When roads are transformed into rivers, gates can only be opened by boat, and the only way to get home is to fly — this is the situation facing some pastoral stations along WA's Kimberley coast.

Following the deluge of rain after the tropical low that passed over Broome at the weekend, the town has experienced its wettest January on record with 942.2mm falling since the start of the month.

And for surrounding pastoral stations, some have almost already tripled their annual rainfall average just one month into 2018.

Roebuck Plains Station, which is approximately 38km from Broome, has received a record 64 inches or around 1,625mm since the start of the wet season, with half of that rain falling this week.

"Our average out here is 600mm, which is about 26 inches, and we're going onto about triple that so far," station manager John Geddes said.

"The floodplain is completely under, it's the highest I've ever seen it and the rest of the station is fairly sandy, pindan sort of country but it's fully inundated now."

Mr Geddes said they had moved more than 6,000 head of cattle off the floodplains, which is now completely submerged by water.

"They've been shifted off the floodplain now up onto the higher country," he said.

"We just poked along and did a few at a time and took them steady by helicopter and boat."

Flood damage may push back season

Mr Geddes said he was grateful to receive so much rain early in the season but it had got to a point where it was becoming "counter-productive" for business.

He added that it would take months for the land to dry out and for his crew to repair damaged fencing, which could see delays to the start of their muster season.

"I think it will be a good two or three months at least before cattle can be moved back onto the floodplain, we're pretty much resigned to the fact that we're going to have a late start," he said.

"We've had a lot of damage, a lot of destructive wind blowing a lot of big trees over fences [and] we've had some damage to buildings around the station.

"We're going to have a heap of roadworks to do so we can access paddocks and also will have to wait for the country to dry out and it's only January yet, so we could get a lot more rain.

"Our first priority is to secure the road, we haven't had any reports of any out yet but we've got about 500km of fence line to try and maintain and work our way in."

Roebuck Plains Station remains cut off from the highway on its eastern and southern boundaries.

Neighbouring properties have also experienced severe flooding. Just 8km down the road, the West Roebuck export depot received 449 millimetres in the 24 hours to Monday afternoon.

Around 65km east of Broome, Kilto Station received more than 330mm over the weekend and have recorded more than 1,060mm since the start of the year.

Owner Jack Burton said they were already creeping up to their record-breaking annual rainfall total last year.

"It's as wet as I can remember it; I don't think it's our wettest yet, but it must be getting close to that," he said.

"We had a great year last year, we got about 1,300mm and this year we're over 1,000mm so far.

"To get two big wets back to back is pretty good, the year before was quite dry but we've certainly made up for last year and this year."

Mr Burton said the heavy flooding meant there could be a delay to the start of the season for their nearby abattoir Kimberley Meats Company.

"Obviously it will be a bit tough getting our livestock out of Kilto to our abattoir between Broome and Derby," he said.

"Our road has been absolutely smashed; there are two bridges along the road and they've both been washed out and are totally unpassable at the moment so we're choppering in and out to the bitumen.

"Hopefully we can get all that repaired in the next couple of weeks before we start the season with the cattle, but if it keeps going like this we might have to rethink that.

"We will be in for a good season [but] everything is getting mouldy and boggy and the cattle get sick of trudging through the mud, so a few fine days would certainly be a welcome sight at this stage."

Some still holding out for rain

Mr Burton said he felt for the stations in the East Kimberley and south of Fitzroy Crossing, that were still holding out hope for some decent rainfall.

Pastoral manager for the Argyle Cattle Company, Andy Lockyer, said several of their stations had missed out on rain from the two cyclones and tropical low that have passed over the region in the past month.

He said Mulla Bulla Station, about 20km east of Halls Creek, received its first 150mm of rain for the season over the weekend, but it was still quite dry at Beefwood Station near Fitzroy Crossing.

"After the last cyclone Shamrock Station got plenty; I think we'll get nearly a metre over there, but Mulla Bulla missed out [so] we definitely needed this rain," he said.

"There was green feed there from storms but it was starting to dry out again, so this will spread the cattle out and it will kick us into 2018 pretty good. All we need is good prices now.

"It's still pretty patchy at Beefwood, which hasn't been getting the storms that Mulla Bulla has been getting, so it definitely needs a better drink because they've only had 17mm up to now.

"Last year was exceptional, so if we get an average or a bit better rain this season we can't complain."


© ABC 2018

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