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Drought-hit Channel Country cattle producers welcome floodwater from weather system that devastated neighbours

Steven Schubert and Ben Deacon, Saturday February 23, 2019 - 19:02 EDT
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Floodwater has moved south to the Channel Country "almost like a tsunami". - ABC

Light planes, helicopters and even jet skis are being used to push cattle to higher ground as floodwater, which came from the same weather system that killed as many as 500,000 animals across Queensland's north and central-west, moves south.

But producers aren't complaining about the water, they're welcoming it with open arms after a seven-year drought.

The far south-west Queensland town of Birdsville, near the South Australia and Northern Territory borders, hasn't had any rain at all, but is now in the middle of a one-in-40-year flood.



The floodplains from the burst banks of the Diamantina River spread 30 kilometres wide in some parts, putting moisture back into the ground.

"This will save me for the whole year," said Geoff Morton, who is a fourth-generation owner of Roseberth Station, 30 kilometres upstream of Birdsville.

"We were in drought conditions and I was just about to destock if it didn't rain. This will save me all that and I'll be able to keep my herd for another 12 months."



The huge volume of water coming down the Diamantina catchment has meant locals have been surprised by how quickly the river has come up.

This is what's called a dry flood — Birdsville has received only 0.6mm of rainfall so far in 2019, so all of the water moving through has come from higher in the catchment.

Queensland's Channel Country — so called because of capillary-like natural channels that carry water from flooded rivers across vast areas — is covered in water.

"This is so unusual. I've been through many floods on the Diamantina and this has come down almost like a tsunami," Mr Morton said.



That has meant graziers have been out pushing their cattle to higher ground using whatever they can find, be it light plane, helicopter, boat or jet ski.

Mr Morton said that once the water dropped grass would begin to grow for his cattle.

The joy of local pastoralists has been tempered by the disaster that pastoralists further north have gone through.



"That's mother nature isn't it, she can't be controlled. But their devastation is our joy," said Bev Morton, also from Roseberth Station.

The Mortons said they went through a similar experience in the 1980s to what has happened further north, losing most of their herd after a big flood and cold snap.

"We still feel for them because we've been in that position," Ms Morton said.

"But to wake up and see it like this, it's the lottery, it really is. I could look at it all day, every day."

Not all of the channel country is so lucky.

The Georgina River and Copper Creek catchments have had some rain, but not the dramatic amount of water in the Diamantina, leaving properties on those rivers little better off.



Floodwater rejuvenates environment, brings in tourists



It's not just the cattle producers who will benefit from the floods.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Don Rowlands said there would be benefits to the parched environment.

"This area depends on boom and bust. In a couple of months you'll come along here and this place will be a metre-high green grass everywhere," he said.

"It can turn around overnight just by adding water."

With the roads to Brisbane and Adelaide cut by the flood, the local bridge has become an attraction for Birdsville's residents, who gather to see what the water is doing.

Once the roads reopen, the town expects an extra 10,000 tourists will visit this year to see the effects of water in the dry Channel Country.



"It'll mean a good start to the tourist season for us. There are people who come out in four-wheel drives every year, but there are specific people who are out, like birdwatchers, photographers and things like that," said Ben Fullagar, publican of the famous Birdsville Hotel.

Mr Fullagar said a supply truck from Adelaide made it up the Birdsville Track before it was cut off by floodwaters, bringing food orders for residents and plenty of beer for the pub.

"As long as I'm running this hotel, I really don't want to be known as the pub with no beer.

"We did bring in a couple of pallets of beer. We've got plenty of tucker as well. We should be okay."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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