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Farmer almost loses his faithful dogs in heroic cattle flood rescue

By Keely Johnson, Friday April 9, 2021 - 11:14 EST
ABC image
Troy Irwin travelled through more than a kilometre of deep floodwater to find his cattle.  - ABC

A cattleman almost lost his trusty companions who risked it all when rescuing dozens of stranded cattle in the NSW Mid North Coast floods.

With his dogs swimming beside him, Troy Irwin led the cattle through more than a kilometre of floodwater to safety when the waters rose on March 18.

"The water was just below my knees on the horse," Mr Irwin said.

"It just looked like a brown ocean.

"We travelled over a kilometre a half and saw them [the cattle] on an island."

The dogs instantly started mustering the cattle and the herd started heading back toward the house.

"I stayed on the wing and the dogs sort of bobbed along to keep the tail going," Mr Irwin said.

Incredibly, Mr Irwin and his dogs successfully got more than 100 cows back to safety.

"We got those cattle out, but I couldn't leave the flood water because the current had got the dogs," he said.

Mr Irwin watched helplessly as his dogs drifted further away from land.

All he could do was continue to blow his dog whistle and desperately call them to fight the strong current.

"I thought I would have to go and get her [the dog] and put her on the back of the horse ? but I don't think the horse could do it," he said.

The dogs fought their way back to dry land, much to Troy's relief.

Floods all too common

Troy Irwin is no stranger to floods.

He runs a cattle on more than 400 hectares of land on a flood plain that backs onto the Belmore River on the NSW Mid North Coast.

"We [cattle owners] know what to do when it floods," he said.

"We expect to be flooded. We have made plans for what to do when we are going to be flooded, as long as we have warning."

But the recent flooding event that devastated the region was a different story.

"This flood was just too much. I did locate a good percentage of my cattle, but I lost all my donkeys," Mr Irwin said.

"The old house just washed away ? and our two caravans were half full of water."

'We needed more warning'

Mr Irwin believes he could have been more effective had he received earlier warning of the risk.

"We got a text from Council way too late in the afternoon saying they were getting ready to open the Belmore Fibra Dam [flood gates]," he said.

"Once I saw the message, I said to my partner 'get what you need ? we're going'."

By the time Troy and his partner Mirasol grabbed some essential belongings and their three pet dogs, the water had risen significantly.

"The water was already up to my belly button," Mr Irwin said.

"We had to get out and sort the rest out later."

The pair got on their tractor and left the property immediately, but were forced to leave donkeys, horses, and cattle behind.

Kempsey Council infrastructure delivery manager Dylan Reeves said the council gave residents four hours' notice, and then another alert announcing the floodgates open.  

"We're sorry to see the impact that this has had on the residents of the Kempsey local government area," he said. 

"However, the opening of the floodgates will happen when absolutely necessary."

While the council aims to give as much notice as possible before opening the floodgates, the process can be abrupt. 

"We sent out an SMS warning the floodgates could be opened in the event that the river continued to rise," Mr Reeves said.

"And the river did rise rather rapidly." 

Mr Reeves said the event showed how important it was to take the early flood warnings seriously. 

"Taking the warnings seriously, and being educated about what impact could potentially happen on your property ? in the event of a flood, would be good to have during a disaster event," he said. 


© ABC 2021

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