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'It's slow and insidious': Drought conditions leave businesses struggling in outback Queensland towns

By Chrissy Arthur, Thursday March 26, 2015 - 22:12 EDT
ABC image
Elizabeth Clark said the dam was dry for the first time since it was built in 1949. - ABC

Worsening drought in Queensland's central-west is now having a severe impact in small towns, with some businesses reporting turnovers have halved in the past two years.

Cattle sales have not been held at Longreach since May last year, and they have been cancelled until seasonal conditions improve.

Longreach graziers Peter and Elizabeth Clark said records for their property 'Leander' go back to 1912, and this was the driest it had been.

One dam ran dry for the first time since it was built more than 60 years ago.

"We have been destocked, we have had a depleted income for the last three or four years, and we are not going to have another income for two years at least," Mr Clark said.

"If you said that to someone who is in business in the city, they would say - you can't survive.

"But we probably can survive, providing it rains in the next 12 months."

Mr Clark said he worried about how local businesses were struggling, as well as graziers.

"It's got to the stage now where it is survival, and whether we survive or not will depend on the weather largely," he said.

At Ilfracombe, Sandy and Amelia Williams from 'Rotherfield' were also feeding sheep and hoping to hang on to a few until the rain comes.

Mr Williams said only the stalks of Mitchell grass were left.

"It's just matchsticks - there is no goodness in it whatsoever," he said.

"We draw lines in the sand - and the end of March is one of those lines where a lot more stock will go, and then the end of April really is it.

"Unless it rains before the end of April, there will be very few sheep and even less cattle in the district, so it is going to be a long, long way back."

Small businesses in western towns hurting

Longreach accountant Bill Ringrose said he believed the conditions were unprecedented and hurting small businesses.

"We are seeing turnovers down by 50 to 60 per cent in a lot of businesses and this is not just in Longreach, it is in all the little towns out in the west," he said.

"The region has to be declared as a natural disaster, so business people can receive support - just like a cyclone has gone through and destroyed their business.

"This is what is happening in the town businesses, but it is slow and insidious, it is not a big smash.

"I think the recognition that these towns are in trouble - these communities are in trouble, is what they [governments] have to understand.

"It's okay to put tangible assistance into a primary producer, but this goes so much further and is smashing these little towns."

Longreach newsagent Rob Luck said the conditions were the worst he had seen in 20 years of doing business in the town.

"It is quite a sickening feeling in actual fact, to consider if there is to be no rain and no breaking of drought - just where do we end up?" he said.

"In the past 18 months, the turnover has been a continual decline in our business - I would suggest it is around the $20,000 a month and increasing each month."

Mr Luck said he hoped tourists would head west during winter to boost the economy, and increase their understanding of the situation.

"It is like we have a 100-kilometre radius around us, and in that area, paddocks are like the bitumen you drive on," he said.

"Until you actually experience it, you don't really understand the significance of it.

"I think it is really important that our tourism industry gets behind us and says, go and visit and experience drought conditions, so that when you back and tell your friends, they get a true understanding of it."

The Queensland Government said it was committed to providing current drought assistance through to 2018 and would review its response if the current wet season failed again.

It said it was interested in improving the performance of all programs related to the drought and ensuring the right measures were made available.


© ABC 2015

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