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Life in Queensland's Channel Country means you can have a huge flood without any rain

Nathan Morris, Sunday July 21, 2019 - 10:06 EST
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As floodwaters weave through the Channel Country, the dry land comes back to life. - ABC

After years of dry conditions, Angus Emmott's dams are full again.

"It's the first time we've had it [water storage] full for about eight years," said Mr Emmott, who in the past has spent many months trucking water to his Noonbah cattle station south of Longreach in western Queensland.

But after eight failed summers in a row they have been lucky to finally benefit from recent rain, as well as channel flooding further upstream after a cyclone in February.

"We've got 50,000 hectares here and 25,000 of that goes under water in a big flood, and it's just been under water," Mr Emmott said.

"So we've got one of the world's greatest natural feedlots right here."

Changing climate a concern

Despite this, the extended weather forecast is not promising a return to average rainfalls.

"It's not looking particularly brilliant over the next few years," Mr Emmott said.

"But you just never know — it just takes one good cyclone to punch through and come down as a depression and you can have a good season."

His cautiousness stems from his involvement as a board member at Farmers for Climate Action (FCA), a group of agricultural leaders advocating for climate action to ensure the future of their industry.

Mr Emmott recently hosted FCA's chief executive Verity Morgan-Schmidt.

"Farmers and graziers, who have long been experts at managing the natural climate variability that we experience in this part of the world, are increasingly starting to recognise the changing climatic signals that are occurring," Ms Morgan-Schmidt said.

After more than 100 years on Noonbah, the Emmott family are now managing the land differently. They no longer breed cattle, and they run fewer stock and only when the season is right.

"In periods of low to no rainfall we're either partially or fully destocking," Mr Emmott said.

"It's better for our mental health, it's better for our country."

65km-wide floodwaters

Hundreds of kilometres down the road, east of Birdsville, Chook Kath is the manager of Mt Leonard Arrabury Stations.

He said the dry conditions meant they had been relying on the channel flooding to bring much-needed water.

The redistribution of rainfall from wetter regions in Queensland's north, down through rivers such as the Thompson, Diamantina and the Georgina, and a series of creeks and channels, is how graziers are able to successfully run cattle.

"We were going into a particularly dry time and we got a little bit of relief rain, [but] we've got channel country, and we were lucky enough to get a flood," Mr Kath said.

That was in February this year and prior to that they had only received 1.8 millimetres of rain for the month, well below their already minimal annual average of about 150mm.

"Trouble is we've got a lot of other country too, and it's the other country that's suffering, and it's not in good shape so we're living on our trump card," Mr Kath said.

The web of channels that flow from Queensland's north to the south will support the graziers, who are lucky enough to have country on the river, through for another summer.

"Sixty-five kilometres wide, at 3,000 feet, you can't see the other end of that water — you tell me where else in the world you can see that," Mr Kath said.


© ABC 2019

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