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Mixed blessings for Channel Country graziers as floodwater brings strong season for some but leaves others desperate

By Ollie Wykeham, Friday August 9, 2019 - 16:44 EST
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Red sand hills are blooming with wild flowers, despite not much overhead rain. - ABC

Floodwaters that crippled North Queensland's cattle industry have turned the Channel Country further downstream into a landscape of dramatic contrasts.

While some are experiencing the best season in decades, neighbouring properties not touched by the floodwaters are still gripped by drought.

In the Diamantina National Park, it's been a blessing.

"I've been coming here for 30 years now and I've never seen anything like it," senior ranger Chris Mitchell said.

"When you work hard trying to look after a place and to see it bloom like this, it just makes you think, oh yeah, I've been doing things right. It's great."

The scale of water that's moved across the landscape is mind-boggling, with the Channel Country receiving twice as much water as Townsville when it flooded.

The huge flows have torn up banks but also left rich silt deposits.

Mr Mitchell said it had sparked growth in country he thought was barren, and attracted huge flocks of birds to breed.

"This place is booming," he said.

"I would say that you won't get wildlife better anywhere else in the Channel Country than here at the moment.

"You don't have to have the rain and you can still get large amounts of vegetation occurring, and the ground cover this year is just enormous."

A team of drovers is chasing the fresh feed, moving cattle from the drought-affected Barclay tablelands in the Northern Territory into the Channel Country.

But the green ends where the flooding stops and the rest remains a picture of drought.

"The plains country down at Windorah is cut out pretty well," drover John Sylvester said.

"We won't be putting cattle in it this year, but 150 kilometres from there it is as green as you can get.

"It's unbelievable. There's 7,000 head going into one paddock.

"It's good in places but if you don't have the river, it's pretty ordinary."

And Mr Sylvester has seen plenty of dry country during his time on the road.

"It's been dry for so long that the seed banks are almost gone and it's taking so long to get back," he said.

Despite this, the ability of the parched land to bounce back after a soaking can surprise even the locals.

"People that have been there all their life still can't tell you what grows because every season is different and every year there's a new crop and it can be completely different from last year," Mr Sylvester said.

The Channel Country is an unpredictable landscape on every level and that dichotomy can be difficult for graziers to manage.

"You can get overhead rain where your red country and your plains will be good, but there will be nothing in the river," Mr Sylvester said.

"Or like this year, the river can be unbelievable but the red country really hasn't seen much in it."

But when the sky and river both deliver as they have in the Diamantina National Park in the centre of the Channel Country, the result can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"People won't see this country look like this in the living future, it's pretty unique at the moment," Mr Mitchell said.

Watch this story on ABC TV's Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on .


© ABC 2019

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