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Queensland graziers still counting costs of flood devastation

By Lisa Millar, Sunday June 23, 2019 - 17:19 EST
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When the rain started falling, the Cook family thought they knew what was in store. They were wrong. - ABC licensed

The oars were missing and the rowboat had a hole in it but Ron Cook tied it to the verandah of the farmhouse and planned his escape.

The 46-year-old had a brace around his leg from knee surgery and was by himself when the floods hit.

"I said to him, 'you really are up shit creek without a paddle aren't you?'" his wife Kylie Cook said.

She laughed as she retold the story — it is extraordinary to think the 41-year-old can laugh at all.

'The Boat' has been turned into a garden bed near the farmhouse, an hour east of Julia Creek, and it will eventually be filled with gerberas and roses.

The boat is Ms Cook's memorial to that destroyed the couple's livelihood.

"We knew how to handle droughts, we knew what was to come, how the year would pan out," Ms Cook said.

"This [the flood] was a completely new ball game that came in and completely smashed us and threw every plan we had out the door."

Routine helps families cope

The Cooks had 350 head of cattle on Channel Downs — they were left with 17.

The rain started falling in late January and within 10 days they had received 735 millimetres and were praying for it to stop.

The water swept through swiftly, covering an area the size of Victoria, killing 650,000 cattle, countless more wildlife and destroying hundreds of kilometres of fencing.

Councils have given landholders a break on rates, banks held back on asking for interest payments, boarding schools gave discounts on fees, cattle have been donated and volunteers arrived.

On the Cooks' farm, BlazeAid volunteers helped replace the garden that was washed away.

"My mental salvation through the drought was my garden," Ms Cook said.

"Having that patch of green when everything else was brown was good for the soul."

She was also conscious of how her children were coping.

The School of the Air, based in Mt Isa, took into account the stress families were under.

They dropped lessons for some children but Ms Cook said she wanted her kids to keep at it.

"It kept a sense of normality and some routine for the children, which I think helped them cope with the chaos going on around them," she said.

Once the roads reopened, she took her daughter Emily back to dance school.

They had dropped out when costs became too much during drought.

But after the floods, with their financial state even more perilous, Ms Cook knew 11-year-old Emily needed to be back with her dance friends.

And besides, she had a passion for it.

"And for me to catch up with other mums is a really big help in staying connected," Ms Cook said.

The owner of the ballet school, Amy Tinning, was approached by charities to help with costs and costumes and the cost of competitions.

"It's little acts of kindness like that that have really blown me away," she said.

Some of her students travel 200 kilometres to get to class.

Adapting to a 'new normal'

Ms Cook remembers the first time she drove into Julia Creek after the floods.

"There were dead cows on the side of the road, fences were down … I took a deep breath but I had a few tears," she said.

She knows though that going into town, or to a campdraft, is important. So is professional help.

On a Thursday morning Ms Cook takes a video call on her desktop computer.

"Hello Kylie, how are you today?" a woman asks, her voice distorted by a weak internet signal.

It is a counsellor in Brisbane with the charity Outback Futures, a group trying to ensure people aren't falling through the cracks four months after this disaster.

They discuss a trip to the north to meet with other families.

Ms Cook tells the Brisbane counsellor that families might balk at the data costs involved in having a video call.

After four months, the people of the north-west are learning to live with what they call the new normal.

They are trying to rebuild herds and are grateful for the support from charities and ordinary mums and dads.

But it will take up to five years for the region to recover.

"I think we are doing ok, we've had so much support," she says.

"And if people like us can get through well that's got to be a sign for others that they can get through too right?"


© ABC 2019

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