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'Raging' floodwaters unexpectedly inundate Gascoyne region after Ex-Tropical Cyclone Damien

Michelle Stanley, Friday February 14, 2020 - 14:40 EDT
Audience submitted image
Staff waiting for the flood waters at Mount Augustus Station homestead to subside. - Audience submitted

At about 10:00pm on Wednesday night, David Hammarquist was sitting on his verandah and noticed floodwaters rising quickly.



He manages his family's station and tourist park at Mount Augustus, in the remote Upper Gascoyne region of Western Australia.

Mr Hammarquist described the force of the water as "a torrent".

"It would nearly push you over when you tried to walk through it — it was like a raging river," he said.

He woke up the rest of the family, and moved the valuables inside the homestead to higher ground before the levels inside the homestead reached waist high.

While the former , Mount Augustus received less than 30 millimetres of rain, so the floodwaters were somewhat unexpected.



The station sits on the Lyons River, a tributary of the Gascoyne River, which had swollen significantly further downstream after hundreds of millimetres of rain fell in the Southern Rangelands earlier in the week.

Mount Augustus Station sits on the Lyons River, so the homestead was built on higher ground to avoid any impact when the river floods.

But Mr Hammarquist said this week's flood was probably the worst the station had ever seen, tripling the levels in the most recent 2005/06 flood.

"It stayed around us for the whole day, we had a good 24 hours it stayed up roaring," he said.

Plane and hanger underwater



As the amount of water took the crew at Mount Augustus by surprise, Mr Hammarquist said a lot of machinery and equipment was inundated, including the station's plane and dongas from the attached tourist park.

"The plane [was] about halfway under, up to the pinstripe on the side of it," he said.

"But things dry out, you change oils and tickle them up and they go again, but there's just a lot of stuff that's gone.

"You'll find some stuff down [at] the creek here and there, truck tyres and things like that, over the years you'll end up mustering and you'll come across them."

Tourist shop destroyed

The Mount Augustus Tourist Park, also run by the Hammarquist family, lost its shop and the stock inside.

But Mr Hammarquist was sure the tourism season for the would not be delayed by the damage.



"We'll be open for businesses, people will just have to put up with a bit of inconvenience here and there," he said.

"Hopefully there'll be a bit of green grass for them to see and a few wildflowers."

The total cost of damage is estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but erosion is likely to be the biggest impact to the property.

"It was very dirty water, and obviously wherever it's rained upstream, it's done a lot of damage ripping the tops of soil off," Mr Hammarquist said.

"Because it was so fast-moving it's bound to have scoured the country out near the river and off the river, and it deposits silt everywhere, which kills all the grasses growing naturally.

"It does a lot of damage when it all runs back into the river again."

With the property isolated by floodwaters, Mr Hammarquist was not sure how much stock had been lost in the event.

Despite that damage, the region has been crying out for rain for years so the water does bring some good news for cattle production.



Remote water monitoring needed

It is not uncommon for rain further downstream to cause inland rivers like the Gascyone and Lyons to flood, however Mr Hammarquist said due to the lack of remote sites monitoring the rainfall and flood levels in the various catchments, the size of the event was a huge surprise.

"We had no idea this was coming," he said.

"So we're trying to get [the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation] to acknowledge that we need some more satellite, unmanned monitoring sites in the bush so if it does rain you've got a bit of an idea."

The ABC has contacted the state's Department of Water and Environmental Regulation for comment.


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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