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Rural Aid volunteers help dairy farmers in wake of once-in-a-century flood

By Keely Johnson, Tuesday May 4, 2021 - 02:03 EST
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Four dairy operations on Oxley Island suffered more than $1 million in damages during the flood.  - ABC

More than a month after the floods completely inundated her 200-hectare property at Oxley Island on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Debbie Polson is exhausted.

Mrs Polson is still clearing rubble and fixing fence lines while trying to keep her herd milked and healthy.

"Everyone is getting really tired and just running on adrenaline," she said.

Dairy operations on Oxley Island were hit hard during the flood, with some areas ending up 3 metres underwater.

"It was bigger than the '78 flood. Once you see cattle floating down the river you think 'hey, this is going to be major'," she said.

"We've got 550 acres and I would say there is a hill of about 4 acres [that was dry] and everything else was inundated.

"This whole area was just a sea of water."

Mrs Polson said the impact of the flood was far from over.

"[Issues will arise] in six months' time when cows aren't in calf," she said.

"Immediately the water receded, but the ongoing effects of the flood  are just going to keep happening."

Volunteers bring fresh energy

The arrival of 20 volunteers from Rural Aid Australia to the area has brought a breath of fresh air to four local dairy farmers, including Mrs Polson.

"[The volunteer help] has been really good because they come with energy," she said.

"They are a team, there is quite a lot of them, and a lot of hands make light work."

Rural Aid volunteer group team leader Greg Dawes said the rescue effort at Oxley Island was desperately needed.

"To have a group coming from an organisation like Rural Aid just gives the farmers a lot of pep really," he said.

"You get a group of people with a lot of energy and suddenly we're back into helping do their infrastructure repairs."

Mr Dawes said the state of Debbie Polson's property was one of the worst he'd seen.

"Every fence was either down or littered with debris that had been washed across the property," he said.

"There were huge amounts of plastic that the cows were starting to ingest so we had to move all of that.

"We've cleared fences, put up insulators and got the electric fences up and running again."

Rural Aid project coordinator Grant Miskimmin said the rescue effort had been a huge success so far.

"It's been terrible for them [Oxley Island farmers], we are just grateful that we can lend a hand and be able to help," he said.

"A lot of them are working dairies and they had to concentrate on getting the dairy up and running again."

Mr Miskimmin said groups of five volunteers had been helping the four major dairy operations on the island to recover.

"Each farm has a different crew, and they go out daily to work on the farm for a week," he said.

"The volunteers are an incredible bunch of people ? it's amazing the amount of work they can get done, you wouldn't think they can do it."


© ABC 2021

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