Long way home

Kate Mattews and Megan BaileyCountryman

It’s a scene reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s Hollywood blockbuster Australia — but it’s the real deal, Gascoyne style.

Jimmy and Jenny Caunt have been walking 500 cows and calves 120km from Gascoyne Junction to their station, Mooloo Downs, since the December floods cut road access.

Some of their cattle have been agisted in the Wheatbelt for up to two years because of drought.

Efforts to fix access roads have been hampered by the wet season, leaving pastoralists with no choice but to drove the cattle back to home, which now has an abundance of feed and water.

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The journey began last week when the Caunts trucked the cattle from the Wheatbelt to Bidgemia’s holding yards near Gascoyne Junction — the furthest point that trucks could safely travel.

On Monday, the couple started the long trek home to Mooloo Downs with the help of five others using motorbikes and horses.

They will follow the southern bank of the Gascoyne River through the Pells Range and cross six creeks including the Congo and Daurie.

They have been camping under the stars each night, locking their cattle in holding yards along the way.

Before heading off on Monday, Mr Caunt estimated the journey would take between six and seven days, with plenty of stops for feed and water along the way. It will be a far cry from mustering conditions in September; the trip will be hot and humid with plenty of mosquitoes and sandflies.

“If we don’t walk our cattle in, we may have to wait until winter to truck them home. We more or less have to do it, because feed is running out in the Wheatbelt, ” Mr Caunt said.

“Our options were to put them in a feedlot or cart them as far as we could and walk them home.”

After two and a half years of drought, followed by flooding, Mr Caunt said he was looking forward to taking his cattle home.

He praised the efforts of those who had looked after the stock in a “hectic and ordinary season”.

With 800mm of rain recorded at Mooloo Downs since December, Mr Caunt said feed was the best he had ever seen — it was waist-deep in some areas.

Other stations in the area were expected to start walking their cattle home over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the effects of the summer deluge continue to play havoc with desert communities, which have been thrown from drought to flood.

The town of Warburton, north-east of Kalgoorlie, has been without staples such as fresh fruit and vegetables for four weeks, after being hit by flash flooding earlier this year.

The wet weather has also interrupted the mail system; persistent rain led to roads being closed and planes were turned around.

Ngaanyatjarra Shire chief executive Chris Paget said the town had not suffered from a general food shortage because bread, meat and long-life items were still available.

He said food could be brought in by air if roads were not opened by next week.

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