Pastoralists soak up the atmosphere

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Pastoralists Brett and Dot Day don’t normally navigate their Nullarbor station, Gunnadorah, by boat.

They admit they’re not exactly the boating sort, nevertheless, after more than 460mm of rain fell in the first half of the year, the old dingy is getting a fresh run.

The couple, whose family has been on the 333,000-hectare station since 1957, would normally be pleased with around 120mm of rain for this time of year and say that would mark the beginning of a bumper season.

But they’ve had almost four times that amount.

“I’ve been full time on the station for 30 years now and this is, by far, the wettest we’ve ever seen it, ” Brett said.

“The centre of Australia is the best I’ve ever seen it and I don’t think it can get any wetter. The water is around the house.

“The whole country is full of water — it’s not deep water, but there is a lot of area under water.”

Brett remembered a similar situation in 1995 when the remnants of Cyclone Bobby dumped rain across the station, but this time the station has had the equivalent of nearly three Cyclone Bobbys.

“The most continuous rain we had was 220mm over four days. It wasn’t a pouring rain, but a steady rain that never stopped, ” he said.

There is now so much grass that Gunnadorah’s cattle simply can’t eat it all — it’s up to a metre high and proving to be a navigational hazard.

“The grass has gone rank; it’s grown too fast and when it gets like that, nothing eats it, ” Brett said.

“The cattle pick up the herby stuff and rarely eat grass when it’s like this.

“Where we are, the grass is up to the bonnet of the ute at all times, so you’ve got to make sure you don’t run over a big stump.”

With their sons Jeremiah and Cameron and daughter Cassie, Brett and Dot annually process 700 feral camels to be used for 1080 bait, as well as running between 4500 and 5000 cattle.

They’ve just come off a big month of shooting and processing camels and said the wet conditions were proving to be interesting.

“Getting bogged isn’t a good idea when you’ve got a big load of camels on board, ” Brett said.

“We’ve only been bogged a couple of times but you’ve got to be vigilant.

“We shot 90 camels in three days this time, we had a lot of luck and a lot of good management.”

But while the cattle might be fat and waist high in grass, getting them to market is another matter.

“Our road has been out about two months, ” Brett said.

“We’ve got the cattle in hand ready to go, we’re behind with our work but we can’t do anything until the weather clears and the roads dry up.

“We can get in and out of Kalgoorlie but it’s a bit of a problem with a truck. Our biggest concern is if we get one hot summer, we’ll then have bushfires.”

But Brett and Dot are used to the ebbs and flows of the bush and said they’re not about to complain about the rain.

“Often, we have three or four big years and then all of a sudden it dries out and you think it’s never going to rain again, ” Brett said.

“But there’s no growling about it, because there’s nothing you can do to change it.

“The last three seasons have been fairly reasonable with no real problems.”

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