Rain brings joy, pain
From parched and soaking wet to green, the landscape’s transformation is clear at pastoral properties dotting the Pilbara coast in the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Veronica.
Tiny shoots of green grass have burst through soils which, until Sunday, were hardened and parched by an almost 12-month dry spell about 400mm below average.
While it delivered much-needed rain to WA pastoralists, the cyclone also had the heart-wrenching effect of big cattle deaths.
Bettini Beef, which runs five cattle stations in the Pilbara, close to Port Hedland, lost at least 1500 cattle, including 1000 breeders.
Stations in Bettini Beef’s portfolio include De Grey, Mallina, Sherlock, Warambie and Pyramid, which received from 130mm to more than 500mm of rain.
Owner Mark Bettini said as well as the deluge of rain there were strong winds, and most cattle likely died of hypothermia, but some would have drowned.
Mr Bettini said finding the dead cattle was heartbreaking, and a big clean-up effort was under way which would take some time, with many areas still too wet to get to.
“I would say 1500 dead cattle is a conservative estimate and it is likely more would be found,” he said.
On the positive side, Mr Bettini said the rain was “liquid gold” for the properties, which had been dry for two years and were enduring drought-like conditions.
The last meaningful rain that Mallina and Sherlock received was 50mm in July last year, but that hardly quenched the thirst of already extremely dry country.
“We started destocking last year because conditions are so dry, and were about to start mustering again last week to reduce numbers further, so the rain from the cyclones was very welcome, albeit a mixed blessing, with the cattle deaths,” Mr Bettini said.
“Ironically, now we will have plenty of pasture but less cattle because of the losses.”
He said several fences were also damaged because of the cyclone, so cattle were roaming roads.
Munda Station topped the rainfall charts with 500mm falling evenly across the property 100km south-west of Port Hedland, according to station manager Michael Thompson.
It was “devastating” when Mr Thompson returned to the station after the property was evacuated by police for the first time in its history.
The sprawling cattle station had been inundated with water, recording more than 500mm of rain in just three days.
About 100km of fencing was destroyed, and an unknown number of cattle had died.
“We have lost cattle, and it has been a sad few days in my life,” Mr Thompson said. “A lot of them had died of exposure, two days of solid rain and wind.
“I was trying to sleep, and all I could hear was cows mooing at me and I thought, ‘that’s every cow on Munda crying’.”
Mr Thompson said he had spent days rescuing cattle which were bogged, and checking on cattle stuck on islands.
“What I have seen today, I am amazed at cattle that are living on islands with fresh water and feed,” he said.
It was the first rainfall all year at Warrawagine station, 200km north-east of Port Hedland, with about 50mm on March 23.
A further 138mm fell as the station caught the exterior of the cyclone as it dumped up to 500mm at other properties.
Station managers Belinda and Lux Lethbridge are now crossing their fingers for much more, after having almost no rain since January last year, when 400mm fell.
“We were hoping for a lot, and thinking that anything would be better than nothing,” Ms Lethbridge said.
“But we are really happy with what we got. It’s already getting a bit greener.”
Those further inland were left wanting after cyclone Veronica dumped a hearty deluge on stations close to the coast but fizzled before reaching more than 200km inland.
A hearty 113mm fell at Pyramid station, a welcome relief after just 30mm fell during the past 12 months.
Other solid station rainfall included 122mm at Wallareenya, 65mm at De Grey, 61mm at Pardoo, 38mm at Mulyie and 31mm at Cheela Plains.
But there was limited rainfall at properties in the west Pilbara, with winds instead kicking up dust.
It has been one of the driest wet seasons on record in WA’s North West.
Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association chairman David Stoate received just a few millimetres at his property, south of Broome.
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