Carnarvon growers hit hard

Kate Emery and Aiden BoyhamThe West Australian

Standing outside his home after cyclone Olwyn struck Carnarvon last week, Bruce Munro could see his neighbour's house for the first time in years.

Days ago, his view was obscured by banana trees.

Now Mr Munro, like the rest of Carnarvon's banana growers, has lost them all.

"It's 100 per cent flattened; anything that even looked like a banana doesn't any more," he said.

"I've spoken to guys all around the river and no one's been spared. The grape growers have copped it huge. I know one grower's got 40 rows of grapes that are bent over.

"We're just resigned to the fact that it's happened and we have got to get on with it. It's pretty grim."

What makes the devastation particularly cruel for growers is that it came on the heels of industry optimism.

Ten days ago, they were celebrating peak conditions in the Gascoyne River.

Water Minister Mia Davies lifted water restrictions, clearing the way for unrestricted pumping for irrigators.

Having suffered through years marked by drought, floods, bushfires and more drought, growers were looking forward to a bumper season.

"The growers were just absolutely smiling and beaming," Carnarvon Shire president Karl Brandenburg said.

"And in one short burst it's gone the other way."

It was a similarly bittersweet tale for Carnarvon's Sweeter Bananas co-operative, which represents about half of Carnarvon's growers.

This month it received its first order under a deal to supply banana bread to Woolworths.

Now the co-operative has no bananas and the nearest hope of a crop is a good 10 months away.

But Sweeter Bananas business manager Doriana Mangili said growers were resilient.

"You really can't break a Carnarvon banana grower," she said.

Vegetables WA chief executive John Shannon said crops of tomato, avocado, zucchini and capsicum, among others, had been "pummelled".

Bentwaters Plantation owner Joanne Symonds lost two homesteads and most of her Ruby Red grapefruit crop.

Produce valued at more than $80,000 was destroyed in a few hours.

"We just have to restart and go all over again. If you don't have a laugh, you'll cry," she said.

Mundillya Plantation managing director Chris Collins was also trying to make the best of what remained of his 14ha of banana crops.

"We are trying to get them to Sweeter Bananas to use for banana bread, " he said.

"They are a little bit lower in value than what they usually would be. But something is better than nothing."

Mr Brandenburg said growers had seen their livelihoods wrecked.

He estimated the total damage to crops and infrastructure would be well over $100 mill- ion.

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