Station owners count the cost

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Doorawarrah station's David and Genevieve Robinson were still recovering from the December 2010 floods when fire razed 60 per cent of their 220,000-hectare property.

The fire reached the station, 90km inland from Carnarvon, in early January.

"The main fire burnt north of us through Mardathuna and Cooralya stations and then it started to expand towards us," David said.

"We used our plane and grader to get in front of it and make firebreaks.

"It took us about three weeks to get that fire under control. We thought it was out, but then we had more lightning strikes to the south, which burnt the other side of the property."

About 20 firefighters used 10 four-wheel-drives, two fire trucks, one bulldozer, three loaders, three graders, a water bomber and a plane to control the blaze. The fire came within 5km of the homestead.

"Luckily, we got it nailed down before it came closer to the homestead," David said.

"The wind kept chopping and changing direction and re-igniting the flames, which made it difficult."

David said the heart of the fire burnt in timber country, where he had to shift 1800 head of cattle.

"We had to get in there with the plane and stoke the cattle out," he said. "It was a bit unnerving when there were 25-metre-high flames on either side of us."

David said he would have to shift his cattle around the property, but should be able to avoid destocking.

"Some of the cattle will have to be moved to the unburnt country," he said. Rainfall in late January helped to extinguish the embers. "We had about 10 to 15mm, which put out all the smouldering logs and helped with water for cattle," David said.

In December 2010, the family were wading through floodwaters after 300mm of rain fell on their property in just three hours.

"We had three years of severe drought then we had 300mm of rain and went to severe flood," David said.

Floodwaters rose up to a metre inside the homestead and took out sheds, windmills, tanks and shearers' quarters.

"We've still got a long way to go with flood clean-up," David said.

"We will be in flood recovery mode for at least the next 12 months."

The Robinsons have welcomed $25,000 of natural disaster relief funds to help with the flood clean-up.

David said he did not expect a similar Government response to the fires, but financial assistance would be helpful. "I think it is a natural disaster but I don't think it is going to be declared one," he said. "Apparently, we haven't met the criteria, because the damage was done to pastoral land."

David said the main infrastructure burnt in the fires was fencing, pipelines, troughs, tanks and solar pumps.

He said it would cost at least $20,000 to repair damaged equipment but could not put a price on feed loss.

David said the fires highlighted the need for improved communication networks in the Gascoyne.

"We were using handheld UHF (ultra-high frequency) systems, which had very limited range and got clogged up. We were all on the same channel and it became very congested and chaotic," he said.

"Before we have another one of these events, we need to get a better communication system in place. Mobile phone towers would be the ultimate, but another solution could be more repeater stations."

The fires added to a host of issues the Robinsons have dealt with since moving to the Gascoyne in 2009.

"It has been interesting going from extreme drought to extreme flood with a grasshopper plague thrown in the middle," David said.

"The live export ban is still affecting us, because Indonesia is going to drop its quota.

"We won't be able to get as many of our cattle over there and that is going to make it difficult."

The family are yet to determine the full impact of the fires.

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