Praying for a Christmas miracle

Praying for a Christmas miracle


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A small downpour put a run in Split Creek on Kallala Station and a smile on the faces of Pip and George Hacon.

A small downpour put a run in Split Creek on Kallala Station and a smile on the faces of Pip and George Hacon.

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ONE day at a time - that's the motto of David and Ellen Miller, one of many drought-stricken graziers across the far northern reaches of the Boulia Shire, struggling to remain positive in the face of ongoing drought.

Aa

ONE day at a time - that's the motto of David and Ellen Miller, one of many drought-stricken graziers across the far northern reaches of the Boulia Shire, struggling to remain positive in the face of ongoing drought.

The pair and their two children, Marleina, 9, and Zack, 6, were among three families visited when Queensland Country Life jumped aboard the Salvation Army's helicopter piloted by Flying Padre Simon Steele for a pre-Christmas call to some of his flock.

All three, whether part of a company operation or privately owned, were making the best of the situation confronting them, but the unspoken message in everyone's eyes was the desire for a Christmas deluge of rain.

At Thorner, just to the south east of Urandangie, Ellen and David have taken to mowing spinifex to feed their menagerie of 40 poddies and say that even their big trees are starting to die.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Ellen, whose father and uncle took the property up in 1948.

"I think it's forgotten how to rain."

The decrease in ground cover has brought more dust storms, and the job of keeping stock alive is a constant battle for the pair.

After selling about 1000 head in Longreach at the start of the year and counting themselves lucky for not getting a bill for freight in the mail, they have had no choice but to carry the remaining 3000 and spend about $5000 a month on feed.

The cattle price plummet in the wake of the live export suspension meant they had to put off the station hand couple and wave goodbye to days off. Ellen is also trying to teach the challenging new national curriculum to her Prep and Year 3 children in among it all.

The nearest neighbour with a school-aged child is at Headingly, 65km away.

"I just want to get nearer school and somewhere where it rains," Ellen said.

Further to the east at Kallala station, Pip and George Hacon are trying to find the silver lining to what they call "a horrible dry year".

George is adamant that this drought isn't as bad as 2008, when the "black dog" took hold and the property was destocked to a third of its usual numbers.

Although he has 42 dry dams, some of which haven't seen water for 18 months to two years, he had the good fortune of having a loader to begin desilting, an operation he says has already paid for itself.

When they opted not to do a second round of mustering, the staff of eight was put to work turning material salvaged from the mine 160km away at Mt Isa into improving the yarding up facilities leading into the cattle yards.

"With everything you do, you have to look for the sustainable advantage," George said.

While their rainfall tally reads like the English cricket team's run score - 5mm in February, 10mm in November and 12mm in early December, on top of 154mm for the whole of 2012, George believes his policy of lightly stocking his light carrying country at the top end of the Channel Country is paying off.

He blames policies that have allowed money to be too freely available for much of the woes facing people today.

"The younger generation is learning to put everything on the never-never," he said.

"People with banks on their backs now must be feeling it terribly."

It's a sentiment Randall Holmes, at Linda Downs on the Queensland-Northern Territory border, agrees with.

"Kidman never borrowed more than he had in his pocket. People are encouraged to go into debt nowadays," he said.

Randall and his wife Caroline run the 200,000ha property for John and Bill Speed and their families, who operate as Tarlton Downs P/L and also own Tobermory station on the other side of the border.

They acknowledge that their wage protects them to some degree from the ravages of the drought, but at the same time Randall is vehement in his claim that it is not drought but overstocking that is driving people to the wall this time round.

"It's not that dry," he said.

"Fifty years ago you would never have seen properties run fully stocked."

He added that losing markets was a fairly new phenomenon and people weren't geared to meet that challenge.

In the meantime, he says, you can't change the weather, so it's business as usual.

"Flip the clock back 70 years and you'll find times when they recorded zero rain for years.

"We could have sold for a $100/head loss or we could have done what the people in the Gulf are doing and shot our stock, but we got in 60 tonnes of cottonseed instead. We are just hanging in there."

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