‘We’re on our knees’

North west floods 2019: McKinlay mayor's message of hope

Overwhelmed: The tiny town of Nelia in the McKinlay shire, a safe spot in past floods, was totally inundated, along with a QR train. Photo: Salvation Army, Outback Flying Service.

Overwhelmed: The tiny town of Nelia in the McKinlay shire, a safe spot in past floods, was totally inundated, along with a QR train. Photo: Salvation Army, Outback Flying Service.


McKinlay's mayor reflects on how her communities got through the weather catastrophe that struck them last week, and what they still have to deal with.


A heavy heart and a strong sense of hope consumed me today as I viewed our landscape from one of the army helicopters currently tasked to assist in our region.

The green tinge in the grass masks the absolute devastation lying beneath which is cruel for so many. 

Our shire was drought declared back in April of 2013. It has been the way of life for many years for everyone.

There had been storms and some grass grown but it had been selective and not all benefited. When rain started ten days ago, our community was rejoicing, elated by the seemingly perfect grass growing steady falls.

It is hard to comprehend the brutal act of Mother Nature that was to come.

This act has brought the main industry in our shire to well past its knees.

We have seen the pictures. Everyone has a heartbreaking story.

What the images don’t do justice is the lengths people have gone to for each other, and for their cattle and horses.

Even after these horrific events, the past week has strengthened my absolute faith in our producers. No matter their age, the industry and our community is in the best hands possible.

This will impact everyone on a different level. The immediate consequences on the north west cattle industry are already being felt.

Many people are still in shock and it will take time to understand what has happened and what it means to families in the immediate and long term.

Suffice to say things will be different. Income has been lost for up to three years at best.

The flow on effect will trickle down. Already livestock transport operators are in despair for their livelihood, and produce agencies and stock and station agencies are wondering what it means for them. This will be felt by all our local business in the coming weeks and months. 

Our shire would normally have over 300,000 head and I would hate to quantify at this point where everyone is now.

For our shire, the assistance that has been received from the Australian Defence Force, specifically the army from Townsville 3 BDE and Amberley 16 BDE has been critical to the immediate support for producers and the wider community.

The supply of avgas was vital to ensure choppers remained in the air for everything from evacuation to resupply and then for fodder drops. 

The sight of an army MRH or an R44 slinging hay onto a property cannot be underestimated. It is not just for animal welfare, but for everyone’s sense of hope.

The role of the many mustering pilots has been amazing. Normally they muster for drafting, management and sale. This month, their job exposed them to the stuff of nightmares.

I have not heard one complaint but have seen the despair in their eyes at the end of the day. Without them so much more would have been lost and we are all indebted.

In our town, our council threw protocol out the window. The sport and recreation officer was in charge of fodder drop co-ordination.

Administration filled jobs in disaster management, and everyone talked to everyone over days and days on the phone, email and Facebook Messenger.

Everyone just got on with the enormous job at hand and did whatever was possible day after day. People in town jumped in to help cooking meals, running fuel and delivering hay as best they could.

Every task achieved a win that made a difference and it has got us through to here.

Moving forward to say it’s going to be tough would be a gross understatement.

But I am absolutely confident it can, and will be done. I am sure the task at hand seems unachievable, but there are many already getting on with what they can do right now.

Short and long term support developed quickly from both state and federal government is going to be a critical in this recovery to ensure the cattle industry remains in the north and that our businesses and towns survive this.

One thing that I know did not get washed or blown away is our spirit, our ability to pick ourselves up, dust off and head on.. It’s just this time we will need help, and I can already see it coming.

 – Belinda Murphy, McKinlay shire mayor


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