Warning: Graphic content
Farmers who managed to keep their cattle alive for seven years, through one of Australia’s worst droughts in history, have watched their herds wiped out in a matter of days after unprecedented floods devastated much of Queensland.
If the cattle have not drowned or frozen to death in the elements, devastated farmers now face having to kill thousands of animals. The situation is so terrible that there are reports the farmers have run out of bullets.
Some farmers are estimating almost 100 per cent stock losses while the state’s cattle industry as whole is expecting about 500,000 dead cattle.
Graziers typically sell cows for $500 a head with farmers estimating the 500,000 dead cattle could mean losses of up to $250 million.
When the first rain started to fall in the state’s west two weeks ago, drought-stricken farmers felt they could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s been more than seven years since the region received a substantial downpour but the monsoon – which saw clouds dump three years worth of rain in 10 days – is expected to cripple farmers for decades.
Sarah Macartney, a farmer from the regional town of Mount Isa, captured a snippet of the devastation from her helicopter on Saturday as she filmed dozens of dead cows lying on the flooded ground.
Jane McMillan, another grazier from rural Queensland, has been on the ground trying to help others understand the true extent of what farmers are facing.
Most graziers in rural Queensland are facing zero income for the next few years as they work from the ground up.
Ms McMillan has a cattle farm in Cloncurry, a tiny town near the Northern Territory and Queensland border, and is looking at at least 50 per cent losses.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next … people have lost their income for the next three years. We can’t pay the banks back. We need Australia to back us,” Ms McMillan said on Facebook.
“It is really bad,” she later told Channel 7. “We need to support our own. We need to walk out a system where we support our own first and then we look at foreign aid.”
Rural properties are still underwater and graziers continue to search for their surviving cattle in order to feed them.
“First off the cattle are either drowning, then if they’re not drowning then a few days ago we had a massive wind, a 50 to 60km/h wind with cloud cover which dropped the temperature down to 19C. So if they didn’t drown, they froze from the elements because of the rain,” Ms McMillan said.
“So some places didn’t have all the rain but they had these conditions of wind and rain … It’s so traumatic for the people there flying those helicopters … there’s some men out there that haven’t slept for six days, there’s no bullets left.”
The army is helping out with food drops and clean-ups but the heavy stock losses are taking their toll.
“For years now, we have neglected rural and remote Australia and we spent thousands of dollars on the east coast in our major cities on hospitals and schools and roads and rail, but (not) in outback Australia,” Ms McMillan said.
‘WE NEED MORE BULLETS’
Heartbroken farmers are now faced with having to kill off the thousands of animals they devoted years to keeping alive.
Jill Richardson, another grazier from Cloncurry, told 2GB’s Alan Jones about their horror.
“The daunting moment was when the chopper pilot runs in with tears in his eyes and says, ‘we need more bullets’, you know we’re in trouble,” Ms Richardson said.
“A friend of ours, they’ve lost 5000 weaners (eight to 10-month-old cows), they literally can’t find them. We just found a hundred cows dead on the ridge. All the calves are dead.
“The ones that are alive we have to shoot because when they find these islands, the dirt just turns to soup and they just literally just drown.
“They haven’t seen a live kangaroo. When the choppers go out everything is dead. Everything.”
Another Cloncurry farmer got in touch with the 2GB host to explain their week of horrors.
“Our cattle became weak using what energy they had struggling through the mud and pushed by the driving rain … they finally became exhausted simply trying to stay warm,” the farmer wrote.
“Other properties have had their entire herds washed away. More than 100,000 cattle gone.
“Some paddocks are facing 95 per cent losses.
“Australia – we need your support. You can help us by using your consumer power and insisting on buying local produce. Then we can continue to provide your families with our top quality, homegrown, nourishing beef.”
The two-week long deluge continues to dump rain in the state’s west as farmers continue to call on the federal government for more financial support.
As of Sunday, insurers had received 13,560 claims, with losses estimated at $165 million.
Federal MP Bob Katter said he would call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take urgent action when he is in Canberra later this week.
“You’ve got the mother of all disasters for the northern beef industry,” Mr Katter told the Townsville Bulletin.
The devastation brought Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services chief Katarina Carroll to tears last week when she was asked to compare the floods and Cyclone Debbie.
Ms Carroll has been on the ground since far north Queensland started to be hit with monsoon rains in late January.
“Cyclone Debbie … I think it has been mentioned a number of times … Debbie. I think everyone in this community has never in their lifetime seen anything like this,” Ms Carroll said, her voice breaking as she spoke.
“From the fires that we experienced at the end of November, just the end of November to the first week of December, never in the history of this state have we seen anything like this.
“We were with the Premier and the state disaster co-ordinator out in Cloncurry yesterday, when you see the devastation of the cattle on the ground, it is confronting.”
“When you see what is happening here, it is confronting.
“So, please, I think when you have the conversation out there with the communities you have really got to know that in my lifetime I have never seen anything like this.”
– With AAP