Relief, joy, despair: How flood changes fortunes

North west floods 2019: Winton Shire surveys the damage


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Tahnee and Ross Oakhill with their daughter Hadley and son Hudson before the floods struck their Bernfels Station property.

Tahnee and Ross Oakhill with their daughter Hadley and son Hudson before the floods struck their Bernfels Station property.

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For a brief period, producers were elated with the rain.

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After four days of rain on their dry cattle property north west of Winton, Tahnee Oakhill and her young family felt like they had won the lottery. 

The elation didn't last long. 

"By the sixth day of rain it was like someone had told us actually...you didn't win," she said. 

"And PS you owe us a quarter of a million dollars, and you've got until the end of March when the overdraft is due to pay it back'.

Mrs Oakhill, from Bernfels Station about 70 kilometres north west of Winton, is one of the many producers and landholders still reeling from the devastating Queensland floods. 

She estimated about 90 per cent of the family’s 1000-head herd had died in the aftermath of a downpour that brought 560 millimetres of rain to their property, with more cattle being put out of their misery every day. 

"I know of one grazier shooting 40 or 50 cattle a day since the rain stopped," she said.

"There could be hay or fodder or water right beside them but they're gone. So you put them out of their misery before they starve or dehydrate." 

Hadley and Hudson check out the cattle on their property.

Hadley and Hudson check out the cattle on their property.

Just six months ago Mrs Oakhill and her husband Ross had stocked their property with steers, which they would have been offloading in just a couple of weeks' time. 

"We had bought steers about six months ago and put them in one of our better paddocks in anticipation of a quick turnaround," she said. 

"We would've sold at the end of February to prop us up. 

"Of the 440 steers we purchased, we probably have just over 100 left. We may have to take another 10 per cent off that by the end of the week." 

Like many producers in the region, Mrs Oakhill said it was hard to think about the future when the gruesome task of burying dead stock lay ahead.

Ross Oakhill with one of the lucky calves.

Ross Oakhill with one of the lucky calves.

"If you think about the damage that has been caused, it's too overwhelming. 

"We've got dead and rotting bodies stinking up and we just have to deal with it. 

"The next step will be looking at what's left, mustering those cattle and then building fences, because they're gone as well. The long term is a long way away for us."

Winton Shire Council Mayor Gavin Baskett said the floods had hit the north and north west parts of the shire particularly hard, and the scars of the disaster would linger for years. 

In the wake of the floods Mr Baskett toured the shire by helicopter, seeing first hand how some properties suffered stock losses that might be as high as 10,000 cattle. 

A dead cow lies in a muddy paddock on the outskirts of Winton.

A dead cow lies in a muddy paddock on the outskirts of Winton.

"What I witnessed was absolute devastation. Words and pictures can’t do justice to this unprecedented disaster. Families are hurting and our shire is suffering ."

It is difficult to estimate the toll the floods will take on the town of Winton, which, like many towns in western Queensland, has battled the crippling effects of drought for the better part of a decade. 

"A lot of producers were planning to feed cattle until March and then sell them," Mr Baskett said. 

"This is going to have a massive emotional toll on the shire.

"In some ways this is worse than the drought. At least during the drought there are things you can do to care for you cattle."

The story Relief, joy, despair: How flood changes fortunes first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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