Flood and drought working hand in hand in restock plan

North west restocking plan races closing drought window


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One of the drowned cattle found after floodwaters receded. Photo - Kylie Burke.

One of the drowned cattle found after floodwaters receded. Photo - Kylie Burke.

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A private initiative to help stricken north west graziers get cattle back in their paddocks, begun almost the day that the full extent of the disaster was known, has become a nationwide network aimed at saving the country's cattle herd.

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A private initiative to help stricken north west graziers get cattle back in their paddocks, begun almost the day that the full extent of the disaster was known, has become a nationwide network aimed at saving the country's cattle herd.

Adrian Hollingsworth and his wife Jocelyn, based at Ulcanbah between Charters Towers and Aramac, as the operators of a Who Got the Drought social media page, put out a message for people wanting to help those smashed by the event.

"Within minutes we had people asking if we could be part of the team," Adrian said. "We just thought we'd kick the ball and see if it rolled - well, it took off down the road."

There are three arms to the initiative - agistment, share mobs and vendor finance is one, transport and fundraising is another, and the donation of livestock is the third being managed by the Re-stocking the North West group.

Adrian and Jocelyn handle speaking with droughted and flooded graziers to coordinate placement of stock, Angie Willoughby from Willoughby Hay and Chaff Supplies in Charters Towers is the fundraising and transport coordinator, and Fiona Skinner from NK Brahman Stud is the donated livestock coordinator.

A grazier in Western Australia, Aticia Grey has become a point of contact for the northern part of that state.

Adrian describes it as a unique hand-in-glove situation that he's able to facilitate, thanks to the contacts made from people sharing their pain on the drought website.

He also says it's an extreme balancing act, between the window opening for those whose grass is starting to grow and the dusty window of those for whom ongoing drought is rapidly closing down their options.

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"I think a lot more cattle could die soon from drought than ever did in the flood," Adrian said.

"We are getting calls from the Nullabor Plains, Canberra, the Northern Territory, asking us to place up to 20,000 head.

"The phone starts to ring at daylight and we take it off the hook when we go to bed.

"A high percentage of people on our list are saying, if they can't get something now, they're finished in the bush."

The floodwater mark on prickly acacia trees that are many kilometres away from the nearest creek, one of the memories of February's extreme weather event, which Adrian Hollingsworth described as leaving people winded after a punch in the guts. He said they were still on the ropes but getting busy repairing damage. Photo - Kylie Burke.

The floodwater mark on prickly acacia trees that are many kilometres away from the nearest creek, one of the memories of February's extreme weather event, which Adrian Hollingsworth described as leaving people winded after a punch in the guts. He said they were still on the ropes but getting busy repairing damage. Photo - Kylie Burke.

So far, around 5000 head have been placed in the north west, both donated stock and cattle on agistment.

To give an idea of the range of suggestions, Adrian said some had been offering cull for age cows, which could be fattened and sold, with the asking price being handed over once the transaction had been completed.

He said it was a way of doing business without approaching a bank for a loan.

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In some circumstances the group thought it would be best to hand over some of the money donated so people could buy cattle of their own choice.

"We're just acting as an option," Adrian said. "In speaking with graziers in flooded areas we understand that different choices are needed for different blocks."

"We're not advising on contracts though - we hope an agent comes on board to help there. We don't want anyone to get lost in this, or feel ripped off."

He said others were making private arrangements without any need for a go-between such as himself.

A road sign swamped with debris beside a flood-gouged paddock in the north west. Photo - Kylie Cook.

A road sign swamped with debris beside a flood-gouged paddock in the north west. Photo - Kylie Cook.

The group's priority is for young people trying to make a start, and to save every breeding cow they can.

"We are asking people, whether they've got 10 acres or 100,000 acres, to talk to us," Adrian added. "We've also had to tell droughted people on our list to implement plan B, which they are."

There are plans for a Rodeo for Restocking at Nebo, with money raised to go towards buying cattle, and it's understood up to eight or nine other rodeo and campdraft committees have similar aims.

Drought Angels has set up a separate account to give cash donors a place to put their money, saving the Re-stocking the North West group the trouble of dealing with charity status.

They have also been speaking with Aussie Helpers regarding its Buy a Cow initiative so that they help each other rather than get in each other's road.

In talking about the people he wants to help - a young fellow who started with 100 head in 2013, who went into machinery to build up his cattle to buy another 100, all of them washed away - Adrian shows the deep understanding he has for people in each disaster, drought and flood.

At the height of the live export suspension-drought crisis, he was one of those with no choice but to muster and send cattle in to sale at Blackall for little return.

"I know the emotions the people still in drought are going through.

"We have been very fortunate with the rain - without it, we'd still be in that position."

He said Australia was in uncharted territory - the Federation Drought may have wiped thousands of enterprises out a century ago but graziers were only supplying a domestic market then.

"The flooded parts of Queensland, including those parts of the Channel Country, are nearly the only parts in Australia with any sort of grass now.

"In the rip-roaring droughts that have consumed Australia, Queensland and NSW have potentially been the areas we've come back to, to restock."

The diminished likelihood of that happening at the end of the current drought is what is driving Adrian to help people make the best of nearly the only other option available at the moment.

Read more: North west floods - history repeats

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