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Flood recovery - Getting stuck in at Cotswold Hills

The National Drought and Flood Agency first met Jim and Sandra Smith on 7 August 2019.  The couple shared with us their story of the flood and their experience receiving the Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grant.  See their video story here.

Jim and Sandra Smith graze beef cattle and merino sheep on 90,000 acres southwest of Winton.

Sandra explained their two properties are located between Jundah and Winton.

“We’ve always been on the land,” she said.

“We’ve mainly had a breeding herd of Charolais cross cattle, but in 2014 we included sheep as well. The merino wool has been a good back-up for us.”

The Smiths realised mid-way through the January-February 2019 flood event that they were in serious trouble.

“It had been pretty dry up until then, then the heavens opened up at the end of January and it really started raining – it was pretty nasty,” Jim said.

“Older people in the area said they hadn’t witnessed that kind of rain and cold before. After a couple of days, I said to Sandra ‘it’s starting to get pretty serious, I think we’re in trouble’.

“We’d just come out of a drought and were well down on our normal carrying capacity. Every cattle paddock we had was washed out; there were new gullies everywhere. We were lucky our stock losses weren’t a lot higher.”

Sandra recalls the immediate offers of assistance from people across the Shire.

“The Winton community was great,” she said.

“We immediately had daily phone calls from the Shire Council and others to see how we were going and if we needed anything. It meant a lot to know people were looking out for us. I don’t think you’ll find a better community than Winton to give a helping hand when you need one.”

Jim and Sandra accessed the joint Australian and Queensland government-funded $75,000 Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grant for Primary Producers.

“At first we didn’t think we’d be entitled to it but we talked with the Rural Financial Counselling Service and gave it a go,” Jim said.

“We were able to get a fair bit of fencing material and other things to help repair the damage. $75,000 may not seem a lot on a big scale but it was a great help. Without it we probably wouldn’t be here today.”

With restricted access to parts of their property for an extended period, Jim said it took them some time to realise just how much damage had been done.

“We didn’t realise at first how extensive the damage was because the water was up, covering a lot of the country,” he said.

“It took us months to come to grips with just how bad a shape some of it was in. As well as fencing, our dams needed a lot of work as well.”

With determination typical of the Outback, Jim said: “We just made a start and got stuck into it”.

“We had a lot of fencing to do – some of it’s new and some we just ‘stood up’ to make areas stock-proof so we could start operating again.”

“We replaced both cattle and sheep. We were lucky that soon after the flood we got a second hit of rain from Cyclone Trevor, so ended with a reasonable season.”

While 2020 has started in a more promising fashion, Jim explained they remain well under their full stocking rate.

“We got good rain in late January this year, about nine inches spread over a few weeks,” he said.

“We’ve bought in more cows and calves to replenish the breeding herd, and we’ve just sold our weaners.

“We increased the sheep mob last year by another 500, and had a good shearing. We’re still catching up but going OK with the season that we’ve got.

“The grasshoppers are into us a bit this year but we’re not the only people dealing with that.”

As for their biggest remaining challenge from last year’s flood event? According to Jim, more fencing!

“We got most of the fencing done from last year but there’s still a bit to do. Plus we’re in the process of putting in areas of electrical fencing to help with wild dogs.”

The $75,000 Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grants and $400,000 Restocking Replanting & On-farm Infrastructure Grants are still available for primary producers. More information is available on the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority website at http://www.qrida.qld.gov.au/.

*Note - the $75,000 Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grant is no longer available

In October 2020 the Australian Government released After the flood: A strategy for long-term recovery. The Strategy was developed by the National Drought and Flood Agency, with and for communities affected by the 2019 North Queensland flood event.  This blueprint for the region’s future can be used by anyone with a stake in its long-term prosperity. You can read more about it here.