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Flood recovery - Rebuilding pastures at Brinard

Julia Creek

Almost a year after the February 2019 flood event, remnants of the monsoon that devastated parts of North Queensland remain carved into the land across Brinard cattle station.

“Entire roads were washed away, along with paddocks, fences, water infrastructure and of course many of our cattle,” said Brinard station owner, Scott Harrington.

“We will be feeling the impacts for years.  Parts of the property are badly eroded, and in other places we’ve lost valuable topsoil which would otherwise be thick with Mitchell grass by now.”

Located 140kms northwest of Julia Creek, Brinard is home to Scott and Gina Harrington and son Beau.  The property has been held by four generations of Harrington graziers, and currently runs a mix of Brahman cross cattle.

Having sweated through years of drought, the arrival of soaking February rain was a joyful occasion, but after four days of relentless downpour the sense of elation switched to one of anguish.

“The freezing winds and low temperatures that followed were devastating for cattle, as well as native animals, with many perishing in the wind and rain,” said Beau Harrington.

“We were lucky enough that in the few rain breaks I was able to get up in my gyrocopter and push some of the cattle to higher ground.  Without that, we certainly would have lost more.”

But for the Harringtons, the impact of the storm went well beyond Brinard.

Another son, Dudley Harrington and his wife, Thea, live on Werrina, closer to Julia Creek, which was also badly impacted by flooding. Another family property, Alexmere, south of Nelia, was widely inundated by flood waters and suffered the highest percentage of stock losses.

Late last year Agency staff visited Brinard to see the impacts of the flood first hand.  The team was joined by Rangelands Officer Anne Alison from Southern Gulf NRM, a community-based not-for-profit company providing natural resource management services in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria region. 

Rangeland Officers like Anne have been working closely with graziers and managers to determine the extent of the impact of the flood and assist with remediation and recovery strategies for soil, pastures, livestock production and business management.

As part of its post-flood education work, Southern Gulf NRM has convened erosion control and pasture remediation workshops, and more recently, herd efficiency and grazing business management workshops.

“Brinard is a property that implements excellent grazing management practices, which were obvious during the drought years and leading up to the flood,” said Anne.

“If good management practices had not been implemented prior to the flood the property would have suffered much more damage than it did.”

“The early reduction of livestock numbers during dry times meant that the land was in a healthier condition to be able to withstand some of the impacts of the floods. “

Despite the need to build up stock numbers and generate cashflow, the Harringtons are focused on allowing flood-impacted pastures to recover. This is particularly important during and immediately following the wet season as it allows pasture plants to fully establish and go to seed so that they can survive through to the next wet season. 

The family are also using earth-moving machines on the more heavily damaged areas to prevent further erosion during the coming wet season.

Like many other properties in the area, fencing is another big issue on Brinard.  During the flood clean-up, many graziers discovered that groups of cattle had clustered in paddock corners searching for warmth but ended up being trapped and unable to escape.

“As part of managing our pastures we will put some thought into re-designing fence lines and opening up paddocks so that in the event of another heavy flood the cattle will have somewhere to go,” said Beau.

“By the end of this, we will have fixed or replaced around 120km of fencing, so it’s a good opportunity to make improvements where we can.”

The Harringtons are one of many grazing families in the McKinlay Shire to receive the Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grant of $75,000.  They have since applied for the Restocking, Replanting & On-farm Infrastructure Grant of up to $400,000 but will wait for the results of the next wet season to determine how best to invest the grant money.

“We were very happy with the initial recovery response and the speed with which the $75,000 grant was made available,” said Scott.

“It gave everybody an injection of funds when we needed it most.  We are all part of the same community out here and we made sure that the recovery grant money went through as many local hands as possible.”

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.