Just three weeks ago, grazier Andrew Peterson was considering trucking the final cattle in his herd away from his dusty property in western Queensland.
Graziers say recent rainfall may spell the end of outback Queensland’s decade-long drought
The drought status has been lifted in three shires but 44.9 per cent of the state is still officially drought declared
Experts believe it will take more than a few good seasons to end the big dry
The cattle station he managed in Blackall, about 12 hours’ drive from Brisbane, had been in drought for almost a decade and there was no feed left for the stock.
And then the rains came.
“Everything was so parched, so the rain is a godsend for all the livestock and community in general.”
Mr Peterson has recorded 382mm of rain – nearly his entire annual average – in just a matter of weeks.
It has transformed the property in the heart of the outback from dusty brown paddocks to seas of lush green.
And it has sparked hope the region’s big dry could finally be coming to an end.
‘Not out of the woods yet’
Large parts of western Queensland have recorded some of their wettest months on record this year, with some properties receiving between 200-300mm in 24-hour periods.
It’s a huge turnaround for a region that’s been largely drought declared since 2013.
The consistently good conditions have triggered the lifting of drought declarations in three key shires – including Flinders, Quilpie and Murweh.
It means only 44.9 per cent of the state is officially declared drought – down from 61.1 per cent this time last year.
While many are delighted with the turn of events, others such as livestock management consultant Désirée Jackson are more cautious.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods,” she said.
Ms Jackson has been working on the land for decades and said while the deluge had been a blessing for some, it may have come too late in the season for others.
“It’s come at a time that’s usually beyond the end of our best growing season for tropical grasses,” she said.
“While it appears that there’s a lot of bulk in the pasture, once the feed starts to dry off, I think that’s when people will take stock of how much feed will carry them through to the end of the year.”
She was cautiously optimistic but believed it would take more than a few good seasons to call an end to the dry spell.
“We tend to put our rose-coloured glasses on when we see a body of green feed but there are a lot of species that stock wouldn’t choose to graze, particularly after coming out of extended drought,” she said.
From brown to ’emerald green’
It’s sunrise on Wendy Sheehan’s Quilpie property and her boots are soaked with mud as she loads hundreds of sheep bound for NSW in the drizzling rain.
Three years ago, her paddocks were cracked and barren dust bowls.
Now dust has turned to mud and there’s feed for her stock to eat.
More than 80mm of rain was recorded at the fourth-generation grazier’s property over the past several weeks.
She’s now full of optimism.
“Markets are the highest they’ve probably ever been historically, costs are also right up there, but people have got feed in the paddocks,” she said.
It’s a massive change for the remote sheep and cattle station, which until recently had been in the midst of a nine-year drought.
She’s been taking photos of her property to document the big dry and said the transformation had been incredible
“It started off as very dusty and brown,” she said.
“Then you get that really emerald green on the ground after it rained.”
The seasons have been so good, Ms Sheehan is confident enough to make a bold statement.
“Your season is only as good as your next rainfall, so technically speaking the effects of the drought can carry on.
“But the last couple of years have been pretty good for us.”
However, up the road, cattle and goat grazier Stephen Tully is unsure.
He said rainfall had been variable across the region and he was concerned the lifting of drought statuses – which allow graziers to apply for financial assistance — so “early on” could cause problems for those still struggling.
“I was shaking my head,” he said.
“The further away you move to the south of Quilpie, they didn’t have a great year last year and I don’t think it’s that great this year.”
‘Sky’s the limit’
While Mr Peterson’s morale has boosted in recent weeks, drought still has a firm grip on his Blackall property.
He thinks it will take some time before the scars of the big dry will be forgotten.
“With us spending so much money keeping our herd alive over the past six to 10 years, funds are depleted.
“We’ve got to be cautious. He might turn the tap off and we might not get anymore rain for the rest of the year. You don’t know.”
He is hopeful better days are ahead and thinks the change could start to start younger generations back to the land.
“And if we can get some normality back and rainfall at the right times of the year, sky’s the limit.”
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