Flood of thanks from the Belyando River people

Article text
The Dennis family, Waltham Station
Flood of thanks from the Belyando River people
By Paula Heelan
People from the Belyando River community gathered at Waltham Station last weekend to say thanks to those who helped them through the devastating flood earlier this year.
But as SES managers and helicopter pilots talked of their experiences they agreed their job was helped immensely by the way the community pulled together, neighbour helping neighbour.
AgForce president Peter Kenny said while the number of properties affected was relatively small, Belyando beef producers contributed enormously to the Queensland economy.
“It took a while to get the wheels turning to help people and to convince Government of the scale of the disaster, but once the support operation got going amazing things happened.”
During the crisis, David and Lydia Dennis of Waltham Station offered their homestead as a base for more than 15 helicopter pilots who worked persistently for 10 days trying to stay ahead of rapidly rising water.
They moved countless cattle from low country, people from flooded homesteads, made continual fodder drops to stranded cattle, dropped food, parts and medicine to isolated families and flew station owners and staff around flooded properties dropping them off to dig out bogged cattle, open gates and to shoot dying stock.
On top of cattle losses to flood waters, most producers lost even more cattle to ephemeral fever (three-day sickness) caused by insect plagues attracted to the widespread flood waters.
Rosie Robertson has worked for the Kinnon family of Alinya Station for more than 10 years. Managing their bull depot at Kookaburra near Clermont and a dedicated animal welfare supporter, Rosie was one of the first to realise the magnitude of the disaster.
“After talking to Brett and Jane at Alinya, I realised the cattle would need feeding. I put out a call for help through ABC radio and received an overwhelming response from people willing to donate hay,” she said.
“Then I realised there were more than 50 stations along the river and all their cattle would need feeding too. Because I understand cattle and how much feed would be needed per head, I knew I could help.
“But I needed eyes from the sky to find out where the cattle were and I needed transport to get the hay to the choppers.”
Rosie spent the following weeks phoning aerial operators, government , businesses – anyone she thought could help and pushed for assistance. She worked with government agencies, landowners, helicopter pilots and made it all happen. People knew they could ring Rosie at any time for help.
While Rosie was organising assistance from Clermont, Brett and Jane Kinnon and their daughter Ainsleigh, 16, were facing enormous upheaval and devastation. As yet, it is hard to determine the extent of losses to their Brahman stud breeder herd which had been selectively bred by the family over 50 years.
“We didn’t believe the waters would rise higher than the 1990 flood,” Jane said. “But at 9.30am I could see water coming through the house yard. It took us all day to move things and to keep ahead of the water.”
They put mattresses on the roof and settled down for the night. But half way through it began to rain, forcing the three back into the house. “We waded through water to the main bedroom, unloaded the piles of things on top of the bed and stayed there for the rest of the night. Brett had to sleep with his foot over the side to make sure the water wasn’t still rising,” Jane said.
“We could hear cows and calves bellowing, that was the most distressing part for us.”
The following day Jane and Ashleigh were flown to Clermont while Brett’s brother Troy and Richard flew in to help Brett with the clean up. “They were wonderful,” Jane said. “They basically thought for Brett when it was so hard for him to think clearly. The support of the whole community through this disaster has been amazing.”
Once the helicopters were in action, they flew in constantly with food and hay and helped move cattle. “Without that help, so many more of our cattle would have perished.”
Further up the river, Joanne Salmond, her mother Josie, 86, and their workman, Urb, 66, faced similar distress on Degulla Station.
“We had a call from Kingston Station at 5am telling us we’d better get moving,” Joanne said. “We moved gear above the 1990 flood levels, but by lunchtime the water had arrived and was rising higher than ever before, so we had to move everything again. We just weren’t expecting it. But I guess records are made to be broken,” she quipped.
“We moved vehicles, motor bikes, mattresses, petrol drums and food up on to the hill where we spent the night. I still don’t know where our strength to lift things came from. From there we watched the water wash through the house and sheds. We were flown to our neighbours at Forrester where we stayed for the next 10 days.”
During that time Joanne and Urb rode motorbikes (with great difficulty) across to Degulla and with the help of neighbours began the clean up. Like so many other producers along the river, the Salmonds lost stock to the flood and many to three day sickness.
Helping coordinate the event at Waltham, Sam Cobb of Mellaluka Station said the community wanted to thank all those that helped and several were presented with photos of the flood, in hand-made frames made and donated by Geoff Salmond of Lestree Station, who had also been severely affected.
“The flood was absolutely devastating for many producers along the river but, like many natural disasters which tend to bring out the best in people, this community pulled together and supported each other,” she said. “We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who extended their help and support - we want them to know how much we appreciate them. It was a wonderful day for everyone to catch up and share their experiences."