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Ann Britton Outback Photography

Just Add Water

Boulia district is known for having one really good season in ten

We received glorious rain in 2009, again in 2010 and yet again in 2011; three amazing years in a row!

Three in a row was something we have never experienced before and we relished how our country responded so amazingly.


Our management plan during a drought is to truck our breeders away onto agistment, and our male cattle get sold, letting the country rest through a protracted dry period. That strategy has repaid us many times over.

Rick had never seen ground cover appear as it did during those three wonderful years and he has lived here on Goodwood since he was eight years old. Rick would arrive home and describe to me the  depth of herbage on patches of ground that were previously bare for the most part, except immediately after rain, when it could be covered in pig weed. Of course with this abnormally high amount of ground cover, the soil moisture would have been uncharacteristically higher than normal and for a longer length of time than was normal, which in turn kept the grass greener and denser, for longer than we had ever seen it. This land we thought we knew so well, still throws up changes that cause us great excitement as we watch them unfold and play out before our eyes. There is really nothing more glorious to a cattle producer than seeing their country respond to rain after giving the country the respect it deserves when the rains don’t come. We do this so we can keep our business viable over the long term.


We built our cattle numbers up again. To see our “girls” back from agistment and back on their home turf, on lush pasture, content under the shade of the Coolabah by the side of full water holes was most satisfying. Calves born during this time don’t realise just how lucky they are, not knowing the harshness of drought and making their presence known in a country side awake again after a long dry.  The cattle thrived and I must say working cattle that are in great condition is such a pleasure.


Of course, with plentiful years full of positives and the land and everything in it thriving, there were a few thriving things we could have done without. Vermin also thrive when the seasons are good. We had a rat plague that lasted for over 12 months. This plague of native rats (Rattus villoissimus) was reported by the ABC as creating havoc over much of western Queensland. They even ate the computer wiring in the Police station at Birdsville! The native rats were huge – and very bold.  We have a store order diclofenac room, a room in an outside building full of shelves, stocked with groceries. Plastic, paper, foil and other perishables are stored safely away in tin containers and from the mice that sometimes pay us a visit. When the rats arrived I was forced to purchase a couple more very large plastic storage boxes for everything else I thought needed o be kept safe from the gnawing and gnashing teeth of the huge rats.


One morning, in a hurry before visitors arrived, I raced into the store room to gather the requirements for the day and was confronted by two large patches of red liquid, pooled on the floor under 4L and 2.5L tomato sauce containers. Of course I said something like “oh goodness gracious, what a delightful mess”. The offending rats had neatly gnawed a hole in each tomato sauce container, not very big holes, but big enough for sauce to ooze out all over the floor in a slowly spreading pool of congealing redness. With visitors due to arrive, I certainly didn’t have the time to spare cleaning up such a horrid mess and cleaning it up was not something I relished.

Rats need to gnaw on objects to keep their teeth trimmed, otherwise their teeth grow too long, and they then can’t eat and eventually they starve to death. On one occasion, after being away from home for a couple of days, I arrived back and didn’t notice the backdoor, near our bedroom had been gnawed at. After climbing into bed, I heard the unmistakeable sound of rats in the room with me – two of them. I must confess I didn’t sleep much that night. I can handle vermin outside, but once I find their company inside, my tolerance levels evaporate rather quickly.


In my 29 years of living in the Boulia shire this was the third rat plague I’d experienced, and it was by far the longest and largest. We check our 5 mile bore every second day and in between checks the quantity of rats in the paddock would completely blotch out our tyre tracks – at night the ground seemed to be moving!

I think rats are completely gross, but their thriving also meant other unwanted animals also thrived – feral cats and dingoes prospered & multiplied accordingly.

When the long grasses hayed off late in the season, fires became a huge threat, especially leading up to our next wet season with lightning storms becoming more prevalent. We did have to fight a few, but thankfully they were contained and never took too much of our precious cattle feed. However, I find all fires scary and I’m always thinking of plan B should it be impossible to stop the fires. Plan B is, of course, an escape route. If we had a crystal ball and knew that rain wasn’t too far away, we would simply let some fires burn, because fighting and containing them is dirty, hard and dangerous work. Without that crystal ball, however, we need to fight to protect our precious fodder. So those rare and precious marvellous years that our wonderful land can throw up at us can be a mixed blessing, with huge rats in abundance and the prospect of large fires increased. A sensational season we love, but vermin and fires we can do without!Coorabulka-Road

We enjoyed three sensational years, when Mother Nature showed us what this magical land can be like if you just add water. Then came the summer of 2011/12 and it was something we were also very unfamiliar with. The heat was extreme. Unbeknown to us, Mother Nature, together with other, human created factors, was leading us into a “perfect storm”………..