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Damage bills mounting

Just 16 km north of Wujal Wujal, the historic Mount Louis Station is one of the most fertile and picturesque cattle stations in Far North Queensland,  fattening some of the country's finest Brahman and Brangus steers. 

The station has a total area of 3071 acres, of which 2000 acres are improved pasture. The remaining 1000 acres include Mount Louis, Mount Annie, and virgin rainforest, melaleuca tea tree forests, swamps and mangroves.

But the severe pounding it received from the flooding that followed Cyclone Jasper, has caused a damage bill, estimated by an agronomist recently, of more than $300,000, which doesn't include the costs of re-fencing, removal of logs and loss of production as pastures recover. 

It is just one illustration of the impacts the flooding has had on the region.

“Our cattle station received 2700 mm of rain in four days and along with the surrounding areas of Wujal Wujal, Degarra, Ayton and Bloomfield, sustained millions of dollars’ worth of damage to pastures, fences and stock losses,” managing directors Ben and Courteney Morely said in recent correspondence to Cape York NRM. 

“We currently have tens of thousands of rainforest trees uprooted and scattered throughout the pastures and millions of tonnes of silt deposited - in some places up to one metre thick. All of this debris has come out of Cedar Bay National Park,” they said.

They describe as “heartbreaking” the loss of a majority of fencing which has either been washed away or severely damaged - including the entire conservation sediment reduction fence systems along the waterways - and the loss of hundreds of hectares of “our pristine weed-free improved pastures”.

“We have always managed the land respectfully with best agricultural practices in place preventing/minimising any sediment runoff to the Great Barrier Reef with multiple conservation banks in place allowing our waterways to run crystal clear all year round both on the property and out to the Reef. In fact, before this flood event, we had zero erosion on the property which is unheard of on northern cattle stations.

“We also spend $100,000+ each and every year and have done so for over a decade keeping our property weed-free. It’s a much-loved and very special place.” 

Speaking more recently by telephone, Ben said as the months pass and the wet season continues, he can see his beloved region is in for a long, long haul. He estimates that in the ‘Bloomfield Valley’ alone, about 400 people are displaced, and wondering when and if they should re-build. 

“How do you deal with that? You know, the flooding happened so early, and we continue to have this heavy wet season, the water tables are so high, I can see a year of work at least to get people back.

“But what can you do? It’s just a matter of strapping the boots back on and getting out there when we can.”

While the  Morleys have sought assistance available through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA), it will not come close to covering the costs of a return to normalcy. 

Which is why Cape York NRM is working with government departments to map out possible projects that target restoration and recovery. 

“Cape York NRM has worked with the Morleys on land management improvement in past projects, such as the Mount Louis Station Weed Reduction/Eradication project,” Cape York NRM CEO Pip Schroor said. 

“As a not-for-profit organisation, we operate within the parameters of the funding we receive through grants from various sources, including State and Federal Governments, so we don’t have discretionary funding to help. But we are exploring funding avenues to secure assistance for Mount Louis Station and our other stakeholders.”

“This is what we do; help landowners improve their land and waters, build property resilience, and support their communities.” 

Pip is also on the Environment Function Recovery Team established by the Department of Environment and Science and Queensland Reconstruction Authority. 

“Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) will be assessed and established by that team, and I will certainly be going in to bat for the Cape York Peninsula,” she said. 

“The devastation landholders and communities are dealing with, not to mention the loss of infrastructure and income, needs urgent review and action.”