Of droughts and flooding rains….

Dorothea Mackellar had it right when describing her love of Australia in her poem My Country. The Australian landscape has always been one of extremes with periods of drought followed by wet cycles. Whilst the cycle is familiar throughout Australian history, the intensity of droughts and rain events has increased. This, combined with changing land use, further compounds the effects of the climatic changes, meaning we are seeing bigger floods and longer dry periods.

Three years ago, our area was gripped in drought. Doomsayers prophesised that city water supply dams in Australia would never be full again. We anxiously watched our dam drop to a puddle, knowing if we ran out of water, we would have to sell the last of our cattle. Then in early 2020 the drought broke, and we have enjoyed a cycle of wet years, which has replenished water storages, rehydrated the land and grown pasture to feed our cattle.

Earlier this week we experienced the highest flood of our creek for at least 50 years. Three hours after the rain started falling, our creek rose quickly from a small trickle to a raging flood that surpassed our last record height by another half a metre. Previously the damage caused by floods on the Rock Farm has been relatively minor, the clean up being an inconvenience. This one was something different again.

This series of photos show how quickly the creek rose during the first hour. I was anxiously waiting for the family to come home but it became apparent that they were never going to get home in time. Thankfully friends opened their doors and Jo and one of the not-so-little helpers enjoyed a night in the village. (Huge thank you to Mark and Mel).

A couple of hours later the flood was in full force. The not-so-little fisherman and I went for a walk in the paddocks, and we weren’t prepared for the amount of water roaring down our creek.

The driveway disappeared. The previous record was to the base of the gate on the right – this one came another half a metre up the gate. I sent the young fellow in to open the gate and reduce the load on the catch.

The water came up to our dam wall, and we sat and watched the water for a while. Every minute or so we heard giant Elm trees crack and shake, before seeing them appear in the middle of the flow downstream. The destruction was enormous. I have never before seen these trees break off the banks – indeed they have done a fantastic job of stabilising the bank up until now.

The following morning the water had receded and I went for a walk to check the damage. Debris was pushed up onto and over fences that have been standing for 50 years or so. I found the oak tree that used to stand near our crossing several hundred metres down stream. Several of the Elms that collapsed during the flood were lying in my paddocks. Sections of the creek banks had been scoured out, and areas that were previously grassed and covered in trees turned to river rocks and sand beaches. We have lost quite a large area of our paddock – but the young trees planted on the banks seem to have folded over and bounced back. We need them to grow and grow quickly to help hold the bank together in future floods.

The clean up will take a while – but that is all achievable. I have written a priority list for the fence repairs, however all work is on hold whilst we wait for the paddocks to dry out. It is one thing to walk on the paddocks in calf deep water. It is something else altogether to drive on them with machinery or even just tools. After a bit of work with the tractor, the driveway is again passable

The most important thing is that we are all safe and well. The cattle likewise are all safe and now back on the slopes well above the water level. And of course – it has created a wonderful playground!

In the coming weeks I am sure we will repair our fences and get the farm functioning again. In the longer term, I hope we can lift our gaze and start working at catchment levels to slow water down. If we can slow water in the landscape, it will cause floods to rise slower, the peak to last longer but at a lower height. The landscape has changed enormously in the past couple of hundred years, and any changes we make wont happen overnight. The good news is that change is happening. One of the key organisations that has conducted years of research and is at the forefront of making changes both at a landscape and the political level is the Mulloon Institute. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can start changing the hydrology of the landscape to reduce impacts of flood events like this, check out their webpage here: https://themullooninstitute.org/