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Drought, fire, and now floods in just three years for Queensland farmers

Wednesday January 12, 2022 - 21:20 AEDT
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Peter Olivier rescued a calf that had been swept away. - ABC

Three years ago, Ilse Heidegger battled bushfires with a leaf blower on her cattle property at Woolooga, in South-East Queensland.

In the years since, she and her husband, Peter Olivier, have watched as their region, north-west of Gympie, suffered through the drought.

Now in 2022, the couple has faced down yet another disaster ? this time a devastating flood. 

Caught off guard by torrential rain, Ms Heidegger and Mr Olivier rushed to save cattle trapped in their bottom paddock.

"The main dam was overflowing, there were rivers of water everywhere" Ms Heidegger said.

Separated from the cattle by water run-off gushing through, the couple devised a plan.

"I would try and encourage the girls to follow me, Peter would go behind to just push them through," she said.

"Unfortunately, by that time, the water was rising and a lot more ferocious than what we had originally anticipated. A couple of calves got swept up into the current."

Mr Oliver saved a calf, born just that day, from floodwaters.

"When I went through to get behind the cattle, I was about ankle-deep in the water, and when I turned around within just 10 to 15 minutes, it went up to knee height," he said.

Managing to rescue one of the two calves swept away, the couple carried the 30 to 40kg calf through floodwaters to higher ground.

Adding to the couple's eventful night, Ms Heidegger's gumboots had washed away leaving her barefoot in the paddock and exposed to threats other than rising floodwater.

"I was kind of tap-dancing over the red belly blacks as they were coming up around us," she said.

Even though they lost a calf, Ms Heidegger stressed that they were very lucky.

"We were very fortunate by comparison to a lot of other people," she said.

'Trials and tribulations' of farming

It was a restless night for the couple, but they woke to find their cattle had survived and, incredibly, the newborn calf had found its mother. 

"I don't really name cows but she's of course named Mermaid," Ms Heidegger said.

A deep love of their animals has made the past three years of drought, fire and flood a traumatic experience for the couple.

"I think if you're a farmer, you have an innate love for animals and to see them suffering is incredibly hard," she said.

"But this is our home. And so, you know, through trials and tribulations, we are incredibly blessed and incredibly fortunate that we did survive through the fires."

Others in the area were not so fortunate.

"Our hearts go out to all those farmers who have lost 20 or 30 head of cattle," Ms Heidegger said.

"I cannot imagine what they must be feeling like and then especially those folks who have lost lives and families that are still waiting to hear about their loved ones if they made it or not.

"Nobody can really put themselves in their shoes, and so our thoughts and prayers go out to them."

'The definition of farming'

Clocking up more than 540mm of rain during the flood event, Ms Heidegger said it was "incredible weather".

"We have never experienced something like that. And not that long ago, we had the fires that came through Woolooga. So it's been a bit of fires, drought, flood, so we are going to need to take a bit of a breather for 2022."

Mr Olivier said it was part and parcel of the rural lifestyle.

"It is the definition of farming ? hours of boredom interrupted by moments of anxiety," he said.


© ABC 2022

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