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31 December 2007

Outback Flood


REPORTER: When the Diamantina does run, it's a dramatic sight. It's not so much a river as a network of channels spreading the water wide as it moves through the outback from Queensland to South Australia, and all the way to Lake Eyre. The size of the flood has even surprised those who were born to this arid country and have made their lives here.

DAVID BROOK: To get this much rain and this much flooding early in the year is exceptional. Some of the rainfall amounts have been unheard-of.

REPORTER: From his isolated Birdsville base, David Brook is assessing the impact of the flood on his four stations dotted through the Channel Country.

DAVID BROOK: They excite us as they go past and rise to see the water running freely. And we know that all the waterholes downstream will be filled. The birdlife, the fish and all that will get a good kick along.

EXPERT: This will produce the most spectacular transformation of the Australian landscape. I mean, essentially, this flood is working its way down from the microscopic level right up to the 1,000 kilometres that makes this river tick.

REPORTER: Much of the country has been lying drought dormant for years, scoured by dust storms. These shots were taken two weeks ago on Glengyle station, north of Birdsville, as another towering dust storm engulfed the property.

JON COBB: Any wind, whichever direction it was coming, was blowing dust.

REPORTER: Then the rain came - a record deluge of more than 200 millimetres that turned the dust to mud. The extremes of the outback are now commonplace to Michelle Reay. She came on a working holiday from Britain eight years ago and stayed to raise a family with Jon Cobb on Glengyle.

MICHELLE REAY: Wow! Just washing everything away, wasn't it? It was just running down the bank, running over the top, washing everything down towards the river. And the kids were just out in it. They were just loving it.

REPORTER: The Georgina River, running through Glengyle, quickly rose to flood levels, leaving the family and three visiting children facing isolation for weeks to come. The only way out was by boat - an exercise organised from the tiny town of Bedourie, more than 70 kilometres away by river. The emergency services boat would be one of the few ways to move people around and deliver stores until the waters slowly recede.

EMERGENCY SERVICES WORKER: Keep an eye on any sticks.

REPORTER: And there's the constant danger posed by snakes trying to escape the flood.

EMERGENCY SERVICES WORKER: You get used to it after the first couple of miles. You get an oar out and just push them away. They just go away, you know. They're trying to save themselves as much as you are.

REPORTER: After a four-hour journey to Glengyle station, Jason Donlen was reunited with his children.

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JASON DONLEN: Pretty worried. I just wanted to get them home. You always want the kids with you in situations like this.

REPORTER: The small mustering choppers are working overtime, checking on the fate of the cattle. But after the long years of drought, numbers are right down through the Channel Country.

JON COBB: We were on the verge of unloading some big numbers off this place if it didn't rain by the end of February, so, I mean, it's just changed. It's virtually one extreme to the next.

REPORTER: And as the country blooms, big numbers of cattle sent away on agistment will be brought back.

DAVID BROOK: There'll be a lot of cattle up there just waiting for the trucks to arrive as soon as the roads dry out, so they can bring them back to this great Channel Country.

REPORTER: Right through the flooded Channel Country, the pall of pessimism that accompanied the long drought has now lifted.

DAVID BROOK: It gets you... you step a bit shorter, you slow down because you can't beat it - you've just got to ride with it and try and ride it out. But now we can start to plan.

MICHELLE REAY: Hey, you just have to take it as it comes, I think. Seen just about everything since we've been here, so...

REPORTER: Do you think there's a future for your three boys out here?

MICHELLE REAY: Yeah, I would have loved to have grown up on a place like this. That's how I look at it. There's just so much great stuff they can do out here. So you've just got to look at the positive side of it.

JON COBB: If you can get through your dry times and wait for these good times, like now, I mean, you're set, really.