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Outback

Pernatty overseer, Joel Vennables, dropped in to my camp at Mount Gunson Cattle Yards. It was great to have a chat with this energetic and enthusiastic young stockman as he toasted his sandwiches on my campfire.

He'd done nearly 150 kilometres on the motorbike, getting to Mount Gunson yards, on his run of the waterholes and dams, following the recent rain, and had several more dams to check before heading back to Pernatty Homestead by a more direct route, checking further water points as he went.

Joel had come a gutsa on the way. Riding along the narrow powerline track, a maintenance vehicle came towards him. Giving the 4x4 his full attention, he hit a loose rock and came off. It was just over the crest of a rise so the power workers didn't see his bad luck. The bike's handle bars were bent and the break cable was hanging loose. By the scorching pace at which he took off after lunch, I'd say he uses the throttle more than the brakes anyway.

Looking a bit sore as he got off the bike, Joel was pleased no bones were broken.

The 450cc bike was Jole's transport on the day because he thought it unlikely he'd get across Elizabeth Creek in the 4x4 ute. Hard going in the wet conditions left him unsure he'd make it back on his tank of fuel so I was pleased to give him a few litres from my supply. Pernatty has been pretty good to me over the years that I've visited so it's great to be able to give a little back. It's also good to be regarded in such a way that Joel felt free to ask.

Down my way, the dairy country of the NSW Far South Coast, 35mm of rain is not a heavy fall. It's welcome, but hardly remarkable. Out here in the arid region where the annual rainfall is about 7 inches or 175mm, 35mm of rain in the one rain event is enough to make the creeks run and put a good reserve of water in the dams and waterholes, taking the pressure off for at least six months, likely a good bit longer, with some dams near full.

I've always appreciated the outback people's acceptance of me and have learned so much, just by asking a few basic questions. I've learned about the people, climate, pastoral practices, history, the land and it's management and business models. I've even been able to sit in on a class of the School of the Air. All done by computer and satellite communication these days. No more peddle radio.

So it was great to ask questions and chat with Joel for a brief time. I wish he hadn't needed to rush off to get home before dark.

Dams are fenced to keep the cattle out when they are nearly empty and a muddy bog hole. Also to facilitate water trapping for mustering purposes.

Many of the Pernatty dams have been cleaned out, repaired or enlarged by a contractor with a big loader. Now the satisfaction of seeing water in them and the financial dividend on money well spent.

The wild cattle, missed from the muster at the sale of Pernatty in 2010, to Col Greenfield, now three years ago.

Several new yards built and old ones repaired and enlarged.

The size of Pernatty is 2147 square kilometres, where I call 500 acres a big farm.

Myall timber, great firewood and good fencing material, too. I have a few small billets to take home for my woodwork hobby. Maybe Edith would like a wooden spoon made from Pernatty myall or mulga timber.

And so the chat flowed as Joel fuelled up his bike and mounted, then following a firm handshake, put his machine into gear and was gone.

Well, I've been here at Mount Gunson yards for a full week and the sun has scarcely shone, so no serious photography. During this time I've had a night and two days rain, five days wind, before, during and after the rain, and then overcast skies. The salt crystals and encrustations that I've come so far to photograph have dissolved.

But it's so gratifying to see the joy in a stockman of the outback at the water in the dams, evidence that the creeks have run.

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  • Guest - Tom Davies

    I thought I'd add this after seeing some of your photos showing to me that is seems you really could use some more water out in those areas....My wish for the arid areas of Australia is that economic way's will be found to reverse land degradation. Certainly you have lots of energy from the sun beating down on that outback ground that's not being harnessed. Hopefully you could use that sun (in addition to the wind you are already using) to produce twice the energy required to run your desalination plants, so you'd have even more energy left over (after the desalination usage) to transport water (perhaps by ship to the south central coast then to the inland by pipe) from the sometimes idle plants in the sometimes too wet east to the dry regions of Australia. Hopefully you could get that water into the outer perimeters of the arid areas to irrigate, plant a billion or so trees (to cool the land and absorb CO2), and to gradually shrink the size of the arid regions......Best wishes to country.

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  • Guest - Laurie McArthur

    In reply to: Guest - Tom Davies

    G'day Tom!

    In the early days of opening up the arid centre of Australia, the explorers and pastoralists struck an extended run of good years. Accordingly they overstocked. When drought came, stock losses were very high.

    The three compounding causes of soil degradation were overstocking, rabbit plagues and drought.

    In South Australia, most of the pastoral land is leased from the government as has been the case since white settlement. Blocks were much smaller and stocking levels were decreed as a condition of the lease, determined largely by the rainfall of the area.

    Many hopeful pastoralists went broke and lost everything while the land was badly compromised and animals died of thirst and starvation. Government policies persisted long after the errors became obvious.

    I'm not so sure the land will accommodate heavier use even under irrigation. Salt in the water table is a major concern.

    Merino sheep in the arid region produce world class superfine wool. I'm told that a mouthful of feed from the arid region is worth three mouthfuls down south nearer the coast.

    There are advantages that offset the low carrying capacity of Australia's centre. Sheep and cattle management is minimal owing to the lack of need to drench and spray the animals in the dry climate.

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