Coastal girl falls in love with Out­back

Ex­tra­or­di­nary life in Chan­nel Coun­try

Central and North Rural Weekly - - RURAL WEEKLY - Liv­ing Out­back series KAREN EMMOTT

THE re­al­ity of liv­ing in out­back Queens­land wasn’t some­thing I could have pre­dicted, grow­ing up as a young girl in the beach town of Mackay. Nes­tled be­tween the ocean and the rain­for­est and flanked by cane fields, the air there was al­ways hu­mid, and the weather tor­rid and tur­bu­lent – a far cry from the long dry we of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence in my home to­day, deep in the heart of the Chan­nel Coun­try.

When I was 26 years old, I mar­ried my hus­band An­gus and moved far out into Out­back Queens­land to live a sta­tion life on Noon­bah, a 52,000ha prop­erty 150km out­side Lon­greach. I re­mem­ber the first time I vis­ited the sta­tion, turn­ing off the high­way and driv­ing for­ever across a flat plain that stretched out to the hori­zon. “What have I done?” I thought to my­self. Fi­nally, a tree line came into view and, to my re­lief, I found the sta­tion had plenty of trees and wildlife along with lush flood­plains and braided wa­ter­ways.

When I moved into Noon­bah, at that time with An­gus’ par­ents, I be­gan a steep learn­ing curve. How­ever, I was quick to learn the sta­tion life, with a strong ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the land­scape – its plants, an­i­mals, birds and sea­sons – and the ways in which they are deeply con­nected. Here, in the Out­back, things change much more slowly but it is al­ways chang­ing. It’s this slow trans­for­ma­tive beauty that I’ve come to love deeply over the years. I’m re­minded ev­ery day there is much more go­ing on than how the grass is grow­ing or how fat the cat­tle are. It’s about a whole sys­tem that works for me and An­gus, our stock and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, as well as the wildlife that make this place so unique.

The cli­mate in the Out­back dic­tates ev­ery as­pect of daily life. It is un­pre­dictable and you are of­ten at the mercy of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Here, we have adapted to one of the world’s most dra­matic ‘boom and bust’ cy­cles, of­ten go­ing for years with­out rain. It is very hard not to let the drought af­fect you. It brings you down and feels like it is the cause of all your woes. How­ever, when it rains and the flood­wa­ters be­gin to flow slowly through the land­scape, the mood shifts dra­mat­i­cally. The whole com­mu­nity comes alive – ev­ery­one is call­ing each other to re­port where the flood front is and at what height the wa­ter is at.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the rains be­gin, the air smells dif­fer­ent than it has in years. The ze­bra finches ar­rive and be­gin to nest, while the in­sects busy them­selves in the earth to the back­ground ca­coph­ony of frogs. By the sec­ond day, a green haze be­gins to ap­pear across the earth. When the wa­ter flows through the chan­nels and the desert blooms, you get a sense you are wit­ness­ing some­thing mo­men­tous, a glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena.

You don’t have to tell peo­ple out here wa­ter is a pre­cious re­source. As a com­mu­nity, we guard our wa­ter care­fully – work­ing to­gether to en­sure that we are man­ag­ing the pre­cious wa­ter re­sources for both peo­ple and planet. It’s the re­lent­less at­tempts from out­side in­ter­ests that threaten this bal­ance – pro­pos­als that seek to

I RE­MEM­BER THE FIRST TIME I VIS­ITED THE STA­TION, TURN­ING OFF THE HIGH­WAY AND DRIV­ING FOR­EVER ACROSS A FLAT PLAIN THAT STRETCHED OUT TO THE HORI­ZON. KAREN EMMOTT

change the nat­u­ral flow of the river sys­tems with the prom­ise of mak­ing a quick buck. First, it was about damming the wa­ters to re­di­rect them to ir­ri­gate fields of cot­ton, but more re­cently the frack­ing in­dus­try is seek­ing to ex­pand its wells and roads across our frag­ile flood­plains.

We have some of the last re­main­ing free-flow­ing desert rivers in the world that sup­port our pro­duc­tive flood­plains with more than 250 species of na­tive grasses and herbs. The nat­u­rally ir­ri­gated pas­tures of the Chan­nel Coun­try re­quire no chem­i­cal in­put, mak­ing this one of the great­est or­ganic beef pro­duc­ing ar­eas in the coun­try. I chal­lenge any­one to taste a steak from this re­gion and not re­alise the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity. To sug­gest that we should carve up this coun­try for ir­ri­gated mono-crops or de­stroy it per­ma­nently with dan­ger­ous frack­ing is noth­ing short of dis­as­trous.

The Out­back is very dif­fer­ent from the trop­i­cal, coastal en­vi­ron­ment of my youth, but it is one that I have grown to love for all its subtleties and far-reach­ing land­scapes. I’ve now lived here longer than any­where else in my life and it’s be­come my home in ways far be­yond the four walls of

Noon­bah Sta­tion. It’s re­mote, it’s dif­fer­ent and I’ll ad­mit that I am still learn­ing ev­ery day. But I in­tend to care for this coun­try and fight for it to re­main as spe­cial as the day I first drove across the dusty plains all those years ago.

BUSH BEAUTY: Sun­set in out­back Queens­land. Pic­tures: An­gus Emmott

The beau­ti­ful night sky lights up Noon­bah Sta­tion in Cen­tral Queens­land.

The Emmott fam­ily farms in the heart of the Chan­nel Coun­try.

Karen and An­gus Emmott from Noon­bah Sta­tion out­side of Lon­greach.

A stun­ning Chan­nel Coun­try im­age cap­tured by An­gus Emmott from Noon­bah Sta­tion out­side of Lon­greach.

The Emmott kids look at Verge­mont Creek in flood.

Gra­zier An­gus Emmott at Noon­bah Sta­tion in West­ern Queens­land’s Chan­nel Coun­try.

Peace­ful scenes in West­ern Queens­land.

Dusk at Noon­bah, a cat­tle prop­erty in West­ern Queens­land.

An­gus in­spect­ing wa­ter on Noon­bah.

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