When in drought, hit road
FOR the first time in more than 60 years, the Fogarty family in central Australia have taken their cattle on the road.
In the early 1950s, brothers Ted and Dave Fogarty walked a mob 2000km from the Top End to Mulga Park on the South Australian/Northern Territory border. They spent nine months droving as a means to establish their cattle business.
Now, more than half a century later, the drought has forced the Fogarty family back onto the Stuart Highway.
Ted’s daughter-in-law Sheri Fogarty, from Palmer Valley Station 150km south of Alice Springs, is utilising the road corridor that runs through her property to feed their starving cattle.
She feels fortunate her family had the option of road-side grazing, as she knows the only options for other landowners would be to sell their stock at a low price, or let them die.
Her family bought Palmer Valley in 1995 and were required to fence both sides of the Stuart Highway – an investment that has proved vital.
“It’s satisfying to be able to feed them. It’s not green, it’s dry feed but it’s giving them strength and they are filling up on it every day,” she said.
“It is costing us $500 a day to walk our cattle, but if we had to feed them hay it would cost us about $5000.”
The Fogartys recently hired drovers from Queensland, but for the past six weeks, took turns watching the stock.
The mob starts grazing at sunrise, and each day covers a slow 1–2km.
All four of their children help out with the venture.
“Ben is our youngest and he is still at school, doing Year 12, so he spent all of his school holidays on the road. He has gone back to school for a break,” she said, laughing.
“Another one of our daughters (Elle) is a school teacher, so she spent her holidays on the road as well.”
Mrs Fogarty said the long hours gave her a chance to watch her cattle closely.
“It’s funny watching them drink. They are like schoolkids when you let them out of class – they run to the canteen,” she said.
“You learn which ones are the bullies and which ones are the gutses.”
The herd adapted quickly to traffic, and Mrs Fogarty praised the majority of motorists for driving with caution.
“The truck drivers have been awesome,” she said.
“We radio them ahead notifying them to slow down as cattle can be unpredictable.
“There are some wonderful female truck drivers. They are diving the big three-trailered trucks and can just sneak through the mob; you wouldn’t even know they were in a truck.”
It’s not Mrs Fogarty’s first drought, as central Australia is prone to them, but she described the recent seasons as being a particularly “bad run”.
“We have an eight-inch annual rainfall at Palmer Valley but we have not received that since 2010,” she said.
“2016 was our last winter rain. Winter rain is much more beneficial than summer falls, and this year the only rain we had was 37mm in January.”
This drought has hit the Fogartys extra hard as the dry conditions have stretched into New South Wales, which is home to their fattening blocks.
Palmer Valley, which is about 3000sq km, is their breeding factory and, in a good year, they turn over 2500 head of weaners to their New England properties near Walcha.
“It’s a bad run because of the situation in NSW,” she said.
“There is a 32-inch rainfall there, but we have only had three inches for the last 12 months so there is nothing there,” she said.
Mrs Fogarty was still upbeat, and was lightning fast to mention just 50mm of rain could “turn the situation around”.
“We have 100-year record rainfall (charts) at Palmer Valley. There is a bit of a pattern there.
“You just have to do what you have to do to keep them alive.
“I have been a through a few droughts in central Australia and I know eventually it does change.
“It’s harder for the people in NSW, as for a lot of them, it’s their first drought.”
The late Ted Fogarty was a well-known cattleman of the northern beef industry, and his droving trek in 1952 became legendary. It’s his advice and knowledge that is giving Mrs Fogarty hope.
“There have been tiring and longer days, but my father in-law always said, ‘if you look after your cattle, they will after you’,” she said.
“As long as they are getting a good feed, that’s all that matters. There are other areas where they have to let them die, they don’t have a choice.”
THE Fogarty family’s slow-moving mob has caused quite a stir, as droving hasn’t been seen in that area for many decades.
“There are a lot of local people stopping and taking photos. They are saying they have lived in this county all of their lives and they have never seen this happen,” she said.
Mrs Fogarty described the tourists and grey nomads as a friendly lot, and rather than being a burden on her day, they brought a little bit of joy.
“We have been given lots of food and drinks,” she said.
“We have met some lovely families, especially coming up to school holidays. It was really good to educate them on why we are doing it. I think it made them aware how widespread the drought is in Australia.”
Mrs Fogarty hopes her family’s efforts might help pave the way for other pastoralists battling the dry.
“This could be the start of something new,” she said.
“If we don’t graze it, the government has contractors that will come and mow it, or it will get burnt in the summer with lightning strikes.
“This will save the taxpayers a lot of dollars from fighting fires – there are a lot of areas that could be well managed through grazing, especially in the dry times.
“There is plenty of unproductive land in Central Australia and at the top of South Australia that could be assisted by grazing.”
❝ I have been a through a few droughts in central Australia and I know eventually it does change. — Sheri Fogarty
HARD YAKKA: Elle Fogarty is a school teacher, but spent her holidays on the road droving cattle with her family due to drought in Central Australia.
The Fogarty family have a water tank on the road with them, so each day their cattle get a good drink.
Sheri Fogarty on the Stuart Highway about 150km south of Alice Springs.
The Fogarty family from Palmer Valley Station are droving their cattle due to ongoing dry conditions.