When in drought, hit road

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Top 5 Topics - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

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.”

DROV­ING RE­TURNS

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

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

The Fog­a­rty fam­ily from Palmer Val­ley Sta­tion are drov­ing their cat­tle due to on­go­ing dry con­di­tions.

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