Dean Rockemer with the soggy remains of his drowned crop.
Dean Rockemer with the soggy remains of his drowned crop. Renee Pilcher

Farmers given a cruel blow from ferocious floods

THE raging torrents that tore through the Gympie region on Australia Day weekend were no more ferocious than to the west of the city, where farmers have been hit hard and now face a battle to meet bank repayments and hold on to their ravaged properties.

Clean-up crews were yesterday scrambling to repair the Burnett Hwy and clear causeways blocked by massive trees, boulders and tonnes of debris.

At Booubyjan, a major lucerne producing district, hundreds of kilometres of fencing has gone, crops have been wiped out, the power supply is precarious and elaborate irrigation systems worth tens of thousands of dollars have been destroyed.

Lucerne producers Dean and Tracy Rockemer had not finished rebuilding following the 2011 floods when the Boonara Creek, which crosses two of their three properties, broke its banks like never before on January 27.

Tracy struggled to keep her composure yesterday as she pointed out the $10,000 in computer chips drying out near a wood stove in the small home she and Dean are raising their three children in.

The chips run the property's sub-surface drip irrigation system.

"We've tried to save them (the chips) but we just don't know," she said. Dean and Tracy retrieved the chips from the mud, washed them and dried them with the hairdryer.

"In 2011, Dean pulled them all out in waist-high water; but this time it just came up too fast."

The normally sedate Boonara Creek rose 6m in four hours the day after Australia Day, and was 1.4km wide at its peak.

"At 6.45pm (on Australia Day) there was no water in the creek," said Tracy. "At 6am on Sunday (our daughter) Madeline woke us up and just pointed out the window."

The creek had by then covered most of the Rockemer's lucerne crop. It rose 2m higher than 2011, which had set its own records.

The family must now repair or replace 20km in fencing. Contractors charge $9000/km to build a fence from scratch.

They estimate their losses in fencing alone are "ten times worse" than in 2011. It means their 70-odd head of cattle are not contained and have to be constantly monitored. With most of the fences down or gone, the Rockemer's - and many other farmers' - surviving crops are vulnerable to wandering stock.

"We either walk away with nothing or the bank sticks with us and we battle on," Dean said.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but hell that tunnel is long."

Before ex-cyclone Oswald descended on the Gympie region, the Rockemers were irrigating "flat out".

They have been visited by Mayor Ron Dyne and the president of Agforce, and have already been told Blaze Aid will be able to help them with some of their fencing work.

The Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation yesterday welcomed the news that the State and Federal Governments have escalated Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements for Gympie and four other Queensland shires in the wake of ex-cyclone Oswald.

Bundaberg, Gympie, North Burnett, Lockyer Valley and the Fraser Coast have been declared Category C, an assistance level that provides access to grants and loans for clean-up and rebuilding measures.

Dean, Tracy and Madeline Rockemer will try to rebuild their Booubyjan lucerne farm.
Dean, Tracy and Madeline Rockemer will try to rebuild their Booubyjan lucerne farm. Renee Pilcher
Gympie Times


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