The beauty and terror of my country

Host: Eversleigh Station
Written by Jenny Underwood – Owner, Eversleigh Station.

I remember the first time I ever heard the famous Dorothea Mackellar poem “My Country”. I was in primary school in Year Five; I was 10 years old. The poem struck a chord with me and in particular the two contrasting descriptions – “Her beauty and her terror – the wide brown land for me!”

Eversleigh is certainly part of the wide, brown land. It is predominantly open downs Mitchell grass country – virtually flat with a horizon that stretches as far as the eye can see for 360 degrees. Outback Queensland is a land of contrasts and not everyone’s first choice to call home.

In the last 20 years I have experienced both “her beauty and her terror”. They say “A picture is worth a thousand words” and so I will allow my photos to show you the beauty and the terror of living in western Queensland.

The Beauty

Nothing beats the breathtaking spectacle of an Outback sunrise or sunset.

5.1 copyThis was taken from our front verandah.  Each sunrise and sunset is unique.

5.2 copyI was coming home late one afternoon after putting out cottonseed. The sun was just going down and it was beautiful as I looked out across the buffel grass at the creek.

5.3 copyA typical red and gold cloudless sky – a signature sunset scene of the Outback. On this afternoon there was a huge contrail which extended for hundreds of kilometres across the open sky.

Bloodwood blossoms bring colour and perfume even during the harshest of conditions.

5.4 copyFor much of the year the skies are a clear endless blue but when clouds do come they sometimes hold the promise of rain … but sometimes they don’t.

5.5 copyEvery cloud has a silver lining.

5.6 copyA good season – green grass, fat cows, and the strong chance of more rain.

5.7 copySummer storms – we had our fingers crossed this would bring rain to us but sadly in the last three years we have generally been spectators only.

Even dead trees have a beauty of their own – I always think these trees are dancing with each other.

5.8 copyI do love the far horizons of our open downs country. It certainly is “The wide brown land for me.”

5.9 copyThis was taken on a trip home from town late one afternoon. There was so much “serenity” it brought a smile to my face. To many this would be isolation – to me it is perfection in nature!

The Terror

Life on the land isn’t always easy and Mother Nature really knows how to kick you when you’re down.

In late January 2012, out of the blue, we were hit by a narrow but vicious mini-tornado. The onslaught only lasted a mere 15 minutes but it caused quite a lot of damage to our sheds, the cattle-yards, and to a lesser extent our house. The shearers’ quarters only 50m from the house were completely destroyed; trees along the creek for over a kilometre were stripped completely bare and the grass pulverised into nothing but bare dirt. The force in the storm was unbelievable; we found a tank that had been blown from near the shearing shed 8km away.

5.10 copyThe cyclonic wind tore the evaporative air-conditioning unit off the roof of our house and almost destroyed the large fig tree in our yard.  The wind blew so strongly that the heavy rain was forced into the house under the window tracks.  Somehow no windows broke even though we could see them bending due to the force of the wind.

5.11 copyThe shearing shed didn’t fare so well. The doors were blown in and everything inside the shed was tossed around like it was in a giant washing machine. The shearers’ quarters and ablutions block in the background were destroyed. The red tank was pushed about 20m up the road; its “mate” ended up 8km away.

Whirly winds and dust storms break your heart especially when you have washing on the line or have just cleaned your house.

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Fire – sometimes called “The Red Steer” – is generally caused by lightning. Dry storms during the summer threaten the precious feed that we desperately need to feed the stock until the first rains of the “Big Wet” arrive.

5.13 copyAbout 1000 acres was burnt in this fire caused by a lightning strike. A few weeks’ earlier lightning started another fire in the same paddock. Luckily someone driving along the road spotted it and we were able to put it out fairly quickly.

Twelve months after this fire, with no rain, the country was still devastated.

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Aside from extremes of temperature and unpredictable weather events, one of the most destructive forces of nature is a plague of grasshoppers or locusts that eat anything and everything in their path. Despite being in the grip of drought, grasshoppers will descend upon any object, living or otherwise, with a hint of green colour.  They have been known to eat shadecloth, green paint on roofs and gutters, and even green-coloured clothing on washing lines.

5.15 copyIt took the grasshoppers about 36 hours to strip this mimosa bush completely bare.

Drought is slow, insidious and destructive. Words cannot fully describe the effect a prolonged drought has on the landscape, the animals and the people. The last decent rain at Eversleigh was in March 2012; the district is still waiting on a return to a good season.

5.16 copySome graziers’ rain gauges have been “out of order” for so long that birds have made nests and laid their eggs in the tops of them. Ours has become a home for spiders.

5.17 copyMaiden heifers welcoming us when we bring out cottonseed to supplement them. Paddocks are lightened off or destocked well before there is no feed left. The welfare of the stock is our biggest concern and we use a number of management strategies to ensure they maintain good condition.

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5.18b copyThe last time this dam went dry was over 20 years ago. At the beginning of 2014 it was cleaned out and deepened. Only a small amount of rain has fallen since this time and it is dry again.

5.19 copyIt is hard to comprehend that number of young animals have never tasted green grass.

Despite the hardships and adversities that confront us, many people continue to live out west. Why? Because we love it – we are part of the land and when the good times return we will celebrate. There is beauty in our landscape even during the harshest drought.

Sometimes you just need to see it in the right light!

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