Welcome Back to Country Downs

Host: Country Downs Station
Written by Nikki Elezovich – Owner, Country Downs Station.

Hi everyone and welcome back to Country Downs. About the same time last year we introduced ourselves to you all and gave you a bit of a run-down of what we do and why we do it. Well, a year later and we are still pretty much doing the same thing, except for a few additions . . . We now have two employees (who you will get to meet in the coming days) and we have commenced a major development program in order to increase our business sustainability economically, environmentally, and holistically.

The last 12 months has brought with it some great satisfaction and also massive devastation. Kurt and I finally managed to have our ‘honeymoon’ and everything was going smoothly on the station and then the veritable —- hit the fan! Late last year we found a beast on the side of the road, on our property, that had been shot and killed and only one back leg taken. The rest of the body was left to rot on the side of the road! As awful as I put it, this is something that we actually have to deal with all the time!

However, eclipsing even that horrendous act, most recently to affect us was the horrific devastation caused by a massive bushfire that was deliberately lit on what we call the ‘Colourstone Rd’. This road is a shortcut from the Great Northern Highway (that turns off at ‘Kimberley Colourstone’), to the Cape Leveque Rd (around the Beagle Bay turn-off) and is utilised by both local people and tourists. Despite this, we are still moving forward, just at a faster developmental rate that previously accounted for! And more importantly, we have realised that we are surrounded by people that love and care for us and are willing to provide their time and energy to help us out. This practical and also emotional, support in a time of crisis is what gives us the strength and conviction to pull ourselves together and (as Kurt is fond of saying!) ‘Don’t take NO for an answer!”

On a Sunday in early August, we noticed some fire to East . . . this is not something unusual this time of year for us . . . despite how much it should be! So therefore, we thought to ourselves “Yep, a fire to the East, it’s still about 40km away, but we will keep an eye on it” Nevertheless, we had to do a town run on the Monday, by which time the South-Easterly winds decided to create havoc and by Tuesday night, we knew we were in a world of ‘SHIT’!

Wednesday morning, after Kurt and Josh had left at 3am to do what they could, we got DFES (Department of Fire and Emergency Services) to come out, because by midday Wednesday, we had a 15km fire front heading directly towards the homestead that had travelled about 40km in two days! To make matters worse, what we call ‘fingers’ of the front had travelled to the North and South of the homestead AND the fire had jumped the Cape Leveque Rd . . . so therefore also West  of us . . . so you could say that as of Wednesday afternoon, the homestead was completely surrounded by fire . . . uncontrollable fire!

For three days DFES and the Broome Volunteer Bushfire Brigade (BVBFB) came out each day to help us try and control this debacle. With the volunteers and DFES help and co-ordination, we saved the homestead and surrounding ‘improved pasture’ area. Although, the bushfire got to within 500m of the homestead . . . at which point we started back-burning about 50m from the house! Once we were assured the homestead was safe, we focussed on trying to stop the fire in the surrounding paddocks.

1.1NAFI map on 6th Aug 2014. The purple stars show the fire within the last 6 hours, the red = 6-24 hours old and blue = more than 24hrs old. For further information you can access the NAFI site at: http://www.firenorth.org.au/nafi2/.

1.2NAFI map two weeks later on 20th Aug 2014. Just to demonstrate how much was burnt, the white sections indicate areas that haven’t been burnt! The coloured sections indicate which month those particular sections were burnt. Yellow was August!

Unfortunately we didn’t succeed! We made the decision on the 4th day, that it was just too dangerous to deal with anymore . . . when you are trying to fight 20 foot flames with a powerful & continuous wind pushing them towards you, we have learnt from previous experience . . . that all you can do is pull our resources out and head back to the homestead. To cut a long story short, we have lost somewhere between 90% to 95% of the pasture on the property. What does this mean for us? Well it means we sell what we can, we agist if we can and bring on our 5yr development project to be completed in about three months!!!! Since then we have been going flat out every day just to try and relieve the pressures on the livestock.

1.3Four hours after a major front went through one of our paddocks. This scene became quite familiar to us over the next few days!

1.4Five weeks later . . . still parched and a familiar scene.

We have been so lucky to have some great friends, who have given up their time and . . . quite frankly, lives . . . to come and give us a hand for a few weeks. Very close friends of ours have quite literally, set up camp on our back lawn and came out to . . . quote “do the stuff you don’t have time to do” . . . unquote. For those who aren’t station savvy, this is the crap jobs of grading and repairing fence-lines where burnt trees have fallen on the fences and in our case, bulldozing new tracks and dams so that we actually have the option of alleviating the current water points of their stocking densities and spreading the grazing impact of our herd over a larger area, whilst providing the animals with the best possible chance of surviving until the wet hits. At the same time, we had some other very close friends from the south drive 2500km for a week to ‘just give a hand’! Needless to say, we worked them like dogs . . . but I actually think they had a good time! In addition some great friends of ours have provided us with the space (and pasture) to agist our weaners and younger cattle.

In a time of crisis you also learn to realise that there are some absolutely, fair dinkum lovely people out there in the world. We have been blessed to meet and know some wonderful people who have done some massively altruistic things like donated hay to us, not only donated the hay, but transported it to our property . . . to say ‘thank you, we really appreciate that’ seems so lame and obnoxious, but what else can you say? The truth is, if the tables were turned, I realise now that I would do the same (if I could) and you know what . . . a ‘thanks so much, that is so kind’ would actually suffice and make me feel it was worth it. So “THANK YOU” to those who have helped us out without asking for anything in return! I am looking forward to repaying the favour one day, whenever we can.

One of the things that has stuck in my head as a result of this, is that I distinctly remember saying to Kurt after DFES and the volunteer fire-fighters had helped us out “If we ever move back into a town situation, I am going to volunteer as a bushfire volunteer”! Those guys were more than great, they do so much for their community, without people realising the dangers that they are exposed to . . . and they do it for nothing . . . if I could give back to them what they have all provided us, I would be proud.

I do want to make a point here, that whilst this is a devastating situation for us (it’s actually like a sudden and immediate drought!), once the wet season starts (about mid December for us), we know we will be fine. Our land system has such an immense capacity to recover and regrow, however, it is always the waiting that is the stressful part.

So despite the recent ‘stressful’ events, we are still here and still moving forward. It is far more hectic than usual and definitely far more stressful than what we would like and unfortunately this will reflect in our blogs this week. We are all under the pump and trying to get out some kind of coherent and legible story to you all, whilst working 10-12hr days, every day. I can only hope that we are able to impart some of the good things that have happened over the last year without marring it all with the recent tragedy we have experienced.

Therefore, without further ado, I welcome you to our week on Central Station 2014. Last year you read about us and why we do what we do. This year I am hoping that you may learn more about the things that impact us . . . both good and bad . . . but make us continue to do what we do.

1.5A family outing on my 40th birthday . . . checking the new dam that we managed to complete in just a couple of days!

1.6As always mixing work and play . . . standard stuff on a station!

This year’s blogs are dedicated to those people in our lives that have helped us out (through both the good times and the bad) and gone beyond the average definition of ‘helpful’ and by doing that have made us not only appreciate what we do have, but has made us stronger and have given us the mental and emotional fortitude to believe that we can and will achieve our long-term goal.

Tomorrow I will take you all on our adventure to Indonesia, so until then . . .

Ciao Ciao,

Nikki Elezovich