Gulf Croaker – July 2022

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Community Enterprise Environment


Corporate promo/event

Gulf Savannah NRM is the regional natural resource management (NRM) body for the Northern Gulf NRM region, a diverse area about 90% the size of Victoria. From huge grazing properties, citrus orchards and national parks, to the remote and largely untouched Gulf Coast, it is a region unlike any other in Australia. This makes planning for and managing our natural resources a tricky task. It’s complex, often works on long time scales and shared responsibility across many stakeholders. Having a well-founded plan is essential to help guide the way. Our current NRM Plan (2017-2022) was developed over 2014-2016 and is now getting long in the tooth. We are currently working on updating that plan, checking the science and understanding what has changed, what has stayed the same and 01

what work still needs to be done. In the coming months, we’ll have a Consultation Draft of our updated plan (2022-2032) ready. This is far from the finished plan—it’s a place to start the conversation with our communities. The experience, knowledge and thoughts of our community is vital to make an effective plan. We’ll soon be asking for your feedback and input to our Consultation Draft. Keep an eye on our website and future editions of the Croaker.

05 MESSAGE FROM THE CEO Welcome to our July issue of the Gulf Croaker. In this issue, we're shining a spotlight on stories of drought resilience, a critical topic for our region and communities—especially as rainfall becomes increasingly variable and unpredictable in an already-dry landscape. To support the resilience of our region, we recently held a Drought Resilience Forum in Dimbulah; thank you to everyone who joined us for an excellent day of conversations, workshops and learning. If you missed the event, I hope you can join us for one of our next two forums coming up in Chillagoe and Croydon this month.

Karma Waters


Zoe Williams CEO Gulf Savannah NRM

ABOUT GULF SAVANNAH NRM We're a not-for-profit organisation working for Gulf people, promoting healthy landscapes and supporting local enterprise. Come say hi at our offices in Georgetown, Croydon and Mareeba.

St Ronans

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The Great Revegetate

PLACE TO CALL HOME The Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people will own their own country forever following a small but significant ceremony in Normanton in June. The Traditional Owners received title deeds and freehold ownership of 155 hectares of land on Normanton’s outskirts: part of the 16,000 square kilometres of land where they already hold native title.



STRONG SALES New saleyard records were set for bullocks and cows earlier this year at Mareeba Saleyards. In June, the Eastern States Young Cattle Indicator averaged $1130.06 (c/kg cwt) compared to $913.22 in June 2021.


NEW YOUTH STRATEGY Consultation has begun in the Carpentaria Shire to create a 5-year youth strategy for the region. Find out more at


9,660 people live in the northern Gulf


ROUND UP UKRAINIANS WELCOMED Refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland were recently welcomed to Mareeba with open arms at a special morning tea and information session. Source: The Express, June 2022 WHEELY GREAT RACE The Great Wheelbarrow Race returned to FNQ earlier this year, with 250 people taking part in the race to raise $132,230 for charity!

HIGH VALUE LAND Prices for Australian farmland are at record high levels and demand also remains high, with analysts and agents predicting it will continue to hold its value. Source: ABC News, June 2022

88% land use is grazing on native pasture

The area is 234,021 square kilometres

Over 196 reptile, 455 bird and 118 mammal species live here 04

Alan showing the results of proactive pasture management during a recent drought resilience field day on Karma Waters

KARMA WATERS Making the most of the good times while preparing for the dry times



Almost 90% of the Gulf Savannah NRM region (itself an area almost as big as Victoria) is comprised of extensive beef operations on native pasture. These multimillion-dollar operations run on grass and therefore rainfall. The grass is not just what’s in the paddock now, but also what’s going to be there in 3, 6 and 12 months’ time. Careful management to balance production against the long-term sustainability of the land is required, and part of this is about preparing for drought. Karma Waters Station, owned and run by Alan and Karen Pedersen, has been at the forefront of pasture management for many years. Located near Mt Carbine, the station is principally a breeding enterprise on a native pasture-stylo mix. About 45,000ha in size, the station is made up of productive alluvial soils along some watercourses, Ironbark gravelly ridges, shale to greywacke and steep shaley hill country. Running about 1,600 head in total in two breeder herds, the operation turns off 450–500kg 4-year-old bullocks into the Mareeba saleyards or Townsville meatworks.

going. Alan had been on the adjacent Hurricane Station since the 1980s, so knew what he was in for. The country is mostly black speargrass, giant speargrass, native sorghum and kangaroo grass, and gets about 800mm of rain per year. While they always get some rain, it can be pretty variable—from 400mm in a dry year, to more than 1200mm in a wet. Alan and Karen have lived on Karma Waters since 1995—raising three boys (Jack, Ian and Robert) on the property—and have always been strong members of the local community, holding positions on local councils, the Cairns School of Distance Education P&C Association, the Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride, Cairns Radio Branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and Mt Carbine Rodeo Association. Right from the outset, Alan and Karen wanted to manage their station to get the best out of the country in the longer term. In 1992, they did some 45km of fencing to exclude stock from Mitchell River and constructed 15 stock dams to provide watering points away from the river. “We went on to develop the Mitchell country into five main paddocks for breeders and

The station started out with a single 19,700ha block, won in a ballot in 1989. Alan and Karen then went on to purchase 25,300ha from Fred Burdell (Nychum Station) in 1991, which included about 50km of Mitchell River frontage. Combining both blocks into a single property, they needed a station name. Alan and Karen searched ‘lucky’ in the thesaurus and one of the words was Karma. With so much river frontage on the Mitchell and St George River, they decided to add “Waters”—and Karma Waters Station was born. Both blocks were bare of infrastructure and cattle when they took them on, being some very hilly country, bony ground and hard

The Pedersen Family of Karma Waters Station (L to R): Jack, Ian, Karen, Alan and Robert


eight smaller paddocks for weaners, finishing steers, aged cows and holding our bulls,” says Alan. “As part of breeder management, we take the bulls out of the breeder herds in September and return them in early February.” This process is a key part of their drought management, as it controls when calves are on the ground and ensures the bulls are in top condition when they go back. “Our breeders alternate on a year on, year off spelling regime, which allows the country to regenerate and maintain our stylos and 3P grasses (Palatable, Perennial and Persistent),” Alan explains. “Taking all weaners off and moving breeders into a fresh paddock in second round muster during September gives them the best possible chance to handle the toughest three months of the year.” Alan also says the timing of their second mustering round is crucial. “In a tough year we would shift breeders into a fresh paddock in early August to maintain body weight as long as possible, even if a late season break means feeding hay in December. In a good year we often do second round in midOctober, as cows are holding condition well and will actually increase body weight until mid-November in a fresh paddock. Moving stock before the country is flogged-out is critical to maintain groundcover and maximise water penetration at storm time— and brings the country away so much quicker.” From as early as 1991, Alan and Karen aerially seeded stylos into their pastures to improve drought resilience. They used the Seca variety, especially developed for the northern grazing area. “The stylos take a few years to get established, but then they increase the carrying capacity of our country and provide a high protein feed for stock available well into the dry, plus being a 07

Alan Pedersen, Keerah Steele (Gulf Savannah NRM) and Emily Corbett (DAF) at the Drought Resilience Field Day in April 2022

legume, they kick the soil along,” Alan explains. “These paddocks are used to carry weaners through to the storm season and finish off steers for processing. The stylos last really well, and combined with our wet season spelling and fire management, we aim to keep them about 20–30% of the pasture yield. This ensures that our 3P grasses come on, and our risk of poor seasons is reduced. At higher densities stylos can outcompete the 3P grasses, so we manage that with fire.” As a result, Karma Waters can stock at 1 beast/9ha, which is about twice as good as the 1/20ha possible without stylos, wet season spelling and fire management. Even at that stocking rate on their light country, Alan and Karen have found their pastures are improving year on year. “We know they are improving as we have been doing photo monitoring since 2005. We’ve found this a really important and simple tool. Being able to look back though a photo album and see what the country really was—not what you remember it was—has been a really powerful tool in our whole-ofproperty management.”

The pasture monitoring on Karma Waters includes a simple photo, taken from a star picket-marked point twice a year—end of year at break of season, and post-wet season. They do an assessment of the groundcover and species at the point and use the photo to record conditions. “Our main preparation for dry years is the work we put into preparing and managing the country,” Karen says. “With the combination of wet season spelling, fire management and stylos, we typically have enough feed in paddock to carry us through even the dry years without having to heavily destock. We’ve built more than 45 dams across the property at no more than 2km apart, so the stock don’t have to walk too far in hilly country. Each of the dams we’ve built, we make sure they are 4–5m deep which gives us about 18 months of water. We also have three equipped bores that deliver 1400 gallons per hour, and we’re planning on strategically placing another 6 bores on the property to give water certainty in tough

years.” Managing fire is a critical part of their land management. “Most of our country is burnt on a 3 to 4-year cycle, depending on the seasons and external interference,” Alan says. “We burn in the storm season after 50– 100mm of rain. We use fire to clean up the country or get rid of excessive fuel loads, which has been part of land management in this country for thousands of years. We also use fire to control some weeds and introduced stylos when they become too dominant in the pasture makeup.” Drought resilience is more than just land management, however. As Karen explains, “An important part of our station drought resilience is also income diversification. We run a successful bush camping venture on the property, with nine sites established along the Mitchell River. These are open during the dry season and have proven very popular.” With beautiful swimming spots and big blue skies, it's not hard to see why.

Joe Rolfe (DAF), Vern Ezzy (QRIDA), Wayne Slack (QRIDA) and Karen Pedersen at the Drought Resilience Field Day in April 2022


ST RONANS The innovative cropping and beef operation underway in the Gulf region



Sundown Pastoral owns and operates St Ronans Station—a 44,000ha mixed cropping and beef business property, approximately 60km west of Mt Garnet—which they took over in 2019. However, the organisation has a long and proud history in both industries, bringing some exciting and innovative approaches to the Gulf Savannah region in terms of their drought resilience. Sundown Pastoral Company started operation in 1964 on the New England Tableland in northern New South Wales with the purchase of a single property. Over the next 55 years, the privately-owned family company steadily grew into a large and diverse operation, spanning seven properties across two states and over 105,218ha. Its pastoral operation was described as “lush dairy farm country—on the scale of large outback cattle stations”. Among other businesses, Sundown Pastoral's founder Neil Statham also started the familiar Ranbuild company, specialising in developing prefabricated farm sheds and buildings— which can be found on many stations throughout the Gulf Savannah region—and ran that part of the business until its sale in 2004.

“Once you put irrigation in, you got a crop that year which paid for your infrastructure and development costs," says David. “If you make a dollar from a farm, you put 90c back into the business, and that’s what we did for the next 20 years on Keytah—compound interest on investment, the eighth wonder of the world.” From starting work on grazing and then cropping operations for his dad on his first day out of school at 17, and after acting as director for many years, David took over Sundown Pastoral with his wife Danielle in Cropping at St Ronan's Station

Up until 1984, Sundown Pastoral was largely focused on beef grazing operations. Looking to diversify the Statham family’s interests and following up on an opportunity, Neil Statham went to inspect Keytah Station near Moree, NSW. Neil’s son David, then 17, went along with his dad. The Statham family bought Keytah, and their adventures into cropping commenced on this 6,070ha mixed sheep and dryland cropping farm. They sold the sheep that came with the property within three months and began a steep learning curve into cropping, converting the dryland cropping to irrigated lands. Over the next 15 years, they purchased and aggregated adjoining properties to have a total property of 25,495ha. 10

2018. In that same year, looking for an operation that diversified their Murray Darling-based operation at Keytah, they purchased St Ronans Station. “We looked across a lot of properties in Northern Australia for an opportunity,” David explains. “St Ronans stood out for us in that it had the scale we need, reliable rainfall at about 800mm a year, good and consistent soils right across the property for farming and, due to its elevation at 740m above sea level, mild temperatures. In a hundred years of temperature record, it’d rarely had a day above 36°C. That’s vital for cotton especially as at temperatures above 36°C, cotton stops producing and puts all its energy into trying to cool down. That drops production. St Ronans’ climate provides a good level of drought resilience for our operation, and also suits a huge range of other potential crops as we develop the infrastructure. It gives us plenty of scope to diversify our business, again adding drought resilience. “St Ronans was very attractive to us in that it was also an opportunity to convert country 11

from grazing on native pasture which is typically low value, to dryland cropping and then irrigated cropping. The capital uplift we can see through that investment in time, money and effort is enormous.” As David also highlights, the other advantage for Sundown Pastoral's business is that St Ronans is three months out of season with the Keytah property. “That allows us to bring our depth of specialist people and equipment from Keytah to bear on St Ronans. One of the greatest limitations for all agriculture is human resources, and having our highly skilled team that we can bring direct from Keytah and apply that skill here in North Queensland is a terrific boost.” Learnings from their other operations are supporting the productivity and resilience of their operations at St Ronans Station. “From the late 1990s to early 2000s, there was a huge advance in the machinery and technology in cropping. The lessons we

learned at Keytah about moisture conservation are directly applicable to our St Ronans operations. We run a fully rotational cropping system with zero or minimal till. The key is keeping moisture in the ground as moisture equals biomass and biomass equals soil carbon. The more moisture you can keep in the ground for your crop, the better your production is in so many ways,” David explains. “At St Ronans we rotate cotton, corn, fallow, cotton—sowing the cotton directly back into the corn stubble. That protects the soil and increases the carbon. The more carbon there is in the soil, the greater the water holding capacity. We are about to harvest our third cotton crop at St Ronans and the yield looks excellent and keeps improving year-on-year. We have 20+ years of data from our Keytah operations that we can see the real difference our practices have made, and we are looking forward to bringing and improving those practices to suit St Ronans.” St Ronans is also a beef operation, with 38,445ha set up for grazing up to 6,000 head in a rotational system, plus a feedlot that can accommodate up to 2,000 head (licensed to 10,000). “We use our corn crop as part of the rotational cropping to shade out our cotton returns and increase our soil carbon. At present, we sell the corn into Atherton. Along with our land management, this integrated system is part of our drought resilience for our operations. Drought resilience for us isn’t just something we do on the basis of a weather forecast,” David continues. “It’s the months and years of work you put into the property up to that point. Improving the soil is a big part of that, but it's also reinvesting into the farm, having the right equipment and infrastructure in place and a great team of specialist staff that know what they are on about.”


UNDERWATER RAINBOWS The incredible, iridescent fish living in our waterways WORDS BY WAYNE YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHY BY GUNTHER SCHMIDA

Right across our region are streams, wetlands, dams and rivers. Many of these almost disappear in the dry season, retreating to small pools before filling up again following a bit of rain during the wet. Within days, suddenly an abundance of little fish can be seen within these freshly flowing creeks. 13

One fish commonly found in the Gulf region is the Eastern Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia splendida. These amazing native fish are found across our region, through the Mitchell, Staaten, Gilbert and Norman river catchments. This is one of about 86 species of Rainbowfish found from Papua New Guinea to Northern, Central and Eastern Australia. They are typically about 8cm long, but real whoppers can grow to 14cm (still hardly a good bragging story). When we look down into our creeks and see Rainbowfish, they usually look tan or brown. However, when seen from side-on, you can see where they get their name from. Depending on what angle the light strikes them, they will appear iridescent green to blue to turquoise with red bands, fins and tails. Rainbowfish are sexually dimorphic—that is males and females look different. Mature males are often bigger, have broader bodies and more colourful fins that trail off more towards the tail as can be seen in the image above. They use these colours and prominent fins to display and impress the females, often using a small patch of sunlight to make sure their colours shine. Females by comparison are a little more drab than the gaudy boys. Rainbowfish are very able colonisers, quickly

spreading out from dry season pools that acted as a dry-season refuge into newly wet areas. They are strongly attracted to any flowing waters and will swim upstream along tiny drains and waterways, finding their way to new areas. They have even been seen swimming hundreds of metres up flooded 4WD wheel tracks after a storm. More amazingly, these fish can sometimes colonise new areas far removed from other waterways. We think this happens through flight—not by sprouting wings themselves but by their eggs catching a ride with waterbirds. When they breed, the females wind a sticky filament from the eggs into aquatic weeds. This protects the eggs and saves them from washing away or drifting onshore. On some occasions, waterbirds can swim into these areas and the eggs can get stuck to them. The eggs can survive short periods of drying out, and may be moved to new areas as the bird flies and lands. Rainbowfish are omnivores, eating aquatic insects (including mosquito larvae), algae, aquatic plants and terrestrial insects. They will live for 3–5 years and are very hardy little fish, capable of living in a wide range of water quality, making them great fish in aquariums and ponds. Next time you visit a nearby creek, look out for these amazing little native fish.


IT TAKES A VILLAGE How one Gulf tourism business is tackling waste

Gulf Savannah NRM recently sat down with Joe Lockyer from Bedrock Village to learn about how their business is dealing with waste more sustainably.

How and when did your business get started? We wanted to look after people travelling from the west coast of Queensland to the east coast and back, as Karumba was developing as a tourist destination. So we decided to develop a destination of its own in the Gulf. I worked for Gerry Collins at Undara for several years, and then we bought this block in 1993. Savannah Guides had been established in the Gulf partly because tourists were having a negative impact, camping wherever they wanted and leaving gates open—so there was an opportunity to look after tourists here. We started with demountables. Because we were in a remote, disadvantaged area, we paid higher interest and getting start up loans was like pulling teeth. Now we’ve got 35 cabins, including twin share, family rooms and two-bedroom cabins. We have about 60 powered sites and a pool, plus an al


fresco dining area and a conference room. But we haven’t got enough days in the week! What sort of waste does the business generate and how do you manage it? Each month, we generate 200–500 wine bottles alone, depending on how busy it is. I think it’s a bit of a cop out from the wine industry that people can spend up to $200 for a bottle of wine but they won’t pay for the bottle to be recycled. We planted thousands of trees and shrubs— as they get established, you have to start pruning them. So we mulch all our organic waste on site, and then source manure from the local cattle stations. We make this into compost on-site and then feed that back into the soil here. It all goes back into the system. For cans and bottles, we use Annie Cork and Joe Rainbow’s Containers for Change (Gulf C4C) setup in Normanton. We pay our staff to collect, separate and clean bottles and cans, so it doesn’t go into landfill. Our local police lady helped coordinate collection of recyclable waste in Mt Surprise—and we've managed to recycle 50,000 to 60,000 units in 12 months. What have been the key challenges for managing waste sustainably? It's very hard to get any stuff that’s not pre-packaged. You’ll sometimes get a nice brown cardboard

3 TIPS TO REDUCE PLASTIC Supported by Queensland Government, our Litter Quitter project is supporting Gulf businesses to adapt to the recent single-use plastic ban. Here are some ideas for reducing plastic waste at home.

box of food delivered, but because of the regulations with food handling and hygiene, everything inside is wrapped in plastic. I was one of 10 kids, and back then a 12 gallon garbage tin would have only been about a third full every week. Everything like milk bottles, soft drink bottles would go back. We used to get 25c for those wine flagons. I think they need to go further to reduce plastics again. Another challenge we have out here is the lack of recycling options. I’d prefer to recycle every bit of plastic, including the lids of bottles, but there is no way to do that here. What are your take home messages for other businesses in the Gulf? Rinse your containers, collect and separate your waste. It needs to be a local government priority too, but it can be hard to compete with other priorities like pot holes and so on. It would be good to get composting of green waste going at refuse centres too. To not turn green waste back into compost really is a wasted resource. It would be great if we could be collecting waste from all our restaurants and turning it back into compost. If we were playing golf, we’d only be on the first swing. We’ve got so much further to go with how we manage our waste.

Buy in bulk and look for products without plastic packaging—such as bulk toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap or How We Roll. Cut down on plastic in the bathroom! Instead of liquid hand soap, use a bar of soap. For extra brownie points, try shampoo bars! Ditch the clingwrap. Use a sustainable alternative like cloth food covers, or store food in reusable containers or jars instead. 16


Sadly, we recently bade farewell to John McLaughlin, our Drought Resilience Coordinator. In 2018, John came up to Georgetown to fill the role of Rangelands Officer, and has been based there ever since. Before he left, we caught up with John to hear about his top take-home messages from three and a half years of working with graziers in the Gulf. What was your background before coming to the role, and how did you end up here? I completed three degrees including a Masters in Natural Resource Management and a post-grad degree in Ag Science. I worked with CSIRO while doing the post-grad, but after finishing that I was tired of just doing research, and wanted to work with the consumers of research. I saw extension as an ideal way to do that, and deliberately picked a role in a place I'd never heard of. So when the job came up in Georgetown, I thought it seemed like a good opportunity which fit that criteria. What was your experience like, working here? I know a few people in the company had a bit of a wager going on how long I would last in Georgetown—so the fact that I'm still here three and a half years later and struggling to leave, shows how much I loved my job. It has lived up to my expectations in terms of how much I get to work with producers, who I speak to everyday either in person or over the phone. I describe myself to producers as their personal assistant in terms of NRM. It has been really good to work so closely with a community which is so beef and grazing oriented. And it's such a beautiful landscape here. It's incredibly rewarding to support both the environment and the industry of the region. What are your top 3 take-home points for graziers of the Gulf Savannah, based on your experience working with the industry here? I started off in a best management practice role and ended up looking more at drought resilience in the last six months. My first main take-home for graziers is to


get the basics right. I know we hear a lot about innovation and transformative change—which are important—but out here in these extensive systems, with not a whole lot of management options when it comes to how you run your property, there are some basics that you can get around—with your stocking rates, wet season spelling, water infrastructure and fencing, and understanding of land types. These are the basic fundamentals that have been around for decades, that people can still get better at, and also have the largest influence over the property. That means the improvements in the productivity and profitability of their business, but more importantly for us is running a sustainable enterprise. These days, it's easy to get distracted by new practices, tools and technology—and some are useful—but fundamental grazing practices are still the most important for our sustainability, drought resilience and preparedness. Secondly, sit down with the extension, research and consulting staff that are available to you and think deeply and critically about how you can use the research in a way that is practical and relevant to your animal production system. There is only so much assistance you can be given at a field day when people are talking broadly to everyone in the room. But a kitchen table conversation, or a long phone call, or some back-to-back property visits where extension staff can actually understand the systems you run, will have exponential value on the sort of guidance and support they can give you. My final take-home is to keep an open mind and be inquisitive. Go to the forums and industry events, reach out and use the services that are available to you. The only frustrating part of leaving here is that in the last six months I’ve still met people from properties that have said "I didn’t even know you guys existed", or "I didn’t know you provided that". So I could have been helping them for the past four years, instead of the past few months. We are here, we sit in our office in Georgetown, or Croydon or Mareeba everyday, and the best call we can get is from a producer looking for assistance. And even if we can’t provide that to you directly, I can guarantee that advice is only one phone call away.


OLD MCDONALD Restoring McDonald Creek to its former glory WORDS BY MARCUS MULHOLLAND & AMELIA BENEFIELD 19

Famous for its heritage of a bygone mining era, Irvinebank is a sleepy little town in the western foothills of the Atherton Tablelands. Once a thriving economic centre based on mining, milling and smelting, locals now enjoy the serenity and seclusion of this beautiful little town. Although nearby mining activities have long since been abandoned, the legacy of such activities still affects the town to this day. This is most evident in the town’s main central waterway, McDonald Creek, which has become choked by sediment washed down the catchment from old mine sites. Although McDonald Creek is still a beautiful feature of the town, it is a shadow of its former self. Locals remember a time when the creek hosted a series of deep swimming pools and kids could jump off the bridge into the water some two metres below. Local Bar-Barrum Traditional Owners also remember a time when they could fish the banks for healthy black bream. Today, the deep swimming pools have disappeared and there is less than half a metre of clearance below the bridge which kids once jumped off. The town also experiences flooding issues each year, when wet season rains overwhelm the creek and flood the surrounding parklands and main access road. To address these issues, Gulf Savannah NRM is undertaking a restoration project. Initial work has recently been done to conduct geomorphological, hydrological, and ecological assessments of the McDonald Creek catchment, to determine the ongoing active sediment sources that continue to choke the creek. These assessments were undertaken by highly specialised experts, who are in the process of developing a rehabilitation program and associated costings for Stage 2 of the project.

Rita Turpin, Valmai Turpin and Jean Rosas shared their knowledge and memories about McDonald Creek

Initial assessment findings suggest there are still several unstable former mine sites contributing sediment load into the creek. Although these sediment loads are far less significant than they used to be, and the road infrastructure further up the catchment is helping to contain them, there remains a significant risk that heavy rainfall events will mobilise more sediment into the creek. Recommended restoration works may include a series of small pool and riffle systems upstream of the bridge, and the reinstatement of deeper swimming pools downstream of the bridge. The proposed works may also include the construction of structures to trap sediment entering the creek upstream. Once the rehabilitation report is complete, further funding will be sought to implement restorative works (Stage 2). If funding is secured, local government authorities, Irvinebank residents and the Bar-Barrum Traditional Owners will work together to finalise the plan to bring McDonald Creek back to the beautiful feature that it once was. This project is funded by Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program. 20


Taylor Smith is our new Soil Extension Officer, based in Georgetown. Tell us who you are and where you come from? I'm originally from the north of South Africa, about 3–4 hours drive from Johannesburg. I finished high school in 2019, and hopped on a plane all by myself. I came to Australia just for a quick visit, but then COVID hit, so I had to make things happen here, and make things work. So I ended up applying for all the visas I needed to stay, which was difficult but I made it happen. Then I met the love of my life, and moved to Mt Surprise, of all places. Two and a half years later, I'm still here! What made you want to work at Gulf Savannah NRM? When I was in school, I wanted to study veterinary science. But when I came to Australia, it made more sense to go into the agricultural side of animal management. So, it was always part of my plan. I started studying agricultural sciences last year, and I really wanted to work for a company that works around the agricultural field, but offered me training. I wanted to work in a role where I can learn a lot of new things, and Gulf Savannah NRM is amazing for that. They support you really well. So far I’ve learnt loads and I’ve only been here for two weeks! If you had a super power what would it be? I want to be in more one place, at one time! If I had a super power, I could just go home and visit my family whenever I want, while still having all the responsibilities I have back here! So where did you go on holiday as a kid? One of my favourite memories was going over to Mozambique. It was pretty common for us, my dad always goes over there, or Botswana to go fishing. We’d rent a house—nothing fancy, just big enough for us. And we’d take a boat with us, we’d have to drive an entire day to get there. But it just was so much fun. What sort of music do you listen to? Country takes first place, but secondly, I listen to a lot of Afrikaans music, which is my home language.


Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth Written by an Aussie farmer, this book shows the way forward for the future of our food supply, our Australian landscape and our planet. Massy's love for this unique country is clear in each word he writes. He tells the real story behind industrial agriculture and the global profitobsessed corporations driving it, and shows how innovative farmers are finding new ways to regenerate their land— with astounding and transformative results.

Living with Fire series GULF SAVANNAH NRM ON YOUTUBE

In our Living with Fire series, we look at how communities are managing and mitigating fire in the Mareeba Shire region. Hear local stories from Dimbulah, Koah, Mount Molloy, Irvinebank and Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctury. Watch the series on YouTube: This project is proudly supported by the Australian Government and Queensland Government.

The fifth-generation farmer advocating for drought and water management BEYOND THE FARM GATE PODCAST

Kate McBride is a fifth-generation farmer from NSW, advocating for better drought and water management. In this episode of Beyond the Farm Gate, Kate also talks about the importance of strengthening services and infrastructure in rural communities and how bridging the gap between city and country can encourage continued connection and resilience.





In 2019, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries produced the Northern Gulf Beef Production Systems report. There’s no hiding that the 180-page report is heavy-going and full of very detailed analysis—which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We sat down with Bernie English, one of the authors and a long-term extension officer, to get his take on the key messages from the report. The key challenge for growing beef in the northern dry tropics is balancing cattle numbers with seasonal grass supply. On top of highly variable rainfall, markets and running costs, producers also have to understand and apply a myriad of management options. This can include decisions about preparing for drought (stocking rates, sowing paddocks with stylos, adding fertiliser, mustering schedules), weathering the dry times, and putting plans in place to recover when rain falls again. These decisions are often linked, complex and longterm, and producers may not know if they made the best decision for months or years. “To help inform these decisions, we did some heavy-duty modelling,” Bernie says. “This meant we were able to look at the impact of various decisions on a typical northern dry tropics property over 30 years and see how things played out.” Take a look at the following page to see what they found. “We also looked into the advantages and disadvantages of increasing the age of steers at turn-off, molasses production mix, silage, home-bred bulls and a variety of other options available to managers,” says Bernie. The full report provides all the modelling and results for producers who are keen to dig into the detail and apply it to the context of their own operations. The Dry Season Management of a Beef Business guide distils much of this information down to just the recommended strategies. Both reports are available at


KEY MESSAGES The cornerstone of every beef business is land condition—or the soil’s ability to respond to rain and produce useful feed. Industry has a history of getting the grasscattle balance wrong. Long term monitoring sites tells us land condition is declining in the Northern Gulf. That means the same land area will carry less cattle, produce less beef and therefore less money. Properties need to get stocking rates right first, understand their safe stocking rate for the various land types they have, and manage to that. Higher stocking rates lead to continued land condition decline, which leads to reduced carrying capacity and profits. A temptation is to stock at higher rates to recover these profits, which leads to a spiral of decreasing land condition and carrying capacity. Modelling showed that just allowing carrying capacity to decline by 0.5% per year across a property reduced herd gross margin by more than 50% over 30 years. That would make many properties unviable, and unable to withstand the impacts of droughts, market downturns, input cost spikes or any number of other shocks. Wet season spelling is vital to maintaining land condition. The more variable your rainfall, the bigger proportion of your property should be wet season spelled each year. Between 20–25% is a good target in our region, but it needs to be done carefully —increasing stocking rates on the remaining 75% of the property can lead to a decrease in land condition if not managed well.

Live weight gain, weaning rates, death rates (the key profit drivers of a beef business) are directly linked to pasture availability and quality. The use of stylos to improve grazing productivity is positive and improves both carrying capacity and drought resilience. Having management in place to quickly respond to drought, such as having the breeder herd segregated and managed, makes a big difference to the impact of drought. Ideally, breeder numbers as a proportion of total cattle carried should decrease as rainfall variability and risk of drought of your property increase. Steers are easier to sell quickly if required and provide a lower risk. The flexibility this brings, being able to take different management options as condition change, also improve the property’s ability to respond, recover, resilience and profitability. Trigger point decision dates based on seasons (such as end of February and Easter) to decide to sell and/or destock are critical, and provide for rational, wellfounded decisions. Resorting to drought or crisis feeding of livestock is rarely economic. Recovering from drought offers a few options for producers. If cattle were agisted off the property during dry times, getting these back boosts profits quickly. If the property was de-stocked, building up the herd slowly by keeping calves seriously impacts profits. Similarly, buying PTIC cows to quickly boost the herd is a high-risk short term option, but good medium term return to profitability.


GREAT REVEGETATE Creating a wildlife corridor between Abattoir Swamp and Hunter Creek WORDS BY LEAH NUGENT & AMELIA BENEFIELD


On a cloudy Sunday morning in early June, a team of local community volunteers joined Gulf Savannah NRM at the edge of a cane farm near Julatten, about six kilometres from the MossmanMount Molloy Road turnoff.

Abattoir Swamp sits within a bowl in the landscape, meaning chemicals and nutrients run into it from surrounding cane fields and grazing lands. If revegetation work continues in future, a doughnut swale of native vegetation could potentially be built up around the wetland to filter out contaminants and significantly improve the ecological value of the park and provide habitat for wildlife.

Armed with shovels and seedlings, thirty local volunteers set out to revegetate a bare section of farmland in an area of north Koko Muluridji and south Kuku Yalanji country, near Abattoir Swamp Environmental Park.

In the meantime, Gulf Savannah NRM is working with other local organisations to maintain the revegetated site until the newlyplanted seedlings are more established.

The location of the park makes it an important fragment of the corridor between the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and the wet-dry Gulf Savannah country, as it provides a wildlife refuge for many species— including at least 165 species of bird, such as the buff breasted paradise kingfisher, the black-throated finch, and the rare blue-faced finch, which is only found in the immediate region.

If you’re taking a drive between Mount Molloy and Julatten, be sure to drop in to do some bird watching at Abattoir Swamp Environmental Park. You might even see a blue-faced finch.

Gulf Savannah NRM Chair, Ellen Weber, volunteering at the event

After several hours of hands-on work—and a good old fashioned sausage sizzle—almost two thousand native trees were planted at the site, linking the high value remnant wetland at Abattoir Swamp and the Hunter Creek riparian zone. "We got lots of great feedback from the volunteers," says Leah Nugent, the Gulf Savannah NRM project officer who coordinated the event. "The tree-planting day was a real success." This revegetation project, which was funded by Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program, builds on previous work that Gulf Savannah NRM has been involved in as part of restoration efforts at Abattoir Swamp Environmental Park.


PROJECT UPDATES Gulf Savannah NRM is delivering a range of projects in regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, fire and drought management, community resilience, and more. Stay up to date with our monthly online newsletter:

REMOTE SCHOOL GARDENS After four years, our Remote School Gardens project is now wrapping up. We sincerely thank Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) for funding this project, which has enabled us to run fun and educational Gulf Kids Days, establish or expand food gardens at 15 remote schools across the Gulf, and deliver gardening, nutrition and Indigenous bush food lessons to hundreds of kids across our region.

SALUBRIOUS SOILS Are you interested in learning how healthy soil influences pasture growth, carrying capacity and livestock supplementation? Want to know how to take and interpret soil samples, and learn management practices for building soil health and optimising production? We have a new project underway to deliver one-on-one support for grazing, broadacre cropping and horticulture properties in the Gulf. Contact Taylor on 0477 415 031 for details. This project is funded by the Australian Government.


FIRE SMART MAREEBA SHIRE We have a new project underway to build bushfire resilience in communities of the Mareeba Shire region, by identifying high-risk areas in terms of people, infrastructure and biodiversity values. Through this project, we will be delivering training in risk mitigation and fire management planning, at both a property and community scale. For more details, contact Vickie on 0439 443 906. This project received grant funding from the Australian Government.

HELPING THE ENDANGERED NORTHERN QUOLL We're teaming up with Terrain NRM, James Cook University, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Western Yalanji Traditional Owners to trial conservation methods at Brooklyn Station Nature Refuge, including artificial dens for quolls, genetic research and controlled burn programs. This project received grant funding from the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund.

CULTURAL BURNING IN TASSIE Our Indigenous Engagement Officer Natarsha 'Tarsh' Bell recently took part in cultural burning at Cape Barren Island, off the coast of Tasmania. Run by Firesticks Alliance, the 4-day event encouraged Indigenous women to take part in cultural burning on country. Tarsh described the experience as "powerful, empowering, and a massive cleansing experience".


COMMUNITY DIRECTORY COOK SHIRE Mount Carbine Rodeo Association Facebook: Mt Carbine Bull & Bronc Ride

CROYDON SHIRE Croydon Rodeo and Campdraft Association Facebook @poddydodgers


ETHERIDGE SHIRE Georgetown Campdraft Association and Horse & Pony Club Facebook @georgetowncampdraft

The Hub Chillagoe

Georgetown Golf Club Facebook @georgetownqldgolfclub 4062 1157

Julatten Community Centre Facebook @julattencommunitycentre 4094 2037

Georgetown Progress Association Facebook group: Georgetown Progress Association Inc. Georgetown Rodeo Association Facebook: Georgetown Rodeo Association

Normanton Swimming Club Facebook group: Normanton Swimming Club

Forsayth All Sports Club Facebook @forsaythallsportsclubinc

Normanton Rodeo Association Facebook: Normanton Rodeo

Einasleigh Rodeo Association Facebook @easterateinasleigh

Normanton Gun Club Facebook @normantongunclub 0428 878 614 Normanton Bowls Club Facebook @normantonbowlsclub Normanton and Karumba Athletics Club Facebook @normantonathletics

KOWANYAMA SHIRE Kowanyama Sports and Recreation Association Inc.


Einasleigh Horse Sports Facebook: Einasleigh Horse Sports Mount Surprise Sports and Recreation Club Facebook: Mount Surprise Sports & Recreation Club Oak Park Race Club Facebook @oakparkraces

Dimbulah Community Centre Facebook: Dimbulah Community Centre 4093 5444 Dimbulah Horse and Pony Club Facebook group: Dimbulah Horse and Pony Club Inc. Dimbulah Soccer Club Facebook: Dimbulah Soccer Club 4093 5272 Mareeba Art Society 0415 852 744 Mareeba Community Centre 4092 1948 Mareeba District Rodeo Association 4092 1583 Mareeba Meals On Wheels 2 Fuelling Street, Mareeba 4092 2278

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about. — Margaret J. Wheatley




Thirsty Merc at Anthill Hotel

Fire Forum

Info Location Mareeba Cost $39

Info Location Mareeba Cost FREE

30 SEPTEMBER–2 OCTOBER Undara Outback Rock and Blues Info Location Undara Cost TBC

19 AUGUST Farm-Scale Worm Farming Workshop Info Location Emerald Creek Cost FREE

9 JULY Mareeba Rodeo Info Location Mareeba Cost FREE – $90

19 AUGUST Big Pups Live Music

15–18 JULY River Sessions 3 Info Location Watsonville Cost $129

26–27 JULY Drought Resilience Forum Info Location Chillagoe Cost FREE

12 AUGUST Salami & Sausage Competition Festa

30 SEPTEMBER–2 OCTOBER Savannah in the Round Festival

Info cairnsitalianfestival. Location Mareeba Cost $21 – $58

Info savannahintheround. Location Mareeba Cost $215+


28–29 JULY

Growing Profits by Building Soil: Transitioning to Lower Input Farming with Dr. Christine Jones

Drought Resilience Forum

Info Location Mareeba Cost $25

Info Location Croydon Cost FREE

Info Find @bigpupsmusic on Facebook Location Mt Molloy Cost FREE


20 AUGUST Food Groves & Drought Resilient Gardening

Karumba Fishing Classic Info Find @barrarestockgulf on Facebook Location Karumba Cost TBC

Info Location Croydon Cost FREE


BOOK NOW: 0429 672 058 or




CROYDON 28–29 JULY 2022

This project is supported by FRRR, through funding from the Australian Government's Future Drought Fund.