Home' InDaily : November 6th 2009 Contents November 6 - 12, 2009
3The Independent Weekly
Jill Greenfield couldn't get
to her clothesline without
weaving through half-metre-
high sandhills when the
savage wind, dust and sand finally
"Visibility was down to about
zero. They were just devastating,"
she said of the vicious winds
that blanketed her family's
Billa Kalina Station homestead
and yards with dust and sand,
filled stock troughs, destroyed
crops and gravel roads, stripped
trees and even invaded the
"The sand drift was horren-
dous. We moved about 20 tonnes
of sand just from outside our
homestead," she said yesterday.
Australians were amazed by
images of the Opera House, the
Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach
shrouded in a blood-orange haze
during the worst days of the
dust storm in September, but few
understand its lasting effect on
rural communities 1500km to
the west. Long after clear skies
returned to Sydney, people like
the Greenfields are still living in a
sandpit -- and every time the wind
blows, the dust stirs again.
The loss of feed has forced the
Greenfields to move almost all
their cattle from Billa Kalina,
between Roxby Downs and
Coober Pedy, for agistment at the
APY Lands and elsewhere, with
the one-way freight costs alone
costing $30,000. It could be two
or more years before they can
Jill's husband Colin, whose
family has lived at Billa Kalina
since 1938, said parts of the
property were almost unrecognis-
"In places that were stony coun-
try, there are now big sandhills.
The salt bushes and blue bushes
(fodder for stock) look like they've
been hit by an oxy torch."
Already suffering their worst
drought in decades, pastoralists
in SA's north-east are now more
desperate than ever for rain to
help the land recover. Billa Kalina
has recorded only 6cm this year.
"We've had dry years in the
past, but Dad says this is the
driest he's ever seen it," said
"When you live in an area like
this, you plan for the drought,
but these sand storms are out
of the ordinary. That's why
we want it declared a natural
"Floods or bushfires are more
visual than a sand storm, so it's
hard to convey the impact."
Over at Gidgealpa Station,
about 100km west of
Innamincka, the dust storms
have also cost Jayne and Jason
Barns thousands of dollars.
The couple had to sell almost all
their cattle after dust and sand
destroyed the feed.
"We trucked out our last load
this week," Ms Barns said. "We
thought we'd be OK until the
end of December but we had to
reassess. Everyone around here is
"During the worst of the
storms, all you could see was
red dust. You couldn't see the
white railing on our veranda. It's
only eight or nine metres from
the house to the creek and you
couldn't even see that.
"And it just hasn't stopped -- we
might have a clear day here or
there, but every time it blows it
gets stirred up again. You can't
even sneeze or you stir up the
Rubbing salt into the dust, NSW
pastoralists have been offered
low-interest loans and freight
subsidies by their state govern-
ment to help them ride out the
storm after the western pastoral
zone was declared a natural
SA's shadow agriculture
minister Adrian Pederick, the
state member for Stuart, Graham
Gunn, and the federal member
for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, jointly
called on local agriculture
minster Paul Caica to visit the
state's north and offer similar
assistance to our pastoralists.
Mr Ramsay said he had sought
help from Federal Minister for
Agriculture Tony Burke, but had
been told the State Government
must declare that the affected
region met the criteria of a
natural disaster area to trigger
"It requires the State
Government to step up to the plate
first," Mr Ramsay said.
"They (the pastoralists) are
pretty down. The photos are just
astonishing. These people have
been in drought for years. By and
large they are pretty resilient, but
the old timers say it's the worst
they've seen since the 1940s."
Mr Caica said his department
was working with relevant
organisations, including the
SA Farmers Federation and the
Northern Regional Drought
Taskforce, to assess the impact of
the dust storms.
"These areas in the north-east
of the state are among the most
remote in Australia and we have
people with expertise on the
ground in this region who are
well placed to assess and advise
on the extent of the damage,"
Mr Caica said letters were
sent to affected pastoralists,
providing advice on support
available as part of the
drought declarations and
Planning for Recovery
program, as well as contacts for
counselling, drought assistance
and financial advice. He said
assistance available under the
Planning for Recovery program
would be extended to those
affected by dust damage.
The department has also
been collecting information on
whether a case can be built to
seek federal assistance under
the natural disaster relief and
However, Mr Gunn said the
pastoral operations were the
backbone of SA's outback
economy and it was time for
action, "not looking".
"If we don't support them, we
will not have caretakers for the
land. Tourists who flock to central
Australia will face fewer services,
higher danger and will be
appalled to see the infrastructure
fall apart. The Australian people
expect us to stand by this industry
in its toughest times."
The Greenfields are disap-
SA's unprecedented sandstorm
has left the Far North dispirited
and desolate -- but determined
-- reports Suzie Keen
pointed no one from the State
Government has travelled to
the outback to see first-hand the
damage wrought by the dust and
"We don't want a handout.
We just want equality among
the states," Ms Greenfield said.
"They just got assistance in NSW
and here we've had to fight for
anything we get."
Meanwhile, left with just 60
bulls on a property that held
about 5000 cattle before the dust
storms hit, Ms Barns said there
was nothing to do but pray for
"Now we just sit and wait and
hope it damn well rains so we can
get some more stock in and start
all over again."
It just hasn't stopped
-- we might have a clear day
here or there, but every time
it blows it gets stirred up
again. You can't even sneeze
or you stir up the dust.
Dust to dust
Before the storm, this was a water trough.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
shrouded in red dust.
Photo: Quentin Jones
Wind-blown sand hides a gravel road.
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