Friday, June 13, 2008

Extended Drought Shuts Down World's Largest Cattle Station

The drought that won't end continues to wreak economic destruction, and is now so severe in parts of South Australia that desert trees are dying :

Anna Creek station, which is bigger than Israel, encompasses 9,267 square miles of scrub, sand dunes and savannah in the Outback of South Australia.

It is normally capable of supporting 16,000 cattle but the "Big Dry" – the worst drought in a century – has exhausted the land, forcing the herd to be whittled down to less than 2,000.

This is only the third time the ranch has been cleared of cattle since it was established more than a century ago.

"Since the European settlement of this part of Australia, we've only experienced these conditions twice before.

We've had four years of below average rainfall, and last year and the first six months of this year have been particularly savage," said Greg Campbell, managing director of Kidman, which was founded by cattle baron Sir Sidney Kidman in 1899.

"The drought is very severe. Before the weekend, when there were a few millimetres of rain, Anna Creek hadn't had rain since December."

The extreme lack of rain has killed off some of the Outback's hardiest tree species and is even threatening the survival of mulga and bluebush, tough shrubs which can withstand all but the worst dry spells.

The station's managers must now simply sit tight and wait for a decent fall of rain – whenever that might be.

"It's a boom and bust environment," said Mr Omond. "It will come back to life eventually. No drought lasts forever."

Let's hope not.