Livestock

Cows return to Corryong after bushfires

By Jamieson Salter

It was a black letter day for Craig McKimmie.

The black letter day.

It was New Year’s Eve and Corryong was on fire.

And not just any fire.

This was hell come to visit and it was destroying everything in its reach — trees, pasture, fences, haysheds, feed stocks, burnt right down to the soil.

Everything.

Gone.

Which left Mr McKimmie facing his toughest decision — was he gone too?

Hardly.

Although he had a bloody hard road to hoe; and he knew it.

What he did not know yet was that in the midst of all this disaster, help was on the way.

“On New Year’s Eve we got burnt out pretty bad, we lost 900 acres out of our 1000,” Mr McKimmie said.

“With all the feed gone, we started making tough decisions and first up was selling off a lot of our beef herd.”

Then the country connection kicked in; with a phone call 10 days later from Dudley Bryant — an old mate from Mr McKimmie's footy days at Waaia.

They got on and kept in touch over the years, catching up for a dinner now and then.

“We wanted to keep the dairy herd intact and Dudley offered to take 38, it was such a relief,” Mr McKimmie said.

Mr McKimmie is a third-generation dairy farmer, who came back to the business in 1999, working with a herd that peaked at 540 head.

“Taking the cattle took the pressure off the labour side of trying to feed them and keep them where they should be with no fencing, that gesture made life a lot easier,” he said.

“They did a fantastic job looking after them and treated them like their own.”

The cattle were rehomed at the Kaarimba property of Mark and Monique Bryant, where about 10 cows were calved in March, with 28 heifers due to calve in May.

The rehoming gave Mr McKimmie time to repair about 20 km of fencing, and that was where the help kept coming, this time from Rotary and volunteers, which made all the difference.

“We were probably one of the hardest hit farms in the area,” he said.

“We would never be where we are at today without the help of friends and family.

“It just goes to show how important sport is in the local community, in my case the footy — that club bond is unbreakable and shows their importance in country towns.”

But there are things that still rankle.

Such as the millions of dollars raised to help everyone hit by the bushfires.

Mr McKimmie has never seen a cent of it and does not know anyone who has.

“We got a bit of government assistance, but all that money fundraised through sporting celebrities hasn’t made it into the pockets of farmers,” he said.

“It makes you think twice about donating money for natural disasters, if something like this were to happen again, I’d pack up and offer labour.”

Since day one, Mr McKimmie was determined to get the farm back to what it had been.

“Then COVID-19 took the wind out of our sail, we were just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and had a holiday booked to Hamilton Island that got thrown out the window."

The spread of the coronavirus coincided with the depletion of volunteers, which died down after about three months.

“The volunteer help started to drift away, phone calls dwindled, and Blaze Aid had to disband big groups of high-risk volunteers, so a lot of blokes are probably left on their own now.”

Despite the challenges, Mr McKimmie said he kept his family close and looked at the positives in life.

“I decided you can’t change it and the only way to get there is to be positive,” he said.

“With rebuilding, you see progress every day, which keeps you going.”

Mr McKimmie showcased the resilience of Australian farmers as he looked toward the future.

“We’ve added about 30 cows to our dairy herd in the last couple of weeks and a good autumn break has brought back a bit of grass.

“Seven or eight loads of hay were donated to us from all over the state, which will feed the cows and we’re getting a new hayshed this week, we’re looking pretty positive.”

Mr McKimmie stressed the value of the social interaction at the footy/netball, saying he missed getting off-farm on weekends.

But with a winter footy/netball season still a chance, and with Mr McKimmie's farm almost back to full operations, things are looking bright despite the appalling start to the new year.