Pilots praised for heroism

A mob of cattle swim to safety, guided by a helicopter, on Barry and Claire Hoare’s property, Kensleigh, near Duaringa.
A mob of cattle swim to safety, guided by a helicopter, on Barry and Claire Hoare’s property, Kensleigh, near Duaringa. Contributed

THE sound of a helicopter, blades slicing through the air, brought a promise of hope to a Duaringa grazier's wife.

Isolated by hundreds of acres of floodwater and impassable roads, Claire Hoare was alone at home for six days when she first thought of the choppers as "angels in the sky".

To many on the land in Central Queensland, the chopper pilots were just one of the unsung heroes of the floods.

Many pilots across Central Queensland went out of their way to drive cattle to high ground, opening gates to let mobs through and dropping food and fodder to isolated outstations drowning in the current.

To Claire and husband Barry, the choppers were a godsend, delivering essentials and keeping an eye on their properties, Spring Hill and Kensleigh near Duaringa.

Barry said an astounding 92% of Kensleigh, which lies on the banks of the Dawson River, was flooded.

The couple were at home on Spring Hill on December 27, 2010, when a storm front came towards the house, dropping 82mm of rain in little more than 15 minutes.

Claire said: "The wall of water that came down the gully, yes, a gully, not a creek, near the house sounded like a jet engine.

"We had a mare and her five-week-old foal trapped in the corner of a holding paddock and Barry had to cut the fence to save her.

"When he started cutting the fence, the water was around his knee, but by the time he finished, the water was up to his waist - it was awful."

After the first storm, the rain continued and Barry and Claire were due to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve when Barry was forced to leave Spring Hill to take care of things at Kensleigh.

It was six days before the two of them would be reunited.

Claire said: "It was very, very lonely for those days - not only was I alone in the middle of the flood, but there were no phones or anything.

"All I had to communicate with the outside world was a two-way radio, through the emergency repeater station on the Blackdowns (Tablelands) and Facebook.

"My nearest neighbour was about 12km away, and I couldn't even get 1km from our house, and we had at least 24 hours on one day without any power at all."

Barry said towards the end of January, they had a chance to get out and about, using the break in the weather to get a full truck of cattle out from their other property to the saleyards.

He said: "All our country on the Dawson River remained wet for much of the year and it wasn't until about three months ago that we finally got out and seeded the place.

"Initially, about 50% of the grass came back slowly and naturally, but it's really smashed our productivity.

"But we're not the only ones in this position.

"Some people have lost everything and aren't likely to get it back," Barry said.

Claire said while there was such a huge loss of homes, infrastructure and machinery across Central Queensland, without the help of so many it could have been much worse.

Barry said that one of the things he had the most thanks for was a government grant of about $25,000 that made it possible for them to re-build fences and kick-start the recovery process.

Claire said her most vivid memory of the floods was the selfless acts of the helicopter pilots, keeping livestock alive and making sure farmers and graziers could feed themselves and their pets.

She said: "I think there were just too many people to list for their help during and after the floods."

Barry said: "I just remember once during the floods getting up in one of the helicopters and seeing the water.

"It was just awesome, looking out of the window, and for 60km, all the way to the horizon, all you could see was the water.

"You know, it was pretty tough for a while, but after it, we're starting to see the benefits of all that water - it's definitely a long way better than a drought."

Topics:  floods pilots rescue

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