National Geographic : 1968 Nov
cattle, no birds, not even a solitary kangaroo. "Shocking, isn't it," said Barry, who is not given to overstatement. At Springvale station Colin Milson told us just how shocking it was. "We've had to move several thousand head to other areas on 'agistment'-agistment is a fee paid to let our cattle graze someone else's land. And if the flooding doesn't start within a few weeks, the beasts will begin to die. "My family owns three stations, for a total of 5,700 square miles, and up to 30,000 head of cattle. So far, despite the drought, we've been able to make a bit of a profit. Drought doesn't mean cattle dying of thirst, as you might think. We have plenty of water for our stock; we're on top of the biggest artesian basin in the world. When we drill for water, we get it-up to a million gallons a day. "What drought means here is starvation. The land near the bores is flogged out, use less, and such feed as we have is scattered. But let us have even a bit of flood, and we've got feed galore. It's good feed, too. It doesn't just keep the beasts, it fattens them. I'll show you some that are shiny-fat right now, at the height of the drought." "Send Her Down, Hughie!" We fueled Colin's light plane from a drum, then took off for a running artesian bore some 20 miles away, whose endless outpouring made a luxuriant oasis of a shallow depres sion nearby. The sight of this abundance of water suggested the possibility of irrigation. But, as Colin explained, it would take thou sands of bores to irrigate the huge parched areas involved. Such tapping of the under ground reserves could deplete them perma nently, and the mineral content of the water could eventually poison the land. There were cattle here, well-fleshed and quiet. And in the water hole there were ducks, pelicans, spoonbills, cranes, and a black swan. The trees were white with cockatoos. But there was not a fistful of grass in sight. Every blade had been trampled or eaten. "These beasts walk a long way for their Restoring a fountain of life, a stockman near Normanton repairs a windmill that pumps water for cattle. Wind rigs by the thousands dot the outback. Many bores re quire no pumping, however; the water rises to the surface from artesian basins that underlie a third of the parched continent. 636 KODACHROMEBY WINFIELDPARKS© N.G.S .