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Remote station waits for rain
Remote station waits for rain

North-west of Meekatharra, where life is measured by millimetres in the rain gauge, the day dawns like so many others. Full of hope.

Clouds stretch from horizon to horizon and the radio is full of talk about rain in much of the State. The issue hangs in the air like Murchison dust as Simon Broad, manager of Milly Milly Pastoral Company, pulls up in the four-wheel-drive at the dirt airstrip.

The Cessna 172 is waiting and a mud map is handed over to the pilot for the day's muster. This is not normal at this time of year. It is survival mustering. At Beringarra Station Mr Broad and the boys are rounding up cattle after taking a tough but necessary decision.

They need to separate the calves from their mothers. The big dry means the toll on the cattle from feeding calves would probably kill them and the calves would follow. The very young animals are penned near the homestead and fed milk replacement pellets.

The cheapest option would be to shoot them. For Mr Broad, that is not an option. We head to where some older calves are penned.

A speck of moisture hits the windscreen. "We have had quite a few occasions where it really should have rained," Mr Broad says.

"You see the clouds and it goes over and doesn't rain. You move on."

At the yard the animals have made inroads in the lupins and hay left the night before. There is no question about their appetite but there are many other questions. They can't be fed like this for ever. How long to keep them? Does Mr Broad send them off to fatten up?

And what about next year? And the year after? How long is this sustainable?

Mr Broad says he is optimistic. "I think you have to be," he said. His wife, Natalie, sums it up. "It's like childbirth. Once it rains again you forget about the pain."

As evening wears on there are more specks of moisture. Then a light sprinkle before proper drops fall from the homestead roof. Maybe tonight the hurt will ease.

As the next day breaks there is a rare sight. A rainbow. The colours slice through the grey clouds as the determined wind sends them racing over the homestead. The Broads check their gauge. There has been just over four millimetres of rain.

"All it does is knock the dust off the trees," Mr Broad says.

By afternoon the promise has vanished. And yesterday there was blue sky again.

Maybe today …