Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan.
Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan.

'I nearly cried every day': Battling years of drought

LOOKING for little miracles is Emma Scott's secret to surviving years of drought.

Just a month after landing her dream job in Darwin two years ago, Emma gave it away to return to her family's three Mt Coolon area properties, between Collinsville and Clermont, and help as her dad battled kidney disease and devastating drought descended on them.

Although the 24-year-old was raised on the cattle property, she had never faced anything like the drought, which left her close to tears every day.

The lowest points came last year, when Emma, her family and her fiancé Brenton Sewell were shooting cattle, or using a backhoe to lift the ones so sick they couldn't get up from laying down, every day for four months.

"I have a big love for our cattle out here. Some people would be like 'Oh it's just another one'. With years to come I'll probably get a bit tougher," Emma said.

"But last year it just got to me. We had to shoot a lot."

Emma Scott runs a property called Mallawa near Mount Coolon. Photo: Paula Heelan
Emma Scott runs a property called Mallawa near Mount Coolon. Photo: Paula Heelan

For the first time, Emma said she understood why suicide rates in the bush were so high, as she described how a gun became almost an extension of a landowner's body.

"That's the first time in my life I've partially understood, I know it sounds horrible, but your gun becomes a part of your life," Emma said.

"You find an understanding of why suicide rates are so high in drought stricken areas out here for men and women.

"You're holding it all the time.

"You're always walking around with that damn gun."

Normally, Emma said the family rarely used guns and didn't even allow pig hunters on to their property, because the pigs ate cactus.

"We're not gun-loving people so for us to have to walk around with a gun is horrible, let alone having to shoot the things that you love the most," she said.

"I love our cattle and it's heartbreaking - and I mean heartbreaking - for any property owner to have to shoot anything whether it be sheep, cattle, anything."

But Emma sought out silver linings.

Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan
Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan

Unlike many farmers, like ones near Longreach, the family still had enough cattle to sell and offloaded about 80 every fortnight.

The spike in cattle prices she described as truly a "God send".

But it was the unexpected stories of survival, like when a calf decided to fight and live, or when it seemed an animal was doomed but pulled through, that Emma said kept her going.

"It's so hard to find positives in the drought because there's absolutely nothing going right.

"I know that's so negative but there just isn't.

"But it's just funny things that bring your mood up. We've got a fair few stories of just miraculous things that happened and I suppose that's what keeps you going. The one that really kept us in the best mental state was this calf in particular."

She spoke about a cow that had prolapsed after giving birth and was lying flat out on the ground with the newborn calf nearby, which was usually a bad sign for both the cow and calf.

"It just wanted to live this calf. I've found a lot of cows don't have a real push in themselves to live," she said.

"But you can really, clearly see the ones who want to live. This calf was one of them."

Another time she and a backpacker saved a cow and calf when she spotted a cow with two feet sticking out the back of it, halfway through giving birth, which usually meant the calf was dead.

"The backpacker at the time was a good football player and I said 'You're going to have to pull this calf, it will kill the cow if we don't get it soon'," Emma said.

"So he just pretty much jumped on to these two little feet that were sticking out and the cow just dragged him around the yard for about 100m."

About 30 seconds after the calf came out it took a "big, big breath".

"And I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it. It was just a miracle," she said.

"It's those kinds of stories you really need to happen during the drought to keep you going."

She also said she never would have got through it without her fiance Brenton.

The three properties, Ruan which her parents run, Mallawa which Emma and Brenton run and Gleneva run by a long-standing caretaker, are each about 30,000 acres and have about 1500 cattle currently.

They received about six inches of rain earlier this year and while that helped, they've had no follow up since.

But once again, Emma is quick to seek out the positives.

In August she'll marry Brenton, who was a ringer at Augathella she'd met only four times before agreeing to move to London with him when she was 19.

Brenton Sewell and Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan
Brenton Sewell and Emma Scott. Photo: Paula Heelan

The pair ran a hotel, restaurant and bar almost single handedly for four months in the city's west before moving back, and a year later moved to Darwin, another experience she loved for the "little things".

"Like, if you are going to a club down here in Queensland, you have to have the right shoes on, you have to dress up. Up there you can wear whatever you like, thongs, they will not care. We straight away fell in love with that. When we are in a nice chilled out environment that's when we're the most content," she said.

That's where she completed her nursing degree and was selected to continue her graduate year in Darwin.

"It was a lot of work to apply and be successful with that application. I was really happy with that," she said.

"But then probably a month after I was successful with that I got the news dad had chronic kidney disease. So I was thinking 'Oh crikey'. I made the decision to cancel my grad application. Even though it was quite devastating, family comes first for me."

Although her dad is currently recovering again after getting rammed into a fence a fortnight ago, Emma said he's doing a lot better now.

And despite everything, she said she would never regret the decision to move home when her family needed her most.

"I really wouldn't regret coming home during the drought," she said.

"It's nice to know you can be a big help."

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