By Penelope Barker
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Sydney
As teams of volunteers, emergency workers and members of the armed forces clear debris and mop up the estimated $AU30 billion damage left in the wake of the recent Queensland flood catastrophe in north-east Australia, one third of the south-east state of Victoria lies under flood waters, deluged from 28 days of flooding with the mighty Murray River yet to reach its peak.
After a decade of severe drought that saw many small rural communities in Victoria on the brink of running out of water entirely, there is now water everywhere, including a flood-created inland sea 95 kilometres long and 50 kilometres wide stretching between the town of Kerang and city of Swan Hill in the state’s northwest. Northern Victoria is an important centre of Australia’s olive industry, with many groves now flood-affected, including those of the country’s largest olive oil producer, Boundary Bend Limited.
“We’re all sick of record weather,” said Paul Miller, President of the Australian Olive Association. “We’ve had record frosts, record dry and record heat and now record flooding, so that’s really made life interesting! Clearly there are going to be adverse affects. It’s not looking good.”
Though the Victorian growers are not due to harvest until late March, wet and humid weather is affecting fruit throughout the whole of south-east Australia. “We’ve had to act to get access to fungicides,” said Miller. “We’re trying to react as much as we can but this is an extraordinary weather event and many groves are inaccessible as roads have been destroyed by flash flooding. As for the trees themselves, they should survive as long as the water is moving and passes quickly. If water is sitting around it will lose oxygen and the trees will be lost. We will just have to wait and see when the flood waters subside, but the olive oil industry in Australia is still small and all the producers will help each other as best they can.”
Meanwhile, a powerful cyclone closing in on Australia’s northeast threatens to bring more torrential rain and huge storm surges to the devastated region.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is warning residents that Cyclone Yasi could be the biggest the state has ever faced. “Cyclones can at the last minute turn off the coast, and I certainly hope this one does,” said Bligh. “But the bureau advises me in the most serious terms, that all of the modelling right now says this is going to cross our coast.”