'Like a tsunami': Murrumbateman farmers devastated by recent rains
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'Like a tsunami': Murrumbateman farmers devastated by recent rains

Murrumbateman farmer Justin Orr could only watch from a hill as flash floods washed his cattle through fences, across Murrumbateman Road and into a neighbours farm.

What Mr Orr had thought would be some passing rain, turned into a storm dumping heavy rain on his property.

Some of Justin Orr's cattle stuck on what little ground that wasn't washed out by Tuesday's heavy rain.

Some of Justin Orr's cattle stuck on what little ground that wasn't washed out by Tuesday's heavy rain.Credit:Justin Orr

"It just kept coming," Mr Orr said.

"I was on top of my hill, I watched almost like a tsunami wave. I watched it collect one fence, then collect another, then it trapped stock."

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"It is absolutely crazy, I've never seen anything like it: one minute we're hand feeding cattle with hay in drought conditions, the next minute they're getting washed down the road."

He said he received about 135 millimetres of rain in 25 minutes on his property near Murrumbateman, just a short drive outside of Canberra, on Tuesday.

The damage to Mr Orr's fences and paddocks from the rain.

The damage to Mr Orr's fences and paddocks from the rain.Credit:Justin Orr

All up the heavy rain will set him back about two years and could potentially cost him up to $150,000.

But it's been a double blow to Mr Orr, with drought conditions before Christmas meaning his other means of income - kangaroo grass - didn't grow as strongly.

I've never seen anything like it: one minute we're hand feeding cattle in drought conditions, the next they're getting washed down the road.

Justin Orr

Mr Orr had just driven home from work in Bungendore on Tuesday when the rain hit, as it got heavier he decided to go check in on the 80-plus black angus cows he has on his farm.

He found some on the edge of the water and had to start pushing them up hill when he got a call from a neighbour.

"He said, 'You've got stock tangled in the fence down the bottom drowning'," Mr Orr said.

Mr Orr's farm covered in water during Tuesday's heavy rain near Murrumbateman.

Mr Orr's farm covered in water during Tuesday's heavy rain near Murrumbateman.Credit:Justin Orr

Justin Orr's horse could only stand as it waited for the flood conditions to subside.

Justin Orr's horse could only stand as it waited for the flood conditions to subside.Credit:Justin Orr

Too busy pushing the other cows uphill, Mr Orr said he couldn't get there in time. It's then when his neighbour told him they'd broken through that fence, and pushed across the road into his neighbours fence.

"Then I heard a scream of delight from his daughter on the other end saying 'They're swimming, they're swimming'," Mr Orr said.

They had broken through his neigbour's fence.

When it was all over, Mr Orr said he was lucky he only had to euthanise one cow but with no ground to feed them or fences to contain them, he's had to quickly sell them at a low price.

His horse had also luckily survived; caught in the water, the horse could only stand there and wait for the conditions to ease.

"It got a bit heartbreaking," Mr Orr said.

"You think you just got it to a place saying 'I'm there, we can just tick along' and then something like this happens."

A photo of Glengyle Road during the rains on Tuesday.

A photo of Glengyle Road during the rains on Tuesday.Credit:Justin Orr

But as bad as it is for Mr Orr, he said other farmers in that small patch around Murrumbateman had fared worse.

One of his neighbours had 600 acres of field washed away after he'd just ploughed it for oats.

Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Rebecca Farr said nearby Young had recorded 72mm of rain from the slow moving storms moving across the region on Thursday.

She said the nature of thunderstorms meant you could see heavy rainfall in one area and next to nothing in another nearby.

Mr Orr's plight shows just how patchy the recent weeks of rain around the Canberra region had been.

Out east in Braidwood, Ian Cargill - who spoke to The Canberra Times about the drought conditions early last year - said the recent weeks of rain had helped.

The streets of Braidwood itself had received 100 millimetres of rain on Thursday as water lapped at the doors of shops, but just five minutes out of town, Mr Cargill said he'd only had about 50 millimetres.

"I took a quick drive around this morning and saw some dams full that I haven't seen full for two years," Mr Cargill said.

"We're not out of the woods but it's a lot more positive than it was 12 months ago, I can tell you."

Grants, subsidies and feed had helped take the pressure off Mr Cargill but even then, when he normally would be selling 1500 lambs, this season he could only sell 400.

"It's a fair whack of our income," he said.

Closer to home, ACT Rural Landholders Association president Tom Allen said the grants the ACT government had opened up last year had helped Canberra farmers make the most of the rain.

Mr Allen said he was shocked how little water infrastructure local farmers had but the grants had helped install new pipes and systems to improve irrigation.

"Even though it's green there's not much volume about, we're still in a vulnerable position," Mr Allen said.

He told Canberrans they should hope for decent downpours during March to help ACT farmers.

"They've been struggling through."

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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