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  • Writer's pictureKate Stark

Western grazier fights back after fire

Photo: The Land.


Resilience survives among the embers

MANY producers are still recovering eight months on from the devastating Sir Ivan fire which swept through the Dunedoo district, destroying more than 5000 head of stock and 35 homes.

Cassilis cattle and sheep farmer Paula Palmer remained at her Vinegaroy Road property Wongalea Cassilis during one of the worst fires in the district’s history, braving the intense heat in order to save her holdings.

“It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever been through,” Paula said.

“The temperature, the roar of the flames - I can’t believe nobody was was killed. It was so quick.”

The third generation producer runs Simmental/Angus-cross stud Wondoola with her daughter Courtney breeding Simmentals for her own stud Wongalea Simmentals.

The family also run a self-replacing Merino flock, losing more than 550 head of sheep during the February fire.

“You would shoot some in the afternoon after the fire and then you would think ‘that’s the end of it’ and then, the next morning, you’d have to shoot more - their hooves would fall off from the heat.”

In a stroke of good fortune, the family were able to save 130 head of cattle and 15 horses with the herd relocated to an agistment property in Dubbo.

“We’ve been very lucky to have had all our cows in Dubbo on summer tropicals so they came back in such good condition and they’ve done really well, considering,” Paula said, adding the property at Cassilis had received high rainfall during autumn but the cattle had returned to dry paddocks with little to no rain this season.

“It’s been dry ever since and we had to do about six years worth of fencing in four months.”

Paula said she has been grateful for the help of the BlazeAid volunteer team who were able to set up a camp in Dunedoo.

“It was very lonely during the fire, there was no help at all and we’re a tight community so not being able to help each other was very difficult because we all had the same dramas. “The BlazeAid volunteers helped pull down fences and put new ones up and they’d send a team of four out to us and you’d be just buggered and over it and they’d step out at 7.30am were such a breath of fresh air and you’d be so thankful.”

Paula said the fire was a timely reminder for property owners to double check their farm insurance.

“We didn’t have fencing insurance and our stock were undervalued so we’ve bumped that up.” Living with her mother and daughter on the property, Paula said Wongalea Cassilis will remain in recovery for months to come.

“We’re still fencing and we’re going to replant some trees in autumn. We’re feeding everything again now - particularly our joining heifers and some sheep.

“We thought we had a heap of feed but we’ll have to improve some pastures and we’ve been lucky to get oats in.”

With shearing coming up, Paula said the property is in desperate need of wet whether.

“We’ll just keep hanging in there and keep nutting away at it and, hopefully, we’ll get some of this rain coming through.”

For more information or to donate to BlazeAid, visit:

  • Written for SImmental Australia Magazine.

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