Toobeah farmers tell their tale of loss to Royal Commission

Under water. The Lameys' property was flooded for seven weeks in 2016.
Under water. The Lameys' property was flooded for seven weeks in 2016.

It’s the little things that get you in the end according to a farming family who played host to a royal commission last week and who have lost crops worth almost $2million.

The South Australian Royal Commission was established late last year after there was a spate of stories about “rogue” irrigators abusing the Murray-Darling system.

The Commission held a meeting at St George and then met with farmers, the Lamey family, on their “Coomonga” property, 25km south of Toobeah on Wednesday.

The Commission later met with the Goondiwindi Regional Council, other concerned irrigators before heading off to Moree for a public meeting on Thursday.

For the Lameys it was a chance to tell a story of “hearbreak” and watching crops valued at more than $1.6m washed away by two floods.

Flooding they believe wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for construction of illegal and legal structures which has impacted on water flow on the floodplain.

Bruce Lamey believes the flow has been altered by a range of structures “you can’t see from the air and may only be 30cm high”.

Chris Lamey told the Queensland Country Life’s Mark Phelps before the meeting that “we shouldn’t be in a position where irrigators are allowed to manipulate water flows, inundating upstream farmers and denying downstream farmers from accessing their water entitlements”. 

But Bruce Lamey says he’s also concerned by levee construction and other soil works which have taken place on the NSW side of the Macintye River which has taken place over the past decade which has funneled more water down the Macintyre River and more tellingly for the Lameys, the Callandoon Creek scheme.

“Ten years ago if we’d had the same amount of water which flooded us (in 2016) we would have been back farming in a month. But we were under water for seven weeks.”

 He says they had similar river levels in 2011 and 2013 but it is a distinctly different scenario today.

“Water is just not getting away.”

Bruce’s son, Peter, says another issue is not just the buidling of structures but their taking away.

Just glad someone is listening. Toobeah farmers, father and son, Bruce and Chris Lamey after they spoke to the Royal Commission last week.

Just glad someone is listening. Toobeah farmers, father and son, Bruce and Chris Lamey after they spoke to the Royal Commission last week.

He says the blocking of causeways which hinders water run off has played its part as well.

For now, ironically, the Lameys like everyone in the district is waiting for rain. And when it comes Bruce will be planting and as soon as that’s over, he’ll be heading off with his wife Elaine. “I need to get her away from the farm. She’s ill, the stress is getting to her and we need a break.”

The Royal Commission will hand down its findings early next year.