Fitzroy be dammed

Fitzroy be dammed


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Sir Grahman McCamley says the proposed mega dam is more than just providing water; it's about opening up the north to staged development.

Sir Grahman McCamley says the proposed mega dam is more than just providing water; it's about opening up the north to staged development.

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IT could be dismissed as an old man's sentimental dream, but surrounded by more than 60 years' worth of meticulous record-keeping, Sir Graham McCamley is backing up his vision.

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IT could be dismissed as an old man's sentimental dream, but surrounded by more than 60 years' worth of meticulous record-keeping, Sir Graham McCamley is backing up his vision.

The plan is mega-dam on the Fitzroy River in an area called The Gap, about 50 kilometres north-west of Rockhampton.

"This dam is part of a bigger vision,"Sir Grahqam said, and one shared by the original designer Dr John Bradfield in the 1930s.

Dr Bradfield, famous for designing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Story Bridge and several dams, had a vision for staged development of the east coast.

It started in NSW, moved into the Darling Downs, developed further north into Wandoan and Taroom, then Rockhampton and out to Longreach.

"The plan or vision I really have is to keep progressing that north," Sir Graham said. "If Bradford proposed to say the dam should be here, it will consolidate Clermont, Belyando and Cloncurry."

Sir Graham knows the Fitzroy River and the catchment area like the back of his hand, with his love affair beginning 78 years ago.

"I have been playing on the banks of it since I was four years old," he said.

This love resulted in Sir Graham buying his property, Tartarus, which lies across the river from where he grew up at Kaiuroo, his father Ted's property.

From the moment he learnt to fly his plane and helicopter, Sir Graham has racked up well over 10,000 hours flying over the area, tracing its tributaries and exploring its flats.

But the dam is not some flight of fancy.

Sir Graham has 64 diaries - one for each year - keeping rainfall and flood records on his properties that have spanned the Fitzroy.

"I understand this river. I've been on it for more than 60 years, and I've irrigated from it for 40 years with 3500 acres under irrigation," he said.

Sir Graham has flown over the river during the floods of the 1960s, the 1988 and the 1991 floods, each time with Dr Bradford's plans in mind.

And if there are plans to have enough water to irrigate central Queensland, The Gap is the only site that has the capacity to do so.

"I believe the Fitzroy River Catchment area by rainfall is the biggest in the country. So this is not a little insignificant river,"Sir Graham said.

Proposals for the Nathan and Connors Dams would not work, as there was not enough rainfall to sustain the former, and the latter was in the wrong location to impact on sizeable agricultural development.

There was also no other river the size of the Fitzroy in the north.

"This whole area is the most concentrated area with cattle in a couple of hundred kilometres from this area

- what we have here is almost double of what is in the whole Northern Territory."

On top of that, the region needed a dam that would not run dry, and the Tatarus Weir built just above the junction where the Isaac River meets the Fitzroy helped the case.

The weir, built in the early 1980s, has never been empty.

"They have emptied that Tartarus Weir time and time again to water Rockhampton - they would empty it at the end of September and it would fill up every year," Sir Graham said.

With evaporation a huge problem for dams during the summer, the beauty of building in this position was that the water would shrink back into the river, leaving behind silt-enriched soil.

Floodgates would also limit the impact of flooding, as water could be released steadily, he said.

"People are moaning about it being too big, but I am saying do it as a staged development. We don't build this to Bradfield's height yet."

Sir Graham suggested it could be constructed like the Argyle Dam - a good dam but in the wrong location - where there was the capacity to build upwards.

And be sure it had floodgates able to handle what the river had.

"It has to be really considered with development. I have a seventh generation who are still here, and my interest at the age of 82 is in the future of that era."

Sir Graham is getting a lot of support from other graziers.

He read out a letter posted to him by a well-known beef producer:

"What a pity it is that so few of our politicians have any real vision in our future - build the dam and the development and prosperity will surely follow."

The story Fitzroy be dammed first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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