WHEN David Boyd flies over Toorale Station now it nearly brings him to tears.
The former chairman and chief executive officer of Clyde Agriculture – which sold “Toorale” to the Commonwealth and NSW governments for $23.75 million in September 2008 – cannot believe the 91,383-hectare property is lying unused.
Mr Boyd believed the purchase of Toorale Station in 2008 – which he said had a huge negative economic impact on the community of Bourke, for minimal environmental gain – was representative of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Last week the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its final amendments to the Basin Plan, which the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council will now analyse before reporting back to federal Water Minister Tony Burke by August 27.
“The ‘Toorale’ debacle, as I like to call it, is a microcosm of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan ... by that I mean big economic disadvantage, socio-economic damage and bugger all environmental benefit,” he said.
Mr Boyd retired as an executive of Clyde Agriculture in December 2007 but remained on the board as a non-executive director for a number of years.
He wants to see Toorale Station – which is now broken into a 54,385ha State Conservation Area and the 30,866ha Toorale National Park – returned to full agricultural production.
The huge western floodplain on the property is currently lying full of feed thanks to man-made storages along the Warrego River, which have driven successive years of flooding onto the delta.
“If you stock responsibly, if you look after the assets generally, including control of feral animals, control of weeds, then I don’t see any conflict between protection of environmental values and commercial results,” Mr Boyd said.
“If we care about people, if we care about communities, then we want economic activity.
“We’ve got a moral responsibility to sustainably maximise production.”
Mr Boyd said he was infuriated by the fact “Toorale” was not being used for agricultural production.
The Commonwealth commissioned engineering consultants Aurecon to investigate how much it would cost to decommission the six dams along the Warrego River, which found it would cost $79 million to fully decommission Toorale Station.
But Mr Boyd said taking out the dams along the Warrego River – built by Sir Samuel McCaughey in the late 19th century to drive water onto the western floodplain for grazing – would be pointless.
He said the dams merely accentuated what naturally occurred during large floods anyway and believed that by simply opening the regulation pipes installed at the bed of the river in each of the dams down the Warrego, natural conditions would be replicated.
“The Commonwealth government ... (was) obviously feeling the pressure because people were saying ‘where is all this water you were supposed to get’, which they were never going to get anyway,” he said.
“The consultant said it would cost ($79m) to remove the banks and the pipes ... I say for what purpose? What are you going to achieve? If you’ve got the gates open I think you’ve replicated natural conditions anyway.”
Mr Boyd said the 2000ha irrigation area only drew water from the natural water storage, Ross’s Billabong, which Clyde Agriculture filled each year using high-flow water licences on the Darling River, or if it filled naturally when the Darling and Warrego rivers overflowed.
While the Commonwealth government has said it believed the decommissioning of Toorale Station would return about 20,000 megalitres of water to the environment in an average year, Mr Boyd said Ross’s Billabong only held about 10,000ML.
“The other dams (along the Warrego River) are shallow, dry up very quickly and collectively don’t actually hold a lot of water,” he said.
Susie Dunn – who along with her husband Dudley purchased Toorale Station in the early 1970s and transformed it into the property it is today – said the debate about the Warrego River was peripheral and that the water had been delivered back to the Murray-Darling Basin.
When the Dunns – who went on to found Clyde Agriculture with the UK-based Swire Group – purchased“Toorale”, Mrs Dunn said it was “a shell up for surrender”.
Mrs Dunn and her husband helped pioneer the cotton industry at Bourke, building the irrigation area on Toorale Station and also flying to the United States of America to purchase a cotton gin.
The Bourke Shire Council has lamented the loss of the productive capacity of Toorale, which contributed about four per cent of the rates each year and about 10pc of the local GDP.
“We bought it with the hope of putting back a viable property and in fact that’s what we did,” Mrs Dunn said.
She said given that all irrigation water previously used to grow cotton on “Toorale” (from the Darling River) was now returned to the environment, and the Warrego storages had not supplied water for cotton, it would be a “tragedy” to demolish them.
“The Warrego really had nothing to do with it. There are high-flow pumps on the Darling River and that was the water used for cotton.”
- Read David Boyd's comment piece on what's wrong with the Basin Plan here.