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NARRATOR: On Landline today, a little faster this autumn. the heart of the continent is beating filled outback creeks and rivers Flooding rains have once again into a lush shade of green. and turned the deep-red country Hello. I'm Anne Kruger. weekend edition of Landline. Welcome to a special holiday share with you And we're delighted to be able to Lockyer's acclaimed documentary an encore performance of Paul Return to Lake Eyre, spectacular impact of water, which chronicles the normally parched inland, not only on Australia's in the outback. but the people who live and work bursting out of the dead heart. PAUL LOCKYER: Life on every level,

with food from flooding rains, Waterways and lakes suddenly brimming from far and wide to breed. with birds flocking in

that this is the desert, You have to keep reminding yourself usually a barren, forbidding place. when the occasional flood event It's remarkable enough

into shades of green... turns the arid centre two years in a row. ..extraordinary when it happens towards Lake Eyre. Recharged rivers stream The follow-up flood not seen for decades. has lifted the lake to levels than an encore in the outback. But this is much more This is nature's grand performance.

finally, the deluge. After a long drought,

in the Christmas of 2009. It started back far beyond Central Australia Drenching rains stretching half of the continent. to rejuvenate the parched eastern

(Thunder rolls) outback Queensland to South Australia Suffering river systems from swollen with floodwaters.

levels topped up or overflowing. Dams that had reached critically low

Had the early explorers in a season like this, ventured out to Central Australia for believing they would have been forgiven Australia's inland sea. that they truly had discovered Even seagulls are found here, in the middle of Lake Eyre. nesting on islands

It's an astonishing transformation. normally looks like. This is what the lake A glistening white salt pan 140kms long and 80kms wide.

Even though it's usually empty, as Australia's largest lake it's still classified in the continent, sitting at the lowest point 15 metres below sea level. to bring Lake Eyre back to life. It takes a big flood And it takes an even bigger flood

security of their coastal habitats to entice the seagulls to leave the to the middle of the desert. and travel hundreds of kilometres The tourists flock here too, keen to observe this outback miracle.

at the volume of water. I'm absolutely astounded I never expected it to be like that. all the way down to Lake Eyre These rivers flooding and filling it up, to do all my life, it's something I've wanted the time and money to do it. and at last I had

on the adventure of a lifetime. These tourists have embarked to Lake Eyre They're making the journey down the Warburton Creek. Few can boast the achievement, the desert seldom carries water, because this channel through it's not navigable for long. and even when it does run,

To be able to see desert from a boat on a huge river be a baking hot dry watercourse... that in two years time is going to can you resist doing it?

on both sides, While there may be deserts to the whole area. this river brings life where you can do it, isn't it? It's the only place in the world Really, that's the point. this particular river, And I mean, this river, the cartographers called it a creek, the Warburton, which is demeaning, I think. it's a sometimes river, isn't it? We call it a river, That's what it is. outback adventurer, To a leader and veteran water in the centre since the 1970s. Rex Ellis hasn't seen this much This is the driest state on earth apparently, in the driest continent apart from Antarctica. in northeast South Australia There's more water than you can poke a stick at.

Goyder's Lagoon, north of Lake Eyre. The Warburton Creek streams out of than a lagoon, It's more an occasional wetlands from the surrounding desert. normally indistinguishable two great outback waterways, But when the floods come, and the Diamantina River, the Eyre Creek this huge floodplain. empty out across Channels criss-cross the country, where wildflowers abound.

conditions for the predators. Nature's explosion presents perfect This is dingo country. to have been brought to Australia These wild dogs are believed 4,000 years ago in this harsh environment. and have evolved as cunning hunters than skin and bone, Usually they're little more from the bountiful season. but now are sleek and well fed kites ride the thermals... In the skies above, on their prey. ..waiting to sweep down so lush. Seldom is the heart of Australia comes down the Cooper Creek, But only when a big flow into outback Queensland stretching 1,500kms rise dramatically. do levels in Lake Eyre It takes an enormous amount of water and waterholes to fill up the channels

that make up the huge Cooper system. about this ancient river: This is what's so astounding how slowly it moves. is the epitome of outback. To me, the Cooper a dying river, Supposedly geologically but here she goes again.

and hear the flood front You can literally see across the desert. as it inches its way rarely makes it to Lake Eyre. No wonder the Cooper twice in the past century, The lake has only filled up but whenever the water arrives, it sparks a tourist bonanza. airstrips can barely keep up At the busiest times, outback over the lake. with the demand for joy flights The views are stunning the creeping flow across the salt, as the light catches water merges with the sky. Especially the reflections as the out in the middle, But that can make it very tricky identifying the horizon. dangerously disoriented, And pilots can become of Lake Eyre in 1990, as one did in the flooding when before he knew it his light aircraft ploughed into the water. He and his passengers were shaken but unharmed, found and rescued by people from nearby Muloorina Station. And here the fuselage still sits, 15 metres below sea level, slowly being devoured by the encroaching salt. It's difficult to believe that this huge salt pan was once at the heart of a lush wetland system. But when the water occasionally flows down the ancient rivers to Lake Eyre, it provides a glimpse into the past. The waterways of Central Australia were well primed by the 2009 flood when the rains arrived for the second year in a row. We've got this amazing floodplain along here. Water pouring into this large freshwater lake here... Environmental scientist Professor Richard Kingsford has been closely monitoring the flood's progress. His specialty is water birds, and he's been carrying out aerial surveys of breeding sites across the nation for more than 20 years, recording a dramatic decline during the drought in Eastern Australia. But two years of flooding is making a difference. A whole breeding event for future generations. We are really getting a very important kickback. Unlikely that numbers will get back to where they were, but these sorts of sequential flooding events are vitally important for the water birds and also all of these ecosystems that really depend on these floods. Mystery still surrounds the massive influx of bird life to these remote desert lakes. In some cases, they've travelled thousands of kilometres to breed here. Are you any closer to knowing how they know the water has arrived? What, since last year? (Laughs) I wish I knew a bit more about it. They in some way can sense when there is a big rain depression coming across. We think they go on these reconnaissance trips. You know, they might go up and do a circuit to try and gauge whether one of these big river systems is actually in flood. That's what we think happens, but really we're still in the guessing game.

But there's no question about the boost provided to the huge cattle properties dotted around Lake Eyre. Before the rain arrived, the Cooper Creek region looked like this in the grip of a record dry spell. Now it's covered in a record flood. Even those born to this country are astounded by the transition. (Cattle low) It's one extreme to the other, gone from almost a lunar environment to a paradise now, it's unreal. One extreme to the other. Newly purchased cattle are being marked on Gidgealpa Station, on the Cooper Creek near Innamincka in South Australia. Jason Barnes, with the help of son Billy and wife Jane-Marie is starting again. He was forced to sell all the cattle on the property during the drought. Now it's floodwaters they confront as they try to coax the precious stock to high ground.

It's around these 80 cattle that the future of the Barnes family will be built. How many good seasons ahead now? You tell me. Plenty, hopefully. Hopefully we'll get three or four, we must be due for a good run. We've had about seven or eight average to bad seasons, so we must be due to get a good one now. Just a year ago, on the rock-strewn gibber plains of Cordillo Downs,

Janet and Anthony Brook were wondering if the drought would ever end. They've made their home here, with four children on a property that takes up the northeast corner of South Australia. It's almost 200kms to the nearest settlement. But when the rain finally comes, even this place takes on a softer appearance. The dry creeks run again, and the hardy desert plant life blooms from seed beds long preserved in the rugged landscape. The muster is underway on Cordillo Downs. The cattle can spread wide over a property that covers a staggering 8,000 square kilometres, and the best way to find them is from the air. The pasture and grass is knee high, compared to last year when we were shifting cattle off to other properties to make use of the floods. We don't have to do that this year. As Anthony spots the stock from above, Janet and four-year-old Megan help round them up. The kids come along, it's good for them. And it saves on the babysitting at home, gets me out of the house. It's terrific, it's an absolute joy, actually, coming out and mustering when it's like this. You're not worried about the condition of the cattle while you're walking them along, it lifts your spirit, actually, when you see so much good cover on the ground. It's about a once in a 25 year rain event. The country really won't get much better than what it is now. The relieving flood working its way down the Cooper Creek forges on towards Lake Eyre, filling up every crevice and depression as it goes. The progress of the flow is measured in months rather than weeks.

Eventually the Cooper reaches the Birdsville Track just east of Lake Eyre. There's a rush to beat the floodwaters, For everyone knows this famous road could be closed for a long time to come.

It's one of Australia's great outback routes, running from Marree in northern South Australia Through more than 500kms of desert to Birdsville in far west Queensland.

It began in the 1870s, a rough trail fashioned out of this unforgiving country as a stock route to herd cattle to market. Camel trains, and later motorised transport developed the Birdsville Track into a vital supply link. It's now busier than ever, with a huge increase in tourist traffic.

But when the track is cut, this is the only other way across the Cooper. An abandoned punt that's been gathering dust in the desert. It hasn't been used since the Birdsville Track was last breached 20 years ago.

It can't take heavy vehicles, and locals complain that it outlived its usefulness long ago. In Birdsville, at the end of the track, they're most worried about the dent the flooding will put in tourist numbers as the town prepares for its one big event of the year.

The famous Birdsville Races. It started as a test of horsemanship between stockmen from rival stations in the area in 1882. The races are still run on a dusty track

carved out of the floodplain just outside town. It's one of Australia's great outback events, and in 2009 drew a record crowd.

But in 2010, a spring downfall left Birdsville awash. For the first time ever, the Birdsville Cup was called off because of a wet track. But still they came. At the sodden racecourse, bookies did business on races elsewhere. Flooded roads kept more than 3,000 tourists trapped in Birdsville for three days. There were no complaints from the publican.

Usually this is a town of just 100 people. They can be left isolated for weeks at a time by the floods, but that's an accepted part of life out here along with the sweltering summers.

Birdsville was created as a supply depot for cattle drovers in the 1870s, and once boasted three pubs. One remains. The town is believed to have got its name from the prolific bird life

found on the waterholes dotted along the Diamantina River, which snakes past the tiny settlement. But in this flood year, the birds are spoilt for choice. Every waterway is flowing, every dusty desert hollow filled.

This is Lake Yama Yama, more than 200kms east of Birdsville in southwest Queensland. The Cooper Creek is surging in, creating spectacular colours and intricate patterns.

It's perhaps the most remarkable sight of all from the widening flood. This lake seldom sees any water, certainly nothing like this. It's usually just a salt pan in the midst of an arid outback.

But now it's more like a tropical wetlands. And word quickly spreads. Thousands upon thousands of pelicans descend on the lake to nest, making the most of the boom conditions.

It'll take a month or more for the eggs to hatch and several more months before the chicks are big enough to attempt the exodus from here. But if there's still enough food left in the lake, the pelican colony could embark on a second breeding cycle.

So you could actually see what we call double clutching, so they get one lot off and then have another go with the next lot. Going from a system that might have a breeding event maybe once every 10 years, to one that might have two or three breeding events in two years.

Right across the Lake Eyre basin, birds find their way back to the nests where they were hatched. It could be many years since they've been here and yet they still hone in on these old breeding spots.

If you're a chick and you've hatched out on this island, in the time that you spent there you'll get this whole landscape imprinted on you. And then when you go up and you start moving from river to river, you'll remember where that spot is. Parents can teach these young birds the way to go back to some of these amazing river systems. But still there's lots that we don't know.

But this breeding site north of Birdsville has now been abandoned. All that remains are the bones of the pelicans that died here. It was so full of life in May of 2009.

Oh, there's probably 40 to 60,000. It's very difficult to know, because they're just so close together. One of the biggest pelican breeding events ever recorded in the region. But it came to a tragic conclusion four months later

when food began to run short in the lake. The parents would have probably had to go further and further to get their fish and in the end they wouldn't have been able to get enough to feed these ones that have died here. Thousands perished. Everywhere are still the signs of the disastrous end to that breeding event last year. The floods have returned, but not the pelicans. Not to this spot of land anyway. They've chosen this year instead to relocate to a nearby island where they'll breed again. They're jammed onto a tiny crescent of land

where they're laying their eggs. None have ventured back to their old breeding ground. The intriguing question is whether they've deliberately avoided this place of death. From an evolutionary point of view, it's really about where's the safest place in lake X. There's no understanding that we've got something like an elephant

that has this connection between the death of their particular colleagues and a sense of place. But much research remains to be done on the breeding habits of water birds out here because it happens so rarely.

It's now early in 2010 and the deluge spreads wide from Central Australia to bring relief to huge areas of the dry and dusty inland. Suddenly towns like Charleville in outback Queensland face a flood crisis.

And still the rain comes tumbling down. People in the bush are fond of saying that droughts are broken by floods. Well, the people of Charleville must firmly believe now that their drought is well and truly over. This flooding event is the biggest since 1990, but it promises to be even bigger than that. And so it was, not just here but in many towns across southern Queensland. Rivers rose to record levels. Landholders desperately tried to protect their homes as farmland went under. Stock cluster on patches of high ground sharing space with stranded wildlife.

These kangaroos were swept into the fast-flowing water when a bank gave way. Eventually they manage to swim to safety. The ferocity of the flood took many by surprise, including stockman Johnny Foster. He gave us a reassuring wave from the rooftop of a homestead

where he found refuge from the fast-rising water. It come so quick, you know, so many creeks to come together. So high, so quick. So fast. It was unreal. He swam for his life for the homestead with his two dogs after floodwaters began rushing through his cottage on Cashel Vale Station. One dog, she couldn't barely swim, I had to go and save her. She was just paddling with the current, trying to get going. It was incredible. So you went back and saved one of the dogs as well? I saved one of the dogs, yeah. Johnny Foster finally made it with his dogs to the top floor of the homestead where they stayed for five days waiting for the water to drop. But he rejected all offers to evacuate. I couldn't go, I had to stay with the dogs.

The country transformed from drought shades of brown to emerald green. Well, it only happens every now and again. We're so grateful to get the rain, because we've been in drought for ten years and we hated it. But not like this.

This is just too much. Joyce Winks' home and almost every other property was threatened by the flood that poured through the small town of Bollon in Southwest Queensland. But they're used to confronting adversity in the bush and suggestions that people should leave their homes brought a predictable response. My mother, she's been here all her life, she's 84, there's no way in the world you're going to get her, she's on her own. No way in the world you're going to get her out of the house. Your fridges are still going, or are they underwater? No, they're right. Graham Winks certainly wasn't going to be the one to tell his mother to pack up. We're really not sure of how high it's going to come, because I've got this house carpeted. I don't want to have to go through that at my age, you know. They're saying now people should evacuate. What will you say to them if they say that to you? Well, no, I would not leave my home. Even as the water rose still higher, lapping at the front door, Joyce defiantly stayed on. You know, I wasn't frightened of it because I can swim. I suppose only a bit better than dog paddle, but enough to save my life.

But then nature relented. The water started to drop just in time. Well, Joyce, how close did it come to getting in your front door? Oh,'d be an inch I suppose? So that was close, and it had me very worried because I just knew that I would have worried too much at my age,

I'm getting on. No we're very lucky, and of course the jacaranda isn't being bothered at the moment, beautiful. Just six months later Joyce Winks' home and all of Bollon is framed by spring colour.

Even at the height of the flood, people here never lost sight of the legacy that the torrent would provide. The flood front moves south down a wide network of waterways

crossing into New South Wales. They all run towards the Darling River, but the thirsty country will take a big share along the way. In dry times, this is a dustbowl in the far west of New South Wales.

But a flow down the Cuttaburra Creek has turned it into a huge swamp 20kms long and 15kms wide. It boasts its own rich ecosystem which springs to life as soon as the water arrives. But when it floods here, landholders can be left isolated for months.

Wancobra Station has gone under. Five kilometres of water separates the McGrath family from the nearest access road. To have this much water around us, we're sort of like the doughnut in the middle of a lake at the moment. Kayaks which were a Christmas present to the kids are now used in the flood relief effort,

ferrying family and supplies in and out. The kayaks are so light, there's one there... ..they're so light you can brawl on with 'em. No, they're the go. It's a constant test of stamina for Dale McGrath, the brother of legendary test cricketer Glenn McGrath. I thought I was pretty fit, but I'm not really. After this episode, no. I'll have to get a big one, a four-seater, so Sandy can row. I can sit in the back having a beer, probably. It's still pretty wet, isn't it? It is. Yeah. The last time the McGraths were left stranded by a flood was back at the start of 2008. Any snakes in that tree? It's an accepted part of living with the extremes of the outback. What's the water like, kids? With this long isolation, do you think it strengthens a marriage or tests a marriage? Probably both, I'd say. At least you can sort it out pretty quick, there's no-one else to argue with, is there? You have an argument and sort it out, isn't it? Yeah, no, everything's fine, yeah. She's a good girl, this one. Phone bills run up. (Both laugh)

People here know weeks ahead when the flood will hit, but this one spreads much wider than anyone expected. Big numbers of sheep are suddenly caught in the rising water. An extraordinary rescue mission is mounted, backed by air support. From stations near and far they come to offer their help, loading the sheep into cages so they can be airlifted to high ground by choppers provided by rural support agencies. It's no easy task. The sheep are weak and heavily weighed down with waterlogged wool and it takes a big effort to pull them out of the mud. Every cage that goes, you think "You little beauty." You know? Like it's a few less that you're gonna lose. They toil for days on the ground and in the air as the sheep shuttle moves from property to property.

How stressful do you reckon it is for them in that crate as they make their flight down here? I don't know, it's got to be a bit weird. (Laughs)

At the landing spot, Lisa Mills and Courtney Milne release the sheep and send the cage back for another load. More than 400 are saved on the McGrath property alone, hundreds more on neighbouring stations. But even in the middle of this exhausting operation, everyone out here can see past this crisis to the benefits the floods will bring. Let the rivers run. Let all the rivers run and it'll..., it's good for the country, you know? This'll get right down, right down the bottom.

And if it does get right down, it will end up here. This is the bottom of the system, where the Murray River meets the sea in far-off South Australia. There was real hope here that the outback flood would finally reach them. After years of drought, the Murray Estuary, one of Australia's environmental jewels,

was in deep trouble. It looks like a pristine coastal scene here at the mouth of the Murray, but in fact it's an environmental catastrophe because the only water moving here is coming in from the sea, bringing these playful seals with it. It's been years since there was enough water coming down the Murray to get all the way to the ocean.

The seals moved further and further into the estuary as it was claimed by the sea. The fish seem to know when there's a seal around. They panic. The spreading seals are a new pest for the fisherman. But their biggest problem has been the rising salt levels that have brought about a huge reduction in fish numbers in the estuary. Many fishermen have been forced out of the industry. The rolling countryside around the lower lakes of the Murray once supported a booming grazing industry until the water started running out. Clem Mason still operates a dairy farm on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. He watched with alarm as the environment around him crashed. I lost all my frogs. I lost all the mussels.

The ecosystems in the lake in front of me, they were dying. I had no more snakes 'cause all their food source had gone. I had a whole breakdown in the ecology of the whole area. Only water can help. But the outback rivers are never in a hurry to deliver.

This is the Paroo in far western New South Wales. It's on its way to the Darling River But first the big network of lakes and waterholes must take their fill. The Paroo finally reaches the Darling for only the second time since white settlement, and there's still a huge journey to make after that.

The Darling River meanders almost 1,500kms before it joins the Murray, and the Murray still has close to 800kms to travel before it reaches the sea in South Australia. Months after the floods in the north, some of the Darling water finally makes it to the lower Murray. But it seems that nothing short of a deluge over the southern states can save the ailing river system. And that's exactly what happens. Across big areas of New South Wales and Victoria, they have been praying for rain to break the record drought. Their prayers were answered in the most emphatic way. It started in September 2010. Not just one downpour, but a string of weather systems dumping rain right across the southeast of the continent. Creeks become torrents. Rivers spread wide over farmland, destroying a bumper grain crop just on the point of harvest. The towns are swamped and communities scramble to try to hold back the rising water. But this was just a taste of what was to come, not just here but further north. Record rainfall submerges much of Southeast Queensland. Entire cities are affected. First Bundaberg... ..then Rockhampton... ..and a string of inland communities go under. There's no end to the rain. A lethal torrent pours through Toowoomba and down the Lockyer Valley, sweeping all before it on its way to Brisbane. and suburb after suburb is claimed by the flood. It doesn't quite reach the level of the infamous flood of 1974, but the damage is much greater. In the south, the Murray is now in full flood as much of Northern Victoria is inundated yet again. But the Murray River is now rejuvenated. Water supplies are restored to communities and to suffering forests and wetlands. The birds quickly follow. Long abandoned breeding sites dotted all the way down the river are suddenly chirping with life. Finally floodwaters reach right to the bottom of the Murray, bringing relief to the lower lakes and the ailing estuaries. Pushing down that fresh water, cleaning out the system, but also providing that freshwater habitat that allows the sea and freshwater to mix in an estuarine way, which is highly productive.

At the mouth of the Murray, the river again finds its way to the sea. The fresh supplies begin to dilute the salty water trapped in the 100km long lagoon, the Coorong, which runs down from the Murray mouth.

Water at the bottom end of the Coorong is up to seven times saltier than the sea water just across the sand dunes. An area that was sliding towards environmental disaster now given a reprieve. The Lower Lakes are coming back to life. Night-time there's a noise around here, with the frogs just... ..yeah, like having a party and just talking to each other, it's been absolutely fantastic. I think they knew before us

that there was something better going to happen. From the Murray mouth right through the outback to Lake Eyre, nature is in full swing. But with the beauty of the wide brown land comes her terror.

As if the floods weren't enough, then comes Cyclone Yasi. North Queensland is battered by the huge category five system, the most powerful in generations. And it then sweeps all the way to Central Australia,

dumping even more torrential rain over the inland. (Thunder rolls) The thing that I find really exciting

is being able to look at these massive river systems that have incredible lakes hooked on the end, hooked on the side and see all of that sort of vibrating in all its glory. And this is the biggest of all the systems, the great desert rivers of the Lake Eyre basin.

Great broad expanses of water, you know, tree lined and all that. And yet you go up the bank and you're in the desert.

It's just amazing. So when I get old and decrepit and can't remember anything, I'll remember this. It's just magnificent. The desert rivers will now keep running for an incredible third year in a row. The flow will continue to Lake Eyre and in one of the rarest of all outback events,

this giant saltpan could fill to overflowing. Australia's arid heart has been revived. And the best part of this story is that another exceptional season is unfolding across the outback - the third straight. Next week, we've planned a complete sea change for you. a voyage aboard a lovingly restored timber fishing boat, the Tacoma,

for an insight into the birth of the Australian tuna industry. MAN: As it has done for many of its 60 years, the 84-foot Tacoma is again leading the tuna arm of Blessing of the Fleet at Port Lincoln in South Australia. The Tacoma has fished the southern oceans and gulfs for prawns, salmon and bluefin tuna.

This is the story of three men, their three sons, and a boat - Australian pioneering boatbuilders and fishing brothers Hughie, Alan and Bill Haldane,

and their sons Robin, Andy and Ross. It's a story of friendship, passion, perseverance, hard work and heartbreak, of having a vision and following a dream. The Haldane boys, as they came to be known, from an early age, had seawater in their veins. A rollicking good yarn about wooden boats and the blokes who built them to last, in a special report when Landline returns next week. See you then. Closed Captions by CSI