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Hello. I'm Pip Courtney. Welcome to Landline, coming to you
this week from Bundaberg. Coming up today, dingoes, goats
and a poison time bomb - the extraordinary project to wipe out
feral goats from a Queensland island. MAN: This is nature. I mean, the dingo is a predator, the goat is a source
of the dingo's affections. So, we believe that, um, yeah, we'll just put nature together
and that'll sort out a problem. Also, Sea Lake, and how Chinese tourists discovered
a struggling Mallee town. MAN: Since, uh, Chinese
have been coming up here, I think it's awakened the locals as
to what a treasure we've got here, but, uh, yeah, being local,
it's just "the lake".

We begin our show today
in tropical Queensland. For most rural landholders,
the only good dingo is a dead dingo. But the very qualities
which make wild dogs the scourge of the sheep
and livestock industry could also make them
the unlikely environmental saviours of a Great Barrier Reef island
currently overrun with feral goats. National rural and regional
correspondent Dominique Schwartz reports on an unusual
pest eradication project on Queensland's Pelorus Island, about 100 kilometres
north of Townsville.

SCHWARTZ: It's not only
the underwater world that makes the Great Barrier Reef
so special.

The islands are also spectacular.

Some are home to rare
and endangered ecosystems, which are being eaten
towards extinction by feral goats.

But on one island in Hinchinbrook
Shire, the table is being turned, and it's goat that's now on the menu.

Hinchinbrook Shire Council
has a problem with pests. On the land, one of the big ones
is dingoes, or wild dogs. On Pelorus Island, it's feral goats. So, the council is undertaking
a groundbreaking experiment - to use the pests on the land,
the dogs, to eradicate the pests on the island.

Work starts early around Ingham, in the heart of Hinchinbrook Shire. This is cane country, and it looks
like delivering a bumper crop.

A bird of prey
scouts for small animals flushed out by the harvester - reptiles, rodents or bandicoots. Dingoes do the same.

How many traps have you got set?

Uh, we put in about another
dozen or so yesterday afternoon. So, what, that takes it up to about
42 or something you've got, all up? Yeah. Oh, about 40 or 50, yeah. Zoologist Dr Lee Allen is in charge of catching
the four male dingoes wanted for Pelorus Island.

He's on his morning rounds
to check the traps. He's laid them on several
cattle and cane properties, which have baited wild dogs
in the past.

A lot of roos around here?
Not many, no. And most of them are big old fellas,
which is sort of an indication that the young ones are getting
taken by, dogs.

I've just got a trap here
I've got to...get.

The trap has been activated,
but not by a wild dog. You can see the edge of the hoof
just there. So, this one's been set off...
Set off by cattle, yeah. Cattle trails
are highways for dingoes. When we first came here,
there were, you know, several sets of dog tracks
coming through this gateway, and you can see the pads going off
and radiating out through here. And, so, it comes through, and so this is the ideal place where you would come and, uh,
use, you know, a foreign dog urine, um, and set up a scent station, so they'll come in and see
who's been, and who they are, and that's what you hope
to catch them.

But the dingo is a wily predator,
expert at avoiding capture, as Dr Allen knows intimately after
three decades of hands-on research. For over 150 years dingoes have been declared
as a pest under legislation. And in spite of everything we've
thrown at them for over a century, their numbers
are still just as good, and they're found almost in exactly
the same places 100 years later.

Dingoes are legally protected in pockets of conservation land
around Australia.

Queensland's Fraser Island is a haven for some of the purest dingoes
in the country. Elsewhere, populations have interbred
with feral domestic dogs, but Dr Allen says
the dingo genes are dominant.

Increasingly, you're seeing more and
more domestic-dog-looking wild dogs, but invariably, if you take
a blood sample from those and have it tested, they will be mostly dingo genetics. Which is bad news
for the goats on Pelorus Island.

And so, how much of a problem
are the goats out there? Oh, they're
a massive problem, yeah. I'm about to see the environmental
damage on Pelorus for myself.

The island is 15 kilometres offshore, about a half-hour journey
from the harbour at Lucinda.

The sedimentation? It's just filling up all our...sand
just keeps coming in, coming in, and everything's getting shallower
and shallower and shallower.

Ramon Jayo is the mayor
of Hinchinbrook Shire. Matthew Buckman
is chief pest officer and the coordinator
of the goat eradication plan. So, you've got one island
that you manage? Yes. Yep. Pelorus. That's where we're headed?
We're heading over there. OK, hold on.

Pelorus is one of 16 islands
in the Palm Island group, north of Townsville.

Unlike neighbouring Orpheus Island,
there's no luxury resort. The beaches, coral reefs
and rare littoral rainforest is a place for occasional
day-trippers and bush campers. Oh, and 300 resident goats.

How's it going, Ben?
How you going, mate? How are you?
Good to see you again. Yep.
Ben. How are you?
Good, buddy. How you going?
Hi. Nice to meet you. Welcome.
Thank you.

Our welcoming party is
wildlife ecologist Dr Ben Allen, son of Dr Lee Allen. While his father is busy
on the mainland, hunting dingoes, he's busy here, preparing
for the dogs' release. So, what are you monitoring? Uh, so, we're monitoring
small mammals and plants here, because these are the things
that are most likely to do well after goat removal, and small mammals are
also going to be, potentially, some collateral damage for dingoes.

Unleashing wild dogs on
a protected island to savage goats is a project
likely to spark controversy. But Mayor Jayo says
more traditional culling methods have failed to control the goats. Previous exercises, such as trying to trap them
or trying to shoot them, proved pretty impossible because
of the nature of the terrain. You can see, she's a bit rugged.

We've also tried aerial shooting, but the problem is that there's
so much vegetation up on top that, you know,
we can't get a clear shot. So, when the boys came up
with this idea, we just thought,
"Well, that's perfect." This is nature.
I mean, the dingo is a predator. The goat is a source
of the dingo's affections. So, we believe that, um, yeah, we'll just put nature together
and that'll sort out a problem.

He says the council
has a responsibility to act. Look at it - it's a beautiful,
pristine environment. As a council, we have an obligation,
as the trustees of this land, as the custodians of this land,
to control or eradicate pests.

Littoral rainforest
was once widespread along the coasts and islands
of eastern Australia. It's characterised
by a dense tree canopy protecting a unique community
of plants and animals close to the ocean.

The four square kilometres of Pelorus is one of the few places
such rainforest still exists. But it's under threat.

There's all this erosion, Ramon. It's terrible. These goats...

The goats have literally taken out all the understorey species
of vegetation, and that has allowed all the soils
to be exposed, and to be washed away and to be trampled down the mountain
by the goats. It's all washing down,
straight out to the reef.

On top of the island, we get
a glimpse of the alien invader.

Goats came to Australia
with the First Fleet. They were released on islands
as a food source for lighthouse keepers
and shipwrecked sailors.

But as the bald, rocky slopes
of Pelorus show, goats have made a meal
out of the local plants, because there's been no predator
to keep numbers down. So, I counted
just about 16 up there now. And this whole island
should look like a forest, but instead it looks like this. And this is the reason
why we're doing it - so that, if we can
get rid of those guys, it'll stop the rest of the island
looking like this, and we can preserve what we've got
in this Great Barrier Reef. There's so much positive
to be gained in doing this. We're gonna protect so many
of these islands long-term. Once this one's successful, it'll set the platform
for many other island managers to follow through
and to carry out similar projects.

Success will be judged
on proven results, and that's a big undertaking. This cage is being airlifted
to Pelorus. It will allow Hinchinbrook Council
to compare plant regrowth in areas that goats
can and can't access. A cage is also being dropped on another island
in the Palm Island group, where goats are not being eradicated.

Dr Ben Allen has been logging
the flora and fauna on Pelorus, trapping and tagging
one of the island's native rodents.

Have a quick peek down here. Oh! Cute!
Aren't they? If you could have them as pets,
everyone would have one. This is a Melomys burtoni.
It's a native rat. They used to primarily
live in grassland. Now, not much grass around here
'cause of the goats, so it's surprising
that they're still hanging on. We would expect these guys
to do well when goats get removed. Dr Allen usually has an assistant to help him document
the weight, length and sex of this small but feisty mammal. Today, that's me. (SQUEAKS)
Has he got a good nip on him? Oh, they do, yeah. Ooh! Don't you do that to me. (SQUEAKS) By monitoring these little guys, when dingoes are released,
goats are removed and the vegetation comes back, we would expect little guys
like this to start to increase their numbers, and new captures like this one
become a bit more frequent. Mm. And is there any chance that they
could become prey for the dingoes? Yeah, they will. So, we're monitoring the situation,
so we can see which one wins, and we're expecting
that the removal of goats is gonna have far better benefit to
these guys, being a grassland rat, than the little bit
of dingo predation. Top of the right ear. I'm charged with clipping
this tiny animal's ear. I'm not sure who's more nervous -
the rat or me. (SQUEAKS)
It doesn't seem to be... Yeah, give it a bit of a pull. There we go. So, that little piece...
Goes into a vial? ..has gotta go
in one of those vials. The ear skin is kept
for museum DNA records.

Operation complete, this little
critter is again on the run.

Back on the mainland,
there's been a breakthrough. Dr Lee Allen and his council team
have caught their first male dingo. Have you got the gun with the... MAN: Yeah, with the clips.

They want the dog alive, but don't leave anything to chance. They're very stressed, you know,
when you approach. So, we'll use a...
what they call a catchpole, which is a standard little device. It's basically
a noose on the end of a pole. And you'll know,
with a bit of difficulty, you'll get that over his neck, and be able to secure his head
away from your fingers. Dr Allen says the trap's
rubber-lined jaws may bruise a dog's leg, but other injuries are rare. One of the really fascinating things
is that after you restrain a dog, they just go quite limp and don't fight and, uh, restrain.

In his early days of dingo capture, Dr Allen took risks
he now wouldn't dream of.

The first three dogs,
I actually picked up in my arms, undid the trap, and then carried him up to
my vehicle and put them into a cage, unbound -
no muzzle or anything on them. And none of them made any attempt
to bite me, once I'd done that. And I wouldn't try that... (LAUGHS) all now. And I'm just shocked
that I actually ever did that.

It's D-Day - the day the first dingo
will be released on Pelorus Island. His foot will still be
fairly swollen. OK. The veterinary team has arrived
at the council dog pound.

Dr Lee Allen uses a catchpole
to secure the dingo... I've got him. ..and the vet moves in
to tranquillise it.

Around this part of the world,
wild dogs are trapped to be killed.

So, the sight of one being carefully
stretchered from the pound for eventual freedom elsewhere is strange, to say the least.

Put that in there,
and we'll just slide him in.

Just go through into three. Before being released, the dingo will
undergo a thorough health check.

Dr Allen estimates it's about
two or three years old. It's a fighter,
bearing the scars and broken teeth of previous scrapes.

The vet will neuter the animal so there's no chance it can mate with
any dogs that may visit Pelorus. And it'll be vaccinated to give it
the healthiest life possible.

But it won't be happy ever after
for the dingoes.

Once their job is done,
they will be too. To ensure the dogs don't become entrenched pests themselves
on the island, each is being implanted with pellets,
which, in roughly two years' time, will release a deadly dose
of 1080 poison. The plan is, dingoes wipe out goats, we come back and
humanely shoot those dingoes - 'cause they'll have
tracking collars, so we can find out where they go. If, for whatever reason, we can't
come back and shoot those dingoes, well, then those little
time bombs will go off. (GUNFIRE)

Using dingoes to eradicate goats
has been tried once before - in 1993, on Townshend Island, in the Shoalwater Bay
military training area on Queensland's Capricorn Coast. Lee Allen worked on the project. Ben Allen, as always,
was at his side. Last time, we let go 16 dingoes
on a 70-square-kilometre island with about 3,000 goats. Wild dogs,
in the space of a couple of years, completely annihilated this feral
goat population on the island. It then took them another 10 years to get rid of dingoes
off that island. And that became a great expense,
and a big problem. And dingoes caused problems for shore birds
and other things on the island. We don't want that to happen here. So, the time bomb is... I call it a time bomb -
it's not really a bomb. It's a poison capsule. But that is a back-up
to prevent that from happening.

Within hours of surgery,
the dingo is loaded onto the boat for the journey of a lifetime.

Grab the other end. This day has been
eight months in the making.

Led by Hinchinbrook Shire Council, the project has also involved
Biosecurity Queensland and the University
of Southern Queensland. To finally be afloat is a relief
for coordinator Matthew Buckman. Oh, yeah. No, it's a big relief. We got the dog on the boat. We'll get it over the island,
and it'll do its stuff. So, yeah, very pleased.

With three wild dogs still to catch, Dr Allen has his eyes
on the endgame - the re-flourishing of
an endangered ecosystem. The most amazing thing is to see
the results of this in a few years' time. You won't recognise Pelorus Island
in another two or three years.

As we approach the island, there's one person
he certainly does recognise - his son,
and fellow dingo enthusiast, Ben. Been a lot of places together,
and have a common interest. When we get together
for family gatherings, we often get talking dingoes. And the wives say, "No more dingoes. "Don't want to have any more
discussion about dingoes."

Made it. How are you?
Very good.

How are you, sir? How's it going? Did you bring something for me?

What were we supposed to bring? Dingo.
Yeah, mate. It's here, it's here.

Now, you'll probably need to
grab that corner. No, don't put your fingers in there. In case he wakes up? He's wide awake.

The project allows two years for four wild dogs
to kill 300 goats. But Dr Allen wouldn't be surprised if the cull is essentially over
within months.

He must be up this corner.
(CHUCKLES) He weighs a ton. I'm not carrying this 200 yards. Nah, it's not easy.

The Allens are passionate
about dingoes, but in the right place. So, while I have a tremendous
lot of respect for them, and, you know, love to work
with them and see them in the wild, at the same time, I know they've got to be destroyed
in some circumstances too. I will guarantee
he will not come flying out.

That's exactly what
I thought he'd do.

So, there's some gentle

A bit more.

And then, in a flash, he's off.

Look, he's running around the back.

Oh, no, no, no. There he goes. Then he'll stop
and have a look back, and say, "What was all that about?" (CHUCKLES)

There he is.

Oh, he's gone now. That's the usual thing. They'll run about 100 yards
and then stop and look back, and think...and look like, "What was
all that about? What was that for?"

So, it's good.

That's the one.
Yeah. One photo's all I got.

So, Lee,
what's he likely to be doing now? Well, he'll probably spend
the first 24 hours or so, you know, running around, and he'll find his boundaries
on the island. Being four square kilometres, he'll
probably cover that fairly quickly. Um... He will smell out water, and I reckon within 24 hours,
he would have met goats, and probably kill.

The Allens will spend
the next week here, checking that the dingo settles in. They don't foresee any risk
to people visiting the island, as long as the wild dogs aren't fed. Releasing dingoes onto this island is basically an attempt
to restore this island. And the dream for me will be to see
the plants and all animals come back as a result of getting rid of goats. And if it works well here, then
why not do it in some other places, including places nearby, which
are a lot worse off than Pelorus.

And can you survive
with your dad here? I think we'll manage. We've been stuck
on an island before, 10 days longer than planned, and we had a terrible time eating
coral trout and oysters and things. It was awful. So, I think
we can manage another week here.

Coming up, Australia's new Chinese
tourist attraction - Sea Lake.

The cattle market is well
and truly back on the price rocket. After pausing early July, big rain
over Queensland cattle country pushed available numbers down
last week, and every indicator headed north. Here's the MLA's Ben Thomas with some background to
the current cattle market. BEN THOMAS: One picture is enough to show just how extraordinary current beef cattle prices are. Since the start of this century, it's bounced around between 300 and 400 cents. But we left that band behind 18 months ago, and we're now well acquainted with the mid 600s. It's been surge after surge
for 18 months. That spells tighter cattle
availability as the industry rebuilds
a depleted herd, so we've revised that adult
slaughter forecast for the year down even further, to 7.4 million - the third lowest since 1996. We're tipping 2017 to have the lowest meat production since 2003, at just over two million tonnes. Consider, though, that at 2003 carcass weights, that would have been less than 1.8 million tonnes, and heavier carcasses will see a stronger recovery in production in the following years. Now, there's more of Ben's report
on the MLA website. Prices from last week -
and they are white-hot, as I said. Numbers were down at Roma and Dalby, while some southern yards actually lifted. There was very keen competition at all centres, especially for weaners and PTIC heifers. Market chatter remains on the meat works and the guessing game. How high can these prices go? The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator
lifted six cents to close at $6.62 a kilogram. Lamb and sheep numbers
were down a fraction last week, but demand was also less
than in recent weeks, so prices retreated. Exports continue to
hold this market up, and there's also
the widespread belief that numbers, come spring, may not
be as large as in previous years. Now to grains, where the consensus
appears to be, "Hold your breath - "it'll probably get worse
before it gets better." It may sound like a broken record,
but the world is awash with wheat. There are some weather issues here and there,
in the big exporting countries, but they're only minor. And as the year progresses, Aussie growers will need
a substantial retreat of our dollar versus the greenback to be competitive
on the world wheat market. Local futures continue to weaken, giving up $4
on the January 2017 contract. Now to cotton and sugar, and here
we have contrasting momentum. Sugar remains fragile, with analysts suggesting
a weakening trend, while cotton appears at the mercy
of the Chinese buyers. China is selling its better cotton
from their enormous stockpile, and when that's gone, those Chinese buyers
will return to the world market and no doubt give some fears
to the prices. But as with sugar,
it's a bit of a guessing game, and nobody will ring a bell to say
when to buy or sell. Now, the wool options
are in recess at the moment, but in futures trading,
21 micron for December rose five cents to close
at 1,350 cents a kilo. And that's the Landline
check on prices.

Alongside the Great Barrier Reef,
Uluru and Sydney Harbour, Australia has a new, and somewhat
unlikely, must-see tourism hotspot. Lake Tyrrell, a large salt lake
in northern Victoria, has brilliant shades of pink and photos of it have gone viral
on websites in China. It's causing a flood
of Chinese tourists to the sleepy Mallee town
of Sea Lake, which is proving
quite a culture shock for both locals and visitors. The ABC's Horsham-based
rural reporter Danielle Grindlay prepared this special
Landline feature.

WOMAN: It's really quite bizarre. Some of them are booking groups
of 20 and 30 at a time.

WOMAN: We have no idea
how many are coming or when they're gonna stop coming
or if they ever will.

I get phone calls from Hong Kong,
Malaysia, Indonesia. To have all these people
arrive in our town is like, "Oh... "It took you that long to get here.
Why did you come?" Mm.

Speckled among vast wheat paddocks is the Mallee town of Sea Lake. About 400 kilometres from Melbourne, it's one of Victoria's
most isolated communities. Since it was established, Sea Lake has been defined
by the grain harvest.

But it's now on the verge
of a sea change.

(CAMERA CLICKS) About 18 months ago, some new faces started to arrive - many after a long journey.

The attraction, lauded on
a growing number of Chinese websites as the best thing to see
in Australia, is a shallow, salt-crusted depression
six k's out of town - Lake Tyrrell.

Since the Chinese
have been coming up here, I think it's awakened the locals as to what a treasure
we've got here. But, uh, yeah, being local, it's...just "the lake".

Melbourne-based tour guide
Freddy Huang has based his business
around Sea Lake. Lake Tyrrell is his signature tour
in Victoria and he's had groups fly from Sydney
to join the bus.


There are already more tour operators
than hotels in Sea Lake. Rock Wong and his wife
design Australian tours for corporate Chinese groups. And with tourists supplying
the alluring photos, they can operate from an office
set up in the garage.

Although no-one in Sea Lake really
knows who posted the first one, photos of the lake
shared by Asian tourists have gone viral on travel blogs, social media sites and websites - a free marketing campaign
a travel agent couldn't dream up. WOMAN:

In the right conditions,
at the right time of day, Lake Tyrrell acts like a mirror and everyone wants a photo of
"walking on the clouds".

The lake is also hugely significant to Australia's Indigenous history. In 1847, one of the region's
first pastoralists recorded astronomy Dreaming stories, shared with him by
the local Boorong clan. They are the first papers
ever published about how Indigenous Australians
viewed the night sky. We've got possums in the sky, uh, we've got spirits in the sky, we've got birds in the sky, we've got serpents in the sky,
we've got emus in the sky. So, something that is
very uniquely Australian. The Boorong name 'tyrill'
actually means, so if you're out there
on a dark night and there's a little bit of water
in the lake, you can actually stand in the lake and you actually see stars above you and stars being reflected below you.

I've had astronomers
I've taken out there and elsewhere in South Australia,
where I'm from, and they've just stood there
in absolute awe.


Too wide. (LAUGHS) Too wide.

With photos like these being spread across the globe, Paul Curnow says Sea Lake should be setting itself up for a flood of tourists. I think the potential's huge. It's just a matter of... You need people that are trained up, uh, to know what they're looking at
in the night sky. Uh, obviously you need people with experience
in running tours, generally. So, really, the potential is... know, the sky's the limit,
quite literally.

Although the stars
appear to be aligned, if Sea Lake is to capitalise
on this opportunity, it will first have to overcome
some enormous challenges.

The backdrop to all of this
is a town in sharp decline. Like so many rural communities
across Australia, Sea Lake was once a bustling centre. But slowly, the banks
and the barbers left, the butcher shut up shop. Today, you won't even find a bakery. And that domino effect continues on.

Newsagent Keva Lloyd
is in the process of clearing out, closing a chapter on
a 103-year-old family business. LLOYD: All our family
have left town, so we've moved to Bendigo.

Keva Lloyd's grandfather
opened it in 1914, and he's been behind the counter
for 47 years. He's given up hope of passing
the baton on to a new family. Pretty draining. It's been
on the market for 13 years. We nearly sold it the first year
we had it on the market and that fell over
about a fortnight from handover. So, since then, we've plodded along and tried everything possible
to attract a buyer, um, because we still believe that
there is a need for a business of this capacity in the town. But it just hasn't worked, so...

And, so, as visitors
drive in to Sea Lake, the big block on the corner
of the highway will be an empty shop, adding to at least 10 others
in the main street. But it's not something the Sea Lake
community is willing to accept. Well, Advance Sea Lake,
which is a community committee trying to promote things
in the town, decided there was
too many empty shops, and we should try
and do something about it. Frankie Pingle
was one of eight business owners who could not afford her own rent or full-time working hours, but was willing to share the load
with others. It's a great thing.
I think more towns should do it. There's a lot of dying country towns and this sort of thing is brilliant. Righto, thanks...
Thank you very much, Tom. I dropped the other down there.
Thank you. That's great. Thanks very much. How do you feel about the future?

Well, I'm glad I'm 85
and I won't be here for much longer. But the future of all Mallee towns - or all country towns, not
just Mallee, all over Australia - getting bleaker
by the year.

MAN: We are
a rural farming community. So, you know, if the farms die,
we die. Over the last two, three years, the farmers have been in drought,
had pretty poor crops. So, there's no money. Um, people can't afford to come to the pub and have a drink. It''s very hard. Small pubs in small towns, um, are dying,
left, right and centre.

ELLIOT: It started,
I suppose, originally, in a series of bad years, and people just went broke
and had to walk away. Nowadays, if somebody's not viable, he sells out
and nobody new comes in, the farm's divided up... Sometimes one next-door neighbour
might buy the lot. Other times, it's split between
three or four neighbours. So, there's a family gone. And that just continues to happen. (MACHINERY WHINES AND CLATTERS)

In many ways, the decline of Sea Lake is the result of progress in farming. Those still here
after the millennium drought are yielding the same as
their grandparents did, with less than half the rainfall.

They're the biggest and the best. But over the past two years,
rainfall across western Victoria has been at its lowest on record. MAN: Last season
was a total disaster. Um, we had no subsoil moisture and, um, we had that hot weather
in October, just cooked everything, and it was just...yeah, it was
just...nothing come out of it. Yeah, we'd have been under 50%
of what we normally go, easy. Probably back to 30% or 40%,
you know? And that's...we didn't really even
cover costs, so we went backwards.

The local grain receival site usually shifts more than
100,000 tonnes of wheat.

Last season, it was closer to 30,000.

Livestock farmers have seen dams
run dry for the first time ever.

Communities have been
rallying governments to fill recreational lakes to provide some mental relief
from the endless dry. Apart from a freak flood in 2011, Sea Lake's recreational lake
has been dry for 15 years.

Yeah, it has been tough enough
with the dry weather. Um, yeah, it's been
very challenging. If we weren't direct drilling,
we'd be out the gate, out the back gate, no worries,
you know?

Those struggles don't stop
at the farm gate.

Machinery, modernisation - you're losing a workforce. The young ones have to travel. They have to travel to go to uni,
they have to travel to go to work. They can't... ..there's just no work for them
in these places. And you've lost...well,
apart from losing income, you're losing your population. When we have a good year,
we seem to like to spend it, like everyone else. Um, and we try and spend it
in the right spots, and we put a lot of money
back into Sea Lake and surrounding towns - you know, like, all the other little
towns around there are the same. And when we don't have it,
we don't spend it. So, that does affect jobs and... And, like, the Wheat Board
and all that, like, the GrainFlow, like, there's no...they might
cut back a couple of jobs if the grain's not there and... And that's another two families out
of the town, you know what I mean? So...and if you've got a worker on, you might have to put him off,
you know, and he's probably got
a family in town, so... (HORN BLARES)

The breaking point for John Clohesy was when the local hardware store
closed down.

A Bunnings popped up in Swan Hill, and that was the end of
Sea Lake's business. But after six months,
John had had enough. He pitched the idea of
a community-owned cooperative. So, I called a meeting,
I had everything organised, and we had 120 people show up. So, we called for, um...uh... ..people who wanted to buy
a share in the business. So, we had equal shares, so you can put up to
how much money you ever want. So, they all put their pledges up and we raised over $200,000.

So, off it went.
Then we couldn't stop. That's the colour you wanted,
wasn't it? That is.
And that's all done for you. So, you can take that home
and get cracking. CLOHESY: We were getting pledges,
you know - some widowers,
you know, like, pensioners - five grand, you know, in town. It was amazing. And, uh, yeah, we just can't
let it die. It's got to survive. You're pretty emotional about it.
Yeah. Mm.
(COUGHS) I am a bit. Sorry. Don't put that in there. (LAUGHS) Yeah, no, it's... Why do you think
so many people came out? I think they all care. You know, like, they do care. It's their town,
and they could see... They were all gonna help.
It's their way of helping, you know? They can see
it's gonna benefit the town. It's a hardware store.
Yeah. It is a hardware store, but... ..when we went to high school there, we had three different classes
in one year, and there was 30 to 40 kids
in that class. So, there's 100 to 120 kids my age. And now there's 20, you know? There was 1,300-and-something people
in the '70s, living in Sea Lake. Now there's about 600 or 700. (CHUCKLES) This're doing
the next one, Steven. We used to have five stock agents,
three or four banks, we had the power -
used to be the SEC - was open there. We had the railways. They've taken it all away.
You know, it's all just slowly gone. You know, we've just lost
our Westpac Bank.

But the baffling influx of Asian
tourists is forcing the community to see a sparkle in the things even they have taken for granted... the rooster who crossed back
and forth the main street at will. Once a pesky nuisance
forcing cars to stop and wait, the grumpy cock became
a protected tourist attraction.

And seen through new eyes, that salt-crusted depression
out the road could be the lifeline
this drought-stricken town needs. I think
if they hadn't started coming, I wouldn't be sitting here,
talking to you now. I think we would have been closed
probably 12 months ago.

They're not a, say, drinking
society like Australians are, um, but from accommodation,
meals and a little bit of grog, it's helped keep me going, for sure. Mid-July through August, September,
into October, that's definitely my peak for them. The winter months,
where you get the water on the lake and good reflections
of the stars, et cetera.

Helen Geri
planned to spend a few weeks renovating her new slow-rolling
motel on the outskirts of Sea Lake. Instead, she and her husband
hit the ground running. We've been working 12-hour days trying to get renovators sorted and taking these phone calls
and email inquiries from the Chinese people
that are booking. Some of them are booking groups
of 20 and 30 at a time. Some of them are booking
just two or three people in a room, or in a night, but it certainly has been
very, very busy.

So, you've made it 24 hours. Is that because they're just
coming at all times of night or...? So, people that drive from Sydney,
when they get off a plane, they might be taking 10 hours to
get here and get in 11:30 at night. We don't want to turn them away, so they can go to the machine. MACHINE: Please enter
either your reservation number or your mobile phone number. So, the motel owners
have taken to technology - a sort of motel room vending machine.

It's as easy as going to
a terminal at an airport - touch the screen, put in your name, your key will drop into the box after you've swiped your credit card
to make payment, and the Chinese love that. But while some are adapting, a large
sector of this conservative community is reluctant to embrace
their new visitors. From the locals' perspective,
there's probably the odd...

..jealousy or racism,
you know, type of thing. It was strange. Um, unusual to see Asians
walking through the door. Uh... "Oh!" You know? "Hello." (CHUCKLES) "What's going on here?" I suppose I've just got
so used to it now, it's just such a common occurrence. The response was mixed. Um, like you said,
it's a conservative town and outsiders are noticed
straightaway, and, um...yeah. Varied comments
from all around the town. And, uh...yeah. But I think the locals
are coming to embrace it now. I certainly hope so. It''s great to see people
come in and appreciate, you know, our gem here.

Just as baffled are the groups that
are driving hours, sometimes days, expecting to find a tourism hotspot.



We're a bit nervous
about where to from here and what to do, and how to do. We're only a small town.
We've got no idea. We're not travel consultants.
We're not tour operators. But I think we might be soon. (ALL CHAT INDISTINCTLY)

Mums, teachers
and the local caravan park operator have formed
a Chinese tourism committee to tackle some of the opportunities but also to protect
their natural assets. For much of the year, huge portions
of Lake Tyrrell are completely dry. Tourists arrive to find
a large expanse of white salt. And after driving
sometimes 12 hours from Sydney, they want that photo
of "walking on the clouds".

The tow trucks were coming
from Swan Hill, Birchip, Ouyen, our local RACV in town. That's the thickness
they were trying to drive on. MAN: Doesn't work.
Yeah. There's a couple of locals
that come out and do tows as well if it's not far off the shore, charging astronomical prices, and that's when
a couple of tour operators, we got in touch with them and they said, "Oh, the charges
are just huge," and it's like, "Well, they
shouldn't be driving there." So, that's really when it hit that
we had to do something about it.

The other issue is the rubbish.

And so presents the conundrum that the Chinese tourism committee
is grappling with - how do you restrict tourists
but also please them? Spend a week in Sea Lake
and you'll hear dozens of ideas about the tours, new restaurants, and information centres that could and should be built.

You know,
we're standing out here now - how nice would it be to have a glass
of champagne and some nibbles as you watch the sun set? Then maybe go on to doing that
and having a dinner. Do the same for sunrise - like, the sunrise is as spectacular
as the sunset. So, just that kind of thing. I'd love to have
a hot-air balloon out here. If anybody out there's got
a hot-air balloon, bring it on up! When the salt forms, it comes
just down like snow in the water and it forms into perfectly square
or rectangular crystals. I'm gonna try and get that and put it on those
pieces of wood behind me and sell it. And the whole shop, we've
got nothing with Sea Lake on it, so I'm gonna put
Lake Tyrrell Sea Lake salt on it.

McCLELLAND: I've spent
some time out here today with two young Chinese girls. Just to see their excitement
and exuberance, it's been...yeah,
it's a breath of fresh air. It's great...great to watch. And I'm sure the people
from the town could gain a lot from coming out here and seeing them
enjoy it so much, you know? Yeah, no, it's great.

If we can look after the salt lake,
it will only get bigger and better. CLOHESY: You gotta embrace
different cultures and...yeah. We're a multicultural society, so... We just haven't had it
in the country as much as what we've had it. So, get on with it, you know? Nothing wrong with chow mein.

Pretty good, isn't it?
Spring rolls. (LAUGHS)

And regrettably, a few weeks after
Landline's visit to Sea Lake, the celebrated town rooster
met his end - not surprisingly,
while crossing the road.

Well, the Bureau's forecast of a much wetter than usual winter
for most of Australia is proving spot-on. More on that in a moment. First, here's
the Southern Oscillation Index. There's been little movement
this past week, with the indicator more or less
steady at +3.3. Now here's the map
of recent rainfall. Upper and lower troughs combined
to produce heavy falls over northern and central
Queensland last week. The west coast
of Tassie was wet, and there was good rain over parts of
NSW and Western Australia. Numbers now. In Queensland,
Byfield recorded 485mm, most of it in just one day. Condobolin in NSW had 15. The Victorian town of Wodonga had 12, while over in Tasmania, Ross in
the midlands picked up 24mm. In South Australia,
Murray Bridge had 19. Up in the Territory,
Austral Downs recorded just 3, while over in the WA central
wheat belt, Quadney had 42mm. And that's the Landline
check on rainfall. Landline's currently
featuring stories from the winners
of the ABC's Heywire competition. These are young, regional Australians sharing candid and courageous stories
about their lives. Today, we meet Jessica Phelan. Every weekend in the dry season, Jessica is one of the few
female umpires in the Top End Football League.

I'm standing on a corner
of the centre square, surrounded by men twice my age
and three times my size, and sometimes,
I'm the only woman on the field. I'm an umpire
in the Big Rivers Football League. It's match day. I feel a mixture of intimidation
and nervous excitement.


The instant the ball is thrown, I begin to back out
toward the boundary line.

MAN: Come on! What's that? Ohh! Already the crowd has erupted, as the field umpire signals
that the player with the ball was tackled too hard, and awards him a free kick.

Each dry season weekend when I'm running the boundary line
down at Nitmiluk Oval, I don't listen to
the constant tirade of comments shouted at us umpires
during the game. You can't, out there on the field. You have to block it out
and trust yourself.

We're human
and sometimes we make mistakes. MAN: Play on! (MEN SHOUT)

Caught up in the game
and the movement of the ball, sometimes my arms don't keep up with
my eyes and I do the wrong signal. I constantly remind myself
to stay focused and be quick with my signals -
no hesitation. If I hesitate, the crowd and
the players are quick to yell at me, telling me how to do my job in a way
that will benefit their team.


We are saints
when your team is winning but it's an umpire's game
when your team is losing. The number one thing
I've learnt from my time umpiring is to have confidence
in my own abilities. Sometimes you just need to
block everyone out and trust your own judgement.

It's a skill I will take with me
throughout my life.

Next week on Landline, the earth is
turning and the diesel's burning at the National Ploughing
Championships in Victoria. MAN: It's not a real spectator
sport. It doesn't happen fast. We have three hours
to plough half an acre.

That's next week on Landline. And we'd love to
hear your thoughts on the show. You can reach us
through Facebook and Twitter. Until next time,
goodbye from Bundaberg.

Captions by Ericsson Access Services Copyright
Australian Broadcasting Corporation


How impressive is this display
of plants! I'm sure there's a couple here
that you haven't even seen before. Shortly, I'll be introducing you
to two passionate gardeners, who are using unusual plants
in all sorts of creative ways throughout their garden. And of course there's lots of other
great gardening coming up too.

I'll be showing you... to slow water down... ..on a sloping site... get the most
out of your rainfall. (PANTS)