Coronavirus crisis: Global pandemic on the mind of WA’s isolated pastoralists

Zach RelphThe West Australian
The State’s station owners are concerned about the coronavirus’ impact on the pastoral industry.
Camera IconThe State’s station owners are concerned about the coronavirus’ impact on the pastoral industry. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Yesterday morning, Debbie Dowden galloped her horse across Challa Station.

The rising sun illuminated the historic pastoral lease, about 60km south-east of Mt Magnet, and showed the flourishing Southern Rangelands which are rejuvenated after about 135mm of summer rain.

Mrs Dowden is isolated at Challa, which is more than 550km north-east of Perth and 350km east of Geraldton, but her thoughts are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have not been impacted by coronavirus on a day-to-day basis at the moment,” the pastoralist said.

“We are so far away from everything and isolated here, but there is still the uncertainty.

“Also, we’re a long away from family members, and in times like this, you want to be near them to make sure everything is OK.”

Mrs Dowden and husband Ashley are preparing to muster at Challa in three weeks, with eight workers set to arrive in a fortnight, before the Easter long-weekend, for the two-week cattle round-up.

Challa Station pastoralist Debbie Dowden.
Camera IconChalla Station pastoralist Debbie Dowden. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Those plans are now in limbo as coronavirus concern mounts.

“We are conscious that we will need to have measures to ensure the workers who arrive here are healthy and then stay healthy,” she said.

“The muster could be postponed, but at this stage we are just waiting on Government advice.”

The Federal Government imposed a raft of desperate measures at noon yesterday in a bid to curb the coronavirus crisis.

Registered and licensed premises, such as pubs and clubs, were shut under the restrictions.

Cinemas and indoor sporting venues — including gyms — were also forced to close their doors.

The implementation came as the South West, Mid West and Goldfields confirmed COVID-19 cases.

While WA’s vast pastoral stations offer thousands, sometimes millions, of hectares of sprawling country away from the metropolis, Mrs Dowden said the pastoral industry was not immune to coronavirus’ impacts.

“The biggest uncertainty at moving forward is the beef prices and how this will effect it,” she said.

“No one really has the answer to that at the moment.”

Although the COVID-19 outbreak is concerning, Mrs Dowden took solace in her surroundings.

“It is not all doom and gloom,” she said.

“Everything was looking really green when I rode the horse this morning — the summer rain has helped us.”

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