KENNEDY MP, Bob Katter, envisages that the construction of the Big Rocks Weir will increase local cattle production to a point that a meatworks will again be viable in Charters Towers.
Mr Katter believes that the extra 10,000 megalitres of water captured by the weir should be used to fatten 60,000 cattle for sale in September/February each year.
The Big Rocks Weir project is going through its final State Government assessments. Mr Katter hopes this process can be sped up and that construction can begin as soon as possible.
“Since the demise of the Bjelke-Petersen Government, Charters Towers has lost the mental health hospital and with it 200 direct and indirect jobs, more than 200 jobs in the railways, 800 jobs in four major mining operations, and a further 400 direct and indirect jobs with the closure of the Cape River Meatworks,” he said.
“In recent decades, nine North Qld meatworks closed including Australia’s biggest, Cape River at Charters Towers (Pentland). Charter Towers Stock and Station Agent, Matthew Geaney, said to me, ’You can’t operate a $60m plant for only eight months of the year when your competitors operate for twelve months.’
“I’ve commenced discussions with Charters Towers Councillors and stakeholders as I believe the weir and its water needs to serve Charters Towers, rather than it being turned into a milking cow for the Qld Government. We need secondary industry, like a meatworks, to grow a town the size of Charters Towers.”
The Penna brothers have been farming alongside the Burdekin River, where the new weir will be built, since the 1990s, and are currently growing hay and potatoes.
Dominic Penna says the Big Rocks Weir is critical for surety and security of water supply.
“The Burdekin River slows down towards the end of the year, so the weir will be able to hold and release water for farmers and the people of Charters Towers,” Mr Penna said.
“Our country can’t go ahead without water. Water is where it all starts, so the Governments need to build something somewhere.”
Across the other side of the Burdekin River is Cattleman, Blair Knuth, who has been the driving force behind getting the weir built.
Mr Knuth says this is a “wonderful opportunity” to give year-round water security to Charters Towers.
“What this does is helps businesses to choose Charters Towers as a base,” he said.
“They may not need a great deal of the water, but they do need a 100 per cent guarantee of the supply in order to set up shop.”
Mr Knuth said the other component of the project was to give water security toward the end of the year to existing cropping and hay production areas.
“The northern cattle production system has a protein drought for at least six months of the year,” he said.
“In the old days, we’d only sell cattle during the protein rich months. We now have a 365-day selling cycle for cattle which means they need to be able to be turned off at any time and this vital infrastructure allows us to overcome the protein deficiency.”