REGION - Heartbreaking? Bloody oath it was.
More than two years later, the memories of the January 2011 Wimmera floods are still as raw as the broken calluses on Dimboola farmer Brad Miles' working-man's hands.
"A flood is a bit like a frost, it almost happens overnight. Everything's going as well as can be and 'bang'. It just cops you like that. I tell you, if I had to choose between a flood like that and years and years of drought, I know what I'd choose," Brad said.
With three kilometres of Wimmera River frontage on the outskirts of Dimboola and some other land in the district bordering an offshoot of the river called Datchak Creek, Brad expects a bit of water on his farm during wet times.
But nothing could've prepared the farmer, who settled in the district with his wife Laureen in 1985, for the two waves of flood water that hit 'like someone whacking you over the head with a block of wood'.
"There were two waves here. The first was a local wave when we had a fair bit of rain and that did a certain amount of damage. Then there was the second wave roughly a week later. Thankfully that gave us some time to move the sheep out although we still got caught with one mob."
Brad laughs at the memory of going out in a tinnie to rescue some lambs right on the edge of the river bank.
"We pushed the tinnie through the water to get to them and then chucked 15-20 lambs in so we could push them back to dry land. And the buggers stood in the boat - it was such a funny sight. I couldn't believe it and wish I had taken a photo. You've gotta get a laugh out of it somehow."
Brad also recalls a stunning sunset one evening as he looked over his drowned paddocks.
"I remember standing on a rise looking west at sunset with a couple of kilometres of water across the floodplain and seeing a perfect mirror image of the sky in the water. It was an absolutely magnificent scene. If it wasn't your land and livelihood under there you'd think it was fantastic."
The damage to 1000 acres of crop and 1500 large hay bales was financially crippling for the family. Then there was the damage to river frontage and other revegetation fencing the Dimboola-Antwerp Landcare group member had done over the years through various incentive schemes.
"It wasn't only river frontage where the water hit but it was other sloping ground where the water came down and just took out fences everywhere. It was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. You could look out over paddocks and see hundreds and hundreds of acres under water," he recalls.
When Brad first heard about Wimmera Catchment Management Authority's flood employment program in June, one of five similar Victorian Government programs for the flood-ravaged state, he thought it was too good to be true.
The $6.5 million program employed work crews to help farmers with damage to river and creek frontages. The employment program complemented other Wimmera CMA flood recovery initiatives such as clearing flood debris from waterways, repairing the damaged stream gauge network and other work on farms by Conservation Volunteers Australia.
Wimmera CMA waterway works engineer Luke Austin said the focus of the Wimmera program was to assist farmers where floods damaged waterway protection work such as fencing and vegetation.
The Wimmera program started with two crews of four men each. It continued for 18 months. During that time it provided full-time employment for eight people, with 12-14 participants all up. The crews completed work from Elmhurst to Jeparit and all areas in-between.
Mr Austin said the program provided benefits all-round.
"From an environmental perspective it was critical to reinstate these areas so the health of the region's waterways wasn't compromised in the wake of the floods," Mr Austin said.
"It was also great feeling for all involved to play a part in helping farmers with their longer-term flood recovery. Another benefit was introducing crew members to the type of projects Wimmera CMA did across the catchment and giving them a broader understanding of why fencing off waterways was so important to long-term waterway health."
For Brad, the arrival of the work crew was 'a huge relief' during a highly stressful time.
The crew cleaned up and rebuilt around five kilometres of fencing at three separate locations on Brad's land.
"That gang of blokes did an absolutely great job," Brad said.
"If I had the money I'd have them back to do contract fencing on the rest of the farm. They cleaned up that well behind themselves and they were really good quality fences that they put up. They tackled all the hard stuff like short stretches through timbered areas."
Looking back, Brad feels he's finally on the road to recovery - both financially and emotionally. Last spring they sorted through the damaged hay and picked out the better bits before moving most of it away, which Brad says helped move away the pain of the losses.
"It takes a long time to recover from a flood like that. It's only now that I can look at some parts of the property and not get a knot in my guts over what happened.
"It certainly knocked the stuffing out of me for a long time. In amongst all that the flood employment was a relief. A lot of us around here who were affected handled it in different ways and I'm starting to win now. Yes, I'm starting to win now."