Australia endures droughts, fires, floods and marauding mice

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Rob Costigan bought a rugged farm in rural Australia three years ago, dreaming of building it into something he could leave to his kids. One year later, he needed to truck in water to battle an extreme drought. Then Australia’s deadly wildfires raged perilously close in late 2019, forcing Costigan to spend day after day stamping out embers and running sprinklers on his roof to save his home in an eerie atmosphere he likens to Armageddon.

Then the floods came last week, on the day his daughter Eva was supposed to be celebrating her 11th birthday. Thankfully, the family had already left to stay at his brother’s home. The water roared through with such force it lifted both Costigan’s farmhouse and a second home where his father-in-law lived from their foundations, destroying both. The family is still picking up toys and clothes strewn far and wide — they even found their gas barbecue bottle stuck in a tree. “Just disbelief,” said Costigan. “It feels like the world against us. You work your guts out and have it all washed away in the blink of an eye.”


Costigan, 40, a road maintenance worker whose farm is in the Hollisdale community about a five-hour drive north of Sydney, said he’s thankful that he’s managed to avoid another disaster — the plague of mice affecting some farms in the region. Maybe, he hopes, the floods will help wash them away. Australia has always been a land of harsh weather, where droughts and fires form part of the nation’s psyche. But experts say that global warming is likely making recent weather events more extreme. The raging wildfires that burned through until early last year killed at least 33 people and destroyed more homes.

“These events are expected,” said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a university of New South Wales. climate scientist “But climate change has put them on steroids.” She explained that, paradoxically, a warming atmosphere could worsen droughts and floods. The extra heat can suck more moisture from the ground during droughts. But warmer air can also hold more water, she said, so that when it does rain, it pours. Some towns in New South Wales have set 50- or 100-year records for rainfall over the past week. The floods have killed two men in separate incidents, trapped in their cars, and forced more than 20,000 people from their homes.

This week, Dale Ward was trying to clean out the rental apartment she owns and where her daughter and their family live in Windsor. She said she was mopping up sludge after about 1 foot (30 centimeters) of water coursed through, destroying a box of photos and other memorabilia. “It’s like someone dropped three tons of dirt in your house and then dropped a bucket of water over the top,” she said. Ward estimates it will take at least a month to get the place habitable again, with plumbers and electricians needed to get everything fixed.

Elsewhere, people are still dealing with the plague of mice. Last year in eastern Australia, months of rain doused wildfires and ended a drought that had crippled the region for over two years. That led to bumper crops on many farms and an explosion in the mouse population. Pompy Singh, the manager of the Spar supermarket in the town of Gulargambone, said they started to notice the number of mice increasing before Christmas. They used to set one or two trips a day, he said. They started buying much larger traps and setting many more of them until they had 20 sets all the time.

Suddenly they were catching 100 or 200 mice each day. The critters began eating through everything, getting into the lettuce, the potato chips, the dog food, and even the tobacco. Singh said they started storing everything in refrigerators or sealed containers. Still, he said, the mice kept coming. Some days, they were catching up to 600. Even the fridges kept breaking down as the mice chewed through the wiring. Singh said the numbers of mice seem to have decreased somewhat since the floods hit, although they’re still catching plenty.

And Australia’s troubles may not yet be made. Some experts have warned people to check their shoes and clothes for deadly spiders as swarms seek refuge from the floodwaters by moving into residential homes. Meanwhile, Costigan said he intends to rebuild. He’s spent too much time putting up fences on his farm — many of which survived the flooding — and making other improvements to give up now. He adds that he moved his small herd of cattle to higher ground before the floods hit, and they all survived.

Costigan said he feels lucky his farmhouse is insured and is thankful to family members and neighbors who have contributed to an online fund to help his family rebuild. He said this kind of trouble comes with living in Australia and perhaps explains why the British initially treated the continent as a place to send their prisoners. “They thought it was hell on earth,” he said. “They didn’t realize that it’s a beautiful part of the world.”

Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!