Rick Britton is a fifth generation grazier. With his wife, Ann, he operates the family’s beef enterprise, Goodwood Pastoral Company, running 6000 cattle over 200 000 ha of natural grazing land.
Boulia is situated on the Burke River, named for explorer Robert O’Hara Burke, who passed through the area with the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860.
Boulia is remote. Located 190 km east of the Northern Territory border, the shire’s western boundary marks the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert.
The energy grid does not service this remote part of Australia. Boulia’s residents depend on diesel for all of their power generation. For Rick, this means using around 30 000 litres of diesel each year to run his business.
Diesel is used to power water pumps, in graders to maintain roads and undertake erosion control, in vehicles that travel across properties (which can take days), to muster cattle and generate electricity to the sheds.
But diesel is also crucial to Rick’s household. “Running a diesel generator to power our house is about 10 times more expensive than it would be on town power,” Rick says.
The diesel generator runs for six hours a day. This is the window of opportunity for doing anything that requires power, like educating children through School of the Air, housework or using the computer. It’s also the amount of time the air-conditioner can run, and temperatures regularly top 40˚C.
“We really have no alternative out here,” Rick says. “We’re always looking for efficiencies and use windmills and solar power, but neither have the capacity to pump the volume of water our cattle need.”
But he’s not concerned only with his own property. Rick is also Mayor of Boulia Shire Council.
Boulia Shire covers an area of 61 176 km2 with a population around 600. About 80 per cent of ratepayers are involved in agriculture.
Council provides amenities for ratepayers and tourists, including a sports and aquatic centre,library, post office, museum and shire hall. All are powered by diesel.
The school, health centre, shops, churches, turf club, airport and hotel are all powered by diesel.
Road works and maintenance alone sees council eligible for a $94 000 fuel tax credit, which is at the lower end of comparable shires. If the fuel tax credit was abolished it would impact the ability to upgrade and maintain local roads.
“With a small ratepayer base, any increase in the cost of fuel or power generation would either see significant increases in rates or a decrease in services provided,” Rick says.
“Either way, it’s a bad outcome.”