Vickie and Ken Johnson
Members, Yatco Wetland Landcare Group
Interview: 15th July 2011
Ken and Vickie Johnson grow citrus overlooking the south lagoon. Vickie has been the secretary of the Yatco Wetland Landcare Group since its inception in 2006.
Ken’s family and extended family purchased properties overlooking the south lagoon between 1958 and 1960, initially for their love of hunting and fishing holidays. The land was purchased for the price of £1200 pounds for 70 acres. Several properties were purchased from Paul Kassulke.
In 1965 Ken’s family planted their first citrus orchard but many of those trees didn’t survive due to high salinity and were replanted in 1966, and today Ken and Vickie own the property and manually harvest the entire citrus crop by themselves. Their reward is a well earned trip to the “barramundi fishing waterholes” in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
The earth water supply channel was the key to the development of horticulture on the properties overlooking Yatco lagoon.
The original invoice for the digging of the channel was dated 26th May 1963 and a one third share of £38:19:7 each was paid by Johnny and Mal Gurr, Lloyd and Thelma Johnson and Paul Kassulke (see photo at left). The total cost was £117. When the funds ran out Ken’s parents funded the completion of the channel.
The channel was extended in 1968 with the support of Kingsley George.
Even in the early days of the channel it required regular maintenance. Several early receipts kept by Ken and Vickie show the maintenance costs.
During this period, one of the landowners, Mr Olsen who was from Utah USA, decided to block off the channel linking the south and north Yatco lagoons, as well as the irrigation supply channel which feeds into the south lagoon. He did this without consultation with his neighbours and the other landowners dependent on the supply channel and the south lagoon for water. His aim was pump the south lagoon dry and in so doing acquire a water licence equivalent to that amount so that he could irrigate a sunflower crop which was planted on the floodplain west of the south lagoon.
More than 100 years ago there was a “state of the art” piggery where George’s property is today. There are also several military weapons (not sure which War??) buried on the property which remain undiscovered.
There has always been good community spirit amongst the residents from Moorook to Pyap. Many common issues and events have brought the community together.
Community events such as the New Residence to Pyap Harvest Festivals in the 1980’s and 1990’s maintained a strong community bond. The New Residence vs Pyap cricket matches were an all day affair.
Shared assets such as the irrigation supply channel have required the community to work together.
The adversity of having poor quality irrigation water in the channel created a common issue.
Now that a new water source has been secured (to relocate the channel irrigator’s pumps to the river) the entire community appreciates what has been achieved.
A strong bond has been maintained by the local fishers and hunters who enjoy duck hunting in Gun Alley which is the narrow section of water linking the north and south lagoons. This area is a meeting place for a beer after work or a spot where they can do some yabbying.
Some of the locals who regularly met in Gun Alley include:
- Angee Wachtel
- Malcolm “Effie” Wachtel
- Philip and Maria Martin
- Jeff Drogemuller
- Ken Johnson
- Johnny Loffler
- Mike Wedd (a former Bank Manager in Moorook)
- Jimmy Neilson
- Pappie Kassulkie and Charlie Kassulke.
Occasionally, campers stay under the box trees below Ken and Vicki’s property.
In 2008 the Yatco Wetland Landcare Group was advised that due to low flows in the river and the water losses in the south lagoon that the earth channel would be blocked at the entrance to south lagoon to reduce flow into the south lagoon and thus save water.
Government representatives suggested that pumping from the channel would create sufficient flow into the channel to maintain a fresh supply of irrigation water. The irrigators were not convinced that salinity would not be an issue.
Ken and Vickie were able to refer to the unique land title over their property which includes Underlease 2401311 which states “uninterrupted flow or passage at all times during the term hereby granted of water across the said land”. The Underlease term extends to the year 2060 and in this case it prevented the channel from being blocked.