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Voice of Real Australia: It's snowing in the Territory outback

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Snow in the outback, at least that's how well regarded Katherine local Shirley Swan described the unusual phenomenon. Pictures: Shirley Swan.

Snow in the outback, at least that's how well regarded Katherine local Shirley Swan described the unusual phenomenon. Pictures: Shirley Swan.

It doesn't often snow in the outback of the Northern Territory.

Just kidding, it never snows.

Right now the Top End is in the grip of the build up, the excruciating shift from the dry to the wet seasons.

Even the heat-hardened locals are already complaining about the speedy transition to this desiccating run of 40-plus degree days.

It can last for weeks, months even.

A time of the year when the heat of the sun chases you into the shade. Air-cons are the only escape.

Imagine the surprise of these tough outback folk to see snow on the roadsides.

Closer examination revealed the "snow" was in fact cotton.

Balls of raw cotton littering the sides of the roads just as you often see with the golden canola plant growing on the road sides in Australia's grain belt.

Cotton is a controversial topic in the Top End at the moment.

Finding it littering the sides of the roads only heightened the alarm of some.

It might surprise some people to learn there's a strong environmental lobby in the NT.

Some folk in the south think it is inhabited only by cowboy types.

Cotton lines the roadside at Katherine in the NT.

Cotton lines the roadside at Katherine in the NT.

Drinking, shooting, fishing - a blokey culture where thongs are considered formal wear.

People not given to much other than hard work and enjoyment of the great outdoors.

But there is a real appreciation and love for their natural surrounds.

For five years I reported on their fight against the development of an on-shore gas industry.

As there are with such things, only a few had the passion and the time to remain active in these campaigns over the long haul.

But they had widespread community support.

At one time it was reckoned the population of Katherine, a town of 10,000 good folk about three hours south of Darwin, were 80-90 per cent against the shale gas development.

It was quite illuminating. Tree-huggers all.

Both of the NT's political parties are fracking fans, the Prime Minister is the number one cheerleader of Beetaloo gas development.

The world was against the anti-frackers and their yellow triangles of protest, but they persisted.

Similar for cotton.

There is cotton littering the roadside because the industry is young.

There is no factory for the crop, so trucks take a long trip to Queensland or NSW for processing.

Cotton has exploded as a crop in the NT in the past few years.

Perhaps we can finally let go of the dream about the north being the food bowl of Asia and just grow crops that survive.

A protest against the development of an onshore gas industry in the NT, using the century-old railway bridge over the Katherine River.

A protest against the development of an onshore gas industry in the NT, using the century-old railway bridge over the Katherine River.

Ever since it was demonstrated cotton could be grown on wet season rains alone, the tropical bugs could be subdued and the cattle cockies have enough smarts to grow crops, it has grown in popularity.

The environmental lobby fears this popularity will grow into a greater demand for irrigation, the damming of their world-famous Barra streams.

In short, they are not convinced.

Seeing cotton blowing about like snow doesn't help much.

The industry, short on tarps for their trucks as they are, don't like it either.

That's why they want to build a gin at Katherine and another over at Kununurra on the Ord in WA.

So then they don't have to truck their crop large distances, they can process it at home - it would encourage others to give it a go as well.

The NT has tried all sorts of things, but the climate is pretty harsh.

They grew a pretty handy rice crop at a place called Fogg Dam outside Humpty Doo in the 1950s as an experiment with irrigation.

Just as the celebrations began, the magpie geese came and cleaned the place out.

End of experiment.

Mangoes have a thick skin, come to think of it so too do the crocs. They both grow pretty well.

With cotton, only time will tell.

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