Bruce Sloper and Bill Ohl inspect the remains of the shed which pumped bore water to Bruce's custard apple farm
Bruce Sloper and Bill Ohl inspect the remains of the shed which pumped bore water to Bruce's custard apple farm

Custard apple farmer waxes philosophical

Bruce Sloper is counting the cost of the weekend’s bushfires after returning to his custard apple farm on Byfield Road.

The fires outside Yeppoon destroyed the shed which housed his bore pump and farm machinery.

“That was a hydraulic pruner worth about 15 thousand; that was a fruit processor took about 10 thousand to design and build,” he said, pointing to blackened, twisted pieces of metal still smoking in the shade.

Burnt out remains of a home next to the custard apple orchards on Byfield Rd
Burnt out remains of a home next to the custard apple orchards on Byfield Rd

Mr Sloper, a retired Naval officer who served in Vietnam has seen plenty of battles but the speed behind the recent fires took him by surprise.

“You don’t expect this kind of ferociousness,” he said.

“I was helping my neighbour Carl when all the tree tops just ignited and, with the wind behind it, the fire just took off.”

“It’s just another challenge in the rich pageantry of life, I guess.”

Mr Sloper said he remains “philosophical” about rebuilding his shed and replenishing the orchards which have lost half their trees.

Thankfully, his “big shed” – which contains the processing room and freezers – was unharmed.

“We had a lot of damage following Cyclone Marcia and the Wesfarmers Insurance took good care of us,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of time, getting the assessors in and filling out the paperwork.”

But with a blackened manifold, he has no way to water his remaining trees, and the bore itself is blocked.

Burnt out remains of a home next to the custard apple orchards on Byfield Rd
Burnt out remains of a home next to the custard apple orchards on Byfield Rd

“I had the pump suspended at the right level by stainless steel wire, which has melted, so the pump’s down the bottom of the bore now,” he said.

“The top two fields weren’t damaged by the fires but they’ll die of heat stress if I can’t figure a way to get the water to them soon.”

Just over the fence though, Mr Sloper’s brother-in-law, who also grows custard apples, is facing far greater losses.

Charred and smoking piles of twisted metal mark where his house, sheds and vehicles were destroyed.

The retired doctor has yet to return to his property.