Order of Australia for Texan Kimberley king

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Jack Fletcher OAM at home in WA. Photo: Ron Horner Jack Fletcher OAM at home in WA. Photo: Ron Horner Jack Fletcher OAM at home in WA. Photo: Ron Horner

Jack Fletcher, a Texas boy who untapped the agricultural riches of the Kimberley, has been awarded the Order of Australia ‘for service to the primary industry sector in Western Australia’ in today’s Australia Day honours list.

Fletcher, now 91, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division and can use the initials OAM after his name.

"Jack Fletcher’s achievements in the Kimberley read like a fictional account of someone’s dreams," friend and associate Ron Horner wrote in a profile of the pioneer for TradeFarmMachinery.com.au.

He formed the Australian Land & Cattle Company (ALCCO), developed seven cattle stations covering 17,400 square kilometres (4.3 million acres) and stocked with 100,000 head of cattle and 1,500 horses, built feed yards and packing plants, and created agencies for Shell, Goodyear and road train freight for the region.

"Jack also documented and proved up an artesian/sub-artesian Kimberley aquifer the size of Spain. Bores were drilled to 500m and produced 8,000 litres per minute with a 90m drawdown," Horner says.

Fletcher used all of his entrepreneurial skills to negotiate an Act of Parliament calling for the development of his Camballin Farms, he adds. At 250 square kilometres it was twice the size of The Ord River Scheme at Kununurra, with 165 square kilometres of grain sorghum, cotton, sunflower and other crops.

"This led to the development of the Port of Broome in 1980 from a tidal port into a deep sea port and opened the town to trade, tourism and all ships," Horner says.

But Fletcher’s vision has not been limited to Australia.

He has discovered and implemented major water irrigation schemes all over the world, in countries such as Bahrain, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria and Libya – where his discovery of the world’s largest known artesian basin led to the construction of the US$29 billion Great Man-Made River (GMR) pipeline project.

In the Kimberley, Fletcher also very nearly managed to dam the Fitzroy River as part of his vision for the region. He has chronicled this story, and the background behind the rise of ALCCO and its fall in the 1980s, in his book To Dam or Be Damned: The Mighty Fitzroy River.

Speaking to TradeFarmMachinery.com.au this week, Fletcher says his grand vision for the Kimberley has been thwarted at many turns and over many decades by those in authority – particularly by the disgraced 1980s Labor premier of WA Brian Burke – but he says his Order of Australia is, in a way, vindication of his efforts and what he has managed to achieve.

"I think we set the pattern for northern development," he says, "and a lot of our practices which we introduced 50 years ago are now – finally – being applied by many stations in the north."

One example of his success, Fletcher says, is his use of the first sprinkler irrigation system in Australia, a practice which has spread far and wide.

"We have a tremendous renewable resource and if we turn it on we could be the food basket of Asia," Fletcher says. "But nobody’s listening … yet.

"Our premier thinks he can desal the Indian Ocean and solve all our problems, but we don’t harvest any of our rainfall and until we do you’ll never see the billionaires who are buying the properties reach the goals that they’re talking about."

Fletcher says that a small dam program was initiated when he was working in his home state of Texas before coming to Australia.

"Texas is a fourth the size of Western Australia," he says, "and has 167 major dams. It has over 7000 small dams that feed the big dams.

"We irrigate 7 million acres over there, and we export 5 million cattle a year to Asia from our feedlots.

"In Australia we do none of that, yet we have the renewable resources to match or surpass Texas if we just get off our butts and do it."

Horner refers to Jack Fletcher OAM as a true visionary and pioneer generations ahead of his time.

"Jack is a decorated World War II hero, a leader among leaders and a visionary among visionaries," Horner says.

"He is self-driven and self-made, a true pioneer, compassionate, empathetic, caring and a man who has overcome many setbacks yet dedicated his life to creating a world-wide awareness of watershed storage and food production.

"Blokes like Jack Fletcher are as scarce as a one-ended stick. He is a larrikin, a legend, a pioneer and a visionary … but most of all he is a bloody good bloke.

"This award is totally deserved for his vision and efforts in opening up the Kimberley more than 50 years ago and his perseverance in the creation of a ‘food bowl to the world’ from Australia’s north," Horner says.

Read more in our Jack Fletcher profile.


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