4 T Consultants4 T Consultants

By Ian Rankine

Preparing for a disaster

If lightning strikes today, is your business toast?

4T Director Bronwyn Reid was interviewed recently by the The Age newspaper for a feature on having a business prepared for when disaster strikes.  

The recent devastating bushfires in Victoria and Western Australia have brought heartache and financial hardship for many business owners, as well as environmental destruction.

Journalist Caroline James has interviewed several small business owners on how they prepared for and coped with disasters that have struck their business – fire, hail, and in our case – flood. 

To read the full story online, click here.

If lightning strikes today, is your business toast?


Caroline James

David Sonter’s business burnt to the ground but he says “the gloves come off in a good way” between businesses which are usually rivals.

It has been another shocking season for Aussie businesses impacted by natural disasters.

The latest figures from the Insurance Council of Australia put this summer’s total insured damages bill for bushfires alone at almost $300 million.

Three weeks later we began trading again and our customers immediately returned, which was great but if we didn’t have insurance we wouldn’t be here today.

Ben Menkins

With six weeks still to go, this figure – which doesn’t include uninsured businesses – is virtually guaranteed to rise.

Bronwyn Reid’s business was uninsured but she had a thorough flood management plan. Photo: Supplied

Wizened small business owners, who have borne Mother Nature’s wrath and returned to trading, know first-hand just how easily a natural disaster can destroy the unprepared trader.


Bronwyn Reid gets understandably jumpy when dark clouds roll in.

The Queensland business owner has endured flooding of her home town Emerald not once but twice in eight years.

The first flood, in 2008, did not impact her business. However, the second, in December 2010, saw water pour into her environmental business, 4T Consultants, and start rising up the walls.

“Fortunately, because of our past experience we had done a lot of modelling of where the floodwaters could potentially go so we had well defined and communicated flood management plans – if the water reaches X height at X station, we were ready to start packing,” Reid says.

The day before the flood peaked, Reid’s team of 14 helped pack the office, and move equipment to higher ground before they were sent home.

Sure enough, the next day floodwater entered the ground level office and rose about 20cm up the walls.

“We had five days to see it coming and then about six-to-eight hours to prepare the day prior so we could do it all very calmly and methodically.”

Reid’s business is on a property she owns and lives on, beside the Nogoa River.

She was uninsured but, in the final wash-up, relieved the event cost her (then) $3 million turnover business only $20,000 for a new kitchen and floor coverings because of its watertight flood management plan. Part of the cost was covered by government grants for affected residents.

The business is today turning over about $1 million since regional mining activities have slowed.

“Our house is on the highest point of the acreage on stumps and that’s where we stored all the office equipment and boxes.

“I remember watching the water rising from up on my verandah. I didn’t get any sleep that night … if it had come any higher, we were screwed. But as soon as the floodwaters went down we went in with hoses and cleaned and ripped up the floor coverings and within 24 hours we had one computer back up and were connected to the internet and able to service our clients, who needed data on the flooding and within 48 hours we had all computers back up and running on plastic folding tables with bare concrete floors.

“We worked like this for just over six months to let everything dry out, but we were relatively minor compared to many, who had water up to their ceilings.

“My biggest advice to other small businesses is to always ensure you have off-site back-ups and don’t ever store important documents at the bottom of your filing cabinets.”


David Sonter watched his family business in Springwood burn to the ground while he fought off flames threatening his family home (which shares the 10-hectare property).

Sonters Fern Nurseries, founded by his father more than 40 years ago, was destroyed in the Blue Mountains bushfires in October 2013.

“The day started as a pretty normal day but by midday it was apparent there was a fire in the local vicinity and it was very big, intense and moving quickly,” Sonter says.

In the end, it took less than an hour to destroy everything but the house and its immediate gardens.

The next day Sonter, family and some of his staff began assessing their losses. Their broker began managing their insurance claim assessment.

Several million dollars worth of damage was recorded.

The business stopped trading for two weeks and was touched by the way the nursery’s corporate customer base, including giants Bunnings and Aldi, immediately offered  help.

Sonter says when nature unleashes “the gloves come off in a good way” between businesses who are usually rivals.

“The greenhouse was 10,000 squares and destroyed although about 300 square metres of space, although damaged, still contained plants  still saveable so we could at least have some plants ready for the next season.

“We also had a cut foliage crop, which we sold to florists so that continued, which also helped.”

Twelve months on, the business, one of three major nursery outlets trading nationally under Sonter’s company structure, was back to pre-bushfire revenue.

In 2014/2015 the company turned over “under $5 million”.

“My mother and father, my business partners, have always been big on the importance of insurance; not just having it but having adequate insurance.

“Also, small businesses should not be guarded with sharing information with their insurers. In my experience, it is far better to be transparent; if they ask for a document, provide them with 10.”

Insurance problems

ICA general manager of insurance and media relations, Campbell Fuller, says it is impossible to know how many businesses are uninsured for damages caused by natural disasters. However, he can cite research conducted by the ICA last year, which found the overall rate of non-insurance in the small business sector has fallen.

The ICA’s 2015 survey reporting a non-insurance rate of 12.8 per cent compared with 25.6 per cent reported in 2007.

Fuller says the ICA does not know the exact value of insured losses per annum to small businesses but “typically finds that after any natural disaster, 20 to 25 per cent of losses are commercial”.

“About 80 per cent of claims (by value) from last year’s SA Pinery bushfires were for commercial losses.”

On January 13, ICA figures showed insured losses from the Waroona bushfire in southwest WAhave reached $60 million including several hundred claims.

The Great Ocean Road Christmas Day bushfire last month destroyed 116 properties and resulted in an insured loss of $53 million.

The Pinery bushfire in November resulted in 1861 insurance claims worth about $169 million.

Fuller adds that recent bushfires “are unlikely to have a significant impact on most insurance premiums”.

“Insurers are well capitalised and able to absorb the financial impacts of the losses, which were within expectations … in a highly competitive market, the ICA recommends small business owners shop around for policies that best meets their needs, based on features rather than price alone.

“An insurance broker can often help develop a package of policies to suit individual business requirements.”


Ben Menkins co-owns Merritt’s Bakery in the country Queensland town of Chinchilla.

He bought the 30-year-old business on September 1, 2014 and vividly recalls the day nature’s fury unleashed on his small business and its market.

It was October 28 last year.

Menkins remembers golf-ball-size hailstones, torrential rain and gale-force winds “hit us out of the blue”.

“There were warnings of severe storms that day but nothing like this;  it was a super storm, a convergence of storm cells,” he says.

“So we were just trading as normal right up until it started at 3pm.”

Over the next hour giant icy chunks filled the gutters and froze, which blocked the drains.

This meant rainwater had nowhere to go and started seeping into the roof cavity, flooding the ceiling and running down the walls. It ruined Menkins’ high-end baking machinery.

The damage bill reached about $250,000 excluding the building repairs, which will fall under the building owner – their landlord’s – insurance.

If not for his insurance damage cover, and additional business interruption policy to compensate lost income for the three weeks doors were closed, Menkins says his $2.1 million wholesale and retail baked goods business would have failed.

This money paid most bills while the insurance claim and repairs  were afoot.

Menkins recommends other small businesses use an insurance broker because, in times of crisis, when you are focused on staff and logistics “their service and dealing with the insurer and contractors for you is invaluable”.

“Three weeks later we began trading again and our customers immediately returned, which was great but if we didn’t have insurance we wouldn’t be here today. It’s that simple. We would have gone under.”



By Ian Rankine

Getting To Know Your Groundwater

Groundwater is one of Australia’s most precious, but least understood, natural resources.  21% of the water used in Australia is Groundwater, so it forms a vitally important element of Australia’s economic prosperity.

The biggest use of Australia’s groundwater is for agricultural production, so it’s not just the quantity of water available that matters to our agribusiness sector – it’s the quality as well.

To help landholders to understand this valuable asset, 4T Consultants has developed a “Getting to Know Your Groundwater” Workshop.  The workshop was originally developed by Fiona Murchie as part of her participation in the National Rural Women’s Coalition E-Leaders program.  It has undergone an update and we are very pleased to be presenting the workshop throughout Central Queensland in early 2016 in conjunction with the Fitzroy Basin Association,  the Dawson Catchment Coordination Association and Capricornia Catchments.  Groundwater experts will be joining the workshop via Skype, so participants will have the opportunity to ask questions.

For the first two workshops, we will be joining forces with AgForce as well, for a full day of groundwater training and information. AgForce will be presenting an Adanced CSG Negotiation Workshop, to bring workshop attendees up to date with the latest developments in groundwater regulation in Queensland.

The dates for the workshops that have been confirmed so far for the first half of 2016 are:

  • March 1st     Taroom  (Joint workshop with AgForce)
  • March 2nd   Injune    (Joint workshop with AgForce)
  • March 8th    Middlemount
  • March 10th  Rockhampton

More workshops are planned for other centres, but the dates have not yet been confirmed, so we will post updates as they become available.

For booking details for the Taroom and Injune , download the brochure here.


These workshops are supported by the Fitzroy Basin Association through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme – Sustainable Agriculture.

By Ian Rankine

4T is a Business Award Finalist!

We’re very happy to let everyone know that 4T Consultants has been named as a Finalist in the Central Highlands Development Corporation Business Excellence Awards for 2015.

We’re very excited that we’ve made it to the finals again after being a winner in the last awards in 2013.  

Thanks to all the 4T team – both past and present – who have contributed to our success so far.

Now we have to impress the judges when they come to interview us on September 16th…


By Ian Rankine

Does quality count ?

All businesses and consumers know the value of quality.  Agricultural producers know the quality standards that the meat processors, grain buyers and supermarkets require in order to achieve premium prices. Coal producers know the importance of providing products that meet the quality and consistency standards of their customers.
Scientific research, monitoring and analysis of water, air, dust, soils etc is no different – if the client does not receive reliable data that meets the industry and statutory requirements, then their market and business risk increases.  Poor quality methodologies mean that samples submitted for analysis will yield poor quality (inaccurate) and inconsistent (imprecise) data – which may result in poor decisions or outcomes on critical issues such as:

  • whether a site meets industry and/or statutory compliance
  • whether a site or business activity has to be suspended, stopped or closed permanently
  • whether remedial action has to be implemented, and the urgency of that action
  • whether there are health, safety or environmental risks at the site
  • whether research or project results and conclusions are valid for investment decisions.

It is always better to do less, but to a quality standard, than to do more to a sub-standard level, because the client wants confidence in the results and products.
In a period of low economic activity, there is always pressure to cut costs, but make sure quality is maintained because mistakes can be very costly.

As the photo says: “The Bitterness of Poor Quality remains Long After the Sweetness of of Low Price is Forgotten”.

By Ian Rankine

Can’t identify a waterbug? Check its Genes

While macroinvertebrates (macros) have long been used by environmental scientists to assess ecosystem health – many mine sites, for instance, conduct annual surveys of macro populations.  However, the methodology is not without problems.

Identifying macroinvertebrates is a time consuming task – and it’s definitely a skill.  (We have seen macros identified in reports that don’t even exist in Central Queensland!).  Identification down to species level is the domain of just a few experts.

Genomics to the rescue

Like most fields in the world of science, there is progress in this area as well – the use of genomics (the study of DNA and RNA) – to identify waterbug species.

As the cost of genomic identification (like all technologies) decreases, the technology becomes more widely used.

Being able to identify samples down to species level would provide us with an enormous amount of additional, valuable information about our river ecosystems.

But wait – there’s more…(species that is)

The use of genomics is also identifying new species.  What were thought to be physically identical macros are actually being shown to be separate species.

To read more about “DNA Barcoding”, head  over to these recent articles.

By Ian Rankine

Tools of the Trade – Groundwater Monitoring

Unlike stream monitoring or rainfall, groundwater monitoring has always been a bit of a “dark art” for many people.  Depth to water measurements may only be done intermittently and infrequently (e.g.annually).  Depending on the site and requirements for that bore, this may not tell us what is actually happening with the groundwater.

Manual SWL measurement

Low Frequency Monitoring

The first chart below shows actual data from a bore that has been monitored since 2009.  The readings for January and July are shown. Biannual measurement is common in many groundwater monitoring programs .

The standing water level (SWL) in the bore appeared to be stable until Jan 2012 then it appears that the bore level is fluctuating significantly.

Monthly monitoring

The chart below shows monthly data for the same bore.  4T was, in fact, monitoring the bore each month, and the monthly data shows the variability that is actually occurring in the groundwater level.

Monthly monitoring
Monthly SWL readings from the same bore show high variability as the bore is pumped for use.  The bore recovers well after each pumping cycle to a stable SWL.

Monthly SWL readings from the same bore show high variability as the bore is pumped for use.  The bore recovers well after each pumping cycle to a stable SWL.

The hidden story

The smaller dataset in the first chart disguises a significant amount of variability in the SWL.  From 2009 until 2012, the level appears to be very stable, raising no cause for concern.  It is not until July 2012 that there is any indication of variability.  

In this particular instance, we know that the SWL variability is due to the bore being pumped – it is a production bore – so there was no cause for alarm because it recovers to a stable SWL following each pumping cycle.  

In the first chart, the readings in July 2012, January 2014 and January 2015 just happened to coincide with dates that the bore was being pumped.

Continuous monitoring

The use of continuous, in-situ loggers is a cost-effective and accurate means of overcoming the data deficit that comes with intermittent monitoring.  The logger can be programmed to record SWL at any time interval required. (If you need your SWL recorded every second – that’s possible!), so it provides very detailed data and highlights any small fluctuations.  

Data download

Loggers can be;

  • configured to transmit data in real time. This data can be viewed on-line, and even connected to alarms set to trigger at a given groundwater level, or
  • downloaded manually to a computer – either during a periodic site visit or when the monitoring period has ended and the logger is removed.

The chart below shows SWL data from a bore logger that was set to monitor at 6 hourly intervals, giving a very accurate and transparent picture of what is actually happening in the bore.  

This data also shows that there appears to be a trend of dropping water level (SWL) since July 2012.

Data from an in-situ bore logger recording at 6 hourly intervals tells an accurate and transparent story about the state of the groundwater bore.

Tools of the Trade

Manual SWL readings are taken using an electronic ‘dipper tape’ (left photo).  This sends an audible signal when it contacts water.  There are different length tapes and types available and 4T can assist with selection and operation.

Continuous loggers (right photo) are small enough to fit most bores, and are generally very robust and reliable. However, 4T has encountered some problems in high-salinity (high EC) environments.

The selection of tools to measure SWL depends on your objectives , budget and what resolution of data is required.  4T can assist with selection of the right tool for the job. 

By Ian Rankine

Mission “Mallo” – Raising money for cancer patients

Claire Mallyon keeps our administration (and us) in order, and her husband Ian (“Mallo”) is on a mission to raise money for cancer support. Ian’s aunt died of cancer in 2012, so Ian has dedicated himself to raising funds for the Cancer Council accommodation centre in Rockhampton which provides accommodation for remote and rural families receiving cancer treatment.  

Evan Corry from Giant Rockhampton has helped the cause by donating a fabulous road bike for the ride, and many other local Emerald businesses have pitched in to help raise these badly needed funds.

Ian will ride from Emerald to Rockhampton on September 3rd.  He will depart from the Emerald Shell Service Station, and he hopes to get to Rockhampton in about 10 hours.  

One of the 4T utes will be going along as a support vehicle.  You can check out Ian’s campaign on his Facebook Page.

If you would like to make a donation to this extremely worthy cause. head over to Ian’s Facebook Page or just contact Claire at the 4T office. 

1 2
Preparing for a disaster
Getting To Know Your Groundwater
4T is a Business Award Finalist!
Does quality count ?
Can’t identify a waterbug? Check its Genes
Tools of the Trade – Groundwater Monitoring