Friday, 18 December 2009

The lucky country is running out of luck

By Michael Mobbs
I was six when our family farm was flooded for six months. We couldn’t get to town, or anywhere else, for three months.

Kids came on horseback, or on boats, through the flood waters to the temporary school set up in the old disused farmhouse on our place.

Like a character in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies I played on the hills with my mates. At lunch break it was cowboys and Indians. We made arrows out of dried thistle stalks and shot them at each other. All the young kids had to die because the big kids had to win. And there was cricket and balls and throwing and running; all the while the waters rose around us.

“Catch him!”, “Bowled!” “You’re out. Yes, you are; go on . . .”

Snakes were everywhere, fleeing to higher ground. Sometimes you get lucky, and we were then.

The Lachlan River - changed by farming and the catchment, stripped of trees - discharged flood waters quicker and wider across the drawn-out flood plain that ran far beyond our place at Jemalong out to Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo and further still west.

And so I got a gift of seeing the power of water, of brown water creeping irresistibly over places where water had not been in all my few years, changing things right to the horizon.

I can still see the Gipsy Moth biplane coming, suddenly tilting down to our house for the pilot to chuck out a sugar bag of tinned food; the sheep and cattle scared by this, running away.

That was fifty-three years ago, and in the intervening five decades the flooding of the countryside that I grew up in has vanished.

Today, the dam at the top of the Lachlan River, the Wyangala, once able to hold several times the volume of Sydney Harbour, will run dry in about March 2010, it is predicted. The Lachlan River has been blocked off below Condobolin to ensure water supplies for that town. Never since white settlement in Australia has that part of the continent been so dry.

Now the federal and state governments seem hell bent on administering the death rites to the Darling River and others that run into it.

* They are granting mining leases that will pump ground water to run the mines and take more water away from the river than will be saved by the $10 billion they’re spending to buy back water being pumped out of it by irrigators.
* 36,000 wells will be dug in the next three years in just one sub-catchment. That’s 33 a day. (1)
* Coal-mining leases have been granted, or applied for, for more than 16,000 hectares, covering the Maranoa, Balonne and Condamine rivers in Queensland. (2)
* Petroleum leases have been granted, or applied for, for more than 23,074 hectares of those rivers
* In the next 30 years, these governments will receive more than $40 billion in royalties from these mines.

Isn’t that unbelievable? Royalties instead of rivers. Money for governments before water for rivers, towns and farms.

I fail to understand how our governments cannot respect water. Is it because we, the electorate, don’t care? Don’t play at government anymore? Can’t bowl? Can’t catch?

Let’s see if we can play dead when there is no river or ground water with which to grow our food.

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