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Published: September 25th 2014
We’ve left South Australia behind us and headed back into Victoria now. Tonight we are camped at Murrayville, a little town in the heart of the Victorian wheat belt which they proudly proclaim as you drive into town, is the gateway to the Victorian outback. And it’s raining. Today we have had our first rain while travelling, apart from the very first day when we left home.
You just have to rejoice over the rain. This country is so parched and thirsty. In fact, the longer we stayed in the Riverland, SA, the more aware we became of the terrible hardship inflicted on that region because it is so deprived of water. In my blogs, and in my search for beautiful sights to photograph, I have concentrated on the beautiful and the amazing. But, as the title to this blog says, there are two sides to every story, and unfortunately the very sad flip side of all I’ve written about and presented so far is a very different story.
The Riverland is of course South Australia’s food bowl – well wine bowl for sure. Hundreds upon hundreds of acres of grapes and orange orchards most of which
are strewn with fruit all over the ground beneath the trees. And all of these vineyards are irrigated. After a while it gets depressing looking at yet another vineyard and knowing how much water is being pulled out of the Murray River to grow all these grapes.
All of these hundreds of acres of vineyards and orchards are quite obviously not small family farms, but are owned by huge corporations. You can drive for many kilometres through the vineyards and orchards, and indeed wheat fields when you start leaving the Riverland, and the same huge company name keeps appearing on gates and fences. These vineyards and orchards all look amazingly healthy … there is obviously no water shortage where they are concerned. But try to find a conservation park or wetland close to the river that has water in it and is filled with bird and wild life and it’s a totally different story. The banks of the river are dry, dusty and compacted. The huge red gums are dead or diseased and dying. And birds … forget it. A few yellow rozellas, magpies, some kookaburras, ravens or crows, willy wagtails, white cockatoos and a few corellas
from time to time, that’s about the extent of it. Water birds? The only water birds I’ve seen while in the Riverland are pelicans and some cormorants, and I’ve seen almost as many dead pelicans as live ones, and the live ones don’t seem terribly healthy or active either. Oh, some emus out on the plains, that is where there are open scrub mallee plains left, mostly that’s all gone too – replaced by vineyards or wheat.
So amongst the photos included with this blog are some that tell this very depressing story. They are of a place called Overland Corner – a spot on the river just outside Barmera which traditionally was a site of enormous significance to the aboriginal population, and in terms of European settlement historically has been used by drovers moving stock. This section of the river was surrounded by enormous flood plains and wetlands that made it a rich and lush place to rest the stock and revitalize them. It was used so much that one enterprising chap built a pub there – the Overland Corner Pub – it still operates and is now owned by the Victoria Trust. Unfortunately it wasn’t
Door to Overland Pub
Shows name of original licensee and year 1860
open when we dropped in although it did show signs of being regularly used and was quite a little oasis in a place that is really now a desert.
South Australians have obviously been trying to improve the health of the River Murray and its surrounds for many years. All these places that I am referring to show signs, old now, and tell the story of how they are working to conserve and restore, to preserve the environment for future generations. But as the sign at Overland Corner says, and this says it all, when the locks and irrigation systems were built in 1925, the authorities “promised” that there would be sufficient water in the river to enable these flood plains and wetlands to be “flooded” (as they require to thrive and survive and as nature intended) every 3 to 4 years. The sign sadly says, “this has simply not happened”. (In one of the two panoramic photos I've included at the top of the blog, you can see the wind whipping up the top soil from the dry bed of the wetland and blowing it away.)
OK, I’m nearly done with complaining and
Loxton Tree of Knowledge
Shows flood levels and the years in which flooding occurred. Tells a sad story about infrequency of floods and diminishing levels.
telling depressing tales. Just one more comment – about how in all the major towns in the Riverland, the monuments and tourist highlights all relate to irrigation and pumping equipment and achievements. It’s as if we white fellas have not yet understood the devestation we’ve caused and we still see it as OK to sing the praises of our ancestors who thought that paradise could be created by plundering this beautiful big river. At one tourist information center we visited, I felt really sick when I stood looking at some old black and white photographs that showed the “building” of irrigation pumps and the clearing of the land around the river for timber to fire the pumps. The stacks of timber were like multi story buildings ….. and there were so many of them.
At the end of my last blog, we were still in Chowilla where the celebrations for the 150 year anniversary of Chowilla Sheep Station were under way. From there we headed back to Morgan, a place I remembered as being a lovely quiet quaint historical town on the river. By now I’d seen enough change in South Australia to be quite anxious about
what I was going to find there. I’d promised Lou it was worth the drive and that she would love it, but I was beginning to wonder. Joy and bliss, it hasn’t changed a jot since 1996 when I was last there. So we spent two nights and refreshed our souls as well as our bodies sitting by the river. Unfortunately there were no paddle steamers – they were all up at Chowilla, but the vehicle ferry kept us amused as it went about providing its free 24 hour a day, 7 day a week service to road users. Us too when we departed and headed back to Berri.
A stop over at Banrock Station Winery and Enviro-centre was short lived. It was midday when we got there and the sun was unrelenting so we were definitely not up for an 8 km walk through their “wetland” – which from the viewing deck outside the restaurant didn’t appear to have much more water in it than any other wetland we had so far encountered. And why is it that the promo photos are always so lush and rich and leave the reality so wanting???? We decided that
they are still using promo photos that were taken about 20 years ago if the amount of water in the photo wetlands is anything to judge by. But credit where credit is due, they are trying to do their bit.
So we kept going and stayed that night in a caravan park on the shore of Lake Bonney at Barmera. This is the only time I’ve ever seen a “green” lake. And I mean green. But it was water. Still no birdlife though. The wind returned the next morning with a vengeance so we headed off into Berri and ended up staying at Martin’s Bend on the river just out of town. Same very depressing story and this morning it started raining, so we hit the road yet again.
The road trip today was interesting – and I managed to get a couple of gems of photos – of Straited Pardalot that I managed to spot in the bush when we took a roadside break. Truly it was no bigger than my thumb, but its whistle and song was so loud and beautiful – that is why I spotted it in the first place. And I
spotted an eagle in a roadside tree that made me stop, turn around and go back to try and get some shots …. In fact I think it was a Black Shouldered Kite, but he was cunning enough to stay just several trees ahead of me and out of reach of my lens for any real detail to be possible. Handsome chap though. I’ve got to get me a “big kahoona” of a lens – 500 mls I reckon. Might have to mortgage 13 Bermaguee Street Quaama.
That’s it for tonight … till next time …..
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