Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Murray Darling Basin Plan

Due to heavy rain over wide areas of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria in recent weeks, the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin are experiencing flooding at levels not seen for decades. At Barham the Murray River is running full and looking magnificent for residents and visitors alike. It’s comforting to know the township of Barham has never once been flooded despite a number of big floods down the Murray over the last one hundred and fifty odd years.
Australia has been a land of unpredictable climatic extremes for thousands of years and unsurprisingly our climate today remains predictably unpredictable.
This simple fact appears forgotten by the doomsayers involved with the shutting down of the sustainable logging of the red gum forests around Barham and other districts and the engineers of the government’s Murray Darling Basin Plan. They have spoken out with authority to the Australian public and in particular to people in the irrigation areas and the river communities, outlining their predictions for the weather patterns and overall health of the Murray Darling System and it’s river red gum forests. These academics were convinced that the Murray was dying, the forests were dying and the storage dams along the Murray Darling river systems would never ever fill again… at least that’s what they were indicating up until these latest flooding rains. Where are they now and more importantly have their views changed? Or will they remain like the mythical Hanrahan and his unconquerable Irish pessimism in John O’Brien’s 1921 poem?
Said Hanrahan
by John O'Brien
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan in accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began one frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought as it had done for years.
"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke; "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke has seasons been so bad."
"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil, with which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel and chewed a piece of bark.
And so around the chorus ran, "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
"The crops are done; ye'll have your work to save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke they're singin' out for rain.
"They're singin' out for rain," he said, "And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head, and gazed around the sky.
"There won't be grass, in any case, enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place as I came down to Mass."
"If rain don't come this month," said Dan, and cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If rain don't come this week."
A heavy silence seemed to steal on all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed a piece of bark.
"We want an inch of rain, we do, "O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two, to put the danger past.
"If we don't get three inches, man, or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
In God's good time down came the rain; and all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane it drummed a homely tune.
And through the night it pattered still, and lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill kept talking to themselves.
It pelted, pelted all day long, a-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song way out to Back-o'-Bourke.
And every creek a banker ran, and dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If this rain doesn't stop."
And stop it did, in God's good time; and spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime of green and pink and gold.
And days went by on dancing feet, with harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat nid-nodding o'er the fence.
And, oh, the smiles on every face, as happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place went riding down to Mass.
While round the church in clothes genteel discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed his piece of bark.
"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man, there will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
No one is disputing the need for water efficiency and the most productive use of our natural resources. I feel it would be beneficial if policy makers in our capital cities reminded themselves that no one is more concerned or more active when it comes to caring for the rural environment than our country’s primary producers. Their livelihoods and all the supporting industries are dependant upon long-term sustainable primary production. Progressive farmers are continually looking for and implementing improvements to their farming practises. Today’s farmers produce more food and more fibre for less water than ever before and are constantly striving to improve the land that they live on.


  1. Hi Annie,
    It is indeed remarkable to see the run of wet years and you're quite right about a Hanrahan attitude. The wet years do not counter the climate change argument. The predictions are for wetter wet years and for more intense, longer droughts. The evidence is overwhelming to all but followers of Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and vested interests. Please do not let people off the hook so easily.
    As for farmers, I love them very much and have often written supportive things along the lines you have written. There are still a few environment-friendly practices I would like to see adopted, however, and they still seem to be waging war against native vegetation. The VFF recently called for the right to remove paddock trees as 'being of no value'.

  2. Hello Geoff,
    Thanks for your comments. I believe in climate change - the earth's climate has continually changed since the dawn of time; I'm just not completely convinced of the significance of man's role in it. Having said that, it is common sense to strive towards reducing pollution and caring for our environment. I think moderation and common sense on both sides is always the most constructive way forward. With regard to the paddock trees it would depend on the circumstances. I can understand a farmer wanting to remove trees from the middle of a cropping paddock but if the farmer then goes and plants trees around the perimeter it can be a win for the environment and a win for the farmer.