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A generation raised on a river of pain



Murray River near Lock 10 Wentworth
Image Courtesy: Sally harding: The Murray River near Lock 10 Wentworth, water in the river doesn't always mean farmers get water allocations.

Recent discussion on Facebook led us to the idea of asking for real stories from Murray Darling Basin residents, Sally Harding has kindly offered an opinion piece she wrote based on her real experiences with locals who have suffered through this ongoing man-made disaster, remembering for a moment, this story is based on actual events that have been, and are happening right now in the Murray Darling Basin.

A Generation raised on a river of pain, by Sally Harding.

If I had an old-fashioned paper map of Australia, and one of my kids’ marker pens, I would circle a large section to the east.

In this wide brown and green area with blue capillaries criss-crossing several states is a chapter of ecological and humanitarian shame happening right now.

Murray Darling Basin

Image Courtesy The Murray Darling Basin covers 14% of Australia’s land mass

It’s the area known as the Murray Darling Basin and it is a bloody battleground for water.

Go ahead and Google it – but be warned, you’ll be having screen time for quite a while.

Like most people, you’ll probably decide it’s a problem too wicked to understand or attempt to influence – something that is arguably working in favour of those accused of hijacking a national water source for political gain.

Time will pass, as it always does, and the multi-powers that manage the river system will continue to justify who gets what and who goes without.

Fortunately history has a way of being kind to masses that suffer in silence.

There might eventually be a much-wanted Federal Royal Commission and, for good measure, a much-needed national apology to the victims (including a million fish).

That may help right some wrongs and provide a sense of justice, but what will remain is a river system and once-thriving communities that may never recover.

Our primary producers, once the pride of the nation for allowing Australia to ride off the sheep’s back and into the global market, have become a politicised commodity themselves.

The lucky ones are those that fate situated upstream or downstream. Those in the middle – ironically enough, Australia’s premier foodbowl – seem to be without friends in high places.

Pressure to grow crops without the security of water (plus the cruelty of watching it rush out to sea, in the state next door) is like a noose around the necks of once-productive Riverina farmers and irrigators.

The MDBA Highway to Hell

Image:Craig Williams, A trip down the MDBA Highway to Hell is not for the faint hearted

It is a dire situation that is creating a generation of children growing up with at least one parent with anxiety or depression, mostly undiagnosed.

The other parent, often a wife and mother, might have a day job in town to make ends meet, barely hanging in there herself but too afraid to admit it.

The necessity to be the breadwinner keeps the household afloat but only adds to the weight of her husband’s crushing burden to provide and sense of failure.

She no longer catches up with friends or attends meetings at night, not because she’s antisocial but because she is too afraid to leave her husband and the gun cabinet alone together.

She has become an actress, pretending to her children, her husband and fellow townsfolk that better times are around the corner, not knowing when that will be and for how long the stretched can be stretched any further.

She smiles a thousand lies because that flash of hope could mean the difference between life and death for those who have been forced to sell their stock, sell the water allocation they desperately need themselves or sell the family farm where they were born and their grandparents died.

This has become the lot of the Riverina farmer’s wife: to somehow protect loved ones as they work themselves into the ground without the one thing they really need – equitable water.

As one farmer said: “In the city people work to live. Here, we live to work.”

Disturbingly, that same farmer estimates that 95% of business owners and primary producers in his town are “nervous wrecks.”
At the base of the Darling River, which is dependent on the generosity of both nature and political powers up north to flow, mothers of infants are also nervous wrecks.

They have no choice but to bathe their children in toxic ‘dead’ water, while other mothers choose to leave the district for the term of their pregnancies, worried about birth defects in their unborn children.

Some communities are crowd funding to pay for bottled water to be trucked in. That’s right, they are begging for access to clean drinking water.

If it takes a village to raise a child, these are not villages fit for any Australian child.

A video of a pair of grown men crying over the death of native fish went global earlier in the year, shocking an expat living in London into holding a rally outside of the Australian embassy with the catchcry ‘Save the Darling River’.

If those on the other side of the world can see why that big ring on my fictitious map is a haunting spectre, why does it not seem to worry those who govern the country and have the power to fix the problem as a matter of urgency?

We’d like to once again thank Sally Harding for this story, we really appreciate your input.

What can you do to help

For those reading this post and wondering what you might do to help the people in the Murray Darling Basin, my advise is to use your powers at the federal election in May this year, Put the National Party last on your ballot paper. Please also feel free to forward this story to your local state or federal member, as well as passing this story onto any of your friends on Facebook or via email, tell all of your friends of the catastrophic situation in the Murray Darling Basin. Oh and don’t believe for one minute that this situation is entirely created by the drought, NSW and Federal Government policies have been major contributors to this national disgrace.


Murray Darling Basin residents subjected to negative health and social outcomes deliberately

Consequences of Murray Darling Basin decisions well known




Health Concerns in the Murray Darling Basin

Health Concerns in the Murray Darling Basin. Image Credit: Ian Wall

There is a figure used in finance in America that states for every 1% increase in unemployment, 40,000 people die. While that exact figure might be argued, the fact that there are personal and social health consequences to government and corporate decisions cannot be argued.

These health consequences are known to anyone who has studied economics, government administration, town planning, finance, banking, law, public health, medicine and so on. In other words, information that is known to everyone in government and the corporate world.

These health and social outcomes are certain. They are predictable. They are, in some cases, quite accurately quantifiable prior to the decision being made. They are predictable, certain, known.

Those health and social outcomes include, yet are not limited to-
Deaths as a result of suicide, reduced medical and health support services, risks associated with changes in living standards and arrangements (the dangers of being homeless for example), increased medication and drug use, social unrest and so on.

Mental health issues brought on by sudden changes in circumstance, extended periods of mental and emotional stress during periods of forced change, financial ruin are certain and known.

Family unit breakdowns, business failures, community relationships being lost, communities themselves being weakened and destroyed.

The business failures and community breakdowns due to the shift of economic production are all certain and known outcomes of government and corporate decisions.

These outcomes are seen in government projects such as the Murray Darling Basin and in corporate events such as the closing of manufacturing facilities.

So, when we look at the economic, environmental and social mess that is the Murray Darling scheme, we should see it clearly through the lens of knowing that everyone of those decision were intentional and their outcomes were predictable and in many cases quantifiable. We should know that in the face of that knowledge, those decisons were made anyway.

That should change the way we see what has happened, it should change the way we react to what has happened and it should change the way in which we try to redress what has happened. Throughout the Murray Darling Basin, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, what is happening to you now is not the mistake of some dumb politician.

The simple truth is, it is the known outcome of an intentional decision.

How does that make you feel?

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