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Menindee residents welcome large protest turnout

Wednesday, 6th March, 2019

Gail and William Philp were incredibly pleased to see a strong community response to the water rally in Menindee last Sunday. PICTURE: Myles Burt Gail and William Philp were incredibly pleased to see a strong community response to the water rally in Menindee last Sunday. PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Myles Burt

Menindee residents were overwhelmed by the community support shown at the Aboriginal Land Council’s ‘When the River Runs Dry’ campaign, with Indigenous residents William and Gail Philp astounded to see hundreds of people flood the street for last weekend’s water rally.

“I got the biggest shock when I came this morning,” Gail said.

“I said oh my god, I thought there would only be a handful of us doing it.

“But when I got here and saw so many people I was over the moon. It was such a good day.

“We were proud.”

Even with an incredible turnout, Mr Williams, who’s lived his whole life in Menindee since 1953, can’t brush aside his disappointment over the state of the Darling River. 

Having seen the river run low through plenty of droughts, William said he’d never seen the water so toxic after witnessing the three fish kills over the summer.

“When you see the kids in a rally like this and leading the march (it makes you wonder), is this what we’re going to leave our kids?” he said.

“This is only going to be a septic channel for cotton growers now, and that’s what the water is.

“I get very emotional about it because I’ve been here all my life and it’s just devastating to see this happen.

“I never in my wildest dreams would have thought this would happen to this river.

“My grandfather was a drover and that’s what we did, we took stock on the stock routes or to different property owners when they had no feed on their properties.

“The river dried up but the fish were all still alive, and that’s the difference (compared to now.)

“They used to always say that you could get a fish off of dry land,” Gail said.

“She (her mother) spent a lot of time on the river, she reared us up on fish.

“She’d be turning in her grave to really know what’s happened in our rivers and what’s happening with our fish.”

The pair blame cotton growers upstream for the blue-green algae outbreaks over their use of pesticides and insecticides that wash away down the river.

“Cotton with all the chemicals and stuff that they use is beyond belief,” William said.

“There’s something in the water mate, they’ve got to be letting their stuff out of the farms down the river.

“When they get rain where does it go? It gets washed off, it can’t stay there.

“How else can blue-green algae form? It just can’t form out of thin air.

“When they get good fresh inflows they let all their rubbish water out from the bottom of the dams and fill the top up with fresh water, I know that for a fact.

“Somebody has to get the water and go and get it tested properly.

“Before the cotton growers came along we didn’t have any problems with the water you know,” Gail said.

“We’ve always had a healthy river, now you can walk across the river in places, it’s sad.”

Gail and William said they hadn’t been able to provide their grandchildren with the same Menindee experiences they provided their own children, who were raised in town and always spent time on the Lakes.

“When our boys were growing up we took them on the lakes every weekend, on the river, we never stopped,” Gail said.

“Today they can’t take their children on the lakes or on the river, there’s absolutely nothing.

“There wasn’t a weekend that didn’t go past that we didn’t take the kids fishing and yabbying on the river,” William said.

He said the lack of water has dried out Menindee of employment opportunities which has been “devastating” for local residents.

“In Dirranbandi they talk about losing 200 workers. This place here, when all the grapes were growing, had 2,000 workers a year, (now) all gone,” William said.

“1,080 permanent residents in town, 550 now.

“They’re not all out in the cemetery, they’ve just moved on.

“They’ve absolutely devastated this town here with employment, there’s nothing at all.

“These shops in the town, they’re hardly open anymore.”

Gail said even bathing her grandchildren in the town’s domestic water is a frightening thought, worried they could get sick from bathing in the local river water.

“I said if they get that dirty water up their nose they can get meningitis and all those sorts of diseases,” she said.

“So we never used to bathe them in the river water, we was heating water up on the stove and putting it in a big tub for them to wash in.

“Because we’re so scared about putting them in the water.

“It’s alright for us, we’d get in and know how to wash ourselves but we’d come out smelling like the dirty water we were showering in.

“Our skin smelt terrible.”

Gail and William hold onto hope that real governmental change can occur following the NSWALC’s ‘When the River Runs Dry’ campaign, as Menindee’s future still remains uncertain.

“You know we cry for this place here because all our people are buried here, all our elders and that, their mum, my mum, all their grandparents, aunties and uncles,” said William.

“All buried here. Mate, they were salt of the earth people.”

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