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Mark’s mission for the river

Wednesday, 13th March, 2019

Mark Merritt Mark Merritt

By Craig Brealey

The Darling River has many friends around the nation and among the most faithful is Mark Merritt.

For three years he has been driving to the river from his home near Kempsey on the coast and, for the last year, recording and filming interviews with people who have lived on it and witnessed its shocking decline.

The radio producer puts their stories on his “Vanishing River - Voices from the Darling” website and has also collected samples of the polluted water from the river and had it analysed.

Last November, Mr Merritt came to Broken Hill after another field trip to Menindee to collect information from the Lower Darling for this month’s Citizens Inquiry into the Darling River and Menindee Lakes. 

On Friday he was back again, this time with his girlfriend Suzie on a river run from Brewarinna in the north to Buronga on the Victorian border.

“We’re driving a Patrol and towing a caravan. It’s a 1960s Olympic Skyline I found in a paddock. Bought it for 500 bucks and did it up,” said Mr Merritt.

He and Suzie were on a 10-day trip to distribute posters advertising the Citizens Inquiry in each of the eight towns in which the hearings will be held.

That’s Brewarrina, Walgett, Bourke, Wilcannia, Menindee, Broken Hill, Wentworth and Buronga. 

“I don’t know if it’s the longest poster run in history, but it feels like it,” Mr Merritt told the BDT.

“We were in Broken Hill for four days, painting the town red with our posters,” he said.

It was in 2016 that he became aware of the plight of the Darling and decided to have a look for himself.

“I was coming down to Wentworth when I saw Rob McBride’s post on Tolarno’s Facebook page, where he stood in the dry river bed and said ‘This is not a drought.’ 

“So I went straight to see him instead.”

After his last visit to Menindee he sent the Darling water samples to the Environment Laboratories at Southern Cross University which found it contained sulphide and phosphorous.

“They said sulphide occurs in the soil and can get washed into the river by rain, but not phosphorous which is fertiliser. I’ve given the results to the EPA (Environment Protection Authority).

“Fertiliser enriches the water and that’s one of the causes of the big algal blooms that killed the fish.

“Farmers get led by the nose to use chemicals and then they get hooked, but regenerative agriculture is here to stay. It’s the only road out of town.” 

Mr Merritt will be recording the Citizens Inquiry hearings and a team of five journalists and camera operators will be making a documentary for television.

The Musicians’ Club is hosting the local hearing on Friday, March 22, from 9.30am to 5pm but an extra session has now been arranged for the Thursday.

This was for people who might not have a computer on which to register to attend, he said.

“We know not everyone is on the internet so they can just rock up and give evidence, but it’s best to register if you can.

“The Musos’ have given us their Starlight room at no extra charge, so good on ‘em.”

The Thursday hearing will begin at 1pm and go for as long as people keep turning up. To register, visit:
www.tribunal.org.au

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