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Rob calls on world to investigate Darling River

Saturday, 18th May, 2019

By Craig Brealey

The state of the Darling River has prompted a local grazier to invite the World Health Organisation and the United Nations to visit the river and investigate the “Third World conditions” under which people now live.

Rob McBride, of Tolarno Station below Menindee, said frustration with continued government inaction had led him to write this week to the Director-General of WHO and the Chair of United Nations-Water. 

Mr McBride said the ecological catastrophe caused by maladministration had also deprived people of safe drinking water which was a denial of basic human rights.

“If water is not policed correctly, what was exposed by Four Corners two years ago will continue,” Mr McBride told the BDT.

“Since 1975, the cotton industry has grown by 400 per cent. These figures come from the cotton industry itself,” he said.

“Growing cotton and almonds is exporting water from our rivers at the expense of people, small towns and the Murray and Goulburn valleys, the nation’s food bowl.

“Land is being cleared and laser-levelled, trees are being cut down in what is the most fragile ecosystem in the world, and the river system is collapsing.”

In his letter Mr Bride informs the UN and WHO of the history and importance of the Darling and the Menindee Lakes and how they came to be in such a shocking state.

The Menindee Lakes were a vital spawning site for Golden Perch, with 60 to 80 per cent of the species in the Basin originating from this stretch of the river and the lakes, he said. 

The Lower Darling was also home to one of the strongest populations of Murray Cod in the Basin due to the previously “reliable and naturally occurring flows.” The Murray Cod is now critically endangered. 

The lakes were are also important to wildlife, particularly waterbirds, many of which were migratory, and were home to other threatened and endangered animals, he said. 

The death by suffocation of millions of fish in the depleted Darling this year was reported around the world but, wrote Mr McBride, the human cost had not been as closely covered. 

“The Barka-Darling River flows through Barkindji Nation, and Barkindji people talk about the Barka being their mother, and the water of the Barka being their blood. 

“The river is dying, and Barkindji culture and people are dying because of this.”  

Menindee, which was established in 1852, had been devastated, he said. 

“In 2016, the population was approximately 550. Since 2016, it has halved. There is no work because the businesses needed water to survive, and now there is none. 

“The Barka-Darling has sustained pastoral, range-land farming practices for over 150 years. My family have been farming Tolarno Station for 70 years, and we are sixth generation farmers.

“I don’t know if there can be a seventh generation which will farm the Barka-Darling. 

“Everyone in our community is suffering. When the fish can’t survive in the river, we can’t survive beside it. The devastating fact is that this is a man-made disaster.” 

Too much water was being taken upstream for irrigation, and most of that was done legally, he said. 

“Our country has laws to protect water for people and animals before crops, but our politicians are ignoring them. 

“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which was established in 2012 to restore our river to health, has been corrupted, and is now maladministered. There are greater threats looming. 

“The ‘harvesting’ of water off flood plains is increasing, and is being licensed by our government. When this happens, water doesn’t flow into our river and the river stops flowing. 

“There are records that go back almost 100 years, and oral history that goes back tens of thousands of years. Fish kills like those we have seen in recent months never happened. 

“The river did have low-flow and dry periods but it never stopped flowing for more than three months. That was until recently. In 2007-2008 and again in 2015-2016, the river ran dry. It is dry now. 

“I come back to the human cost. The sixth Sustainable Development Goal strives to ensure safe drinking water, ensure sustainable extraction, and protect and restore water-related ecosystems (Targets 6.1, 6.4 and 6.6). 

“The Australian Government and NSW Government are failing in this. The little water that remains is toxic with blue-green algae. Our governments have done little to provide a safe alternative for safe drinking and household water. 

“Children and the elderly are getting sick because they wash in the treated river water provided by the government. 

“My animals are dying because they refuse to drink the toxic water. Blue-green algae has been linked to Motor Neuron Disease, which is reported at high rates in our community. 

“I ask you to come to Menindee and understand how government maladministration and mismanagement is killing communities, Barkindji culture and people... that you report on the Third World conditions experienced by communities on the Barka-Darling due to this...

“This is not just about millions of dead fish, this is about the human right to safe drinking water.”

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