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The Battle of Morton Boolka

Monday, 30th September, 2019

Morton Boolka, an area rich in Aboriginal history, lies between lakes Menindee and Cawndilla. Morton Boolka, an area rich in Aboriginal history, lies between lakes Menindee and Cawndilla.

By Craig Brealey

The Menindee Lakes Water Saving Project does not address the impact it will have on the natural environment, including ancient Aboriginal sites and Golden Perch, a local grazier says.

Katharine McBride, of Tolarno Station on the lower Darling River, attended a meeting in Menindee on Thursday that was conducted by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to explain the controversial plan.

It proposes to re-engineer the storage system, reduce the volume of water in the lakes by 80 per cent to cut evaporation and seepage and allow them to be emptied more quickly. Cawndilla, the deepest of the lakes, would not always be filled.

In response, locals have formed an advisory group to meet the state government planners every six weeks or so in Menindee.

The group comprises about 20 people who represent graziers, fruit growers, the town of Menindee and Aboriginal interests.

Thursday’s meeting was only the second and the consultations could continue for a couple of years.

But Mrs McBride said the absence of an environmental assessment for the proposed works was a worrying start.

“Speaking on behalf of the Lower Darling pastoralists, and not as a member of the advisory group, we have very significant concerns about the lack of an environmental assessment in the business case for the project as a whole,” she said.

“Everyone is pretty frustrated, particularly about the proposed regulator at Morton Boolka, between lakes Menindee and Cawndilla.

“I have spoken to the Aboriginal Elders Council and there is a huge amount of concern because of the large number of cultural heritage sites there.

“A regulator would also affect a critical nursery for Golden Perch because it would change the flow regime into Lake Cawndilla.”

Alan Whyte, the facilitator of the advisory group, said he appreciated the concern.

“These lakes are extremely rich in cultural heritage and a magnificent food source for thousands of years,” said Mr Whyte who owns Wyndham Station on the Anabranch. 

“Morton Boolka is quite a concentrated area of cultural sites and the local Aboriginal people are extremely concerned about that.”

But the discussions were in their early days, said Mr Whyte, and the ultimate aim was to give the department all the local knowledge and for the department to send the right people to the meetings to answer the stakeholders’ questions. 

“At the moment, this committee is trying to gather information to put together a proposal and a list of options for water savings that minimise the negative impacts.”

Mr Whyte said he understood that people were sceptical after the Wentworth pipeline was forced through despite local opposition to it.

A corridor of bushland 270km long and as wide as the highway was also bulldozed, including that beside Lake Popiltah near Coombah.

“I know people think this will be just the same, that the government will rubber-stamp it.

“But this committee is empowered to make decisions for the long-term benefit of the region, for the environment, heritage and producers.”

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