Revolt on the river
Tuesday, 25th February, 2020
By Craig Brealey
The bridge over the Darling River at Wilcannia will be blockaded next month and will stay closed unless the government stops breaking the law that puts people before irrigators, an organiser of the protest said yesterday.
The bridge on the Barrier Highway has been temporarily shut by rallies against the mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin three times in the last four years but this time it’s do or die, said Barry Stone, a resident of Sunset Strip.
“The river is being sucked dry again and if we let this go on any longer we will never see the Darling flow,” Mr Stone told the BDT.
The blockade on Friday, March 13, will centre around a river mourning ceremony by Aboriginal women Elders and involve people from all over western NSW, Mr Stone said.
“Brewarrina, Bourke and Walgett will be closing their bridges,” he said. “We’ve got fifty bridges that will be closing so far and we’re asking everyone to stand by us.”
The blockade organisers in Wilcannia and Menindee have drafted a letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, warning them of the consequences of ignoring their demands that include a Federal Royal Commission into the management of the river systems.
“Our first demand is for water to be taken off the market,” said Mr Stone.
The government’s turning water into a tradeable commodity had led to the corruption that was killing the Darling and the nation’s food bowl, he said.
It has also consistently breached the Water Act that has critical human needs as the top priority. Irrigation is meant to come last.
In the previous protests on the Wilcannia bridge, traffic was held up for a short time and let past but government apparently missed the warnings, said Mr Stone.
“We tried to do it by the book but nobody listened, so this time, I’m sorry, the bridge stays closed,” he said.
“They are well aware of what’s been going on and yet now we’ve got New South Wales again lifting the embargo on floodplain harvesting and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority does nothing.
“New South Wales says we’ll still get 60 gigalitres but all that means is we get water in the top of Lake Wetherell.”
Mr Stone said he had been trying to get government to listen for four years, ever since he went to Federal Parliament as part of a local delegation.
“I’ve been back to Canberra, done all that, and the only way to save the river system is for us to stand as one and let the government know we are here to get our water back.
“The corruption starts at the top but no-one has ever been prosecuted.
“We’re hoping for a revolution, a peaceful revolution. Stand with us, go out on the bridge and have a barbecue, whatever you like, but keep it peaceful.”
Mr Stone said the letter to the Prime Minister would be sent today.
It states, in part, that the people of western NSW have been betrayed and explains in detail how successive Federal and NSW governments have acted “unlawfully” to deny water to the environment, traditional Aboriginal custrodians, graziers, farmers and towns.
“We have been protesting, rallying and lobbying successive governments for over 30 years and we have been ignored,” the letter says.
“As a response to your inaction... we will be blockading the Wilcannia bridge on March 13. We are no longer asking; we are demanding change in the way our water systems are managed.
“Your corruption and mismanagement has led to a catastrophic environmental, social and ecological disaster for which you accept no blame or responsibility.
“Since your office has demonstrated that they will not work for us or with us, we are driven to take the appropriate actions ourselves to rectify this critical situation.”